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Clan MacCaskill


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 sixteenth century.

Angus McAskill, seven-feet-nine-inches tall and known as the Cape Breton Giant, was born in Lewis and died in Canada in 1863.


Thanks to Olive McCaskill Bell  for the following information

   The 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. 

And lastly, 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".

   The 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.

   Thank you for your attention and the opportunity to make this correction.

Yours ay, Olive McCaskill Bell,  New Mexico and Cape Breton

The MacAskills, McCaskills, MacCaskeys, Askies, etc. of all spelling variations

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 swordsmanship.

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 maccaskillmuseum@ns.sympatico.ca.

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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