New MacLeod DNA branch!

Exciting news from the L165 and Clan MacLeod DNA projects, there is a new subclade to the MacLeod R1b-BY3210, and it has a famous member! The new Subclade is BY19718, and it has been found positive in a descendant of Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal “Faithful Palinurus”, the boatman who aided the rebel prince Charles Edward Stuart’s escape from the failed 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. For a rough Pop Culture reference to Prince Charlie’s escapades, see series Outlander

Some background on Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal

The SNP Pathway to the MacLeod Y-DNA block for those familiar with Y-DNA:

R1b-M269>…>P312/S116 > Z40481 > ZZ11 > DF27/S250 > Z195/S355 > Z198 > L165/S68 > FGC29987 > BY3224 > BY3253 > BY3210 (STR estimate dates 1230-1350AD most recent common ancestor (MRCA), not SNP dated yet)

MacLeod Subclade Branches:

–BY13703: Isle of Harris potential association (STR estimate date 1650AD MRCA, not SNP dated yet)

–BY19718: Donald MacLeod of Galtrigal “Palinurus”

How many Highland and Island Clans were there?

At American games, there are several dozen, and sometime significantly more “Clan Tents” sponsored by the societies that have sprung up around almost every Scottish surname, Wikipedia lists 353 “Scottish Clans”, and The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs acknowledges about 140 clans that have chiefs recognized by the Lord Lyon of Scotland– But did you know less than 30% of Scottish origin surnames have any sort of clan association, and of those even fewer actually had a Highland or Island Clan of the same name? The first legal mention of a Clan was in an Act of Scottish Parliament of 1587–not coincidentally the “Clan Territory Maps” you see in surname shops and highland games vendors use the same act for the territory description from the act to show the lands of each clan… with one minor exception; The maps show all of Scotland broken into clan territories, where the act explicitly only describes the Borders and Highlands and Islands. There are 33 Clans described in the Highlands and Islands section, 9 of which are individual clan branches, Like MacLeod of Harris and MacLeod of Lewis, leaving 29 individual Clans.

Per Rothero and Newark’s list (Military historians considered to have the most authoritative list) 25 Highland nobles, presumably leading their people (including MacLeod), were at Bannockburn in 1314–21 Fought for Robert the Bruce, 4 for the English. There are a few clans that appear on one but not the other list, but in that almost 300 year span, there appears to not have been more than 30 actual Highland and Island Clans that functioned as such.

Notably, you can see in our generous interpretation of the past as represented at American  highland games, Lowland houses and small highland kin groups that never acted as independent political entities now are generalized as “Clans”. Since at the games in the states the kilt is ubiquitous as well, a garment which many early highlander migrants to the colonies would never have had a chance to wear (appearing first in the 1720s, with migration to the colonies starting well into the 1600s), it is understandable. Just like the convenient fiction of tartan having an identification function pre-1800s, “Clan” identification serves a purpose today in allowing everyone to celebrate Scots heritage, MacLeods and our septs can know that theirs was a true historical clan.

However, Lord Lyon the Scots King of Arms (Sir Thomas Innes of Learney from 1945-1969) has adopted a more inclusive modern definition of clan, so no need to scoff at lowland family Clan Tents at games!

Now, if only more Highland games and Renn-Faire folk would realize the “Great Kilt”/Belted Plaid was not even worn during the turbulent periods from clan founding to the end of “the era of feuds and forays”…



Act of 1587 –

Swords MacLeods would actually have used

Despite the popularity (and ’80s awesomeness) of the Highlander franchise, katanas were not common in the West Highlands and Islands. There were some distinctly ethnographic swords for the region, however. berserker

Starting at the close of the Viking age in Scotland, around the time of the founder Leod’s lifetime through his grandsons, Arms would have been of the sort of the late Viking period that would have been obsolete everywhere else. The Lewis chessmen from the 1200s show round and flat-topped kite shields, and Viking-style swords that were common 200 years earlier in Normandy and England.

Kite axe sword.jpg

Kite-Shaped shields had replaced the earlier classic Viking round shields as they protected the legs better.  Swords of the late viking type called Gaddjahalts “spike-hilts” evolved on the continent into the classic knightly cruciform sword. In the West Highlands, swords often kept the tea-cosy and lobate pommel shapes of much earlier swords and gradually started to sweep the spike hilt forward into a unique “V” shape.

1498 Lewis Chief

MacLeod of Lewis 1498


Reproduction Halflang

This is an example of a Claidheamh da Fhaobair “Two-Edged Sword”, these examples have grips long enough to get a second hand onto the pommel when needed, and were also known as Halflangs, “Half-Long (Grip) Swords”

The single-hand and half-lang swords of this type would be the primary sort of sword used by MacLeods from about 1300 up until about the year 1500.

Continental Longswords (Swords capable of fitting two hands on the grip, but not requiring two hands to wield) also show up in the record, with distinct Highland characteristics in the hits such as quatrefoil terminals on the guard. The tomb of Alastair Crotach MacLeod in Rodel, Harris shows such a Longsword on his effigy. You can tell it is not a true two handed sword, as the guard only comes up to his waist, so it could be worn and drawn from the belt easily, and used in the same manner as Longswords and Bastard swords.


Alasdair Crotach MacLeod 1547

After 1500, the large swords used on the continent began to be adopted by Highlanders, although slightly shorter in length than their German and Swiss Zweihander Schlachterschwert “Two Handed Slaughter Sword”, Spanish/Portugese Montante, and Italian Spadone counterparts. They were called Claidheamh da laimh, “Two-handed sword”.

Two handed.jpg
Today, you may see these called Claymores, from Claidheamh mor, “Broad-Sword”, but the term Claidheamh mor was first used to refer to double-edged basket-hilted broadswords of the 1500s-1800s to distinguish them from the Claidheamh cuil “Backsword”, a single edged basket-hilted sword. Basket hand protection became obsolete in the rest of Britain after the English Civil War (1650s), but use continued in Scotland past the end of the clan period as military dress. A third baskethilt variant, albeit without an example in the author’s possession is the Turcael, A Turkish Kilij blade mounted with a basket hilt. These are evident in the Culloden-era Penicuick sketches

Most relevant to MacLeods is the “Great Sword of Dunvegan”


Find“>Dunvegan Castle and Gardens on Facebook to see a recent photograph they posted of the sword


Non-Scots unique swords were common towards the end of the clan period, with thrust-oriented Smallswords (claidheamh-caol) and a type of Spadroon with a cutting blade and a thumb-ring for leverage called a “Sheering Sword” being preferred by the author, soldier, duelist, and Scots swordsman Donald McBane. The Small Sword derived from rapiers and courtswords, and the Sheering Sword was adapted from the German Haudegen, and Walloon (Dutch) Houwdegen. Mercenary service exposed Highlanders to the latest military technology, which they happily adopted when it was affordable. The economic reality of the area meant that most arms were several hundred years in arrears of the rest of Europe, for example Bowis a dorlochis “Bows and Arrows” were used in clan battles in the early 1600s.


Myths from Skye

Scotsman has posted a great article about some of the better known Scottish myths. Two of their featured myths have ties to Clan MacLeod, through the Isle of Lewis and the Old Man of Storr. Check it out at the link below!


Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) has matured rapidly in the last decade. Once, the only options for learning historical methods of swordplay were modern sport fencing, or the role-play imagined by the Society for Creative Anacronism. HEMA uses the documented courseware (mostly German, some others) of fight manuals from 1300-1900s, and uses modern protective gear to sort out the actual application of techniques. No Scottish sword sources from any earlier than the late 1700s exist, but knowing that continental mercenary service was common, where highlanders could have been exposed to German or Italian longsword styles, some are trying to use practical method to puzzle out how best to use uniquely Scottish swords.

Here is an example of a “tua-handit” sword often mistakenly called a Claymore vs a Longsword:

Here, the Basket-hilt broadsword Claymore and dirk:

Isle of Harris

Just to the northwest of the Isle of Skye is another island with deep MacLeod history. The Isle of Harris along with its conjoined twin, the Isle of Lewis, are believed to have become MacLeod territory in the mid-13th century; under the leadership of clan founder Leod. Harris is separated from Lewis by a mountain range, and makes up the southern part of the island. Today the Isle of Harris is best known for its signature product, Harris Tweed. In order for a fabric to be called Harris Tweed it must be made of new wool that has been dyed prior to being spun into yarn. The yarn must be spun in the Outer Hebrides, and the cloth must be woven in the home of crofters from the Isle.Click here to see a great video about how the cloth is made.

Aside from tweed, Harris is popular tourist destination with amazing beaches and beautiful scenery. The following video shows some highlights from the island.

If you are interested in seeing more of the island in person, the pre-Parliament trip for the 2018 MacLeod gathering will be to the Island of Harris and Lewis!

The Fairy Flag

sc000aa046Any of you that have visited Dunvegan Castle have probably seen the Fairy Flag. This relic has an interesting past, part history and part legend. The Scotsman recently published an article about the stories associated with the flag that you might be interested in.

The full article can be found by clicking here.

I thought it was fascinating that the flag has long been thought to offer protection to the clan. The article states that, “during the Second World War, men from the MacLeod clan carried pictures of the flag in their pockets to act as a talisman.” They also suggest that the clan chief during WWII offered to bring the flag to the White Cliffs of Dover if the Germans tried to invade.


MacLeods in Ireland

As the unofficial in the US, but widely celebrated in America, holiday of St Patrick’s Day approaches, I’d like to review the long ties with Ireland that the Clan MacLeod has.

Pre-dating the clan, the group now called Scots and Gaels came from Ireland in the 3rd and 4th century CE and settled in an area of Scotland called Dalriada, and then Argyll. St Columba, founder of Iona where the early Chiefs of MacLeod are buried, was the one who placed St Patrick’s relics in a Shrine 60 years after his death.

The Irish Viking Kingdom of Dublin in the 800 and 900s was also ruled by the Ui Imair, which is thought to be somehow related to the later Crovan dynasty that Leod was related to.

Next, in the mid 1300s, 4th Chief of Clan MacLeod, Iain Ciar, married the daughter of “The O’Neil”, the head Chief of the powerful O’Neil clan that ruled much of Northern Ireland. Both were not well liked however, and were said to have burned their daughters alive in Dunvegan’s dungeon for marrying against instructions.

In 1594 Roderick “The Great” the 15th Chief, better known by the Gaelic form of his name, Ruaridh Mhor (Sir Rory Mor) and his in-laws the MacDonalds raised a force that supported the rebellion of  Earl of Tyrconnell, Hugh Roe O’Donnell, against the English in Ireland, and brought back the “Dunvegan Cup” as tribute given to him there. He went again with 600 men in 1595. Shortly after, a feud with the MacDonalds erupted, and that series of fights was the last of the clan battles on Skye–the “War of the one-eyed woman”. The cup, once though to have belonged to Niall Glundub, founder of the O’Neills is now thought to be an example of a Meather from 1493.

Many of the Gallowglass who fought in Ireland stayed there, as did less of the later Redshanks mercenaries. One MacLeod in 1690 even hired into the forces of William of Orange in the Williamite Wars of Northern Ireland, even though his descendants later became Catholic and live in the Republic of Ireland today. Dubhaltach Óg mac Giolla Íosa Mór mac Dubhaltach Mór Mac Fhirbhisigh, the Irish author of the Leabhar na nGenealach from 1650-1666, wrote about genealogies connected to the MacLeods that have recently shed light on some interesting questions when it was finally published 300 years after it was written.

One final sad link with Ireland was an early incident of clearances, where in 1739 tenants of MacDonald of Sleat and MacLeod of Bernera were kidnapped from Harris and Skye with the intent to sell them into slavery on American cotton plantations and the sugar plantations of the West Indies. This is called the Soitheach Nan Daoine, “Ship of the People” incident. The ship, the SS William, docked at Donaghadee in Ireland to take refuge from a storm and the prisoners escaped from the barn they were locked in overnight. Most of the 100 escapees remained in Antrim, Ireland as they had no way to pay to get back to their homes.