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The Scottish Nation

MACALISTER, the name of a clan that inhabited the south of Knapdale and the north of Kintyre in Argyleshire. They are traced to Alister or Alexander, a son of Angus Mor, of the clan Donald. Exposed to the encroachments of the Campbells, their principal possessions became, ere long, absorbed by different branches of that powerful clan. Clan badge, the five-leaved heath. The chief of this sept of the Macdonalds in Somerville MacAlester of Loup in Kintyre, and Kennox in Ayrshire. In 1805 Charles Somerville MacAlester, Esq. of Loup, assumed the name and arms of Somerville in addition to his own, in right of his wife, Janet Somerville, inheritrix of the entailed estate of Kennox, whom he had married in 1792.

      From their descent from Alexander, eldest son of Angus Mor, lord of the Isles and Kintyre in 1284, the grandson of Somerled, thane of Argyle, the MacAlesters claim to be the representatives, after MacDonell of Glengarry, of the ancient lords of the Isles, as heirs male of Donald, grandson of Somerled.

      Having joined the lord of Lorn against Robert the Bruce, Alexander was, by that monarch, attacked in his principal stronghold, Castle Sweyn in Knapdale, and, forced to surrender, died a prisoner in Dundonald castle. His forfeited possessions were conferred on his younger brother, Angus Oig, who had always supported the cause of the Bruce. Alexander’s descendants acquired lands in Argyleshire, and attached themselves to the powerful division of the clan Donald, called Ian Mor, from John the great, its progenitor, who lived in 1400, and whose possessions were in Isla and Kintyre.

      After the forfeiture of the lords of the Isles in 1493, the MacAlesters became so numerous as to form a separate and independent clan. At that period their chieftain was named John or Ean Dubh, whose residence was at Ard Phadriuc or Ardpatrick, in South Knapdale. One of the family, Charles MacAlester, is mentioned as steward of Kintyre in 1481.

      In the register of the privy seal for 1515 appears the name of his son, Angus vic Ean Dubh. This Angus had three sons, Alexander; Donald, constable of the castle of Tarbet, on Loch Fyne, an office which became hereditary in the family; and Roderick, said to have been, in 1545, bishop of the Isles, although not mentioned in Keith’s Catalogue.

      The eldest son, Alexander MacAlester of the Loup, was forfeited for treasonably abiding from the army at Solway, but in 1540 he obtained a remission for himself and 15 of his clan.

      His grandson, Alexander, was one of those Highland chieftains who were held responsible, by the act called “the Black Band,” passed in 1587, for the peaceable behaviour of their clansmen and the “broken men” who lived on their lands. He died when his son, Godfrey or Gorrie MacAlester, was yet under age.

      This youthful chief became the hero of a tragedy which forms one of the most remarkable cases in Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, (vol. iii. p. 7). Between him and a young lady of great property residing not far from his own possessions a mutual love existed, but their union was prevented by his guardian, who contrived to get her married to one of his own sons. Apprehensive, however, of the resentment of his ward, who had now attained his majority, he removed for a time to a distant part of the country. On his return in 1598, he was attacked and slain by the young chief. As the latter’s vengeance was equally directed against the sons of his tutor, they took refuge in the house of Askomull in Kintyre, belonging to Angus Macdonald of Dunyveg, chief of the clan Ian Vohr, whilst the laird of Loup procured the assistance of Sir James Macdonald, the son of Angus, then at variance with his father. With about 300 armed men, they surrounded the house of Askomull at midnight, and on the refusal of those within to surrender, it was immediately set on fire. Although he knew that his father and mother were at the time in the house, Sir James savagely refused to let the fire be extinguished, and, at length, his father, in endeavouring to make his escape, was made prisoner, after being severely burnt, and receiving many indignities from the servants of his unnatural son. The other inmates of the house also fell into his hands, and were treated with various degrees of severity, but he does not appear to have caused any of them to be put to death.

      For his share in this transaction MacAlester was obliged to conceal himself for a time. He afterwards returned and joined Sir James Macdonald in the deadly conflict which took place 5th August 1598, at Loch Gruinard in Isla, between the Macdonalds and the M’Leans, in which the latter were defeated and their chief slain. (See MACLEAN, clan of.) In September 1605, Sir David Murray, Lord Scone, comptroller of Scotland, was directed to repair to Kintyre, to receive the obedience of the principal men of the clans in the South Isles, with surety for the payment of his majesty’s rents and duties, when the laird of Loup, with Angus Macdonald and his relatives and vassals in Kintyre, were the only persons who appeared before him. Dying soon after, he was interred at Iona, the burial-place of the MacAlister.

      His son, Hector, succeeded while still very young. On 3d July 1615, two of his kinsmen, Alester and Angus MacAlester, with Angus Oig, brother of Sir James Macdonald, were tried before the privy council for high treason, for forcibly seizing on the castle of Dunyveg in Isla, and holding it out against his majesty’s forces under Sir Oliver Lambert, and being found guilty, were executed at the market cross of Edinburgh on the 8th of the same month. In 1618 the laird of Loup was named one of the twenty barons and gentlemen of the shire of Argyle who were made responsible for the good rule of the earldom during Argyle’s absence. He married Margaret, daughter of Colin Campbell of Kilberry, and though, as a vassal of the marquis of Argyle, he took no part in the wars of the marquis of Montrose, many of his clan fought on the side of the latter, and one of them particularly distinguished himself at the battle of Inverlochy, February 2, 1645. After the Restoration he was one of the commissioners of supply for the shire of Argyle, as was also, in 1678, his son Godfrey MacAlester of Loup, who succeeded him. Alexander MacAlester of Loup, the son of the latter, adhered, after the Revolution, to the cause of James VII., and was present at the battle of Killiecrankie, under the Viscount Dundee. He afterwards joined the force commanded by Major-general Buchan, which was totally routed at Cromdale 1st May 1690. Subsequently, proceeding to Ireland, he was present at the battle of the Boyne. He had three sons, Hector, of Loup; Charles, who succeeded his brother; and Duncan, who settled in Holland, where he left numerous descendants. His son, Robert MacAlester, a general in the Dutch service, was commandant of the Scots brigade.

      Charles MacAlester of Loup had two sons, Angus, his successor, who sold a considerable part of his patrimony, and Lieutenant-general Archibald MacAlester, who for many years commanded the 35th regiment, and was father of Lieutenant-colonel MacAlester of the Ceylon rifle regiment. Angus, of Loup, married his cousin Jane, then a widow, daughter of John Macdonald of Ardnacroish, cousin of the celebrated Flora Macdonald, and died in 1796. With one son, Charles Somerville MacAlester of Loup, who succeeded him, he had three daughters.

      The principal cadet of the family of Loup was MacAlester of Tarbert. There is also MacAlister of Glenbarr, county of Argyle.

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