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 –

Holiday bike trip

Hope everyone had a fun holiday season! While most of us probably spent our holidays at home with family, perhaps curled up by the fire, Isle of Skye daredevil Danny MacAskill thought it was the perfect occasion for a leisurely bike ride…up the Old Man of Storr. Read the full story at Deadline News UK with the link below.

Applecross Peninsula

The Applecross peninsula is a remote mountainous region in Wester Ross on the Scottish mainland opposite Skye and Raasay. Applecross is called ‘a Chomraich’ in Gaelic, which means ‘The Sanctuary’.

The name came from the account  “Saint Maelrubha was born in Londonderry on 3rd January 642AD, and in 671 sailed from Bangor to Scotland to found a new monastic settlement.  In 673 he at last reached the Pictish territory of Aporcrosan, ‘confluence of the river Crossan’. Here he established his monastery and declared the area within a six mile radius a sanctuary.” There had been a Mesolithic site at the Sand rockshelter in Applecross that is over 8000 years old. The inhabitants must have been a boat using people, as the Sand residents were part of a Mesolithic network that operated across the Inner Sound.  They got stone for their tools from the Isle of Rum (30km to the South) and Staffin on Skye (10km to the West).

There is a single track road that is one of the 2 ways to access Applecross called the Bealach na Ba, meaning pass of the cattle, which was used in earlier days to drive cattle from Applecross and surrounding settlements to other parts of the Highlands. The other road is the coastal route from the North, which was built in 1975.

Someone (not me) has an excellent dashcam time-lapse video of driving the Bealach na Ba on YouTube, link below.  Some claim it as the most challenging and exhilarating drive in Scotland, but I can think if at least 2 far more terrifying roads… Road to Tokavaig and Dunscaith Castle, looking at you.

Worldwide Clan MacLeod Parliament dates for 2018

Recently announced at the winter meeting, the NRG service project for MacLeods age 18-29 is 15-20 July 2018, with the clan worldwide gathering for Parliament 21-28 July 2018 in the village of Dunvegan, Isle of Skye Scotland.