The Gaelic of this name is
MacAsgaill, coming from the Old Norse askell (sacrificial vessel). The clan is a sept of
the Macleods of Lewis, whom William MacAskill led against the Clanranald fleet in the
seven-feet-nine-inches tall and known as the Cape Breton Giant, was born in Lewis and died
in Canada in 1863.
information you have listed under "Clan MacCaskill" is incorrect. First,
the MacAskills, of all spellings, are a Sept not a true Clan. And, most
importantly, they are not of Lewis. This is a mistake made by the
Victorian, Frank Adams of whom it is said, "Like most Victorians he liked
to put things into neat little pigeon holes. The problem was that he was
not too careful about which pigeon holes he used!" As explained below his
mistake as to the origin of the MacAskills has been perpetuated for over
100 years and mislead many of us seeking information on our genealogy.
The Giant MacAskill was not born on the Isle of Lewis but on Berneray
which was in the Isle of Harris Estates. Frank Adams neatly pigeon holed
all of the Outer Isles into one package and called it "Lewis".
following information, based on recent scholarship, which has shown that
the MacAskills were likely on Skye before the MacLeods, is the correct and
official information of the MacAskill Sept Society which is presently
based at The Giant MacAskill Museum in Englishtown, Cape Breton Island,
Nova Scotia. We have membership all across the United States and Canada
and our Gathering this year will be August 6-7-8 in Englishtown.
you for your attention and the opportunity to make this correction.
Olive McCaskill Bell, New Mexico and Cape Breton
MacAskills, McCaskills, MacCaskeys, Askies, etc. of all spelling
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 Nicholsons 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 1880s.
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
In 1951, a MacAskill tartan
was designed and registered, based on the MacLeod of Harris sett, but with
a slight difference to show allegiance to Clan MacLeod.
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