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Iain Garbh MacLean Of Coll's Broadsword

Iain Garbh MacLean, first of Coll, circa 1431, was a descendant of the Lochbuie MacLeans. He was a grandson of Red Hector of the Battles who was killed at the Battle of Harlaw.

Iain expanded the family holdings, some by grants from the Lord of the Isles, some by forceful action (Iain held Clanranald prisoner for 9 months until Clanranald agreed that the Island of Rhum belonged to him), some by strife. For a time he lost Coll to MacNeil of Barra who seized the island during Iain's absence in Ireland. On his return, he launched an attack against MacNeil, killing the Chieftain and most of his men. Iain then sailed to Barra which he seized along with a part of South Uist; he held these lands for a number of years before returning them to the lawful heir.

Iain Garbh was apparently exceptionally tall for his time as evidenced by a later-day anatomist who examined one of Iain’s bones. Iain was reported to have wielded, not a broadsword, but a doublehanded sword of immense size. The Gaelic title of the piobaireachd is Claidheamh mo Iain Gharaibh which translates to Stout (strong) Iains Great Sword, a distinction that suggests a sword much larger than the traditional broadsword of later times.

The composer is unknown but may have been a Rankin, traditional pipers to Coll. If so, the tune is thought to have been composed many years after Iain Garbh's death, circa the 1470's. Iain’s Great Sword would have been preserved on Coll. Many a bardic poem would have honoured this Chieftain and could have inspired a Rankin to compose this tune which some consider to be a Salute.


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