This is a message posted at the Clan Mackay, USA discussion forum by Dr. Gary McKay on May 09 1999.
Dear All, As I have noted a general fallacy running through many of the supposed "histories" of the Clann MacAoidgh, I shall generate an abbreviated one for all. Please note that I am in the middle of a five year effort at annotating the "Book of Mackay" and currently have access to the papers of Dr. Ian Grimble, Historian of the Strathnaver and il D'uath M'hic Aoidh ("Land of the Mackays"), now deceased sadly. As a blood relative, and I do not refer to political associations or military alliances, the following is historically true and verifiable:
1) Around 710 A.D., three separate tribes leave Ireland from a region known as Dalriada and land in what is now known as Argyll and the southern Hebrides. One of the tribes is known as the C'nel Lorne, the progenitors of Clann MacAoidh. The C'nel Lorne are descended from Aedh, grand-son of the Irish king N'iall.
2) Around the year 1100 A.D., the C'nel Lorne move up the Great Glen (the Loch Ness divide) to the present day region of the Moray after centuries of battle with the C'nel Gabhrain. The Mac Aedh (then Gaelic spelling...) left in Argyll become a later war sept of the Clan Ranald of McDonald, later known as the "Lords of the Isles".
3) The Mac Aedh/Mac Aed/Mac Heths (all variations of the Gaelic pronunciation of the time) become a virtual separate kingdom around the Moray Firth on Scotland's middle north eastern coast, becoming known as the "Mormaers", or Great Rulers (of Men). However, in the 1200's their power was broken after the grandson of MacBeth, by virtue of Lulach (or Gormflaith) his wife, challenged one of the early Scottish kings. The Mormaers were banished over the far northwestern Munros (Mountains) into the region of the Strathnaver.
4) The Strathnaver at the height of the Clann MacAoidgh (modern Gaelic spelling) stretched from Assynt in the west to Loch Naver, to the borders of Ross-shire and just west of present day Thurso. From late 1200s until the middle 1400s, the power of the Aoidgh was unchallenged particularly after the battle of Drum na Cub in the shadow of Ben Loyal, when Iain Abrach Mackay led a party of 500 men into battle againt men of the Sutherland (Clann Suderland). Some 1500 Suderlands were killed, virtually the entire war group. These Suderlands were NOT related to the later infamous Sutherlands of the Clearances of the 1800's.
5) Throughout the 1500s and 1600s the Clann Aoidgh was under constant pressure from the Gordon-Huntly Clann (later assuming the name Sutherland by royal decree) throuch fractricidal policies. The Chiefs of Mackay always backed the Crown and WERE NOT at anytime Jacobites. ONLY those whom remained as septs of the Clan MacDonald were Jacobites. The famous Mackay's Regiment came into being in the middle 1600's, fighting as mercenaries in Holland and Germany for William the Orange. In 1688, the Chief of Mackay through his support behind William fully, thus ending the House of Stewarts reign as Kings of Scotland and England.
6) The Clann Mac Aoidgh declined throughout the 18th and 19th century due to the avarice of the Suitherland's, a failure of land reform policy of the newly united "Kingdom", and the lure of America.
7) In the year 1999 in Sutherland County, which comprises one-quarter of the original "Strathnaver", there are only 2,126 inhabitants. In 1825 at the beginning of the worst years of the "Clearances", there were 26,245 inhabitants. Some 76 percent were blood relation Mackay's and were Gaelic language speakers as their ancestors had been for 2000 years. While "mythical" historians relate a relation to the Clann Mhoirgunn (Morgan), it remains that and nothing more.
While certain portions of the Coat of Arms and later colors may have been adapted, they have nothing to do with the Aoidgh's actual history. Per political and military septs allied to the Clann Mac Aoidgh, they are as numerous throughout history as the colors of the rainbow, from Frasers to Mackenzie, to Grant and Blair. Thus, it is quite okay for one to "ally" himself to any modern "Clan" should they so desire. However, in doing so one is an anachronist (or one who portrays history) and not per se following the "modern" conventions of some form of "blood" relationship. (That is merely a commentary on the situation as I see it here in Scotland!)
Finally, on tartan. Tartan was not specific to Clann but to region--thus, the Gunn colors are similar to Mackay etc. There is a very specific regional sett called "Strathnaver Mackay" which is dyed in the actual known colors of that region (heather brown and grey-blue) in the same pattern. (I have them, much nicer than the "modern" Mackay I think, but only an opinion!) Should you desire to come to Scotland, travel to Edinburgh, thence to Thurso, thence to Bettyhill, where there is the Clan Mackay Museum at the Farr Bay Church in Sutherland County.
To finish, Clann M'hic Aoidgh is one of the most famous and certainly oldest of the true Gaelic Clanns. If you are blood related, then you may count King Niall of Ireland, King David of Scotland, and Macbeth as your relations--not to mention a legion of Barons, Lords, and Knights and can be justifiably proud. I close with the words of the original Clann M'hic Aoidgh motto and inscribed on the tomb of The Scourie-Mackay at Balnakiel Church in Durness, "Bi Tren, Bi Treun!" Be True, Be Steadfast! Cheers, Dr. Gary Mckay Barra Suite Dept. of Archaeology and Geography Univ. of Edinburgh Edinburgh Scotland EH8 9XP Scotland, UK 011 44 131 650 2532
(ed. note: Dr. McKay also recommends reading the following books, "Chief of Mackay" and "The Trial of Patrick Sellar" by Ian Grimble. Both are now in soft copy reprint.)
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