Around the year 500, the Irish kingdom of Dal Riata emigrated from Ulster to southwestern Scotland. Based on oral traditions, this invasion into Scottish territory was led by the three sons of Erc, the King of Dal Riata. It was during this “building stage” of the Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada that the Stone of Destiny and the Coronation Stone were brought by the Gaels into Argyll. The Coronation Stone was later brought to Scone, the capital of the Southern Picts. It was there that the Picts and Scots became unified in 844 under the guidance of Kenneth MacAlpine.
Anrothan O’Neill, an Irish prince from the O’Neill dynasty, took advantage of this new Scottish kingdom and gave up his rulership in Ireland to settle down in Argyll. From Anrothan’s line came a prominent lord named Aodha Alainn O’Neil, who had three sons: Gillachrist, Neill, and Dunslebhe. Gillachrist’s son, Lachlan, founded Clan MacLachlan, and Gillachrist’s brother, Neill, founded Clan MacNeil of Barra. Dunslebhe had two sons: Ewen and Fearchar. Ewen founded Clan Ewen of Otter, and Fearchar’s grandson founded Clan Lamont. Until the 13th century, Clan Lamont was known as MacKerracher in honour of Fearchar
The first true historical beginning of the clan is where we hear about Sir Laumon signing a charter in 1235 granting lands in Cowal to Paisley Abbey in about 1235. From Laumon comes the modern name “Lamont,” and the clan became known as such. His descendants, the early chiefs of the clan, were described as “The Great MacLamont of all Cowal” (Scottish Gaelic: Mac Laomain mor Chomhail uile). The name Laumon possibly derives from the medieval personal name Lagman (Lawspeaker) which is from the Old Norse Logmaðr
Following the death of King Alexander III like most Clans with a Norse connection, Sir John Lamont, Laumon’s grandson and the Chief of the clan, fought for the Balliol faction and sided with the MacDougall’s of Lorne against Robert the Bruce. When Bruce won the Lamonts suffered along with their allies. Once Robert the Bruce was firmly situated on the throne, he and his line took vengeance against the clans that had opposed him. In 1371, Robert II gave the Lamont hereditary seat at Dunoon to Bruce supporter Sir Colin Campbell, Black Knight of Loch Awe.
By the end of the 14th century, almost all of Clan Lamont’s original Cowal territory had been lost to the Campbells. In spite of considerable intermarriage between Clan Campbell and Clan Lamont, the relations between Campbell clansmen and Lamont clansmen remained harsh and bitter
In 1400, three courtiers of King Robert II took advantage of their lord’s absence to Rothesay Castle. Crossing into Cowal on a hunting trip, they encountered and raped three Lamont women. In a rage, Lamont clansmen caught up with the three courtiers and brutally murdered them. The incident was passed along to the King, who punished Clan Lamont by rescinding nearly eight square miles of their lands in Strath Echaig and granting them to the Campbells.
As a result of this increasing lordship of Lamont lands, Clan Campbell became even more bold in asserting their power over Argyll, and more specifically, Cowal. Whether by force or through sheer kindness, in 1442 the chief of Clan Lamont gave permission for the eldest son of Sir Duncan Campbell to be buried at the ancient Kirk of Kilmun on the Holy Loch, which was within the confines of Lamont territory. The Highlands were impassable because of snowfall, and those conditions led to the request. After this, Campbell petitioned the Pope to found a Collegiate Church on the site. The Pope conceded, and Sir Duncan Campbell endowed the site. He turned the Kirk into a burial place for Campbell chiefs, and it remains so even to the current day.
In 1472, Clan Campbell received charter for the lands around Dunoon, and they proceeded to turn the castle into their main seat
Regardless of the fierce rivalry between the two clans, Clan Campbell and Clan Lamont allied together in 1544, unsuccessfully, to defeat an English expedition sailing through the Firth of Clyde into Scotland. Henry VIII wished to kidnap the infant Mary, Queen of Scots and raise her to marry his heir. Although the Campbell/Lamont alliance failed to stop the English force, the fighting gave the Earl of Lennox enough time to escort Mary to Stirling Castle and save the House of Stuart. Mary was later to visit Castle Toward in the early 1560’s and a great hall was hastily added to the tower house for the occasion. It is likely that in the civil war between Mary and her brother the Earl of Moray that the Lamonts were sympathetic to Mary’s cause.
A tradition of Highland hospitality and chivalry concerns Clan Lamont and Clan Gregor. The story is supposed to take place around the year 1600. The son of the chief of Clan Lamont and the only son of MacGregor of Glenstrae, chief of Clan Gregor, went hunting together on the shores of Loch Awe. After the two men had made camp at nightfall they eventually became embroiled in a quarrel at the end of which Lamont grabbed his dirk and MacGregor was mortally wounded. Lamont then fled, hotly pursued by MacGregor’s furious retainers, until losing his way and eventually making it to the house of the MacGregor chief himself. On hearing that Lamont was fleeing for his life, MacGregor promised the lad protection. Soon, though, the old MacGregor guessed it was his own son who had been slain, but considered himself bound to the Highland laws of hospitality, saying “Here this night you shall be safe”. With the arrival of the furious MacGregor clansman who pursued the young Lamont, the MacGregor chief was true to his word and protected Lamont from his clansmen’s vengeance. Later, while it was still dark, the chief had Lamont personally conducted to Dunderave on Loch Fyne and provided him with a boat and oars. The chief bid him leave quickly, saying “Flee for your life; in your own country we shall pursue you. Save yourself if you can!”
Years later, a ragged man appeared at Toward Castle desperately seeking shelter. The man was MacGregor of Glenstrae who had been stripped of lands and possessions by the Campbells and was fleeing for his life. The Lamont chief remembered the honourable deed of MacGregor, and offered him protection and provision. The old MacGregor lived with Lamont for years until his death, and was buried in honour in the graveyard at the chapel of St. Mary on the farm of Toward-an-Uilt
Mid 17th Century
The darkest era of Clan Lamont was undoubtedly during the mid 17th century. The brutal Covenanter wars and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms tore Scotland apart. Clan Lamont’s participation in these wars began with their alliance with the Campbells but ended in what is now known as the Dunoon Massacre. The chief of the clan during this time was Sir James Lamont of that Ilk. In 1634, Sir James represented the Barons of Argyll in Parliament. With the start of the following Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Lamont was sent a charter by King Charles I to crush the rebels. Even though the Lamont chief was a Royalist sympathizer and wished to obey Charles, he had no choice but to join forces with the more powerful Marquess of Argyll, who was also his brother in law. After the Covenanter loss at the Battle of Inverlochy, Sir James was released by the Royalist victors and was able to side with the Marquess of Montrose and actively support the Royalist cause. Lamont then joined forces with Alasdair MacColla and invaded the lands of the Campbells. Sir James’ brother, Archibald, led a force of Lamonts across Loch Long and, together with MacColla’s Irish contingent, landed at the Point of Strone. Their force then laid waste to large areas under Campbell control. The Lamonts were particularly brutal in North Cowal, and singled out Dunoon. During the destruction their forces wrought on the Campbells, MacColla’s men including Lamont clans men committed many atrocities. Sir James Lamont ravaged the lands of Strachur, killing thirty-three men, women and children. His force destroyed much grain and drove off 340 cattle and horses.
Several months later in May 1646, while the Lamonts were home at the castles of Toward and Ascog, they were besieged by Campbell forces seeking revenge. By 1 June 1646 the Campbells brought cannon forward to shell the Lamont strongholds. Two days later Sir James Lamont, in a written agreement of quarter and liberty for himself and his followers, surrendered and persuaded the other garrison at Ascog Castle to likewise lay down arms and surrender to the Campbells. Although the Campbells had agreed to the Lamonts terms of surrender, they immediately took the surrendered garrisons to Dunoon by boat. The Lamont strongholds were then looted and burnt to the ground. Sir James and his closest kin were shipped to Inveraray Castle, although he was held in the dungeons of Dunstaffnage Castle for the next five years. At Inverary, Sir James was forced to sign over all of the Lamont lands to Clan Campbell. In the churchyard at Dunoon, about a hundred Lamonts were sentenced to death and executed. Thirty-six of the clan’s high-ranking gentlemen were hanged from a tree in the churchyard, cut down and then buried either dead or alive in a common grave. After languishing in captivity for years, Sir James Lamont was brought to Stirling Castle in 1651 to answer for his actions with Alasdair MacColla for their devastations in Argyll. Lamont was eventually spared trial though, when King Charles II led his ill-fated Scots forces into England to be later defeated at the Battle of Worcester. Lamont was finally released when the forces of Oliver Cromwell took Stirling. Cromwell’s triumph also invalidated the “contract” that Sir James was forced to sign in captivity, and Clan Lamont regained its lands. It has been reputed that the total damage inflicted by the Campbells upon the Lamont estates was in excess of £600,000 Scots (£50,000 sterling). Argyll himself was able to recover £2,900 Scots (almost £245 sterling) for the entertainment and lodging of the Lamont chief while in captivity.
In 1661, the ringleader of the Dunoon Massacre, Sir Colin Campbell, was brought to justice. He stood trial on charges of High Treason, was found guilty, and then beheaded. A popular story is that the written terms of the surrender at Toward had survived by being hidden in the hair of the sister of James Lamont and its production at the trial sealed the Campbell’s fate.
The War of the three Kingdoms is the last time we hear of the Lamonts acting as a separate political unit. Clan Lamont, still retained strong holdings in Cowal but there is no evidence of the Lamonts joining the Jacobite risings of 1715 or 1745. Indeed it is more likely that Lamonts would have been part of the large contingent of Argyllshire troops that fought for the Hanoverian faction. Since the Lamonts did not participate in the Jacobite Risings, they were spared the reprisals but like every other Highland clan would have to accept the 1746 act of Proscription where the owning of weapons and the wearing of highland dress became illegal. This marked a reduction in the power of clan chiefs and the start of the old highland way of life becoming more like that of the lowland scots.
Tartan cloth is of undoubted great antiquity, but, contrary to popular belief, there is little or no evidence of Clan Tartans before 1747 and the banning of the wearing of tartan. There are paintings of clan chiefs made in the 17th and 18th centuries, which show them wearing more than one tartan at a time, none of which match current clan tartans. The main means of indicating clan affiliation was the sprig of plant badge worn on the bonnet. After the repeal of the ban in 1782, there was more interest in tartan, but it was not until Sir Walter Scott’s romantic Waverley Novels, that interest surged about the highlands and their tartans. It was 1817, before the issuing of the Wilson’s pattern book, that our Chief, John Lamont, registered the Lamont tartan.
The Modern Clan
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 emigrated to Australia. Around the time of the sale Ardlamont was being rented out to hunting parties and lent its name to one of the most notorious Victorian murder mysteries “the Ardlamont Mystery”.
The present chief of the clan is Peter Noel Lamont of that Ilk, Chief of the Name and Arms of Lamont, who is a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. The current chief is a parish priest in Marayong (a suburb of Sydney), New South Wales, Australia
Clan Lamont Society
The Clan Lamont Society was formed in 1895 in Glasgow, Scotland with the purpose to keep alive the values and traditions of the clan. The principle founder was Lieut-Colonel William Belfour Lamont, VD. In 1906, a memorial was erected by the Clan Lamont Society at Dunoon, commemorating the many Lamonts who were killed in 1646. Every year the society lays a wreath at Dunoon to commemorate the site. A significant benefactor to the society was Augusta Lamont the last Lamont Laird of Knockdow who left an endowment and the Manse at Inverchaolain to the society. The Society provides the Lamont Shield at the Cowal Highland Gathering, which is an award given to the best Juvenile (under 18) Solo piper at the games.