The princial Gunn lands were acquired through Ragnhild who
inherited great estates in Caithness and Sutherland in 1198 on the death
of her brother Harold Ungi, Jarl of Orkney and Caithness. These lands
were inherited by Snaekoll Gunni's son, the second chief of the Clan.
By the thirteenth century the Gunns were at the height of their powers and appear to have possessed the whole of Caithness.
Little is known of the Clan during the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries. There is, however, some interesting evidence to indicate that
Sir James Gun, Chief of the Clan Gunn, may have accompanied Henry
Sinclair of Orkney on his reputed expedition to the New World, some
ninety years before Columbus claimed to have discovered America. An
effigy of a mediaeval Knight in armour, reputed to be Sir James Gun is
cut into a rock face at Westford, Massachusetts.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there were many
skirmishes between the Gunns and their neighbours the Sinclairs, the
Keiths and others who had obtained grants of land from the Scottish
kings who were anxious to increase their influence over the fringes of
their kingdom. As a result the Gunns were gradually disposed of their
lands in the more fertile parts of Caithness. By the mid fifteenth
century Gunn of Ulbster, Chief of Clan Gunn and Crowner of Caithness
held his main lands at Ulbster and Clyth. He establised his main seat at
Halberry Head on the East Coast of Caithness, a mile south of Snaekoll,
Gunni's son's Castle at Bruan.
With a view to ending the long standing conflict between the
Gunns and the Keiths, a reconciliation was arranged to take place at the
Chapel of St. Tears near Ackergill Tower, owned at the time by the
Keiths. Each Clan had agreed to bring twelve men to the parley but the
Keiths treacherously brought two men on each horse and overcame the
Gunns. A son of the Chief of the Gunns escaped and later wreaked
vengeance on the Keiths by killing the Keith chieftain as he drank to
his Clan's victory in the Castle of Dirlot near Westerdale.
In 1978 the Earl of Kintore, Chief of Clan Keith, and Iain Gunn
of Banniskirk, Commander of the Clan Gunn signed a Treaty of Friendship
between the two Clans at the site of the Chapel, thus bringing to an end
a five hundred year old feud.
With the death of the Crowner and his sons at Ackergill, the Clan split into three main branches.
James, (Saumas) the Crowner's eldest son survived the battle, and
settled in Kildonan, Sutherland where he obtained lands from the Earl
of Sutherland. Robert the second surviving son established his line in
Braemore in the Southern heights of Caithness as Robson or Caithness
Gunns. John the third surviving son, settled in Cattaig in Strathmore in
the higher reaches of the River Thurso near Westerdale.
The Clan Gunn Society which was formed in 1960 to promote a spirit of kinship among members of the clan throughout the world acquired the Old Parish Church at Latheron as a Clan Heritage Center. The Clan gathers in Caithness every three years.