I do like a good yarn, so here we go:
“Óláfr Guðrøðarson, commonly known in English as Olaf the Black, was a mid 13th century sea-king who ruled the Isle of Man (Mann) and parts of the Hebrides. Óláfr was probably the son of Guðrøðr Óláfsson, King of the Isles and King of Dublin.
Óláfr was a younger son of his father; his elder brother Rögnvaldr more than likely had a different mother. According to the Chronicle of Mann, Guðrøðr appointed Óláfr as heir since he had been born “in lawful wedlock”. Whether or not this is the case, on Guðrøðr’s death in 1187 the Manxmen instead appointed Rögnvaldr as king, as he was a capable adult and Óláfr was a mere child. Rögnvaldr ruled the Crovan dynasty’s island-kingdom for almost 40 years, during which time the half-brothers vied for the kingship.
At one point Óláfr, who had been given possession of Lewis, complained to Rögnvaldr that his lands were not enough. Rögnvaldr’s response was seize Óláfr and send him to the King of Scots, where he was imprisoned for almost seven years. Upon his release, Óláfr undertook a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, after which the half-brothers were reconciled and Rögnvaldr had Óláfr married to Lauon, the sister of his own wife. Sometime after 1217 this marriage was nullified by Reginald, Bishop of the Isles, who may have been an ally of Óláfr against Rögnvaldr. Óláfr then married Christina, a daughter of the King of Scots‘ protégé Ferchar, Earl of Ross. The chronicle claims that Rögnvaldr’s bitter wife tricked their own son, Guðrøðr, into attempting to kill Óláfr; however, Óláfr narrowly escaped with his life and fled to the protection of his father-in-law on the mainland. Together with a loyal follower, one Páll Bálkason, Óláfr later defeated Guðrøðr on Skye.
In the 1220s Rögnvaldr formed an alliance with Alan, Lord of Galloway, in an attempt to fend off Óláfr. Rögnvaldr married his daughter to one of Alan’s sons, and it has been theorised that this son was intended to inherit the island-kingdom. Rögnvaldr’s actions enraged the Manxmen and in 1226 they deposed him in favour of Óláfr. Rögnvaldr was later killed battling Óláfr in 1229.
In 1230 Óláfr fled to Norway to seek military assistance against Alan and members of Clann Somairle. The Norwegian king‘s response was to send a fleet into the Isles under the command of Óspakr Ögmundsson, a member of Clann Somairle. Óspakr was slain early in the campaign, after which Óláfr took control of the fleet and secured himself on Mann.”
While Olaf was off feuding with his brother and getting himself on the right side of the King of the Scots, how was Kintyre born Lauon getting along? Olaf, Lauon and their new born, Ghille Mhuire, apparently arrived on Lewis after being shipwrecked and clinging to a piece of driftwood.
The child, Ghille Mhuire, grew up to marry the sole heiress of the Clan Igaa or Gow. Pabbay Castle on Harris belonged to her by right of birth and those who lived on her land became Clan MacGhilleMhuire – later Anglicised to Clan Morrison. Two branches of the clan developed – one on Harris and the other on Lewis – where a fortress named Dun Eistein was built on the northern tip of the island.
The Lords of the Isles later appointed a family of Morrisons to act as Brieves over many generations. They were hereditary guardians and interpreters of the old Brehon Laws at Dun Eistein during this period and the clan bore the title Clann-na Breitheamh. Breitheamh translates as to carry, bear, bring forth or judge. The Morrisons of Harris also gained a hereditary role as the armourers of the McLeods.
The Morrisons of the Central Highlands appear to be the ‘sons of Maurice’ with a Norman derivation, while the O’Muirgheasain’s who settled in Harris much later are thought to be related to Irish bards. However, the Outer Hebridean tradition connected to Lewis is in full Chlann Mhic-Ghille-Mhuire, resulting in ‘Son of the Servant [or more correctly] Devotee of the Virgin Mary’.
As Brieves the clan’s influence was extensive and spread over to the mainland. At some stage they appear to have held influence in Durness, where the church at dates back to the Culdean monks. Nearby Ceannabeinne was believed to be home to “Clach a Breitheanas” or the Judgement Stone. This was said to be where judgement was handed down in ancient times – and the guilty hurled on to the rocks below.
During their time as Grieves the Morrisons kept their Great House (Taigh Mhór) at Habost in Ness, which appears in Heimskringla or The Chronicle of the Kings when Halfdan the Mild was buried in the royal mound on Barra. He had beenmarried to Liv, a daughter of King Dag of Westmare. Holtar [Habost] in Westfold, was his chief house; and he died there of illnes before being buried at Borre [Barra] under a mound.
“By Hel’s summons, a great king
Was called away to Odin’s Thing:
King Halfdan, he who dwelt of late
At Holtar, (Habost) must obey grim Fate.
At Borre, (Barra) in the royal mound,
They laid the hero in the ground.”
While the Grieves are thought to have applied Breton law, Viking law and custom may well have formed part of their role. Sir R. Gordon offers this dated account, “The Breive is a kind of judge amongst the islanders, who hath an absolute judicatorie, vnto whose authoritie and censure they williuglie submitt themselves, when he determineth any debatable question betuein partie and partie.” This may have resembled the role of the Deemster in the Isle of Man who judged cases of life and death, establishing a court simply by his presence.
In later times the clan were caught between the powerful McLeods and the belligerent MacAuleys in a series of feuds and battles. At the end, Iain Mor MacLeod engaged the Morrisons at Clachan on Taransay. The chieftain Uisdean was said to be the only Morrison to survive – swimming over two miles to the mainland despite grievous wounds.
Thanks for the map Brianann MacAmhlaidh – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.