examining the Livingston surname in Scotland, one has to realize right
away that there are two distinct clans or family groups, the lowlanders
and the highlanders. Each has it's own history, it's own heroes, and a
decidedly different character. The first originates from the peoples who
inhabited the lowlands in West Lothian during the eleventh century. This
area was dominated by a Hungarian, who's descendant, Livingus inherited
considerable properties surrounding Living's towne, thus the surname,
Livingstone. For more information on them go to the Lowland
The second of the two Livingstone family
groups originated in the highlands of Scotland on the tiny island of
Lismore in the waters of Loch Linne. And it is this bloodline of
Livingstones that I will address in the rest of this article. Unlike
their lowland neighbors, these people spoke Celtic and honored Celtic
traditions. Their surname evolved over time from MacDunsleeve to
MacOnlea to MacLea, all Celtic names referring to "son of the
physician", an implication that they were healers of a sort.
Sometime in the seventeenth century, for unknown reasons (possibly be
decree) these MacOnleas or MacLeas slowly began to adopt the lowland
surname, Livingstone. By the mid-eighteenth century, it was a rare event
to have a child's baptismal record reflect the old family surname.
Clerics may have been mandated to enter only anglicized versions of the
old name and each cleric spelled it as he wished. So today we see "Livingstone",
"Livingston", "Levingston", "Liviston" and
even "Living" or "Leving". All, if they originated
in the highlands, belong to the same family group known as "Clan
Livingstone". Remnants of the old family name can be found on
occasions in Ireland and America and other parts of the world. So people
with the surname "MacLea", "Lea" or "Lee",
that are able to trace their families back to Argyll can also assume to
be part of the highland Livingstone clan.
The crest above shows St. Moluag with his
crosier in the right had and the flower of St. Moluag in the left.
The motto is, "Cnoc Angeil" which is Celtic for "Fire
Hill", a reference to the hill at Bachuil where fires would be set
to signal others to be on alert for trouble.
The earliest history of the clan dates
back to the sixth century when the Livingstone ancestors were entrusted
with keeping the crosier or bishop's staff of St. Moluag. Some speculate
that these ancestors were druid priests who converted to Christianity
when Moluag landed on the shores of Lismore sometime about 563 A.D.
Moluag's staff was said to have the power
to heal the sick, to ward off danger, and to protect the clansmen when
in battle. It obviously didn't do that successfully all the time or
there would be a lot more MacOnleas around today. But the staff was
venerated and held sacred by all of the people in the region for many
centuries. It was passed from generation to generation of Livingstones.
And in time, the keepers of the staff of St. Moluag became known as the
Barons of Bachuil with a small land holding adjacent to the old
Cathedral of the See of Lismore. The staff though much deteriorated over
time, is still in the possession of the family today and is kept safe at
the present Baron's home at Bachuil.
The highland Livingstones were
historically never a clan of great wealth or power. They were always
dependent upon more prosperous neighbors like the Campbells, the
MacDougalls and the Stewarts of Appin to lease or croft them land to
farm or graze their cattle. The baron, the recognized chief of the clan,
had his small land holding. But that could only bear the weight of his
immediate family and close relatives. Distant cousins had to hope that
the baron's influence with his neighbors would afford them a niche to
survive somewhere on Lismore or the surrounding islands and mainland.
The further away from Lismore they were forced to move, the less
influence the chief of the clan would have had over them. And the more
dependent they would become on the grace of the local clan chief into
who's family they might have married.
If economic opportunity beckoned a
Livingstone from beyond, in Belfast or in Glasgow or in New York, then
they could be freed from the clan's influence entirely, but be deprived
of the sense of kinship the clan provided in the highland environment.
Thus did many Livingstones leave Argyll and the Isles during the
seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Only now, as they
rediscover their roots as Highland Scots, are they returning to Argyll
to get a sense of the grandeur of the landscape, the scent of the sea
and heather, and the wickedness of the volatile weather in which their
are a few highland Livingstones worthy of note here. One would be Donald
Livingstone, one of a contingent of Livingstones guarding Charles
Stewart, the Laird of Ardsheal at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. He
rescued the White Banner of the Stewarts from the battlefield and
successfully returned it to Appin. Donald was buried at Savary on the
Sound of Mull beside his parents. Dr. David Livingstone of Blantyre is
another famous descendent of the clan who illuminated the family name by
his exploration and missionary works in Africa. He is buried at
This account was
kindly contributed by Rob
The Highland Livingstones of