Alexander Macrae.

History of the clan Macrae with genealogies online

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Online LibraryAlexander MacraeHistory of the clan Macrae with genealogies → online text (page 1 of 35)
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Country of the Macraes. — Meaning and Probable Origin of the
Name. — Its First Appearance as a Surname. — Traditional
Origin of the Clan Macrae. — Macraes in the Districts of
Chines and Glenurquhart. — Migration to Kintail. — Campbells
of Craignish said to be of Macrae Origin. — The Connection
of. the Macraes with the House of Kintail. — Also with the
House of Gairloch. — The Macraes were Episcopalians and
Jacobites. — Macraes in the Seaforth Regiments. — The Rev.
John Macrae's MS. History of the Clan.

The Macraes were a small but important clan in the
district of Kintail, in the south-west of the county
of Ross, where they are said to have settled in the
fourteenth century, under the chieftainship of the
Barons Mackenzie of Kintail.

According to the most competent authorities,
the name Macrae or Macrath, as it is written in
Gaelic, means " son of Grace or Luck," ] and, so far
as at present known, it occurs first in The Annals of
the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, under

1 Macbain's Gaelic Dictionary.


the year of our Lord 448, a certain " Macraith ] the
Wise " being mentioned in that year as a member of
the household of St Patrick. "We meet with it
occasionally in Ireland from that date onwards, and
in the eleventh and twelfth centuries it was fre-
quently used in that country as the personal name
of lords, poets, and more especially ecclesiastics.
The name first appears in Scotland at a some-
y what later date. In a Gaelic manuscript of the
eleventh century, called The Prophecy of Saint
Berchan, we find the term Macrath applied to one of
the successors of Kenneth Macalpin, — King Gregory
who reigned at Scone during the last quarter of the j
ninth century, and was one of the greatest of the
early Scottish Kings. This seems to be the first
instance of the name Macrae or Macrath in Scotland.
Gregory the Macrath was not only prosperous in
worldly affairs and in his wars against his enemies,
but was also a sincere supporter and benefactor of
the Scottish Church, which he delivered from the
oppression of the Picts, and favoured with his
support and protection. 2 Considering the meaning
of the name, and the connection in which it first
appears both in Ireland and in Scotland, it is not
unreasonable to suppose that it may have been first
given as a distinguishing personal name to men who
were supposed to be endowed with more than an
ordinary measure of sanctity and grace. The name
Macrae had thus in all probability an ecclesiastical

l Raith in Macraith is the old genitive form of Rath.
* Appendix B,


In a genealogy of the Mackenzies contained in
The Black Book of Clanranald, we find it stated
that Gilleoin of the Aird, from whom the old Earls
Gillanders of Ross and the Mackenzies of Kintail are
traced, was the son of Macrath (McRrath). 1 Supposing
the genealogy to be correct, this Macrath would have
lived not earlier than the tenth century. By that
time Christianity was fairly established in the High-
lands of Scotland, and as the name Gilleoin means
the servant of St John, it is not at all unlikely that
Macrath also may have been so named from some
family connection with the early Church in the
Highlands. 2

The name Macrae (McRaa) occurs also in The Dean
of Lismore's Book under circumstances which might
well have entitled the bearer of it to be called, if
not a son of grace, at all events a son of luck. 3

In those times there were no family or hereditary
surnames in this country. Family surnames ap-
pear in England about the twelfth century, but it
was not until much later that they became common
in the Highlands of Scotland. For instance, the sur-
name Mackenzie, which is a comparatively old one,
arose in the early part of the fourteenth century.
The use of Macrae as a surname is probably of an
earlier date than the surname Mackenzie, and that

l Reliquiae Celticae, Vol. II., page 300.
2 In "a Gaelic MS. of 1450, containing genealogies of several Highland
families, and published with an English translation in The Transactions of the
Iona Club, an ancestor of the Macleans is also mentioued a« Gilleoin, son of
Macrath (Gilleain uic Icrait). This helps to confirm the tradition mentioned
below, that the Macraes, Mackenzies, and Macleans were of the same ancestry,
but it is not easy to make anything satisfactory out of those old genealogies.
3 Appendix B,


it grew in the first instance out of a personal name
is evident from the fact that in Gaelic the Macraes
are always spoken of as " Clann Mhicrath," that is
the " descendants of Macrath."

So far as at present known, the name Macrae is
first mentioned as a surname in the year 1386, in an
agreement made, at Inverness, between the Bishop
of Moray and Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan,
better known as the Wolf of Badenoch, with regard
to some land in Rothiemurclms, in Inverness-shire,
which was formerly occupied by a certain Cristinus
M'Crath (Christopher Macrae), who was then dead. 1
From that date onwards the name is frequently met
with as a surname in various parts of Scotland, not
only in the Highlands, but also in Ayrshire and in
the south of Perthshire.

Tradition relates that the Macraes came originally
from Ireland, and were of common ancestry with the
Mackenzies and the Macleans, and it is said that a
company of them fought at the battle of Largs in
1263, under the leadership of Colin Fitzgerald, the
reputed progenitor of the Mackenzies of Kintail.
The Fitzgerald origin of the Mackenzies is now
discredited by Scotch historians ; but, whatever
their origin may have been, it is extremely probable
that the Macraes were in some way connected with
the same stock, as a strong friendship and alliance
existed between the two clans from early traditional
times, and continued without intermission so long as
the Mackenzies held the ancestral lands of Kintail.
The Macraes who settled in Kintail are said to have

IRcrjislrum Episcoputus Moraricnsis (Bannatyne Club), page 196.


lived originally at Clunes, on the Lordship of Lovat,
near the southern shore of the Beauly Firth, where
the site on which stood the house of their chief is
still pointed out. 1 So far as the date to which these
traditions refer can be fixed, this would be about the
middle of the thirteenth century. It is also said
that the name was known in Glenurquhart" in the
twelfth century, which is an earlier date than can
well be assigned to any traditions that have come
down to us with regard to the settlement at Clunes,
but there appear to be no existing traditions con-
necting the origin of the Macraes of Kintail with
the district of Glenurqnhart. There are, however,
many traditions connecting them with the district
of Clunes, and explaining the cause of the migration
to Kintail. 3

According to the Rev. John Macrae, the most ■
probable cause of the migration of the Macraes to
Kintail, or, at all events, of that branch of them
which afterwards became the most important, was
that, though they do not appear to have been very
numerous, they were becoming too crowded in the
old home at Clunes. At the same time Lovat's own
kindred and friends were becoming so numerous
that the country could not accommodate them all,

IThe site of Macrae's house (Larach tigh Mhicrath) is on the southern
slope of the Hill of Clunes, and is marked by a number of large BtoneS, which

are supposed to have formed the foundations of the house. Tradition says
that the house was originally built in the course of one night by supernatural
agencies, and the place has always been regarded as a favourite haunt of the

2 Mackay's Urquhart and Gleumoriston, p. 12 ; and also the Rev. John
Macrae's Account of the Origin of the Macraes, Appendix A.

3 See chapter on legends and traditions of the clan, and Appendix A.


and this was an additional reason for the Macraes

Online LibraryAlexander MacraeHistory of the clan Macrae with genealogies → online text (page 1 of 35)