- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

EDINBURGH, Scotland — In days of yore, clan chiefs ruled rugged swaths of Scotland as their fiefdoms, collecting taxes, calling men to arms and deciding land disputes.

These days, clan chiefs get little more than a coat of arms, a motto and a personal tartan for kilts, although the title does carry considerable prestige.

But that didn’t stop Ranald MacDonald from waging a bitter two-decade-long court battle to be named chief of Clan MacDonald of Keppoch — a title that has been dormant since 1848, when the 21st chief died without a male heir.

Persistence paid off for Mr. MacDonald, 75: The Highland clan installed him as its leader on Wednesday.

“The record has been set straight,” the retired hearing-aid specialist told the Associated Press. “That is the point.”

Mr. MacDonald’s claim was contested by clansmen who claim that his ancestor, Alexander MacDonald, was born out of wedlock in 1832 and corrupted the bloodline.

Rory MacDonald — a historian of the Keppoch clan, which is a branch of the larger Clan Donald — said many clansmen will continue to refuse to recognize him as their leader.

“You cannot become clan chief without the acceptance of your clan. We will not recognize this,” he said.

But Hugh Peskett, a specialist on Scottish heraldry and editor of the Scottish edition of Burke’s Peerage, said the matter has been settled beyond any doubt.

While investigating Mr. MacDonald’s claim, he examined old papers at the New Register House in Edinburgh, which has public records dating to the 1550s. The genealogist was able to trace Mr. MacDonald as a direct descendant of Donald Gorm MacDonald of Inverroy, who was the fourth son of Alistair Buidhe, the 14th chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch.

“This case is proven,” Mr. Peskett said. “I do not think any chiefship has been so soundly tested in the courts for a long, long time. But there are people who do not like the decision by the court. This is just sour grapes by bad losers.”

Mr. MacDonald’s case rested on the concept of “sloinneadh” (pronounced SLO-ny-ug), a Scottish Gaelic word referring to the genealogy of the male line handed down orally. Mr. Peskett said he tracked Mr. MacDonald’s birthright through an old woman who had lived in clan territory all her life and had carried on the oral tradition of keeping local history alive.

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