Alasdair MacColla was a gigantic, completely-out-of-his-mind claymore-swinging Scottish Highlander who spent a good portion of his short adult life completely wreaking cringe-inducing amounts of ball-crushing havoc on his enemies, their families, their friends, their pets, and anyone he deemed worthy of a bloody, brutal destruction (or, incidentally, anyone who was unlucky enough to have the last name Campbell). As commander of a battle-hardened, take-no-bullshit company of veteran Scots-Irish Gaelic warriors, MacColla terrorized the Protestant populations of Northern Ireland and the Scottish Lowlands in a series of bloody campaigns that would have him forever remembered as a noble hero to his Clan, and a bloodthirsty evil motherfucker to his enemies.
MacColla was dishing out flying kilted knee strikes back in 1640, meaning that he was out there rocking the Claymore-and-Tartan look a good 300 years or so after The Wallace was cleaving his way through the English feudal system. But despite being a little late to the party MacColla, would prove to be a worthy successor to a line of epic Scottish badasses. His legendary life starts out much the same as that of Wallace – Alasdair (whose first name is also written as Alexander and Alaster) was the son of a clan chief, and was known for his gigantic frame and immense strength. Reportedly standing over seven feet tall, MacColla (whose last name is also written as MacDonald, Macdonnell, Mac Colla, McColla, MacDonald, McDonnal, Donald, Donnelly, M'Coll Keitach, and Mac Coll Chiotach Mac Domhnuill) was the sort of blood-raging Highlands warrior who was more than capable of cleaving you from brain to groin with a two-handed sword with all the ease of a Paul Bunyan lumberjack motherfucker hewing his way through the delicate flower department of a Home Depot Garden Center with a chainsaw. A devout Roman Catholic from the exceedingly-Catholic Clan Macdonnell (or MacDonald, McDonald, etc.), Alasdair developed a taste for human blood at a young age while doing battle with his Clan's ancient enemies – the Presbyterian Highlanders of Clan Campbell – and these two groups of pissed-off Scotsmen spent much of Alasdair's formative years fighting an ongoing, increasingly-brutal blood feud over land, religion, wealth, and political standing among the Highlander Clans.
Some scary-ass looking 17th century Scotsmen.
As you all know, when it come to the Highlanders, however, there can be only one, and despite all of the head-cleaving awesomeness wrought by our homedog Alasdair, Clan Macdonnell was eventually beaten down by the Campbells. The Macdonnells lost almost all of their land, their homes were torched, and most of their people were all killed, imprisoned, or exiled. Alasdair's father, the local leader of Clan Macdonnell, was one of those imprisoned (he would later be executed in captivity), and after this crushing defeat Alasdair was forced to leave Scotland with a handful of survivors and relocate to Northern Ireland, where he took over as the leader of his defeated people.
But if there's one thing you'll need to remember about Alasdair MacColla, it's that this motherfucker didn't give up for anything, never half-assed anything, and never turned his back on an opportunity to achieve blood vengeance against his foes. The virtual destruction of his entire Clan only succeeded in making this raging Behemoth of Douchebag Decapitation even more hell-bent on dismembering everyone in the world as quickly as his sword-arm would allow him.
I apologize for calling your wife a bloated warthog, and I bid you good day.
It turns out that within a year or two after Alasdair was expelled to Ireland from his Scottish homeland, pretty much all of Great Britain completely lost its shit and turned into a giant endless bloodbath of carnage and ball-sucking misery. There are entire multi-volume encyclopedias written about the English Civil War (and all the various different names for the same basic conflict), but I'll try to boil the whole bullshit down into one brief paragraph: A dude named Oliver Cromwell decided he wanted to overthrow King Charles I of England. He was supported by the Presbyterians (who are also known as Covenanters, or, as I like to call them, "The Covenant") in Scotland and Ireland. King Charles didn't want to be overthrown, so he got together a bunch of Royalists to fight against Cromwell. He was supported by the Catholics in Scotland and Ireland (where they were known as Confederates), because Charles was a Scotsman who had married a Catholic princess, which they were down with, and also because these guys fucking hated the Presbyterians and were really just looking for any reason to kill them, so hey, if the King of England was going to support it then fuck it, why not?
Long story short, Alasdair MacColla was a Catholic/Confederate/Royalist Scotsman who lived in Ireland and commanded a now-battle-hardened group of Scots and Irishmen who wanted nothing more than to wade through a battlefield knee deep in the blood of anyone who wasn't at least some combination of Catholic, Confederate, and/or Royalist.
Ok, now to the good part. Once MacColla basically fell from "firstborn son of the leader of one of Scotland's most powerful Highland Clans" to "mercenary commander leading the remnants of his clan in a bloody crusade against those who wronged him", things start getting a little bit over-the-top in a "cleave 'em all and let their bastardized misinterpretation of God sort 'em out". It started with the Ulster Insurrection in 1641, when the Irish Catholics decided to start shit with England by beating the crapballs out of Presbyterians all the fuck over the place. MacColla commanded two companies of Highlanders in a series of raids that pillaged, burned, and plundered much of the countryside, laying waste to Covenanter lands, and when Protestant Lord Archibald Stewart suddenly showed up near the town of Kilrea with six full companies of Covenant Infantry MacColla got his Master Chief on, ordered his men to pull their broadswords, and charged balls-out (literally – they wore their kilts like true Scotsmen) towards a force three times his own size. The Covenanters, many of whom had never really seen combat before, immediately shit their pants and ran for it.
Despite recording victory after victory and Alasdair proving himself to be a daring, bordering-on-reckless commander, the Confederate Catholics in Ireland were eventually defeated – a loss that I personally tend to chalk up to the fact that MacColla's commanding officer was some clown named Ranald MacDonald (of the Irish MacDonalds). I'm not going to make any assumptions here, but come on, how talented could he have been? MacColla was badly wounded in battle when he was shot and stabbed – possibly at the same time – and ended up having to spend a year or two laying low and recovering from injuries that would probably have been fatal to lesser men.
|Author's note: This email is dedicated to my man Taylor AKA TTrain, who has been ritualistically sending me insane drunken emails at least once a month for the last two years begging me to write this story.
It would take more than just a couple of gaping chest wounds to keep Alasdair MacColla down, though, and by 1644 not only had he completely recovered from his injuries, but he'd assembled a force of 1,600 Gaelic mercenary badasses, loaded them onto warships, and crash-landed right in the middle of his Clan's ancient homeland – a land now occupied by the hated Campbells. Immediately upon landing, MacColla and the returned Clan MacDonald began to completely destroy every fucking thing they could get their hands on, plundering, pillaging, and burning shit Visigoth-style. He and his rampaging barbarians created a sucking swath of destruction 40 miles wide, destroying any Campbell or Covenant forces they came across. In their razing of the land, they burned people alive, wiped out entire cities, captured some castles, and basically did so much horrible shit to everyone they met that the Campbells rewarded MacColla for his unbridled cruelty by giving him an incredibly badass nickname: Alasdair the Devastator.
Hm, well, maybe not so much awesome if you were a Campbell. Or if you're really a huge fan of conducting war in a humanitarian manner. Or an author of the Geneva Convention protocols. MacColla liked to argue that he was just doing to the Campbells what they had done to his people a decade earlier, but pretty much everyone these days kind of agrees that this dude was pretty much a total fucking bastard. Which he pretty much was.
Whatever the case may be, the fact is that after he was done destroying everything in his path, Alasdair the Devastator returned to his ships, only to find that a group of Campbells had snuck in, killed Alasdair's ship guards, and burned the ships while McColla was out plundering their cities. This was bad news. It meant he was completely surrounded by people he'd just spent the last 12 months massacring and pillaging, without much in the way of reinforcements, supplies, money, or food.
Luckily it wasn't long before Alasdair McColla came across the Marquis of Montrose – a Royalist Scottish General (and fellow badass) who was commanding an army of British Infantry in support of King Charles. The two men joined forces, and immediately embarked on an epic campaign of Covenant-smiting retribution across the Scottish Lowlands. MacColla's troops, who by now were an elite cadre of hardened veterans, formed the shock troops at the core of Montrose's forces, and together the two leaders proceeded to crush the enemy at the Battles of Tippermuir, Aberdeen, Argyll, Inverlochy, Dundee, and a bunch of other places with funny names.
Despite being basically a British General by this point, Alasdair the Devastator didn't consider not kicking ass on the front lines for even a second. In combat his unit was usually placed on the wings, and he was infamous for charging out ahead of his men, chopping the enemy pikes and spears in half with his claymore, and then having the honor of being the first man to dive into the enemy mass.
This strategy eventually led to the creation of a badass tactic known as the "Highland Charge". Basically, back in the 17th century, the Covenanters were using muzzle-loading gunpowder muskets, but MacColla didn't really see how that was much of an advantage over the old-school William Wallace sword-and-shield shit. So he developed the Highland Charge – a tactic where the Scots would line up across from the Covenanters, and both sides would fire a volley of musket rounds at each other in the true fashion of early modern warfare. Then, when the Covenanters went to reload their muskets (a process that could take anywhere from 20 to 40 seconds depending on how skilled the musketeer is) the Highlanders would drop their guns, unsheathe their swords, and fucking run full-speed at the enemy, trying to get to them and butcher them into pieces before they could get their weapons reloaded.
I hope your reloading skills work well under pressure.
As you can imagine, this proved to be pretty fucking effective. In one of his first battles alongside Lord Montrose, MacColla didn't have enough weapons to provide to his troops, so he had his men charge the enemy armed only with a large fucking rock – when the fearless, basically-weaponless Scots-Irish badasses hit the enemy lines, they brained the first guy they could find with the rock, then they took that dude's weapon and used it for the rest of the battle. Using this crap-inducing tactic of fear, terror, and blunt-force trauma to the dome, MacColla's 2,000-man unit routed and annihilated a Covenanter force that outnumbered him three-to-one. At the Battle of Kilsyth he charged uphill against orders and ended up breaking the enemy formation with a perfectly-timed Highland Charge. At Auldearn, his 500 men were surprise-attacked by a coordinated attack from 4 full regiments of musketeers, but he managed to somehow hold off the attack long enough for Montrose's cavalry to get around the flank and break the enemy formation. MacColla was so pissed that he'd been sneak attacked that he had his men run the enemy down on foot through a moor and kill as many as they could (which was a lot).
It was during this campaign that Alasdair MacColla and Clan MacDonald eventually completed their vengeance on the Campbells – an act they accomplished while fighting with Montrose at the Battle of Inverlochy in 1645. MacColla marched through a dense bog to flank the enemy castle, then charged straight into the enemy formation, crushing them and capturing the ancestral castle of Clan Campbell. He was knighted by Montrose in 1645 (making him SIR Alasdair the Devastator), but the happy times wouldn't last forever. Even though things were going well in Scotland, the situation back in England was a different story. It turned out that Oliver Cromwell had defeated Charles' forces, and the King issued an order for Montrose and all Royalists to lay down their arms and return to England.
Montrose left, and MacColla fought a futile series of battles over the next two years, where he was constantly surrounded by attackers and had basically no support. He was finally killed in 1647 at the Battle of Knocknanauss (which, I am told, is definitely not pronounced as either "Knock-an-Ass" or "Cock-and-Ass"). Today he's a larger-than-life folk hero in of a bunch of badass bagpipe tunes and Scottish drinking songs, though most non-Catholics adamantly continue to think he's a motherfucker.
True Story: They way the British finally ended up countering the Highland Charge was by inventing the bayonet.
British Civil Wars
Bennett, Martyn. Historical Dictionary of the British and Irish Civil Wars. Scarecrow, 2000.
Cawthorne, Nigel. The Immortals. MBI Publishing Company, 2009.
Lee, Sir Sydney. Dictionary of National Biography. Macmillan, 1893.
Roberts, John Leonard. Clan, King, and Covenant. Edinburgh University Press, 2000.
Stevenson, David. Scottish Covanenters & Irish Confederates. Ulster Historical Confederation, 2005.