Who were the Cateran’s after whom the Cateran Trail is named?
Most tourist literature describes them as common cattle thieves, but the etymology offers a deeper interpretation.
The term cateran (from the Gaelic ceathairne, a collective word meaning “peasantry”) historically referred to a band of fighting men of a Scotland Highland clan. An individual member is a ceithernach or catanach. According to Randy Lee Eichoff it derives from Old Celtic ‘cat’ (battle, war) and ‘nach’ (man, fellow) Catanach means war-man, warrior. Its plural is ceithern or ceithrenn or caithereine or kettering or kettenring and several other spellings.
Magnus Magnusson (awarded the Medlicott Medal of the [British] Historical Association in 1989) states in his Scotland, The Story of a Nation (2000) that some Highland chieftains retained substantial private armies of professional soldiers known as ‘ceatharn’ used against their neighbours (page 211).
The historian Stuart McHardy, believes these Cateran Warriors were following an honourable tradition of inter-clan cattle raiding that had probably been going on since the Iron Age, if not earlier. Raids or ‘creachs’ in which an heir or young chieftain participated to prove his valour were an integral part of Highland society and the focus of a great deal of activity, on the part of the men at least. They had their own rules and procedures and there were elaborate customs to be followed as the raiders drove their prey through the lands of other clans.