HIGHLAND CLANS & SEPTS
The Clan system is a popular area of Scottish history which emerged
from the old tribal ways of the people living in the land we now call
Scotland. From around the 10th to 13th centuries more and more names
became recognised as Clan names with varied histories and genealogies
drawn from the Oral tradition. Not all Clan names can be identified as
being solely Celtic, many came into being with the arrival of the
Normans and others have been drawn from the names of Saints. This in
itself reflects the changes in power affecting the land at that time
as the people allied themselves to leaders who, in their eyes, seemed
to be the most influential. This also brings up the point that although
Clan names are now representative of blood lines, this was not the case
initially as the Clan system came into being.
The following is a list, in alphabetical order, of the Highland Clans.
From the Gaelic 'Brothach' and one of the original tribes of Moray. An
ancient Clan with Brodie Castle at Forres being the uninterrupted seat
of Brodie of Brodie.
Clan Badge: Periwinkle
Known branches: Brodie of Lethen, Brodie of Idvies in Angus.
From the 'Siol O'Cain' (along with the MacMillans) one of the ancient
tribes of North Moray. The Historian, Buchanan of Auchmar says the name
O'Cain came from the progenitor Ansela O'Cain or O'Kyan in the 11th C.
Taken from 'Cam-Shron' or 'wry-nose' of an early Chief. Territory in
Lochaber. Once vassals to the Lord of the Isles and once formed a
branch of Clan Chattan. Ancestral seat at Achnacarry
Known branches: MacMartins of Letterfinlay, MacGillonies of Stron,
MacSorlies of Glen Nevis.
The Celtic name for this Clan is Clan Duibhne taken from the hero
Dairmid O'Duin. Chief's title is MacCailein Mor. The name Campbell came
into being when Eva O'Duine, the head of the Clan, married Gillespic
Name taken from the Chief, Gilliechattan Mor, 'Great Servant of St.
Catan. Lands in Glenlui, Loch Arkaig, Gellovie, Lochaber and Badenoch.
One of the Chattan line, Ewan Ban, became the ancestor of
There were 17 tribes considered kin of Clan Chattan listed as follows:
Clan vic Gorries
Cheandui of Glenbeg
Slioch Gow Chruin (Smith)
Clan vic Gillandris na Connage
Slioch Illvorvic Innish
Clan Phail (MacPhail)
Clan Fionlaigh Cheir
There was also nine tribes of the Clan MacKintosh mentioned above. Of
these the three major ones were Farquharson, Shaw and Toshach. All the
tribes together were known as the Cattenachs. This large group was once
seen as a threat to both the Lordship of the Isles and to the King of
From the Borders, Roxburghshire area. Norman in origin from De Chisolm.
Seat is Erchless Castle, Strathglass.
A territorial name in origin from the area of the Parish of West
Kilpatrick, Dumbartonshire. The seat of the Chiefs is Rossdhu House,
This family is Norman in origin and migrated from England. They
received land from the Scottish King in Roxburghshire.
(See Chattan) A principal branch of Clan Chattan. Clan Dhai comes from
David Dhu, fourth son of Muiriach, Chief of Clan Chattan. From David
Dhu comes the name Davidson or MacDhais. Territory was the Ross-shire,
A territorial from the lands of Drummond or Drymen in Stirlingshire.
A Malcolm Beg of Strathearn is the first of the line on record. His son
used the name Drummond or De Drymen. Chief's motto - 'gang warily'.
Their seat is at Strathallan.
The Dunbar's of Moray were recognised as a Morayshire Clan in 1579.
Chief's of the name Dunbar later resided at Mochrum Park in
Taken from the Barony of Erskine in Renfrewshire. Seats at Migvie and
Kildrummy Castle in Mar. A branch of Erskines also inherited the
Earldom of Buchan.
This Clan comes from Farquhar, fourth son of Alexander Ciar, the 3rd
Shaw of Rothiemurchus. Shaw being a branch of Clan Chattan. They took
up residence in Aberdeenshire. Farquharsons are also termed 'Clann
Fhionnlaigh' from Finlay Mor, grandson of Farquhar.
Known Branches:Farquharson of Monaltrie, Whitehouse, Haughton, Allargue
Breda and Finzean.
Of Scoto-Dalriadic descent, first settled in Kintyre, Argyll. Clann
Fhearghuis of Strachur has been established as coming from an ancient
line. Held the estate of Glenshellich their seat being Caisteal Dubh
on Bein Bheula.
Tradition gives this Chief and Clan as coming from Ochonochar who slew
a savage bear at the braes of Forbes, Aberdeenshire. Ochonochar settled
in the territory won from the bear.
Of Norman origin. Originally designated 'Frisell' or 'Frasell'. They
were first heard of as supporters of Kelso Abbey and settled in
Tweedale. Several other petty Clans adopted the name Fraser in the
district of Aird.
A name taken from the Parish of Gordon in Berwickshire. The progenitors
of the Clan were Anglo-Norman and settled in South Scotland around
the 12th Century. Their seat is Huntly Castle.
Allegedly from 'Gramus' demolisher of a line of defense built by
Antonius betwixt Forth & Clyde! First authentic Grahams appeared in
1128 from 'De Graham' who obtained lands of Abercorn and Dalkeith in
One of the principal branches of 'Siol Alpine' of which Clan Gregor is
Chief. The Grants are said to derive their origin from Gregor MacGregor
who lived in the 12th Century. Their territory is Strathspey where
there is a moor called Griantach or Sliabh-Griantais meaning 'Plain of
the Sun' and may be the origin of the Clan name. The seat of Clan Grant
is Castle Grant in Freuchie, Speyside. Craigellachie is the Clan
gathering place. Slogan - 'Stand Fast'
Known Branches: Clan Allan, Clan Phadraig, Clan Donnachie, Clan Chiaran
and the parent stem - Freuchie.
Of Norse origin, descended from Guinn, second son of Olave, the Black
King of Man and the Isles who died in 1237. Ancient seats at Hallburg
and Kilearnan. Said to be a warlike Clan of Caithness and Sutherland.
Springs from 'Berowald' who in 1160 was given the Barony of Innes in
Moray which covers the lands from Spey to Lossie along the shore. The
name means 'greens'.
Also known as Lamond and once owned a large area of Cowal. This Clan
was founded by Ferchar about 1200. Ferchar had three sons, Murdoch,
Malcolm and Duncan. Around 1238 we find Duncan son of Ferchar and
Lauman, son of Malcolm, son of Ferchar. Prior to this time the Clan was
known as Chlann 'ic Fhearchair but assumed the name of 'Lauman' from
their ancestor. Their Seat of Toward was destroyed by the Campbells.
From the Aberdeenshire area. They claim origin from a Hungarian
nobleman called Barthoff who married a Fifeshire heiress and in doing
so obtained land in the area.
From the territory of Levenach which originally belonged to Celtic
Chiefs, the first being Alwin MacMuredach, MacMaldouen, Mormaer of
Levenach. This Alwin had several sons, the 5th son was Aulay de Faslane
whose descendant, Allan de Faslane became the Bailie of Lennox.
Gilchrist, the 7th son of Alwin, founded the clan MacFarlane.
Taken from a Norman, Baldric de Lindesay, the first recorded member of
the Clan. Their territory is in the Braes of Angus.
One of the principle branches of Clan Donald. Their descent is traced
from Alexander, son of Angus Mor, son of Donald, founder of Clan Donald
and grandson of Somerled of Argyll. Their territory covers South
Knapdale in Kintyre and their ancient seat was at Ard Phadruig on the
North of West Loch Tarbert.
Also known as MacAlpine. One of the chief branches of the royal clan
Alpin. Their seat is said to have been at Dunstaffnage in Argyll though
they are now landless and without a recognised Chief.
One of the old Clans of Argyll whose territory was on the shores of
Loch Awe. They claim descent from King Arthur and this particular Clan
distinguished themselves from other named Arthur by the name 'Clann
Artair na tir a chladich' - 'Clan Arthur of the shore-land'.
Slogan - Eisd! Eisd!
A minor branch of Clan Alpin. Their name appears in the Ragman Roll of
1296 and paid tribute to the MacGregors. There are other, different
MacAulays at Uig in SW Lewis who are followers of Clan MacLeod of Lewis
with no connection to Clan Alpin. The Lewis MacAulays are descended
from Ollave or Olla, black brother of Magnus.
Also MACBAIN. Of ancient origin belonging to the province of Moray.
MacBains of Badenoch were designated 'Chlann 'Ac al Bheath', the
lineage of MacBeth. Those of Inverness formed an important branch of
Clan Chattan whilst those in Perthshire called themselves MacVean.
Clan Donald. The founder was Somerled, son of Gillebride who expelled
the Norwegians at the end of the 10th Century. There were three sons,
Dugall, Ranald and Angus. Dugall held Mull, Coll, Tiree and Jura and
from him came Clan Dugall of Argyll and Lorn. Angus held part of Arran
and Bute and Ranald held Islay, Kintyre and part of Arran. From Ranald
came Donald, founder of Clan Donald or the MacDonald's of Islay and
Ruari, founder of Clan Ruari or MacRories of Bute. Their Chief was
designated Lord of the Isles.
The kings of Fife claim descent from Conall Cerr, a son of Eochaid
Buidhe, King of the Picts. MacDuff, lord of Fife was said to have
vanquished MacBeth and restored Malcolm Ceann Mor as King. Their
ancient lands and castle stand on the southern shore of Fife.
Their territory was at the head of Loch Lomond, between there and Loch
Long. The seat of the chief was at Inverglas, later at Tarbert and then
at Arrochar. They derived their name from the Chief Parlan or
Bartholomew. Also a sept of MacAllans or Allans.
Also MacDuffie. A branch of Clan Alpin and the most ancient inhabitants
of Colonsay. Connections, through descent, with the MacGregors and
MacKinnons. MacFie of Colonsay was also Hereditary keeper of the Records
of the Isles during the times of the 'Lordship'.
A branch of Clan Chattan, their original home being in Morvern and
Lochaber. Along with many others, they appear to have come from the
original stock of the 'Siol Cuinn'. Seat at Dun-ma-Glas in Strathnairn.
The senior line of Clan Alpin claiming descent from Griogar, 3rd son of
King Alpin who ascended the Celtic Scottish throne around 787.
Glenurchy was the original seat of the MacGregors although they once
held territories on Perthshire and Argyllshire. Unfortunately, the land
was won by right of first occupation, they possessed no title deeds.
The Campbells managed to acquire Crown charters for the MacGregor lands
and in doing so dispossessed the MacGregors.
There is little history on this Clan although it seems that, along with
the MacGillivrays they were of the original Dalriads and kin to the
The name is said to be derived from the Gaelic 'Toisach'. The 1st chief
of MacKintosh was Shaw, 2nd son to Duncan. He was given many lands in
the north and commonly became called 'Mac-an-Toisich mhic Duibh' meaning
'Thane MacDuff's son'. The ancient seat of the Chief of MacKintosh was
on an island in Loch Moy.
A small but ancient Clan who seem to have been an offshoot from Clan
Donald. Traditionally in possession of lands near Bunawe in Lorn.
MacIntyre of Sorn in Ayrshire is said to be the only territorial branch
of the Clan left in Scotland.
They claim descent from the old Royal House of Moray although this is
seen as being a junior line springing from Morgund of Pluscarden. The
rise of the Clan took place around the beginning of the 13th Century.
Said to be descended from Gilleon Og, a younger son of Gilleon na Airde
the ancestor of Anrias, progenitor of the O'Beolans, the old Earls of
Ross. Their territory certainly was in that area, the seat of the Chief
became Brahan Castle in East Ross.
The Clan is a branch of Clan Alpin claiming descent from Fingon,
grandson of Gregor, son of Kenneth MacAlpin. Ancient lands held were
many including parts of Mull, Skye, Arran, Tiree, Pabbay and Scalpa.
Their original territory was in the district of Gribun on the Island of
Mull and Strathordell on the Isle of Skye.
Along with the MacNeills and the MacEwans, the MacLachlans are said to
be descended from an ancestor related to the progenitor of the
MacDonalds. Original seat seems to have been in Lochaber.
Descent is claimed from Loarn, son of Erc of the line of Dalriada.
Loarn is said to have given his name to the district of Lorn. Were
once the Lords of Tiree, representatives of this line being the
MacLaurins of Dreghorn, Chiefs of the Clan. The name Lavernani or
Laurnani is also associated with the MacLarens around the 11th Century.
Tradition gives the Clan Gillean as coming from the neighbourhood of
Scone. The ancestor of Clan Gillean is 'Gilleathain na Tuaidh' called
Gillean of the Battle-axe. The MacLeans eventually divided into four
branch Clans which are:
MacLeans of Duart
MacLeans of Ardgour
MacLeans of Coll
MacLeans of Lochbuie
Duart Castle became the seat of the Chiefs.
Also Logan. A small Clan who were standard bearers to the MacKenzies.
Descended from Logan a Scottish priest, who like many of his time,
fathered several children. He was a devotee of St. Finnan and his
descendants were called Mac-Ghille Fhinnein, MacLennan from this.
Many try to give the MacLeods a Celtic origin but it seems that they
are Norse in origin. The two great branches of the Clan are Siol Tormod
and Siol Torquil which seems to verify their Norse ancestry. The
progenitor of the Macleods is said to be Leod, son of Olave, brother of
Magnus, the last King of Man. The seat of the Chief of Siol Tormod is
Dunvegan castle in Skye.
From the Siol O'Cain, one of the tribes of the Mormaer of Moray who are
said to be of the ancient tribe of the Kanteai, a subdivision of the
northern Picts. The principal territory of Clan MacMillan was around
Loch Tay. The MacMillans of Knapdale in Argyll were vassals of the
Lords of the Isles. In Gaelic a MacMillan is called Mac-Mhaoilean or
Mac-Gille-Mhaoil, or the son of the tonsured one.
The MacNabs, Clann an Aba, derive from the hereditary Celtic Abbot of
Glendochart in the reign of David I. The MacNabs supported the Clan
MacDougall of Lorn against Robert the Bruce, hence when Bruce became
the victor they lost a large slice of their lands. The last chief died
in France in 1860. The family burying place lies on the island of Innis
Buie, (River Dochart).
Earliest references connect them with Strathtay and Argyllshire. The
name Nectan is Pictish. Strongholds were "Fraoch Eilean" castle, Loch
Awe, and the Castle of Dundarave on Loch Fyne.
Derives its descent through forty-five generations from Niall of the
Nine Hostages. Niall, 21st in descent, came to Barra in 1049 and
founded the Clan Niall in Scotland. The seat of the chief is the
island castle of Kismull, in Barra. After the forfeiture of the Lords
of the Isles in 1493, the MacNeills of Barra became allies of MacLean
of Duart, whereas the MacNeills of Gigha followed the MacDonalds of
Islay and Kintyre. The MacNeills were hereditary harpers, and pipers, to
the MacLeans of Duart.
The name denotes 'son of the parson', from Duncan, Parson of Kingussie,
1438, descended from Kenneth son of Ewen Ban, second son of Muriach,
Chief of Clan Chattan 1173. The seat of the chief of the MacPhersons
was at Cluny castle, near Kingussie. The oldest cadets are those of
Pitmain and of Invereshie (the Slioch Gillies).
This small clan possessed the little island of Ulva, to the west of
Mull. They form one of the branches of Clan Alpin. According to
tradition they descended from Guarie, a brother of Fingon, who was
the ancestor of the MacKinnons. The MacGuires of Ireland are said to
derive their descent from Gregor, second son of Cormac Mor, chief of
Come from the same stock as the MacDonalds, of the race of Conn. The
MacQueens of Garafad in Skye held lands for many centuries.
They occupied the position of a subordinate clan to the MacKenzies.
Little is known of their early history. The MacRaes are said to have
settled in Kintail in the fourteenth century.
Small Argyllshire clan, with territories in the Loch Awe district.
Traditionally said to be an offshoot of the MacGhilleChallums (or
MacLeods) of Raasay. Dugald MacCallum of Poltalloch, 1779, was the
first to adopt 'Malcolm' as the patronym. Malcolm of Poltalloch is the
chief of Clan Malcolm.
Early history is obscure. The country of the clan appears to have been
in the district of Lochalsh. Some say originated from MacKenzies,
others say they are of Norse origin.
Though the clan is descended from a Gaelic speaking race, the chiefs
are of Lowland origin. The clan appears to have settled in Atholl
from early times.
The Chlann Mhic-Gille-Mhoire are said to be Scandinavian. Tradition
says their founder was the son of the king of Norway, who along with
his wife and child was cast ashore on the island of Lewis. The Clan's
badge is therefore 'sgoid cladach' or driftwood. Morrison of Habost
attained the position of hereditary brieve, or judge. The clan were
also known as Chlann na Breitheamh. They held this hereditary position
until 1613. The Morrisons formed colonies in the north of Scotland.
The Morgans of Wales and the MacNamaras of Ireland are supposedly
related to the Morrisons, being of the Morganaich (sons of the sea).
They were anciently vassals of the Earls of Ross. Their chief seat is
at Foulis. Origin is from the Siol o' Cain of North Moray. The first
chief, Hugh, lived in the twelfth century.
The ancestor of this powerful family was Freskin de Moravia, who
acquired the lands of Strabrock in West Lothian, and held Duffus in
Moray. It is from Freskin's grandson William that the Dukes of Atholl
The Gaelic name is 'MacNeacail'. The Nicolsons held the lands of
Scorrybreac, in Skye. MacNicol of Portree was one of the sixteen men
of the Council of the Isles. Local tradition says that over one
hundred chiefs of the clan were borne to their last resting place at
The chiefs of this clan derive their name from GilleBride, second son
of Ghillechriost, Earl of Angus. The Barony of Ogilvie, in the parish
of Glamis, in Angus, was bestowed on this GilleBride by King William
the Lion about 1163.
The Robertsons, or Clan Donnachie, are derived from the old Earls of
Atholl. The chief, who gave the clan the patronymic of Donnachie,
appears to have been Donnchadh or Duncan Reamhar, who led the clan at
the battle of Bannockburn. From a later chief, Robert, who lived in
the reign of James I, the clan took its name. Duncan Reamhar left two
sons, Robert, ancestor of the Robertsons of Struan, chiefs of the clan,
and Patrick, of the Robertsons of Lude. Besides Struan, the chiefs had
at one time wide possessions on the banks of Loch Tay and of Loch
Rannoch. The ancient residence of the clan Donnachie was at Dun
Alister, at the east end of Loch Rannoch.
Before the forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles, this small
Nairnshire clan were vassals of the old Earls of Ross. The family of
Rose of Kilravock, chief of the clan, settled in the county of Nairn
in the reign of David I, but their first designation was "of Geddes".
Bonds of friendship and loyalty were given to their powerful
neighbours the MacKintoshes. The seat of the chief is still the Castle
of Kilravock (their residence since 1460).
The progenitor of the old Earls of Ross was the eldest son of Gilleon
na h-airde, the ancestor of Anrias, who was the progenitor of the
O'Beolans or Gillanders, the old Celtic Earls of Ross. The first of the
O'Beolan Earls was Fearcher MacinTagart, grandson of Gillianrias, and
son of the 'sagart', or hereditary abbot at the monastery of Applecross
founded by St. Maelrubha in the seventh century.
The founder was Sir William Saint-Clair, son of Robert de Saint-Clair
in Normandy. In 1455 they got granted from the Scottish crown the
Earldom of Caithness. This line came to end with the death of George
the sixth Earl in 1676, after which the title was usurped by the
Campbells. A fierce battle took place between the Sinclairs and the
Campbells which was fought at Allt nam meirleach, near Wick. Although
Sinclair was defeated, he eventually won back his claims by other means.
The Sinclairs of Roslin were long hereditary Master Masons of Scotland.
The progenitor is said to be a younger son of Robertson of Struan. The
arms bear wolves' heads. For service to one of the early kings,
Malcolm Canmore the young Robertson was given the lands and lake of
Skene in the Forest of Stocket, Aberdeenshire. The king offered
Robertson the choice of two things - as much land as was encompassed
by a hound's chase, or what could be covered by a hawk's flight.
Robertson chose the latter. The Gaelic name is Siol Sgeine, no Clann
Donnachaidh Mhar (Clan Robertson of Mar). The family of Skene of Skene
became extinct in the direct line in 1827.
A royal clan which sprang from a scion of the ancient hereditary
Stewards of Dol, in Normandy. Of this family Alan Fitz Flaald obtained
from Henry I. of England the Barony of Oswestry. His son William was
the progenitor of the Earls of Arundel. Simon the youngest son of Alan
became the progenitor of the Boyds, his son Robert having been
designated Buidhe from his yellow hair. The Clan Stewart held many
lands, too numerous to mention here, and the history of this clan is
linked very largely with the wider history of Scotland.
This county was long overrun by the Norsemen, and is a corruption of
the Norse Sudrland. The Highlanders call it Cataibh. Lord Caithness
is called Morair Chataibh (the Lord of Cataibh). The crest of the
Sutherland family is a 'cat-a-mountain'. Some say the original Celts
of that country were driven out by the Scandinavian invaders, and
that the Gaelic speaking population is derived from immigrants from
Ross and Moray. Another account says the Celts of Sutherland retreated
from the Norsemen into the mountains and inaccessible areas. The chiefs
of the clan are descended from Freskin, the progenitors of the Murrays.
Though small, this is a very ancient clan. The castle of Urquhart is
on the north side of Loch Ness, and was a place of great strength.
There are records of their chiefs from the year 1306. For about 50
years the Urquharts, as vassals of the Earldom of Ross, were connected
with the Lordship of the isles. The direct line of the Urquharts ended
in 1741. There are parishes of the name of Urquhart in Inverness-shire,
Ross-shire and Morayshire.
[Origin: Dalriada Celtic Heritage Society, Isle of Arran]