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Clan Livingstone

When examining the Livingston surname in Scotland, one has to realize right away that there are two distinct clans or family groups, the lowlanders and the highlanders. Each has it's own history, it's own heroes, and a decidedly different character. The first originates from the peoples who inhabited the lowlands in West Lothian during the eleventh century. This area was dominated by a Hungarian, who's descendant, Livingus inherited considerable properties surrounding Living's towne, thus the surname, Livingstone. For more information on them go to the Lowland Livingstones.

The second of the two Livingstone family groups originated in the highlands of Scotland on the tiny island of Lismore in the waters of Loch Linne. And it is this bloodline of Livingstones that I will address in the rest of this article. Unlike their lowland neighbors, these people spoke Celtic and honored Celtic traditions. Their surname evolved over time from MacDunsleeve to MacOnlea to MacLea, all Celtic names referring to "son of the physician", an implication that they were healers of a sort. Sometime in the seventeenth century, for unknown reasons (possibly be decree) these MacOnleas or MacLeas slowly began to adopt the lowland surname, Livingstone. By the mid-eighteenth century, it was a rare event to have a child's baptismal record reflect the old family surname. Clerics may have been mandated to enter only anglicized versions of the old name and each cleric spelled it as he wished. So today we see "Livingstone", "Livingston", "Levingston", "Liviston" and even "Living" or "Leving". All, if they originated in the highlands, belong to the same family group known as "Clan Livingstone". Remnants of the old family name can be found on occasions in Ireland and America and other parts of the world. So people with the surname "MacLea", "Lea" or "Lee", that are able to trace their families back to Argyll can also assume to be part of the highland Livingstone clan.

The crest above shows St. Moluag with his crosier in the right had and the flower of St. Moluag in the left.  The motto is, "Cnoc Angeil" which is Celtic for "Fire Hill", a reference to the hill at Bachuil where fires would be set to signal others to be on alert for trouble.

The earliest history of the clan dates back to the sixth century when the Livingstone ancestors were entrusted with keeping the crosier or bishop's staff of St. Moluag. Some speculate that these ancestors were druid priests who converted to Christianity when Moluag landed on the shores of Lismore sometime about 563 A.D.

Moluag's staff was said to have the power to heal the sick, to ward off danger, and to protect the clansmen when in battle. It obviously didn't do that successfully all the time or there would be a lot more MacOnleas around today. But the staff was venerated and held sacred by all of the people in the region for many centuries. It was passed from generation to generation of Livingstones. And in time, the keepers of the staff of St. Moluag became known as the Barons of Bachuil with a small land holding adjacent to the old Cathedral of the See of Lismore. The staff though much deteriorated over time, is still in the possession of the family today and is kept safe at the present Baron's home at Bachuil.

The highland Livingstones were historically never a clan of great wealth or power. They were always dependent upon more prosperous neighbors like the Campbells, the MacDougalls and the Stewarts of Appin to lease or croft them land to farm or graze their cattle. The baron, the recognized chief of the clan, had his small land holding. But that could only bear the weight of his immediate family and close relatives. Distant cousins had to hope that the baron's influence with his neighbors would afford them a niche to survive somewhere on Lismore or the surrounding islands and mainland. The further away from Lismore they were forced to move, the less influence the chief of the clan would have had over them. And the more dependent they would become on the grace of the local clan chief into who's family they might have married.

If economic opportunity beckoned a Livingstone from beyond, in Belfast or in Glasgow or in New York, then they could be freed from the clan's influence entirely, but be deprived of the sense of kinship the clan provided in the highland environment. Thus did many Livingstones leave Argyll and the Isles during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Only now, as they rediscover their roots as Highland Scots, are they returning to Argyll to get a sense of the grandeur of the landscape, the scent of the sea and heather, and the wickedness of the volatile weather in which their ancestors lived.

There are a few highland Livingstones worthy of note here. One would be Donald Livingstone, one of a contingent of Livingstones guarding Charles Stewart, the Laird of Ardsheal at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. He rescued the White Banner of the Stewarts from the battlefield and successfully returned it to Appin. Donald was buried at Savary on the Sound of Mull beside his parents. Dr. David Livingstone of Blantyre is another famous descendent of the clan who illuminated the family name by his exploration and missionary works in Africa. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

This account was kindly contributed by Rob Livingston. The Highland Livingstones of Scotland



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