This very old Sept of MacLeod of Harris
was once of considerable importance to the MacLeods of Harris and
Dunvegan, due to their superior height and strength, and their expert
According to very old documents, the
progenitor was Asketil, son of Torquil. Asketil was the last Viking King
of Dublin, Ireland. He died circa 1171-2, resisting the English invaders
of Ireland under King Henry II.
He had placed his family under the
protection of the Norse King of Man, and his grandson, Gilbert MacAsgaill,
led a party sent by the King of Man to occupy and hold Dunscaith Castle,
on the Sleat Peninsula, Isle of Skye. These are the first members of the
name we can find in Scotland. According to Nicholson’s History of Skye,
they held that castle, “first for the Norse Kings of Man and later for the
MacLeods”, until it was ceded to the MacDonalds in settlement of a land
dispute. The MacAskills were then given the tack of Rudha na Dunain, where
there were MacAskills well into the 1880’s.
In the 1700s, the McCaskills had seven
farms - all called by different names, but totaling 27,000 acres,
including the Isle of Soay. One of these farms was Bolinture, the
ancestral home of some of the McCaskills who started immigrating to North
Carolina in 1771.
One branch of the family built Talisker
House and founded the distillery of that name, still the only licensed
malt whisky on the island.
In the aftermath of Culloden, great
numbers of MacAskills left Scotland to seek better living conditions in
the United States, Canada, and other pats of the world. During the
infamous Highland Clearances the entire population of the Island of
Bernarey, between Harris and North Uist, was arbitrarily shipped to Cape
Breton Island, Nova Scotia. This apparently was the source of Frank Adams’
mistaken idea that MacAskills were from Lewis; and belonged to the
MacLeods of Lewis (not the only error he made in assigning septs to other
clans). Victorians on the mainland were unaware that Lewis and Harris were
different islands, and, since Bernarey was part of the Harris estate, he
just assumed that it was a part of Lewis, and that all MacAskills
therefore belonged to Clan MacLeod of Lewis. Subsequent authors of Clan
and Tartan books have done their ’research’ in Adams’ book and so the
error has been perpetuated, misleading many who are first beginning to
seek their roots.
Among the families sent from Bernerey to
Cape Breton was six-year-old Angus MacAskill, his parents and siblings.
Angus grew up to be the famous Cape Breton Giant. His grand-nephews and
grand-nieces have built a small but interesting museum on the site of his
home in Englishtown, Nova Scotia.
In recent years an annual Gathering of
MacAskills, all spellings, has been held there, and a MacAskill Sept
Society formed. For information on the Sept Society e-mail