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Mackay Country, Scotland

The most northern mainland county of Scotland is that of Caithness, and the principal clan inhabiting this district is the important one of Mackay, or the siol Mhorgan. With regard to Caithness, Mr Skene says - "The district of Caithness was originally of much greater extent than the modern country of that name, as it included the whole of the extensive and mountainous district of Strathnaver. Towards the middle of the tenth century the Norwegian Jarl of Orkney obtained possession of this province, and with the exception of a few short intervals, it continued to form a part of his extensive territories for a period of nearly two hundred years. The district of Strathnaver, which formed the western portion of the ancient district of Caithness, differed very much in appearance from the rest of it, exhibiting indeed the most complete contrast which could well be conceived, for while the eastern division was in general low, destitute of mountains, and altogether of a Lowland character, Strathnaver possessed the characteristics of the rudest and most inaccessible of Highland countries; the consequence of this was, that while the population of Caithness proper became speedily and permanently Norse, that of Strathnaver must, from the nature of the country, have remained in a great measure Celtic; and this distinction between the two districts is very strongly marked throughout the Norse Sagas, the eastern part being termed simply Katenesi, while Strathnaver, on the other hand, is always designated 'Dolum a Katernesi', or the Glens of Caithness. That the population of Strathnaver remained Gaelic we have the distinct authority of the Sagas, for they inform us that the Dolum, or glens, were inhabited by the 'Gaddgedli', a word plainly signifying some tribe of the Gael, as in the latter syllable we recognise the word Gaedil or Gael, which at all events shews that the population of that portion was not Norse.

"The oldest Gaelic clan which we find in possession of this part of the ancient district of Caithness is the clan Morgan or Mackay".

The accounts of the origin of the Mackays are various. In the MS of 1450, there is no reference to it, although mention is made of the Mackays of Kintyre, who were called of Ugadale. These, however, were vassals of the Isles, and had no connection with the Mackays of Strathnaver. Pennant assigns to them a Celto-Irish descent, in the 12th century, after King William the Lion had defeated Harald, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, and taken possession of these districts. Mr Skene supposes that they were descended from what he calls the aboriginal Gaelic inhabitants of Caithness. The Norse Sagas state that about the beginning of the twelfth century, "there lived in the Dolum of Katenesi (or Strathnaver) a man named Moddan, a noble and rich man", and that his sons were Magnus Orfi and Ottar, the Jarl of Thurso. The title of jarl was the same as the Gaelic maormor, and Mr Skene is of opinion that Moddan and his son Ottar were the Gaelic maormors of Caithness.

Sir Robert Gordon, in his History of Sutherland (p.302), from a similarity of badge and armorial bearings, accounts the clan Mackay a branch of the Forbeses, but this is by no means probable.

Mr Smibert is of opinion that the Mackays took their name from the old Catti of Caithness, and that the chiefs were of the Celto-Irish stock. This, however, is a very improbable supposition. Whatever may have been the origin of the chiefs, there is every reason to believe that the great body of the clan Mackay originally belonged to the early Celtic population of Scotland, although, from their proximity to the Norse immigrants, it is not at all improbable that latterly the two races became largely blended.

Alexander, who is said to have been the first of the family, aided in driving the Danes from the north. His son, Walter, chamberlain to Adam, bishop of Caithness, married that prelate's daughter, and had a son, Martin, who received from his maternal grandfather certain church lands in Strathnaver, being the first of the family who obtained possessions there. Martin had a son, Magnus or Manus, who fought at Bannockburn under Bruce, and had two sons, Morgan and Farquhar. From Morgan the clan derived their Gaelic name of Clan-wie-Worgan, or Morgan, and from Farquhar were descended the Clan-wic-farquhar in Strathnaver.

Donald, Morgan's son, married a daughter of Macneill of Gigha, who was named Iye, and had a son of the same name, in Gaelic Aodh, pronounced like Y or L.

Aodh had a son, another Donald, called Donald Macaodh, or Mackaoi, and it is from this son that the clan has acquired the patronymic of Mackay. He and his son were killed in the castle of Dingwall, by William, Earl of Sutherland, in 1395. The Mackays, however, were too weak to take revenge, and a reconciliation took place between Robert, the next earl, and Angus Mackay, the eldest of Donald's surviving sons, of whom there were other two, viz, Houcheon Dubh, and Neill Angus, the eldest son, married a sister of Malcolm Macleod of the Lewis, and had by her two sons, Angus Dubh, that is, dark-complexioned, and Roderick Gald, that is, Lowland. On their father's death, their uncle, Houcheon Dubh, became their tutor, and entered upon the management of their lands.

In 1411, when Donald, Lord of the Isles, in prosecution of his claim to the earldom of Ross, burst into Sutherland, he was attacked at Dingwall, by Angus Dubh, or Black Angus Mackay. The latter, however, was defeated and taken prisoner, and his brother, Roriegald, and many of his men were slain. After a short confinement, Angus was released by the Lord of the Isles, who, desirous of cultivating the alliance of so powerful a chief, gave him his daughter, Elizabeth, in marriage, and with her bestowed upon him many lands by charter in 1415. He was called Enneas-en-Imprissi, or "Angus the Absolute", from his great power. At this time, we are told, Angus Dubh could bring into the field 4000 fighting men.

Angus Dubh, with his four sons, was arrested at Inverness by James I. After a short confinement, Angus was pardoned and released with three of them, the eldest, Neill Mackay, being kept as a hostage for his good behaviour. Being confined in the Bass at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, he was ever after called Neill Wasse (or Bass) Mackay.

In 1437, Neill Wasse Mackay was released from confinement in the Bass, and on assuming the chiefship, he bestowed on John Aberigh, for his attention to his father, the lands of Lochnaver, in fee simple, which were long possessed by his posterity, that particular branch of the Mackays, called the Sliochd-ean-Aberigh, of an-Abrach. Neill Wasse, soon after his accession, ravaged Caithness, but died the same year, leaving two sons, Angus, and John Roy Mackay, the latter founder of another branch, called the Sliochd-ean-Roy.

Angus Mackay, the elder son, assisted the Keiths in invading Caithness in 1464, when they defeated the inhabitants of that district in an engagement at Blaretannie. He was burnt to death in the church of Tarbet in 1475, by the men of Ross, whom he had often molested. With a daughter, married to Sutherland of Dilred, he had three sons, viz, John Reawigh, meaning yellowish red, the colour of his hair; Y-Roy Mackay; and Neill Naverigh Mackay.

To revenge hi father'd death, John Reawigh Mackay, the eldest son, raised a large force, and assisted by Robert Sutherland, uncle to the Earl of Sutherland, invaded Strathoikell, and laid waste the lands of the Rosses in that district. A battle took place, 11th July 1487, at aldy-Charrish, when the Rosses were defeated, and their chief, Alexander Ross of Palnagowan, and seventeen other principal men of that clan were slain. The victors returned home with with a large booty.

It was by forays such as these that the great Highland chiefs, and even some of the Lowland nobles, contrived, in former times, to increase their stores and add to their possessions, and that Mackays about this time obtained a large accession to their lands by a circumstance narrated with Alexander Sutherland of Dilred, nephew of Y-Roy Mackay, the then chief.

In 1516, Y-Roy Mackay gave his bond of service to Adam Gordon of Aboyne, brother of the Earl of Huntly, who had become Earl of Sutherland, by marriage with Elizabeth, sister and heiress of the ninth earl, but died soon after. Donald, his youngest son, slain at Morinsh, was ancestor of a branch of the Mackays called the Slioehd-Donald-Mackay. John, the eldest son, had no sooner taken possession of his father's lands, than his uncle, Neill Naverigh Mackay and his two sons, assisted by a force furnished them but the Earl of Caithness, entered Strathnaver, and endevoured unsuccessfully to disposses him of his inheritance.

In 1517, in the absence of the Earl of Sutherland, who had wrested from John Mackay a portion of his lands, he and his brother Donald invaded Sutherland with a large force. But after several reverses, John Mackay submitted to the Earl of Sutherland in 1518, and granted him his bond of service. But such was his restless and turbulent disposition that he afterwards prevailed upon Alexander Sutherland, the bastard, who had married his sister and pretended a claim to the earldom, to raise the standard of insurrection against the earl. After this he again submitted to the earl, and a second time gave him his bond of service and manrent in 1522. He died in 1529, and was succeeded by his brother, Donald.

In 1539, Donald Mackay obtained restitution of the greater part of the family estates, which had been seized by the Sutherland Gordons, and in 1542 he was present in the engagement at Solway Moss. Soon after, he committed various ravages in Sutherland, but after a considerable time, became reconciled to the earl, to whom he again gave his bond of service and manrent on 8th April 1549. He died in 1550.

He was succeeded by his son, Y-Mackay, who, with the earl of Caithness, was perpetually at strife with the powerful hour of Sutherland, and so great was his power, and so extensive his spoliations, that in the first parliament of James VI (Dec. 1567), the lords of the articles were required to report, "By what means might Mackay be dantoned". He died in 1571, full of remorse, it is said, for the wickedness of his life.

His son, Houcheon, or Hugh, succeeded him when only eleven years old. In 1587, he joined the Earl of Caithness, when attacked by the Earl of Sutherland, although the latter was his superior. He was excluded from the temporary truce agreed to by the two earls in March of that year, and in the following year they came to a resolution to attack him together. Having received secret notice of their intention from the Earl of Caithness, he made his submission to the Earl of Sutherland, and ever after remained faithful to him.

Of the army raised by the Earl of Sutherland in 1601, to oppose the threatended invasion of his territories by the Earl of Caithness, the advance guard was commanded by Patrick Gordon of Gartay and Donald Mackay of Scourie, and the right wing by Hugh Mackay. Hugh Mackay died at Tongue, 11th September 1614, in his 55th year. He was connected with both the rival houses by marriage; his first wife being Lady Elizabeth Sinclair, second daughter of George, fourth Earl of Caithness and relict of Alexander Sutherland of Duffus; and his second, Lady Jane Gordon, eldest daughter of Alexander, eleventh Earl of Sutherland. The former lady was drowned, and left a daughter. By the latter, he had two sons, Sir Donald Mackay of Far, first Lord Reay, and John, who married in 1619, a daughter of James Sinclair of Murkle, by whom he had Hugh Mackay and other children. Sir Donald Mackay of Far, the elder son, was, by Charles I, created a peer of Scotland, by the title of Lord Reay, by patent, dated 20th June 1628, to him and his heirs male whatever. From him the land of the Mackays in Sutherland aquired the name of "Lord Reay's Country", which it has ever since retained.

On the breaking out of the civil wars, Lord Reay, with the Earl of Sutherland and others, joined the Covenanters on the north of the river Spey. He afterwards took arms in defence of Charles I, and in 1643 arrived from Denmark, with ships and arms, and a large sum of money, for the service of the king. He was in Newcastle in 1644, when that town was stormed by the Scots, and being made prisoner, was conveyed to Edinburgh tolbooth. He obtained his release after the battle of Kilsyth in August 1645, and embarked at Thurso in July 1648 for Denmark, where he died in February 1649. He married, first, in 1610, Barbara, eldest daughter of Kenneth, Lord Kintail, and had by her Y-Mackay, who dies in 1617; John, second Lord Reay, two other sons, the Hon. Robert Mackay Forbes and the Hon. Hugh Forbes. Of this marriage he procured a sentance of nullity, and then took to wife Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Thomson of Greenwich, but in 1637 was ordained to pay his second wife £2000 sterling for part maintenance, and £3000 sterling yearly during his non-adherence. By Elizabeth Thomson he had one daughter.

John, second Lord Reay, joined the royalists under the Earl of Glencairn in 1654, and was taken at Balveny and imprisoned. By his wife, a daughter of Donald Mackay of Scourie, he had three sons; 1. Donald, master of Reay, who predeceased his father,leaving by his wife Ann, daughter of Sir George Munro of Culcairn, a son, George, third Lord Reay; 2. The Hon Brigadier-General AEneas Mackay, who married Margaretta, Countess of Puchlor; and 3. The Hon. Colin Mackay. AEneas, the second son, was colonel of the Mackay Dutch regiment. His family settled at the Hague, where they obtained considerable possessions, and formed alliances with several noble families. Their representative, Berthold Baron Mackay, died 26th December 1854, at his chateau of Ophemert, in Guelderland, aged eighty-one. He married the Baroness Van Renasse Van Wilp, and his eldest son, the Baron AEneas Mackay, at one time chamberlain to the king of Holland, became heir to the peerage of Reay, after the present family.

George, third Lord Reay, F.R.S., took the oaths and his seat in parliament, 29th October 1700. In the rebellion of 1715, he raised his clan in support of the government. In 1719, when the Earls Marischal and Seaforth, and the Marquis of Tullibardine, with 300 Spaniards, landed in the Western Highlands, he did the same, and also in 1745. He died at Tongue, 21st March 1748. He was thrice married, and had by his first wife, one son, Donald, fourth Lord Reay.

Donald, fourth Lord Reay, succeeded his father in 1748, and died at Durness, 18th August 1761. He was twice married, and, with one daughter, the Hon Mrs Edgar, had two sons, George, fifth Lord Reay, who died at Rosebank, near Edinburgh, 27th February 1768, and Hugh, sixth lord. The fifth Lord Reay was also twice married, but had issue only with his second wife, a son, who died young, and three daughters. Hugh, his half-brother, who succeeded him, was for some years in a state of mental imbecility. He died at Skerray, 26th January 1797, unmarried, when the title devolved on Eric Mackay, son of the Hon. George Mackay of Skibo, third son of the third Lord Reay. He died at Tongue, June 25, 1782. By his wife, Anne, third daughter of Hon. Eric Sutherland, only son of the attainted Lord Duffus, he had five sons and four daughters. His eldest son, became seventh Lord Reay. Alexander, the next, an officer in the army, succeeded as eighth Lord Reay. Donald Hugh, the fourth son, a vice-admiral, died March 26, 1850. Patrick, the youngest, died an infant.

Eric, seventh Lord Reay, was, in 1806, elected one of the representative Scots peers. He died, unmarried, July 8, 1847, and was succeeded, as eighth Lord Reay, by his brother, Alexander, barrack-master at Malta, born in 1775. He married in 1809, Marion, daughter of Colonel Goll, military secretary to Warren Hastings, and relict of David Ross, Esq of Calcutta, eldest son of the Scottish judge Lord Ankerville; he had two sons and six daughters. He died in 1863, and was succeeded by his second son, Eric, who was born in 1813, George, the eldest son, having died in 1811.

The Mackays became very numerous in the northern counties, and the descent of their chiefs, in the male line, has continued unbroken from their first appearance in the north down to the present line. In the country of Sutherland, they multiplied greatly also, under other names, such as MacPhail, Polson, Bain, Nielson, &c. The names of Macie and MacGhie are also said to be derived from Mackay. The old family of MaGhie of Balmaghie, which for about 600 years possessed estates in Galloway, used the same arms as the chief of the Mackays. They continued in possession of their lands till 1786. Balmaghie means Mackay town. The name MacCrie is supposed to be a corruption of MacGhie.

At the time of the rebellion of 1745, the effective force of the Mackays was estimated at 800 men by President Forbes. It is said that in the last Sutherland fencibles, raised in 1793 and disbanded in 1797, there were 33 John Mackays in one company alone. In 1794 the Reay fencibles, 800 strong, were raised in a few weeks, in "Lord Reay's country", the residence of the clan Mackay. The names of no fewer than 700 of them had the prefix Mac.

With regard to the term Siol Mhorgan applied to the clan Mackay, it is right to state that Mr Robert Mackay of Thurso, the family historian, denies that as a clan they were ever known by that designation, which rests, he says, only on the affirmation of Sir Robert Gordon, without any authority. He adds: "There are, indeed, to this day, persons of the surname Morgan and Morganach, who are understood to be of the Mackays, but that the whole clan, at any period, went under that designation, is incorrect; and those of them who did so, were always few and of but small account. The name seems to be of Welsh origin; but how it obtained among the Mackays it is impossible now to say".

Of the branches of the clan Mackay, the family of Scourie is the most celebrated. They were descended from Donald Mackay of Scourie and Eriboll, elder son of Y Mackay III, chief of the clan from 1550 to 1571, by his first wife, a daughter of Hugh Macleod of Assynt.

Donald Mackay, by his wife, Euphemis, daughter of Huh Munro of Assynt in Ross, brother of the laird of Foulis, had three sons and four daughters. The sons were Hugh, Donald and William. Hugh, the eldest, succeeded his father, and by the Scots Estates was appointed colonel of the Reay countrymen. He married a daughter of James Corbet of Rheims, by whom he had five sons, William, Hector, Hugh, the celebrated General Mackay, commander of the government forces at the battle of Killiecrankie, James and Roderick. He had also three daughters, Barbara, married to John, Lord Reay; Elizabeth, to Hugh Munro of Eriboll, and Ann, to the Hon Capt. William Mackay of Kinloch. William and Hector, the two eldest sons, both unmarried, met with untimely deaths. In February 1688, the Earl of Caithness, whose wife was younger than himself, having conceived some jealousy against William, caused him to be seized at Dunnet, while on his way to Orkney, with a party of 30 persons. He was conveyed to Thurso, where he was immured in a dungeon, and after long confinement was sent home in an open boat, and died the day after. In August of the same year, his brother, Hector, accompanied by a servant, having gone to Aberdeenshire, on his way to Edinburgh, was waylaid and murdered by William Sinclair of Dunbeath and John Sinclair of Murkle, and their two servants. A complaint was immediately raised before the justiciary, at the instance of John, Earl of Sutherland, and the relatives of the deceased, against the Earl of Caithness and the two Sinclairs for these crimes. A counter complaint was brought by Caithness against the pursuers, for several alleged crimes from 1649 downwards, but a compromise took place between the parties.

General Mackay's only son, Hugh, major of his father's regiment, died at Cambray, in 1708, aged about 28. He left two sons, Hugh and Gabriel, and a daughter. Hugh died at Breda, a lieutenant-general in the Dutch service, and colonel of the Mackay Dutch regiment, which took its name from his father. He had an only daughter, the wife of lieutenant-general Prevost, of the British service, who, on the death of his father-in-law, without male issue, obtained the king's license to bear the name and arms of Mackay of Scourie in addition to his own, which his descendants in Holland still bear. Gabriel, the younger son, lieutenant-colonel of the Mackay regiment, died without issue. James, the next brother of General Mackay, a lieutenant-colonel in his regiment, was killed at Killiecrankie, and Roderick, the youngest, died in the East Indies, both unmarried.

The eldest branch of the Mackays was that of the Clan-Abrach, descended from John Aberigh Mackay, second son of Angus Dubh, who received the lands of Auchness, Breachat, and others, from his brother, Neill Wasse. Of this family was Robert Mackay, writer, Thurso, historian of the clan Mackay. According to this gentleman, John Aberigh, the first of this branch, gave his name to the district of Strathnaver. In the Gelic language, he says, the inhabitants of Strathnaver are called Naverigh, and that tribe the Sliochd-nan-Aberigh. John, their founder, some say, took his appellation of Aberigh from Lochaber, where he resided in his youth with some relatives, and from Strath-na-Aberich the transition is natural to Srath-n'-Averich. Neill Naverich, above mentioned, was so called from his having belonged to the Reay Country, that is, Strathnaver. The Clan-Abrach were the most numerous and powerful branch of the Mackays. They acted as wardens of their country, and never betrayed their trust.

The Bighouse branch were descendants of William Mackay of Far, younger half-brother of Donald Mackay of Scourie, by his second wife, Christian Sinclair, daughter of laird of Dun.

The Strathy branch sprung from John Mackay of Dilred and Strathy, brother of the first Lord Reay, and son of Hugh Mackay of Far, by his wife, Lady Jane Gordon, eldest daughter of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland.

The Melness branch came from the Hon. Colonel AEneas Mackay, second son of the first Lord Reay, by his first wife, the Hon Barbara Mackenzie, daughter of Lord Kintail.

The Kinloch branch descended from the Hon. Captain William Mackay, and the Sandwood branch from the Hon. Charles Mackay, sons of the first Lord Reay by his last wife, Marjory Sinclair, daughter of Francis Sinclair of Stircoke.

The founder of the Holland branch of the Mackays, General Hugh Mackay, prior to 1680, when a colonel in the Dutch service, and having no prospect of leaving Holland, wrote for some near relatives to go over and settle in that country. Amongst those were his brother James, and his nephews, AEneas and Robert, sons of the first Lord Reay. The former he took into his own regiment, in which, in a few years, he became lieutenant-colonel. The latter he sent to school at Utrecht for a short time, and afterwards obtained commissions for them in his own regiment. In the beginning of 1687, several British officers in the Dutch service were recalled to England by King James, and amongst others was AEneas Mackay, then a captain. On his arrival in London, the King made him some favourable proposition to enter his service, which he declined, and, in consequence, when he reached Scotland, he was ordered to be apprehended as a spy. He had been imprisoned nearly seven months in Edinburgh Castle, when the Prince of Orange landed at Torbay, and he was liberated upon granting his personal bond to appear before the privy council when called upon, under a penalty of £500 sterling. The Dutch Mackays married among the nobility of Holland, and one of the families of that branch held the title of baron.

Another account of the clan

BADGE: Bealnidh (Sarothamnus scorparius) broom.
PIBROCH: Brattach bhan Clan Aoidh and Donald Duaghal Mhic Aoidh.
SLOGAN: Bratach Bhàn Chlann Aoidh.

ONE of the finest songs by that fine song writer and musician, Dr. John Park, deals in an allusive way with an episode characteristic of the past of the far north-west of Scotland, in the region of Cape Wrath, which was the ancient country of the warlike Clan MacKay.

"This howling wind o’er sea and sky
Careers wi’ dule and sorrow,
And many a woeful heart and eye
Shall weep the coming morrow;
But yet I dream amid this tide
So furious, wild, and wintry,
Of the fairest eyes on any side
Of the Lord Reay’s country.

Now lulls the gale, but upward fly
The roaring surges round us;
Nor e’er could reach a drowning cry
To the wild shores that bound us;
Where soon for us the dirge may rise
From caves, the sea-sprites’ chantry
Whose sound now dims the bluest eyes
In the Lord Reay’s country.

The moon shines out Oh! pale and fair
Is she whose lamp is burning,
Through lonely night and stormy air,
To welcome my returning,
And see, how dearly yonder lies
The well-known bay’s old entry,
Where our sail shall greet the fairest eyes,
In the Lord Reay’s country."

MacKayThe district anciently occupied by the Clan MacKay, and known from the name of its chief as the Lord Reay’s country, extended along some two-thirds of the broken north coast of Scotland, from Reay itself on Sandside Bay, some ten miles west of Thurso, along the wild loch. indented coast to Cape Wrath, and as far southward as Edrachills Bay on the West Coast. It is a pathetic fact that this great stretch of country is no longer in possession of its ancient owners; but the story of how the MacKays came into possession of Strathnaver, of how they held it through the stormy middle centuries, and how at last it passed out of their hands, remains one of the most interesting in the Highlands.

On the east the territory of the MacKays marched with that of the Sinclairs and the Gunns, while on the south it marched with that of the MacLeods and the Murrays of Sutherland, and naturally much of the story is of feud and friendship with these neighbouring clans.

According to Skene in his Highlanders, "there are few clans whose true origin is more uncertain than that of the MacKays." But while this origin cannot be altogether definitely ascertained, tradition carries it back to the first Gaelic inhabitants of the country. The Norwegian sagas declare the ancestor of the race to have been a jarl, which is probably a Norse translation of the Celtic Maormor, or governor of a province. From the similarity of badge and armorial bearings, some writers have counted the clan a branch of the Forbeses. According to Sir Robert Gordon,. the first of the MacKays who obtained possessions in Strathnaver was named Martin. This Martin, he says, " wes slain at Keanloch-Eylk in Lochaber, and had a son called Magnus. Magnus died in Strathnaver, leaving two sons, Morgan and Farquhar. From this Morgan the whole of MacKay is generally called Clan-vic-Morgan. From Farquhar the Clan-vic-Farquhar in Strathnaver are descended." Nisbet in his Heraldry derives the MacKays from Alexander, a younger son of Ochonochar, the ancestor of the Forbeses, who came from Ireland about the end, of. the twelfth century; and this theory is followed by Robert MacKay, historian of the Clan, who says the ancestor of the MacKays was Alexander, who lived between 1180 and 1222; When King William the Lion, at the end of the twelfth century, marched northward to repel the Norse invaders, he is said to have had with him one body of men from the province of Moray under Hugh Freskin, ancestor of the Murrays of Sutherland, and another body from Galloway under Alexander, ancestor of the MacKays. Skene believes the progenitors of the clan to have been the old Gaelic Maormors of Caithness.

In any case from an early period the MacKays played a striking part in Scottish history. Magnus, the great-grandson of Alexander, fought on the side of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. It was from Morgan, the son of this Magnus, that the clan took its appellation of Siol Mhorgain, the race of Morgan. Donald, the son of Morgan, married the daughter of MacNeil of Gigha on the Kintyre coast, and from the son of this pair, named Aodh, the clan derives its patronymic of MacAodh, or MacKay. The clan seems rapidly to have become very powerful, and from an early date to have been engaged in feuds with its neighbours. In 1395, at Dingwall, in the course of one of these feuds, the Earl of Sutherland killed the MacKay chief and his son with his own hand; and a few years later, in the course of a family quarrel with the MacLeods of Lewis, a bloody battle was fought in Strathoykell on the marches of Ross and Sutherland, from which, it is said, only one solitary Lewis man escaped, seriously wounded, to tell the tale in his native island.

In 1411 the chief, Angus Dubh, was able to muster no fewer than 4,000 men to oppose Donald of the Isles in his campaign to seize the earldom of Ross, which ended at the battle of Harlaw. MacKay was bold enough to face Donald single-handed at Dingwall, but was defeated and taken prisoner. After a short time, however, he was released, and the Lord of the Isles gave him his daughter Elizabeth in marriage, with certain lands by way of tocher. In the charter of these lands he is called " Angus Eyg de Strathnaver."

This alliance with the Lord of the Isles proved disastrous to MacKay, for when, to curb the disturbances raised by the island prince, King James I. marched into the north, he arrested Angus MacKay and his four sons, and only set the Chief free on condition that one son became a hostage for his father.

There was trouble again when Thomas, one of the MacKays, for an act of outrage and sacrilege, was outlawed by the king, and his lands in Sutherland were offered to any person bold enough to kill or capture him. With the help of MacKay’s own brothers, Angus Murray of Cubin seized the outlaw and executed him; but when Murray came further, at the instignation of the Earl of Sutherland, to invade Strathnaver, his force was defeated, and he and the two MacKays who had helped him were slain. This was the battle of Druim na cuip, at the top of a pass near Ben Loyal. The leader of the MacKays was young lain Aberach, a son of Angus MacKay by his second wife, a Macdonald of Keppoch in Lochaber. From him descended the Aberach MacKays. After the fight old Angus MacKay had himself carried to the field to view his son’s victory, when a lurking Moray man shot him with an arrow.

Later, in 1437, when the hostage Neil MacKay returned from his captivity on the Bass, the MacKays invaded Caithness, defeated the Sinclairs, and plundered the country. A later feud among the MacKays of Strathnaver, the Earls of Sutherland and Caithness, and the Gunns, brought about a pitched battle in 1517 at Torran Dubh. in which hundreds of men on both sides were slain and the MacKays were routed. After several further struggles the MacKay chief made his peace with the Earl of Sutherland in 1522. Twenty years later Donald MacKay again invaded Sutherland, but was captured and imprisoned, and in 1549 gave his bond of service and manrent to the Earl.

These were only a few of the feuds, excursions, and alarms in which the MacKays were engaged for 150 years, and something of their warlike temper may be guessed from the fact that they fought no fewer than ten pitched battles, between that of Tuttumtarmhich in 1406 and Garuarrai in 1555. Part of the reason for this turbulence of the MacKay chiefs is probably to be found in the fact that they were among the last in Scotland to hold their lands as allodial or entirely independent territory. They did not come under the feudal system and accept a charter to hold their lands of the King till 1499.

Among notable events in the story of that time Aodh or Hugh MacKay fell at Flodden with James IV., and his second son and successor Donald MacKay, "a great general and a wise and political gentleman," took part in the battle of Solway Moss, and, returning to Edinburgh with James V. three days after the conflict, had certain fortified lands bestowed upon him by the King. In the feuds of the days of Queen Mary and James VI. between the Earls of Caithness and Sutherland, the MacKays took an active part. One day in 1586 while returning from a raid on the Macleods of Assynt the MacKays found themselves pursued by the Sutherland men, who, with the Sinclairs, had set out to harry the Gunns. Just before dawn, they met the Gunns and the two clans joining in onset first overthrew the Sinclairs and then drove off the Sutherland men, on the field of Aultgawn.

Amid such exploits, Aodh, the son of Donald, mentioned above, was imprisoned for a time in Edinburgh Castle because of his turbulence, but his son, another Hugh, married first Lady Elizabeth Sinclair, daughter of the fourth Earl of Caithness, and secondly Lady Jean Gordon, daughter of the fifteenth Earl of Sutherland, and lived in prodigal fashion on his ancestral estates.

The MacKay chiefs were zealous supporters of the Reformation, and in the beginning of the seventeenth century the chief, Donald MacKay of Far, son of the above Hugh, raised 3,000 men, mostly of his own clan, and sent half of them, under the command of Colonel Robert Munro, to the help of the Protestant King of Bohemia. On the death, almost immediately, of that monarch, the company entered the service of Gustavus of Sweden, and its exploits and famous deeds of valour were made the subject of a notable book, Munro’s Expedition with the Scots’ Regiment, the Mackeyes, published in 1637. The chief himself, Donald MacKay, after some trouble with the Sutherland family at home, carried a reinforcement to the regiment in Germany, and won a high reputation there, while his territory at home enjoyed an unwonted period of repose. After the death of Gustavus, MacKay returned to this country, where, as a reward for his loyal services to Charles I., he was first of all created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1627, then raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Reay in 1628. The King also gave him a patent, creating him Earl of Strathnaver, but the title was never completed, owing to the Civil War and the refusal of Parliament to homologate the creation. Unfortunately the MacKay Chief gained his honours at considerable cost, for the enterprise of raising the company which he sent abroad, and the losses which be sustained in support of Charles I., plunged him into money difficulties, which in the end forced the family to part with all its great territories in the North.

Lord Reay himself was one of those excepted from pardon in the treaty between the Covenanters and the King, and was forced to retire to Denmark, where he died in 1649. His wife was the daughter of Lord Kintail, and their son married a daughter of Lieutenant-General Hugh MacKay of Scourie, the famous leader who commanded the troops of William of Orange against the Highland Jacobites under Viscount Dundee at Killiecrankie in 1689.

General MacKay was a sterling soldier if not a brilliant general, and his overthrow at Killiecrankie was perhaps as much the result of the rawness of the levies he commanded as of his own rashness in attempting an almost impossible task. The soundness of his ideas as to the best means of pacifying the Highlands may be judged from the fact that, after well nigh insuperable difficulties, he found the means, by private enterprise, of erecting a fort at Inverlochy, which, in honour of the King, he named Fort-William, and which is represented by the town of that name to the present day. And it was owing to MacKay’s activity in the months which followed that the efforts of the Jacobite generals, Buchan and Cannon, were again and again rendered futile. By sheer ability he made himself military master of the Highlands, and did so with the least possible bloodshed and without sullying his success by vindictive measures of retaliation. He fell at the battle of Steinkirk in 1692.

During Mar’s rebellion in 1715 the MacKays took arms for George I., kept the castle and town of Inverness from capture, and held the Jacobite clans of the North in check. Again, in 1745, there were 800 of them under arms on the side of the Government. Still later, in 1795, the Reay fencible regiment, or MacKay Highlanders, were embodied, and on being sent to Ireland, distinguished themselves by a gallant defeat of the rebels at the Hill of Tara.

It was in the time of the seventh baron, Sir Eric MacKay, that a serious change came over the fortunes of the family. During his sail round the coasts of Scotland in the yacht of the Lighthouse Commissioners in 1814, Sir Walter Scott paid a visit to Cape Wrath, where the Commissioners had to fix the site for a lighthouse. It was the day when sheep-farming was being introduced to the Highlands, and in the diary of his voyage Scott makes an interesting entry. " Lord Reay’s estate," he says, " containing 150,000 acres, and measuring eighty miles by sixty, was, before commencement of the last leases, rented at £1,200 a year. It is now worth £5,000, and Mr. Anderson says he may let it this ensuing year (when the leases expire) for about £15,000. But then he must resolve to part with his people, for these rents can only be given upon the supposition that sheep are generally to be introduced on the property. In an economical, and perhaps in a political point of view, it might be best that every part of a country were dedicated to that sort of occupation for which nature has best fitted it. But to effect this reform in the present instance, Lord Reay must turn out several hundred families who have lived under him and his fathers for many generations, and the swords of whose fathers probably won the lands from which he is now expelling them. He is a good-natured man, I suppose, for Mr. A. says he is hesitating whether he shall not take a more moderate rise (£7,000 or £8,000), and keep his Highland tenantry. This last war (before the short peace), he levied a fine fencible corps (the Reay fencibles), and might have doubled their number. Wealth is no doubt strength in a country, while all is quiet and governed by law, but on any altercation or internal commotion, it ceases to be strength, and is only the means of tempting the strong to plunder the possessors. Much may be said on both sides."

The Reay estates, however, as has been already mentioned, were in difficulties, and in the upshot, Eric, seventh Lord Reay, disposed of the whole property to the Earl of Sutherland, by whom were carried out the great "Sutherland clearances," of which so much has been said and written since.

On the death of this Lord Reay the title and chiefship reverted to his cousin, Eneas MacKay, a descendant of the second baron. That second Baron’s second son Eneas had followed the first baron’s example, carried his sword to the Continent, and become a Brigadier-General and Colonel-proprietor of the MacKay regiment in Holland. His son Donald succeeded him in command of the regiment, and fell at the siege of Tournay in 1745. Each generation had married a daughter of a noble house of the Netherlands, and the family had attained the title of Baron MacKay d’Ophemert. Among his other honours in the Netherlands, Baron MacKay was Minister of State, Vice-President of the Privy Council, and Grand Cross of the Netherland Lion. His wife was a daughter of Baron Fagel, also a Privy Councillor. The new Lord Reay, who remained a Dutch subject, died in 1876, and was succeeded by his son Sir Donald James, the late peer.

Lord Reay was naturalised as a British subject in 1877, and played a highly distinguished part in the affairs of this country. Among his honours he was a Knight of the Thistle, G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., LL.D., D.Litt., and a Privy Councillor. He was Lord-Lieutenant of Roxburghshire, and Rector of St. Andrews University. He was also Governor of Bombay from 1885 to 1890, Under Secretary for India from 1894 to 1895, and Chairman of the London School Board from 1897 to 1904. He was President of the Royal Asiatic Society, and of University College, London, and was the first President of the British Academy. Besides Lady Reay’s seat of Carolside at Earlston in Berwickshire, be retained Ophemert in the Netherlands; but his chief interest throughout lay in this country, and his warmest pride was in the fact that he was Chief of the ancient and honourable Clan MacKay.

Not least famous of the name in the eighteenth century was the poet, Rob Don MacKay. Born in the year before Sheriffmuir, he earned his living as herd, game-keeper, and boatman, and was a member of the Reay Fencibles from 1759 till 1767. His poems are chiefly satires and elegies.

In modern times the Clan has led the way in a movement which promises, more than anything else, to perpetuate the old clan spirit and comradeship. On 21st July, 1806, there was instituted a " M’Kays Society," which was probably the first genuine clan organisation ever formed in the Lowlands. Its purpose was "to raise a fund for the mutual help of each of us in the time of afflictive dispensations," and as "a happy means of establishing unity and good order amongst us." That Society carried on its useful work for fifty years. The present Clan MacKay Society was founded in 1888. It carries on a highly useful benevolent and educational work, has a fund of over £1,600, and counts its influential membership in every part of the world.

Septs of Clam MacKay: Bain, Bayne, MacCay, MacCrie, Macghee, Macghie, Mackee, Mackie, MacPhail, Macquey, Macquoid, Macvail, Neilson, Paul, Polson, Williamson.

Read the History of House and Clan MacKay in pdf format...

Another account of the clan...

The Mackays claim descent from the Royal House of Moray through the line of Morgund of Pluscarden and were originally known as Clan Morgan. The clansmen were removed to Sutherland where they rose to a powerful position, at one time owning lands from Drimholisten to Kylescue. Their later title of MacKay comes from a chief so named living at the time of David II. The first record of the name was in 1326 when Gilchrist M'ay, progenitor of the Mackays of Ugadale, made a payment to the Constable of Tarbert. The Mackays supported Bruce and fought with him at Bannockburn and by 1427 the chief, Angus Dubh Mackay was described as leader of "4000 Strathnaver men". Their fortunes fluctuated over the centuries and many bitter feuds ensued with the Sutherlands and Rosses. In the troubles of the 17th and 18th centuries the Mackays supported the Hanovarian forces against the Jacobites and helped secure the far north for the government. The Mackays of Strathnaver are especially remembered for the famous "Mackay Regiment" raised for the service of the Dutch and Swedish crowns during the 17th century. As a result of this many clansmen settled in Holland and Sweden and gave rise to a number of noble families there. In 1628, Sir Donald Mackay was raised to the peerage of Lord Reay by Charles I.  His grandson, Colonel Aenean Mackay of the Scotch-Dutch Brigade, married the heiress of the Baron van Haefton. The Mackays suffered badly in the Strathnaver clearances between 1815 and 1818 and finally in 1829 the Reay estate was sold to the Sutherland family and in 1875 the chiefship passed to Baron Mackay van Ophermett who became 10th Lord Reay. His nephew Baron Aeneas Mackay, prime minister of the Netherlands was the great grandfather of the present chief.

Contribution by Bill MacQuoid

The MacQuoids are a recognized sept of the MacKay clan.   I am told the spelling is the Anglican spelling of the Gaelic sound of MacKay.   There is a lake in Northwestern Canada and a street in NSW, Australia named after ancestors.  It is said that most of the clan ended up in Ulster as "Orangemen".  There are many more "McQuoids".

Notes on the Septs of Mackay

The Bains, or Baynes

The Bains or Baynes are descendants of the son of Neil, brother of Angus Dubh, Chief of the Clan Mackay in the early 15th century. Their progenitor was John Bain or Fair. A branch of these Bains settled near Dingwall in the 16th century. They acquired Tulloch, afterwards the property of the Davidsons.

MacPhail, Macvail, Paul, Polson

All are synonymous names. Paul, another descendant of Neil, the ancestor of the Bains, was the progenitor of the Siol-Phail sept of the Mackays. Paul MacTyre was the name of a famous Sutherlandshire freebooter who lived in the 14th century, and was Lord of Strathcarron, Strathoykell, and Westray. His fortress was Dun Creich, commanding the Kyle of Sutherland (Tongue?). The Polsons of Creighmore were said to be descendants of the Paul or Pol. Alexander MacBain, in his notes to Skene's "Highlanders of Scotland" (2nd ed.), says: "Tyre was not his father, as usually is supposed, but Mac-tire (meaning `Wolf.' a common name in his day and earlier); the name is Paul Mac-Ic-tire."


This sept is descended from Neil MacNeill Mackay. King James I gave him lands in Creich and Gairloch in 1430.


Robert Mackay, historian of the clan, writes (in 1829): "During the last two centuries there have been a respectable family of Williamsons of Banneskirk, in Caithness, of the Shiol Thomais Mackays, descended from Thomas, brother of Neil Mackay, slain at Drimnacoub.

MacCay, MacQuey, MacQuoid

The name Mackay in another form - the last an anglicised rendering of Mac-Aoidh.

MacKee, MacKie, MacCrie

These forms of Mackay are found in the Hebrides and Galloway. The clan historian says:

Alexander (progenitor of the Mackays) was succeeded by his son Walter, and he by his son Martin, who was slain in Lochaber, from whom, it is supposed, the MacKies, MacGhies and MacCries of Galloway and Ireland, and Mackays of Argyle are descended.


MacGhie/MacGhhie are not "Mackays," and the old family of MacGhie of Balmaghie, which for about 600 years possessed estates in Galloway, used completely different arms from any arms of the Chief of Mackays. They continued in possession of their lands until 1786, and presumably derived from Isle MacGhee in Ulster.

The Mackays of Argyll

The Mackays of Argyll are frequently alluded to as MacGhees.