Clan Mackay

Clan Mackay (Scottish Gaelic: Clann Mhic Aoidh, pronounced Mak Eye) is an ancient and once-powerful Highland Scottish clan from the Scottish Highlands, with roots in the old kingdom of Moray. They supported Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. In the centuries that followed they were anti-Jacobite. The territory of the Clan Mackay consisted of Farr, Tongue, Durness and Eddrachillis, and was known as Strathnaver, in the north-west of the county of Sutherland, top right corner of Scotland. However, in 1829 the chief sold his lands to the Earls of Sutherland and the Highland Clearances then had dire consequences for the clan. In the 17th century the Mackay chief’s territory had extended to the east to include the parish of Reay in the west of the neighbouring county of Caithness. The chief of the clan is Lord Reay and the lands of Strathnaver later became known as the Reay Country. Historian Angus Mackay compares two different genealogies of the early chiefs of the Clan Mackay. Both have similarities but there are also differences given for the ancestry of the Mackay chiefs. One claims that the chiefs of Mackay shared a common ancestor with chiefs of Clan Forbes and chiefs of Clan Farquharson. Or that Iye Mackay, 1st chief of the Clan Mackay, who was born in about 1210, was a descendant of Malcolm MacHeth, 1st Earl of Ross who died in about 1168. MacHeth may well have been related to the early rulers or Mormaers of Moray. According to historian Angus Mackay, sometime in the 1160s, MacHeths and their supporters in conflict with king Malcolm IV of Scotland fled northwards into Strathnaver, where they were welcomed by the Norse Harald Maddadsson, Mormaer of Caithness, who was then an enemy of the king. In 1215 the MacHeths along with the MacWilliams retaliated against the king but were defeated by Fearchar, Earl of Ross and the grandson of Malcolm MacHeth, Kenneth MacHeth was killed. According to Angus Mackay it is possible that from this Kenneth MacHeth the Stathnaver Mackays are descended, and that Iye Mackay, 1st chief of Clan Mackay may well have been his son or nephew. As usual with the Scottish clans, all very complicated and up for question. MY question is this; what are a clan with Mac doing on the east coast?  When all other Mac clans are in the west, Mac being “son of” and very Celtic, not at all Pictish. The Picts were the ancient Scottish tribe where the ancestors of the McKay family lived. The name McKay comes from the personal name Aodh, a cognate of Hugh (or today, Shug or Shuggie). The Gaelic form of the name is usually Mac Aoidh and in Inverness, the Gaelic form of the name McKay is Mac Ai.

Mackays were amongst the clans who supported Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Later in the 14th century, in 1370, chief Iye Mackay, 4th of Strathnaver and his son were murdered at Dingwall Castle by Nicholas Sutherland of Duffus, head of one of the junior branches of Clan Sutherland. Much bloodshed followed, including a retaliatory raid on Dornoch in 1372. The cathedral was once again set on fire and many Sutherland men were hanged in the town square. During the Jacobite rising of 1715 the Clan Mackay were anti-Jacobite, taking the side of King George I of the United Kingdom and defending Inverness Castle against the Jacobites. The Mackays were also present at the Skirmish of Alness in 1715 against Mackenzie, Earl of Seaforth. In 1719 a detachment of 80 men from the Clan Mackay fought at the Battle of Glen Shiel where they defeated the Jacobites. During the Jacobite rising of 1745 the Clan Mackay again supported the British Government and the Mackay Independent Highland Companies intercepted and captured gold which had been sent from France to the Jacobite leader Charles Edward Stuart, in what become known as the Skirmish of Tongue. So, Scots or pretend English? They were not the only clan who sided with the Saxons during the rebellions, many did, notably those Campbells.  Castle Varrich (Scottish Gaelic: Caisteal Bharraich) is in the far north of the Scottish Highlands, near the village of Tongue. The castle origins and age are unknown. Varrich, may be over one 1000 years old; The castle had two floors plus an attic. The upper floor entrance was on the south side would most likely have been accessed by a ladder or removable stair. Later the clan chief’s seat moved to Tongue House. Varrich Castle is about one hour’s walk away from the village of Tongue, and is clearly signposted from there. The castle was updated in 2017 to make it more accessible with a steel spiral staircase and viewing platform inside allowing a higher viewpoint over the Kyle of Tongue.