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January 9th 1490

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The quarrelsome Neishes from St Fillans

The Neishes were a small clan occupying the land around St Fillans. They had a castle on a crannog, a small artificial island, close to St Fillans. The island was variously known as Easter Isle or Neish Isle. The Neishes were a quarrelsome and troublesome clan and in 1490, James 4th gave orders to Lord Drummond to “cast doon ye house of ye Easter Isle of Loch Ern and distroy all ye strengthis of ye samyn and tak away ye bate (boat) and put her to the Wester Isle (near Lochearnhead).”  Though the castle was demolished, the Neishes continued to occupy the ruins and proved to be as quarrelsome as ever.

They carried on a long feud with the Macnabs who at this time lived at Ellanrayne Castle and occupied most of the land round Killin and as far west as Tyndrum. In 1522 there was a major battle when the Macnabs, tired of the constant Neish raids, marched over from Loch Tay to St Fillans. The Neishes gathered their forces to meet this threat but were utterly defeated and only about twenty men escaped with their lives. After this engagement they posed little further threat to the Macnabs but from their island fastness they continued to engage in modest freebooting and plundered any helpless travellers passing their way.

It was in 1612, nearly 100 years after their defeat in battle, that the Neishes saw the line of ponies laden with Christmas supplies approaching St Fillans. The opportunity was too good to miss and the party was ambushed and the food and drink removed. They were even more pleased when they discovered that the supplies were destined for their old enemies the Macnabs. Having sent the servants back to Ellenrayne Castle empty handed the Neishes rowed over the supplies to their Easter Isle and contemplated the Christmas feast that awaited them.

Meanwhile at Ellenrayne the Macnabs plotted their revenge. Finlay Macnab, the 12th Chief, had twelve sons who, according to most accounts, carried a boat from Loch Tay over the mountains to Loch Earn, launched it about ten miles from Easter Isle and approached it in the darkness. By this time the Neishes were drunk and asleep so that it was a simple task to massacre all the inhabitants (excepting a young boy and girl who hid beneath a table). The Macnabs beheaded the Chief and some of his followers and brought the heads back with them to Killin.

The event is commemorated in the Macnab crest with the Neish head and a boat. It is interesting that the boat is represented as having only four oars and there is some evidence that only four brothers actually took part in the raid.

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