:"This article refers to an area of Scotland. For other uses see Ross (disambiguation)."

:"This article refers to an area of Scotland. For other uses see Ross University."

Ross ("Ros" in Scottish Gaelic) is a region of Scotland and a former mormaerdom, earldom, sheriffdom and county. The name "Ross" allegedly derives from a Gaelic word meaning "a headland" - perhaps a reference to the Black Isle. The Norse word for the Orkneys - "Hrossay" meaning "horse island" - is another possible origin. The area once belonged to the Norse earldom of Orkney. Ross is a historical comital region, perhaps predating the Mormaerdom of Ross.


The district of Ross is often mentioned in the Norse sagas along with the other parts of the country then governed by Mormaers or Jarls, and Skene in his earlier work says that it was only on the downfall of those of Moray that the chiefs of Ross appear prominent in historical records, the Mormaer of Moray being in such close proximity to them and so great in power and influence that the less powerful Mormaer of Ross held only a comparatively subordinate position, and his name was in consequence seldom or never associated with any of the great events of that early period in Highland history. It was only after the disappearance of those district potentates that the chiefs appear under the appellation of Committee of Earls. That most, if not all, of these earls were the descendants of the ancient maormors there can be little doubt, and the natural presumption in this instance is strengthened by the fact that all the old authorities concur in asserting that the Gaelic name of the original Earls of Ross was O'Beolan - a corruption of Gilleoin, or Gillean, na h`Airde - or the descendants of Beolan. "And we actually find," says the same authority, "from the oldest Norse Saga connected with Scotland that a powerful chief in the North of Scotland named O'Beolan, married the daughter of Ganga Rolfe, or Rollo of Normandy, the celebrated pirate who became afterwards the celebrated Earl of Normandy."

If this view is well-founded the ancestor of the Earls of Ross was chief in Kintail as early as the beginning of the tenth century. We have seen that the first Earl of Ross recorded in history was Malcolm MacHeth, to whom a precept is found, directed by Malcolm IV, requesting him to protect the monks of Dunfermline and defend them in their lawful privileges and possessions. The document is not dated, but judging from the names of the witnesses attesting it, the precept must have been issued before 1162. It will be remembered that MacHeth was one of the six Celtic earls who besieged the King at Perth two years before, in 1160. William the Lion, who seems to have kept the earldom in his own hands for several years, in 1179 marched into the district at the head of his earls and barons, accompanied by a large army, and subdued an insurrection fomented by the local chiefs against his authority. On this occasion he built two castles within its bounds, one called Dunscath on the northern Sutor at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, and Redcastle in the Black Isle. In the same year we find Floris III, Count of Holland, complaining that he had been deprived of its nominal ownership by King William. There is no trace of any other earl in actual possession until we come to Ferquard or "Ferchair Mac an t' Sagairt," Farquhar the son of the Priest, who rose rapidly to power on the ruins of the once powerful MacHeth earls of Moray, of which line Kenneth MacHeth, who, with Donald Ban, led a force into Moray against Alexander II, son of William the Lion, in 1215, was the last.

The district then known as North Argyle consisted chiefly of the possessions of this ancient monastery of Appercrossan or Applecross. Its inhabitants had hitherto - along with those of South Argyle, which extended from Lochcarron to the Firth of Clyde - maintained a kind of semi-independence, but in 1222 they were, by their lay possessor, Ferchair Mac an t'Sagairt, who was apparently the grandson or great-grandson of Gillandres, one of the six earls who besieged Malcolm IV at Perth in 1160, brought into closer connection with the crown. The lay Abbots of which Ferquhard was the head were the hereditary possessors of all the extensive territories which had for centuries been ruled and owned by this old and powerful Celtic monastery. As a reward for his services against the men of Moray in 1215 and for the great services which, in 1222, he again rendered to the King in the subjugation of the whole district then known as Argyle, extending from the Clyde to Lochbroom, he received additional honours. In that campaign known as "the Conquest of Argyle," Ferquhard led most of the western tribes, and for his prowess, the Celtic earldom, which was then finally annexed to the Crown and made a feudal appanage, was conferred on him with the title of Earl of Ross, and he is so designated in a charter dated 1234.

He is again on record, under the same title, in 1235 and 1236. Regarding an engagement which took place between Alexander II and the Gallowegians, in 1235, the "Chronicle of Melrose" says, that "at the beginning of the battle the Earl of Ross, called Macintagart, came up and attacked the enemies (of the King) in the rear, and as soon as they perceived this they took to flight and retreated into the woods and mountains, but they were followed up by the Earl and several others, who put many of them to the sword, and harassed them as long as daylight lasted." In "Celtic Scotland", it is stated that the hereditary lay priests of which he was the chief "according to tradition, bore the name of O'Beollan"; and MacVuirich, in the "Black Book of Clanranald", says that from Ferquhard was descended Gillapatrick the Red, son of Roderick, and known traditionally as the Red Priest, whose daughter, at a later date, married and carried the monastery lands of Lochalsh and Lochcarron to the Macdonalds of the Isles.

Under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 most of Ross was reunited when Ross-shire, along with Cromartyshire, became part of the newly-formed county of Ross and Cromarty. The sheriffdoms of Ross and Cromarty had been merged 141 years earlier, in 1748, the parliamentary constituency of Ross-shire and the constituency of Cromartyshire had merged in 1832, creating the Ross and Cromarty constituency, and the First and Second Statistical Accounts had treated the two jointly. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 finalised this process by providing that "the counties of Ross and Cromarty shall cease to be separate counties, and shall be united for all purposes whatsoever, under the name of the county of Ross and Cromarty."


1 Ross-shire with Cromartyshire



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