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Clan Currie History

The Clan Currie, anciently Clan MacMhuirrich, has a long and honorable history. They are one of the earliest constituted Clans of the Scottish Highlands. In his book "Scottish Clans and Tartans", Scottish author and historian Ian Grimble writes "The Herbridean name of Currie is the corrupt English form of the MacMureach, one of the most ancient and distinguished names in Scotland's history. Through the MacMhuirrichs, the Literary Torch in the Western Isles was preserved for generations. They were recognized as the most illustrious body of learned men who were specialists in the heroic literature and genealogy of the ancient Gaelic world".

According to Derek Thompson, Professor of Celtic Literature, Glasgow University, the origin of the name Currie dates from the fall of the Gaelic order in the 18th Century. During this period, the English language began to pervade what had been purely Gaelic speaking areas. There followed an influx of people who found the old Gaelic names odd and difficult to pronounce. Consequently, many old Highland names were anglicized or an English name was chosen that had the faintest resemblance to the sound of the Gaelic one. The name MacMhuirrich [pronounced MacVurich] began to appear in many forms including MacMureach, MacVurich, and MacCurry and eventually took on the form of the present day Currie and other related spellings such as Curry and Currey.

Origins of the Clan

In his book, "The Clans of Scotland", noted anthropologist and author Dr. Micheil MacDonald outlines the early history of Clan Currie. "The founder of the race was Muiredach O'Daly [1180 - 1222 AD], an outstanding poet of his time, who had studied at the famous Irish Colleges. O'Daly's ancestry, which is fully recorded in the Office of Genealogies and Arms in Dublin Castle, show's his family's descent through the Royal race of Ireland back to Conn of the Hundred Battles, the 110th High King of Ireland in 177 AD. This officially acknowledged genealogy confirms the Currie family as one of the oldest traceable families in Europe".

Muiredach O'Daly was a member of the most famous family in the Celtic world, the family of O'Daly. The O'Dalys were established in their literary role as a bardic family by the 12th century. When Mael Iosa Ua Da, Muiredach's great grandfather, died in 1185, he was described in the contemporary Irish annals as Ollamh of Ireland and Scotland.

According to Seumas MacManus in "The Story of the Irish Race", Muiredach was highly respected as the King's Poet at the court of Cathal Crodhearg of Connaught. However, he was forced to flee to Scotland in 1213 after making an enemy of the powerful chief of the O'Donnels, whose steward had arrogantly demanded rent from the Royal Bard. O'Daly's response was swift and final - splitting the steward's head in two with a battleaxe. Then, in traditional bardic arrogance, expressed his surprise over the ensuing fuss in a poem:

Trifling our quarrel with the man,
A clown to be abusing me,
And me to kill the churl,
Dear God, is this a cause for enmity?

He arrived in Scotland in 1213 and settled in Islay, the stronghold home of Donald, Lord of the Isles and grandson of Somerled, the Celtic-Norse founder of the Kingdom of Innesgall. The addition of the famed Bard to his court brought Donald additional prestige and the two men became great friends. Donald became the founder and namefather of Clan Donald, and Muiredach of the MacMhuirrichs: the contracted Scots Gaelic patronymic Mhuireadhaigh son of Muiredach. Muiredach's fame and stature as a poet was without parallel in Gaelic Scotland where he held an honored and revered position. The native Scots claimed Muiredach as their own as shown by the title bestowed him Muiredach Albanach or Muiredach of Scotland.

At least twenty poems are ascribed to Muiredach, and it is significant that one of them can be seen from its contents to provide supporting evidence that he took part in the Fifth Crusade. This 13th century poem has been perpetuated for all time in the Roman Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul at Arrochar near the very spot where the poem was composed:

Lo, tearful I sit on this knoll,
No Longer light-footed and strong.
'Tis a far cry, Saints Peter and Paul,
To Rome from the head of Loch Long.

A footnote is added to the poem, which reads "Repeated by the Pilgrim Muiredach Albanach at the head of Loch Long in Argylshire when he returned from Rome". Recent archaeological excavations on Islay have produced a 13th century pilgrim’s badge, which could only have been acquired on such a pilgrimage to Rome.

Such were the already ancient origins of Scotland's longest learned dynasty. Naturally, it attached itself to the Lords of the Isles when these maintained a virtually independent Gaelic principality in medieval Scotland. Muiredach's sons and their sons held the office of Hereditary Bards and Historians to the Lord of the Isles, and later to Clan Donald.

Nineteen years after the death of Muiredach, Donald, Lord of the Isles passed away and his son, Angus Mor, was inaugurated as the first MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, by Niall, the first MacMhuirrich. From this point on throughout the existence of the MacDonald Lordship of the Isles a MacMhuirrich Bard performed this office at each successive Lord's inauguration.

At the decisive battle of Harlaw in 1411, when the Lord of the Isles sought to enforce his claim to the lands of the Earldom of Ross against the Stewarts, it was Lachlann Mor MacMhuirrich [1370 - 1438] who composed the incitement to battle. The clan motto since that day has been Inspire To Victory. The epic war poem took several hours to recite, igniting the troops to combat and calling upon their lineage back to their earliest ancestors to lead them to victory:

O’ Children of Conn of the Hundred Battles.
Now is the time for you to win recognition.
O’ raging whelps,
O’ sturdy heroes,
O’ most sprightly lions,
O’ battle-loving warriors, O’ brave firebrands,
The Children of Conn of the Hundred Battles.
O’ Children of Conn, remember,
Hardihood in time of battle.

After the Fall of the Lordship of the Isles

Niall Mor MacMhuirrich is the first who appears under Clanranald patronage, and the earliest dateable poem from his pen belongs to the year 1613. The Clanranald bards produced the largest collection of MacMhuirrich writings. Niall MacMhuirrich [1637 - 1726], the last of the bardic race, chronicled the wars of Montrose in the last body of Gaelic prose to be written in Scotland in the ancient Irish script style. When he died in 1726, the bardic order became extinct in Scotland.

The Currie Tartan

The Currie tartan came into existence in 1822 at the time of George IV's State visit to Edinburgh. That year, Lord Alexander MacDonald, 10th Baronet of Nova Scotia, Chief of the MacDonalds of the Isles, granted to James Currie of Balilone and Garrachoran, the right to use the Lord of the Isles tartan as the basis for his own family tartan.

This grant was reconfirmed on August 22, 1971 to the last of the Balilone line of Currie’s, Col. William McMurdo Currie by Lord MacDonald, the Right Honourable Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald. The grant states:

"I Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, Lord, Macdonald, take pleasure in granting to you the right to use the Lord of the Isles Tartan, with certain heraldic differences, as your own Family Tartan. The difference to consist of two tinctures from your own Coat-of-Arms, namely Black and Gold, the same to constitute a guard to the darker green square of the basic Lord of the Isles Tartan. This is done in recognition of you as the present Representer of the Highland Family or Clan of Currie, anciently Clan MacMhuirrich, who of old were the Historians to the Lords of the Isles. This confirms an earlier grant of August 1822 made by Sir Alexander of Sleat, 10th Bart and 2nd Lord Macdonald giving to your great-great-grandfather, James Currie of Balilone and Garrochoran the right to this aforesaid Tartan."

In his book, "The Clans of Scotland", noted Scots tartan expert, anthropologist and editor of "Scots Kith and Kin", Dr. Micheil MacDonald confirms this history, "Some vassal clans which served the Lordship of the Isles before its annexation in 1493 claim the right to tartans from that connection. The Currie variant of the old "Lord of the Isles" tartan was granted by the 2nd Lord MacDonald, as direct descendant to the last Lord of the Isles in 1822. It was confirmed by the present Lord MacDonald in 1976 to the most recent of a long line of MacMhuirrich chiefs, Colonel William McMurdo Currie, 22nd Laird of Balilone and 30th Chief of Clan MacMhuirrich".

Swatches of both the original 1822 tartan and a more recent (ca. 1976) sample are registered at the Scottish Tartans Society in Pitlochry and at the Glencoe Museum in Glencoe, Invernesshire.

The tartan remained in a restricted state, i.e. solely for the use of the Balilone and Garrachoran line of Currie’s until 1991. This explains the virtual absence of the tartan from many of the standard tartan publications, which have never maintained complete catalogs of the vast array of registered tartans. The tartan was adopted as the official tartan for the entire clan in 1992.

Clan Leadership

Colonel William McMurdo Currie of Glasgow, Scotland was last of the Balilone and Garrachoran line of Currie’s. Currie was raised in Glasgow and attended the Royal College of Science and Technology, as well as the Glasgow Art School. In 1939 he joined the British Special Services. Cited for numerous acts of bravery, he was recipient of a host of military honors including among others the Tunisian Order of Glory [1943], the Polish Virtuti Militari [1944] and the Croix de Guerre de Allies [1945].

In 1959, a Bond of Allegiance, signed by over 400 West Highland members of Clan Currie, was presented to Col. Currie as their acknowledged Chief. This action combined with Col. Currie’s formation of the first Clan Currie Society in Glasgow also in 1959, were the first steps towards igniting an interest in pursuing clan recognition in Edinburgh, a process that continues to this day.

An avid historian, author, and genealogist, Col. Currie was a Fellow of the Royal Celtic Society and the Society of Antiquitaries of Scotland. His publications included A History of the Curries of Cowal [1973], With Sword and Harp - The History of the Clan Currie [1977], and An Historical Description of Loch Lomond and District [1979].

In 1978, Col Currie was made an Honorary Ambassador to the United States Navy Submarine Squadron Number 14, stationed at Holy Loch, Scotland. In recognition of his service he was made an Honorary Submariner of the U.S. Navy with the right to wear the Gold Dolphin Insignia. In 1982 he was also made an Honorary Ambassador for the Polish Government in Exile. In 1990, along with President Lech Walessa, he was made a Knight of the White Eagle, Poland's highest State order.

Before his death in 1992, Col. Currie named Robert Currie of the United States as his successor and bestowed upon him the title of Clan Commander. Currie was chosen in recognition of his efforts in re-establishing The Clan Currie Society - a non-profit, tax-exempt, educational and cultural organization.

Today, the Clan Currie Society plays an active role in preserving and promoting their highland heritage at Scottish Games, ethnic festivals, as well as community groups and classrooms. The Society has also sponsored a number of highly successful concerts featuring Scottish music and Gaelic poetry.

You can email the clan at

Electric Scotland Note: There is 2 volume publication "Memoir of the Life, Writings and Correspondence of James Currie, M.D., F.R.S. of Liverpool" who was born in the Scottish Borders.  It is edited by his son William Wallace Currie and published in 1831.  In it are notes of the Boston Tea Party, General Washington, The American Declaration of Independence, meetings with the wife of Robert Burns and correspondence with Sir Walter Scott amongst other notable events. You can download them below...

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

There is also additional information to be found in The Scottish Nation.

11th September 2019

Please be advised that Lord Lyon has ruled the Curries from the Western Highland Curries of Scotland are an independent family referred to as The Learned Kindred of Currie.

See attached commission certificate from Lyon.

Incidentally, not all Curries are necessarily part of our family. The Curries from the area around Kingussie are a completely different family.

When you have a moment, perhaps you could remove us from the Clanranald list and list us separately as we should be.

We are completing the editorial for a new book on the Curries and will certainly let you know when it hits the markets.

Incidentally, there's a great deal of dialogue going on now on the topic of Septs. In most cases they appear to be a Victorian creation to help sell tartan. As I recall, there is no historical reference to Septs prior to this period in Scots history collections. Might make for a great story for your readers.

Much thanks,

Robert Currie
Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie



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