Donald M’Ewen M’Connell was the natural son of Ewen Beag, the XIVth Chief, who was murdered around 1553. The legend is that Ewen was much in love with a M’Dougall lady, who had a child (Donald) by him. Her father held Ewen prisoner until he should consent to marry the lady, but the Cameron clansmen decided to rescue him. The rescue was botched, and Ewen received fatal wounds.
During the minority of Ewen’s nephew Allan (MacIlduy), (Ewen’s brother Donald Dubh having been murdered in mysterious circumstances in 1569) Donald was supported by much of the clan, and it appears became the unofficial leader. During this time the troubles with the Erracht branch of the family started, and Donald held the clan together.
He had been nursed as a child by the wife of a tailor, and as he grew up he became an expert in arms, preferring the Lochaber axe to other weapons: hence his nickname Tàillear Dubh na Tuaige.
Several tales of his prowess and leadership are told in “The Camerons” by John Stewart of Ardvorlich (see ‘Sources’). One of them is quoted below:
‘The story is that Macintosh, at the head of 200 men of Clan Chattan, had invaded the Cameron occupied lands of Locharkaig, They had approached by Locheilside where, meeting no opposition, they rested for the night. Next morning they skirted Beinn an t-sneachda, thus approaching Locharkaig from the South, but found the Camerons occupying a strong position on a hillside barring their way. A bloody battle ensued. The Camerons, though outnumbered, had the advantage of the ground, and very soon, largely through the prodigious efforts of their leader, the Tàillear Dubh and his fearful axe, put the enemy to flight, many of them being left dead or wounded on the ground.
‘The Macintoshes retreated round the head of Locheil to the Ardgour shore where Macintosh rallied his men, and a second engagement took place. There the Tàillear Dubh and Macintosh met face to face, and the Tàillear’s axe felled Macintosh to the ground. The Clan Chattan men, taking their stricken chief with them, fell back to a place called Bun Garbhain where they took their stand again, both sides having suffered terrible losses: the rival forces had to disengage as night was upon them. The exhausted Macintoshes lay down in a small hollow called Cùil nan Cuileag where they thought they were safe, but the Tàillear and his few remaining men crept up and fell upon them, cutting them to pieces until not a single man was left alive and unwounded.
‘The Tàillear Dubh had the task of telling the mother of the infant chief (who, according to the story, was a Macintosh) of the total defeat of her clansmen. He went to Eilean nan Craobh where she was living, and the lady asked for news of the battle. The Tàillear said, ‘Gun robh bian cait an diurgh air plang, agus rogha’s taghadh air peighinn‘ (‘A cat’s skin might be had that day for a plack, and the choicest for a penny’). She knew what he meant, but, pretending she did not, invited him into the house, asking him to leave his axe outside. But he replied ‘Far am bi mi fhein bidh mo thuagh‘ (‘Where I am myself there will be my axe’). She was so infuriated that she took her infant son from the cradle and threw him into the fire, thereby showing her hatred for a Cameron even if it were her own son. Horrified, the Tàillear raised his axe and ahouted, ‘A bhean a rug an leanabh tog an leanabh‘ (‘Woman who bore the child, take up the child’). So frightened was she of his aspect that she snatched the child from the fire before he was badly burned. Shortly after this incident the lady was driven out of Lochaber by the Camerons.’