Ewan-of-the-Small-Head - An Isle of Mull Legend

The coach driver told us this amusing tale as we passed through Glen More, on the journey back from Fionnaphort to Craignure.

In the 17thc the Maclean clan dominated most of the Lorn and the southern part of the Great Glen, including Mull and the smaller islands around it. However, after some disagreements a small group split off from the main clan, changing their name to "Maclaine" to emphasise the difference: over time they established themselves mainly on Mull and some of the nearby islands. The disputes continued, with some fighting, for many years until the Maclean clan chief decided to end the problem once and for all by occupying Mull and doing away with the rebels.

The invading force landed on the island and marched inland, reaching Glen More without meeting any real opposition; however, it became obvious that the main battle would be fought here as the Macleans and the Maclaines assembled to face each other below Ben More.

The chief of the Maclaines, Ewan-of-the-Small-Head, was obviously concerned about what would happen in the inevitable battle the next day, so he decided to consult his Wise Woman. After making her predictions by whatever arcane method was then in favour, she told him that, if there was butter on the table when he took breakfast the next morning, the battle would be won; however, if there was none - and especially if he had to ask for it - he would lose and the Maclaines be defeated for ever more.

Ewan returned to his castle and spent that night worrying about her words and the next day's battle. He found it impossible to sleep, and went down to the hall for breakfast very early the next morning. To his horror, there was no butter on the table.

Now at this point it is obvious how Ewan got his nickname, for had he had any brains within his small head he would have gone back to bed and returned at a more reasonable time. Instead of doing that, he angrily demanded of one of the serving-wenches why there was no butter: she replied, quite accurately, that as it was so early she had not yet started to lay the table...

Later that day the battle in the glen commenced: as was the custom in those times, Ewan-of-the-Small-Head led the first charge at the head of his men. Unfortunately, at the instant the two forces met one of the Maclean fighters swung his claymore and cleanly cut off Ewan's head. His horse must have been so excited at this point that it continued galloping at full speed down the glen with his body still in the saddle: behind it, of course, the leaderless Maclaines were overpowered and those that failed to escape were either killed or captured. The rebels were subsequently forced to pledge allegiance to the main Maclean clan, and after doing so were allowed to keep their name and to continue to live on Mull and their other islands.

In the inevitable confusion after the battle, and since the horse carrying his body had run off, it proved impossible to reunite Ewan's head with his body so that they could be laid to rest. So, to this day, it is said that a headless horseman can be seen riding through Glen More, predicting tragedy and defeat for the Maclaines whenever he appears.

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Last modified: Sun May 23 10:59:25 BST 1999