The Bloody History of a Catholic Clan
Because of a treacherous twist in the history of Catholicism in Scotland, Michael Safford is a modern day Catholic Scottish Clansman – living in St Louis, Missouri.
Michael’s Clan Lamont is ancient, said to descend from Ánrothán Ua Néill, an Irish prince of the O’Neill dynasty. As a part of this lineage, the clan claims descent from the legendary Niall Noigíallach, High King of Ireland.
One the earliest documented clans in Scotland, we first catch sight of the Lamonts in the High Middle Ages – granting land in Kilmore to the monks of Paisley in the mid-13th century. Their role was to faithfully guard the rugged Highlands and to provide an armed escort for the High Chief’s galleys when they sailed from Cowal.
‘NEITHER SPARE NOR DESPISE’ is the motto of the Clan Lamont.
Bad Politics, Religious War
Michael recounts his family’s history, pointing out that though they were always strong supporters of the Church, the Lamonts also had the unfortunate tendency to back the wrong side in Scotland’s tumultuous politics. For example, they supported supporting the MacDougalls of Lorne’s claim to the Scottish throne against the legendary Robert the Bruce.
“In the mid-1600s, when the English Civil War was raging over King Charles I’s attempts to restore the Faith, “ Michael explains. “Clan Lamont supported the king against the Covenanters – supporters of Puritan Calvinism who didn’t think Henry VIII had gone far enough.”
Following Charles I’s imprisonment in 1645, the Calvinist forces laid siege to the strongholds of the Lamonts at Toward and Ascog, on the shores of Ascog Loch. A fierce battle was fought for three days on the moor above. The castle was well garrisoned and withstood the siege, but the Campbells, who had captured the Lamont Chief brought him to Castle Ascog and threatened to kill him unless they surrendered.
What the Campbells Did In The Name of God
“In June 1646, Sir James Lamont (my 11th great-grandfather) signed an instrument of surrender with the Campbells,” Michael recalls. “Before the ink was even dry, the Campbell forces drew their weapons and with a cry of ‘No capitulations shall be kept with traitors to God and His Covenant’ proceeded to massacre 200 men, women, and children.”
THE HAUNTED RUINS OF TOWARD CASTLE: The castle and orchards were set on fire and the Ascog Lamonts were held captive in Toward Castle.
About another 130 were taken as prisoners to Dunoon. Those not of noble blood were shot to death in the churchyard of Dunoon; 36 noblemen were hanged from a tree in that same churchyard, cut down and then buried on the spot whether they were alive or dead.
“Family legend says that the tree never bore leaves again, and its roots bled when it was cut down many years later,” Michael says sadly. “As for Castle Ascog, it was destroyed by the Campbells of Ormsary during the 1646 massacre.”
“My particular branch of the family – the original chieftain’s line (Lamont of Lamont) – went into hiding after Toward and Ascog were sacked. Sir James’ wife Mary took their three sons to Antrim in Northern Ireland, where they changed their names to stay hidden from the Campbells. Andrew – my 10th great-grandfather – took his mother’s maiden name of Young.
“From Northern Ireland, my family line emigrated to America sometime in the late 18th century, and at some point before then converted to Presbyterianism – probably to better remain hidden and safe in a Protestant stronghold. Any claim we had to the chieftanship would have died with my great-great-uncle, who never married. I’m descended from his younger sister.”
The chiefs of Clan Lamont lived at Ardlamont until the last of their lands were sold in 1893 by the 21st chief, John Henry Lamont of Lamont, who then emigrated to Australia. Ironically, the current chief of Clan Lamont is a Catholic priest –Father Peter Lamont, pastor of the Holy Name of Mary parish in Rydalmere, Australia (Diocese of Parra).
“Fr. Peter Lamont’s line remained in Scotland at Ardlamont until the last clan lands were sold in the 1800s. I believe they remained Catholic, and likely kept a low profile since we learned in 1646 to stay as far away from politics as possible,” Michael says.
In 1906, a memorial was erected by the Clan Lamont Society at Dunoon, Scotland. The stone Celtic Cross commemorates the massacre in 1646. Every year the society lays a wreath at Dunoon in memory of those who died there.
A LATER ASCOG CASTLE, now a tourist accommodation. Michael Safford surmises that there are likely still Lamonts in Scotland today, “but we’re spread out all over the place, and none of the original lands are held by members of the clan anymore. The massacre led to a diaspora.”