Ronald Williams book detailing the Clan Donald and the early Scottish kingdom is an excellent read, one of the most reader-friendly accounts on the subject to date. Most is easy to follow as the great clan emerges from the smoke of the Viking and Gaelic/Pictish wars that forged the foundations of our nation today. Some of the many Viking names and kings mentioned are, however slightly confusing and it is possible to lose track of who did what at various times but it does not detract from the enjoyment of the read.
Williams encapsulates the brutality of early warfare and the savagery of the Viking raiders with vivid descriptions in a style which keeps the reader glued. Reminds me slightly of Prebble in the way the story is told i.e in the style of a novel and the obvious passion the author has for Scotland's remarkable and often dark history.
All is not fighting or suffering however as Williams concentrates on the emergence of a culture formed by the various peoples who brought about the Gaelic world which the Clan Donald ultimately came in time to lead. The beauty of the world created and described by the author with the poetry, songs, art and traditions that contributed to it brings the time to life for the reader. Heroic figures such as Somerled and Donald of the Isles are prominent in the piece and the reader will no doubt form their own opinions of the Lordship as a result.
And the myth that the Clan Donald was defeated at the battle of Harlaw is laid to rest. As mentioned in the book, "Donald had the victory but the regent had the printer." The same could be said of much of Scottish history.
Ronald Williams has constructed an excellent overview of the people and events of Gaelic Scotland, providing a terrific introduction to Clan Donald and to the Lordship of the Western Isles.
This history book is written in an unusually poetic manner and is an incredibly easy read. It not only covers the important players of each of the eras it covers, it gives enough of an insight into the culture and livelihoods of those who resided in the area at times between the middle of the first milennia AD and the final collapse of the Lordship in the 16th century.
Some might see the work as being from a Gaelic supporting viewpoint but Williams does not shy away from exposing some of the mistakes made by some of the Lords and distances himself from romanticised characterisations of some particularly aggressive characters such as Angus Og of Bloody Bay fame. The fierce rivalries between the MacDonalds and the Stewarts runs through most of the narrative and at times the tale becomes clearly the history of Scotland though given the significance of the Lords of the Isles at times, this is understandable.
The world that Williams brings to life is filled with heroic pageantry and brutal reality of what was a harsh and difficult place to live. From the early communities that formed in the west of Scotland through to the eventual forfeiture and collapse of the lordship, Williams draws from a wide range of sources to spell out the various triumphs and disasters, the rivalries between clans and even within them.
I was a little surprised to hear so little of the Campbells though perhaps not disappointed to see them be sidelined by the narrative. I was also a little sceptical that the work might be slightly out of date given the opening chapter that erroneously discusses the mythical Celtic homeland but I am glad that I did not let that scepticism get in the way of enjoying what is the best historical analysis of the Sons of Conn and the events of Highland & Island Scotland.