The Return of the British Kings 4: The Macnaghtens, last of the Caledonian Cruthin (Pictish) Kings, and Robert Quigg VC.

The Macnaghtens (MacNaughtons or MacNachtens ) are descended from the eighth century Caledonian Cruthin or Pictish King Nechtan.The earliest reference to the MacNaghtens is in connection with great Pictish Rulers of Moray. The name ‘Nechten’ which means “pure” or “clear” was popular in the Pictish royal line. The originator of the clan is believed to have been “Nechtan Mor” who lived in the 10th Century.

By the time of the Renaissance, the Mcnaghtens had developed four distinct branches, or “septs,” each recognized by the Crown with its own coat of arms. The senior line, Macnaghten of Argyll, is assumed to descend from Sir Gilchrist MacNaughtan, who was granted land in Argyll in the early 13th century by Alexander III, King of Scotland. Parchments from 1247 and 1267 bearing the seal of Sir Gilchrist MacNaughtan are among the oldest existing charters in Scotland. They took up residence on an island in Loch Awe called Fraoch Eilean, which name they used as a battle cry. Also in this century the sept MacNaught broke away from the main clan and moved to Galloway and Ayrshire although they kept a strong connection with the main clan for protection.

During the 14th Century the Macnaghtens were opposed to Robert the Bruce and his claim to the throne of Scotland; however, he did eventually become King Robert I of Scotland. As a result, the Macnaghtens forfeited many of their lands. Clan Macnaghten also fought against Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Dalrigh in 1306. The fortunes of the clan were restored, however, when King David II of Scotland granted them lands in Lewis. The MacNaughts were on Robert the Bruce’s side because they lived in part of his lands.

In the sixteenth century during the Anglo-Scottish Wars the Clan Macnaghten led by Chief Alistair Macnaghten, who was knighted by King James IV of Scotland and fought at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513. However the Chief was killed during the course of the battle. The MacNaghtens did not put their faith in the Stewarts and opted more for the freedom that the presbyterian church offered.

In the 17th century during the Civil War Chief John MacNaghten and his clan were Royalist supporters. The MacNaghtens had a strong force and joined King James VII’s general the Viscount Dundee and is said to have taken a leading part when the Clan Macnaghten were victorious at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. By this point the MacNaughts had a lot of septs such as MacKnight (which is the direct translation of the name into English), MacNeight, MacNett, MacNitt and MacNutt.

The Macnaghtens were one of the families brought in by the McDonnells of the Glens of Antrim. Black John Macnaghten (known locally as Shane Dhubh) became The Earl of Antrim’s Chief agent. Black John was buried in the family burial ground at Bonamargy Friary near Ballycastle, County Antrim The MacNaughts were also moved to Ulster and Roy McNett gave me my first job on a building site in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Ulster Volunteer Force members, who volunteered to join the British Army in 1914, formed the bulk of the 36th (Ulster) Division . Thousands of its members volunteered for active service. One such volunteer was Robert Quigg. In September 1914, he enlisted in the 12th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles (Mid-Antrim Volunteers). His service number was 12/18645. He held the rank of Rifleman. His Platoon Officer was Harry Macnaghten, the heir to the Macnaghten Estate at Dunderave. Sometime earlier, Robert had worked on Dunderave Estate; he had first become familiar with Harry Macnaghten while employed there.

Robert Quigg was awarded the Victoria Cross for his “Most Conspicuous Bravery” at the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. Prior to the major offensive, his unit had been placed in the French village of Hamell, located on the north bank of the River Ancre. On 1 July, the Mid-Antrim Volunteers were ordered to advanced through the defenses towards the heavily defended German lines. During the advance, they encountered fierce resistance from heavy machine-gun and shell fire. Quigg’s platoon made three advances during the day, only to be beaten back on each occasion by German fire. The final evening assault left many hundreds of the 12th Battalion lying dead and wounded in “no man’s land”.

In the early hours of the next morning, it was reported that Lieutenant Harry Macnaghten, the platoon commander was missing; Robert Quigg volunteered to go out into “no man’s land” to try and locate him. He went out seven times to search for the missing officer, without success. On each occasion, he came under machine gun fire, but he managed to return with a wounded colleague. It was reported that, on one of his forays, he crawled within yards of the German position in order to rescue a wounded soldier, whom he dragged back on a waterproof groundsheet. After seven hours of trying, exhaustion got the better of him; Robert had to rest from his efforts. The body of Lieutenant Harry Macnaghten was never recovered.

On 8 January 1917, Robert received his Victoria Cross from King George V, at York Cottage, Sandringham.Queen Mary was also in attendance. Upon his return to Bushmills, the people of the town and district turned out in force to welcome him home, including the Macnaghten household. Lady Macnaghten presented him with a gold watch in recognition of his bravery in attempting to find and rescue her son, Lieutenant Harry Macnaghten. Robert reached the rank of seargeant before retiring from the army in 1926 (after he was badly injured in an accident). Later, in 1953, two years before he died, he met the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. Robert Quigg died on 14 May 1955 at Ballycastle, County Antrim. He was buried in Billy Parish Churchyard, with full military honours. His statue now stands in Bushmills town centre.

The Russians also presented Robert Quigg with the Medal of the Order of St George (Fourth Class), the highest award of the Russian Empire. The First and Second classes were only given on the personal decree of the Emperor. The Third and Fourth classes were only awarded by the approval of the Georgevsky Council, a group of St George Knights. The Third Class was for senior officers, and the Fourth Class was the highest award of the Russian Empire for non-senior officers. His Victoria Cross and Order of St. George (fourth class) are on display at the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum, Waring Street, Belfast.


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