There are several possible Gaelic origins for
this name, but the most likely appears to be 'bheathain', meaning lively
one. This could also have been rendered as 'Mac'ic' Bheatha', or Macbeth, a
name evocative of Scotlands early history. When Malcolm II deposed the line
of Macbeth from the throne, his power was constantly challenged by the
powerful noble families of Moray. Unrest continued in the region for several
generations until, in the reign of Malcolm IV, the power of the mormaers of
Moray was finally brocken, and various members of the family sought refuge
in other parts of the kingdom. According to tradition, the ancestors of the
Macbains sought out his kin among the descendents of Gillichattan Mor, more
commonly called Clan Chattan.
The earliest certain record of the name in
its more modern form appears in an old Kinrara manuscript of the mid 14th
century, which names both Bean Macmilmhor and his son, Milmor Macbean. The
Macbains supported Robert the Bruce in the struggle for Scottish
independence, and they are credited with the killing of the steward of the
Red Comyn, whose master had been stabbed to death by Bruce himself in the
Greyfriars Church at Dumfries in 1306.
Paul Macbean, the 12th chief, was weighed
down by heavy debts and was forced to relinquish his lands around 1685. The
present chiefly line descends from his younger son, the elder line having
ended in a daughter, Elizabeth Margaret Macbean, who married Dougald Stuart
around 1790, but died without issue.
The loss of the clan lands at Kinchyle must
have been sorely felt, but happily the present chief has continued the work
of his father, who retreived some of the clan lands and established the
Macbain memorial park on the slopes above Loch Ness.
The Macbains supported the Jacobite rising of
1715, and many were transported to the plantations in Virginia, Maryland and
South Carolina after the Stuart defeat. This did not deter Gillies Mor
Macbean, grandson of the 12th chief, from taking up a commission as a major
to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie, the 'Young Pretender'.
At Culloden in 1746, Gillies, a giant of a
man said to be at least 6 feet 4 inches, saw government dragoons breaking
through to assault the Highlanders in the flank. The major threw himself
into the gap and, with his back to the wall, cut down 13 or 14 of his
assailants until he himself was mortally wounded. A Hanoverian officer
called back his men in an attempt to save a brave fellow soldier, but
Macbean was already dead.
Other Macbains distinguished themselves on
that bloody field, and it was a Macbain who assisited Cameron of Lochiel,
who was wounded and unable to walk, to escape to safety.
After Culloden the chief struggled to keep
the remaining clan lands together, but they were finally sold in 1760.
It was a Macbain who commanded the Gordon
Highlanders against the Boers of South Africa in 1881. In this century the
chiefly line has flourished, first in Canada and now in the United States.
See also Clan MacBean