Tha an duileag seo a’ feuchainn freagairtean a thoirt do cheasnaichean neonach a nochdas air an larach-lin seo bho am gu am.

To encourage interchange of ideas and knowledge, the site will introduce a hot topic for discussion each season. These seasons will loosely relate to the quarters of the year and they will be referred to by their Gaelic equivalents – Faoilteach, Bealtain, Lunasdal and Samhain. Students of Gaelic Spirituality will spot that the odd man out here for them is Faoilteach. Within the ancient Gaelic polytheistic tradition, Faoilteach would have been replaced with Feile Bhrighde, the reason being that the names can also refer not just to seasons but to Feast Days which mark the beginning of Seasons. Feast-Days were divided into two seasons, Geamhradh (Winter, the ‘dark-half’) and Samhradh (Summer, the ‘light-half’), and between these seasons were four Quarter Days that were based in the pastoral and solar cycles. Quarter Days were occasions for family and communal feasting and celebration, so cementing social solidarity. Activities included story-telling, the recitation of poetry, competitive sports and céilidhs. Events that were of social, economic, and religious importance were:

Oídhche Shamhna – October 31/ November 1; the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter; a time to honour ancestors and other dead and a primordial time when the Otherworld (ghosts, spirits and the like) were most active.
Latha Fheile Bhrighde – February 1; ‘the feast day of Bríde’ (note Cille Bhrighde, Kilbride, in South Uist); a celebration closely associated with the hearth, home,family and the stirrings of Spring.
Latha Bhealtain – May 1; the end of Spring and the start of Summer; a time when the Otherworld is particularly active again and a time for purification.
Latha Lúnasa/Lùnasdal – August 1; a harvest festival instituted by Lugh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu who died whilst clearing the land for cultivation and a celebration of Lugh’s release of the harvest.

The Days of the Week were called:
Sunday – Di-Domhnaich; Monday – Di-Luain; Tuesday – Di-Mairt; Wednesday – Di-Ceudaoin; Thursday – DiardAoin; Friday – Di-hAoine; Saturday – Di-Sathuirn. The naming tradition is thought to have derived from a mixture of pagan and Christian – hence Monday, Tuesday and Saturday are named after the planets, Moon (Luna), Mars and Saturn; the other days are Christian – Aoin means a fast and Wednesday is named after Ash Wednesday (Ceud Aoin – the First Fast), Friday is named after Good Friday (na h-Aoine, The Main Fast) and Thursday is The Day Between-Fasts, De Eadar Da Aoin; Sunday is the Day of Our Lord (Di ar Domhnaich, from Dominus).

Months of the Year were called:
January – Am Faoilteach Earrach; February – An Gearran; March – Am Mart; April – An Giblean;May – Am Bealtain; June – An t-Og Mhios; July – An t-Iuchair; August – An Lunasdal; September – An t-Sultain; October – An Damhair; November – Am Mios Dubh; December – An Dubhlachd

The choice of seasonal topic will be determined by some intriguing area of enquiry which has been brought up by a visitor. In the absence of an authoritative source in the first instance, the topic will be presented in the form of questions and assumptions to be knocked down or challenged. The first ever topic looked at the literacy of Island folk and efforts that incomers make to try to educate them. Pride of place must go to a  letter to John McQuien in upstate NY from a cousin in Cape Breton. John’s sister Margaret Fell travelled to Cape Breton and met Murdoch and his wife for the first time. This is Murdoch’s letter of introduction (courtesy of Laurie Johnson) to John, talking about their family.

False Bay Beach
Jan 17 1887

My Dear Cousin,

I take the present opportunity of writing you these few lines for the first time in my life. I am well and all mine, hoping these few lines will find well and all yours. Dear cousin I am at a loss what to write to you. I am now an old man of 64 years born in Loch Maddy in 1823. In 1826 then father moved in land to Drammanan and took your father’s place which he held until 1841, then all the tenants were swept away we came here. Our family was small, only me and Donal. He got married about the year 1846. He was killed about 1862, leaving a widow and eight children, three boys and five girls, two of them are in Boston, one in the asylum, one at home. Two of the boys are home, one in California. I was married in 1850 to Euphema McQueen. I had five sons and five daughters, all living but one boy he died an infant. Two of my sons are married here. Ian is in Boston and Esabella, she is married there to John Boyd. Three more of my daughters are married here so I am all alone almost but my youngest daughter Flora. My father in law he is with me also. I had to take in his at (?) he is (93?) year, he is also blind but his memory is good yet. He was a seaman along with Uncle John and able to tell us good old yarns about their seafaring. He himself was (capt?) of the Pomona until he lost her.

Now my dear cousin, I hope your dear sister and my beloved Mrs Fell got home all safe. She is a dear soul. She stole my heart and the Lord bless her. Tell her I got home all right and for her to let me know if she got my likeness from that Mr. Askill. I suppose you heard of the death of your dear cousin Donal McLean. I saw it in the newspaper and for him we shall not mourn as them that have no hope for I verily believe to him to die was no loss but great gain.

Now dear cousin I must come to a close and you must write to me as soon as you get this and give me your age and your wife’s name and number of children and their names and their age. Is there any of them married. My dear cousin, give my love to all my cousins.

Mrs. McLeod sending her love to Mrs Fell.

I remain your affectionate cousin

Murdoch McLeod



36 responses to “Samhain

  1. donfad

    November 11, 2011 at 1:30 am

    PhD Theses in Celtic Studies

    Dr Kristján Ahronson
    His PhD thesis, Claiming a Wilderness: Atlantic Gaels and the Island Norse, explored the early medieval relationships between Viking-Age Scandinavian and early Christian communities in Atlantic Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland.

    Dr Joseph J. Flahive
    His PhD thesis, The Relic Lays: A Study of Late Middle Gaelic Fianaigheacht, prepared new editions of five early Ossianic poems in the seventeenth-century Irish manuscript Duanaire Finn.

    Dr Catriona Mackie
    Catriona successfully merged her interests in architecture and Gaelic for an MSc degree at the University of Edinburgh, with a thesis written in Gaelic and entitled Taighean Tughaidh nan Eilean Siar (‘The Thatched Houses of the Western Isles’).

    Dr Irene Pollock
    Her PhD thesis studied the Acquisition of Literacy in Gaelic-medium Primary Classrooms in Scotland.

    Dr William Lamb
    Speech and writing in Scottish Gaelic: a study of register variation in an endangered language.

    Dr Alasdair MacCaluim
    Periphery of the periphery? Adult learners of Scottish Gaelic and reversal of language shift.

    Dr Patricia Menzies
    Òran na Comhachaig: a study of text and content

  2. donfad

    November 11, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Recent Visitor Queries on Google Search

    Are MacIsaacs Campbells or MacDonalds?
    Were Clan Blair Hanoverian or Jacobite?
    1791 Garmoran
    Captain John MacDonald of Kirkibost
    MacIntosh Exiles
    North Uist Clearances in 1800s
    Glenelg Sailing Ships
    Lulan DNA
    Prevalence and Meaning of R1b1 Haplotype in Argyll?

  3. donfad

    June 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Beliefs and Superstitions about the Seasons

    For January/February
    “Chan eil port a sheinneas an smeòrach san Fhaoilteach nach guil i seachd uairean mun ruith an t-Earrach” = “For every song the thrush sings in February, she’ll weep seven times ere Spring be over”. Meaning: The Gael of old regarded stormy weather toward the end of January as a sign of a fruitful season to follow.

    “An déidh tàirneanaich a’ gheamhraidh thig aon chuid sìde ro mhath no sìde nan seachd siantan”= “After winter thunder, either very good weather will come or weather of the seven blasts”. Meaning: The roughest weather that could possibly come is a mixture of wind, rain, snow, frost, thunder, lightning and hailstone.

    For March
    “Is fhearr an sneachd na ‘bhith gun sian, an déidh an sìol a chur san talamh” = “Better snow than no heavy rain-showers when the seed is in the ground”. Meaning: As freshly planted seed needs a good soak, in the absence of heavy rain even snow will do. Or in other words, half a loaf is better than none.

    “Feadagan is Gobagan e tuilleadh gu Féill Pàdraig” = “Whistling and biting winds on to St. Patrick’s day”. Early harsh Spring weather winds will continue till March 17th. Or, equivalent ‘cast not a clout till May is out’.

    “Am feur a thig a-mach sa Mhàrt, théid e staigh sa Ghiblean” =”The crop that comes out in March shrinks away in April”. Meaning: Too early an appearance of shoots will produce a poorer harvest.

    For April
    “Chuala mi a’ chuthag gun bhiadh ‘nam bhroinn” =”I heard the cuckoo before tasting food”. The early arrival of the cuckoo, before first harvest was considered a sign of an unlucky year to follow.

    “Earrach fad’ an déidh Càisge.” Meaning: When the full-moon of Shrove-tide comes a few days after An Fhéill Brìghde, there would be a long tail of Spring after Easter”.

    For May
    “Am fear a nì a obair ‘na h-àm bithidh e ‘na leth thàmh” = “He that executes his task in due time shall be half at rest”. Meaning: a variant of ‘A stitch in time…’.

    For June-July
    “Is math an comharra air an t-sìde shamhraidh, boillsgeadh dearg a bhith as na solais fad air falbh” =”It is a good sign of summer weather when far away lights have a reddish gleam”.

    For September/October
    “An gealach ùr –Rìgh nan Dùl ‘ga beannachadh”! = “The new moon — the king of the elements blesses it”. Meaning: The first new moon of the Autumn, known as Gealach a’ Bhruic, or The Badger’s Moon (during whose light the badger is said to dry grass for its nest) signals the need to get the harvest in.

    For October
    Croisean Moire (Mary’s crosses in Uist, gaoir-theas elsewhere), which is a flickering sheet of cobwebs seen on the grass in Autumn would portend a period of rain.

    For November/December
    “A’ chiad trì làithean den Gheamhradh, ge be bheir géill don spréidh, cha dugainn fhéin gu samhradh” = “If dark or sullen first three days of Winter, do not rely much upon all of the cattle seeing it through till the Summer”.

  4. Don MacFarlane

    March 25, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    The Moidart-Uist piping connection still going strong:

  5. Don MacFarlane

    January 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    The plan for this website for this coming year is to have much more traffic on the non-Uist pages. Up to this point in time, the number of views per page has been:

    Uist 4500
    Inner Isles 2111
    Skye 2063
    Lewis and Harris 1942

    This is not reflected in the number of posts as there have been very few for the non-Uist sites, especially Lewis, therefore this week’s query from Don Munro in Winnipeg is especially welcome and it may kick-start a process of green shoots. I will aim to find a volunteer expert for the other pages, such as Angus MacMillan has been for Uist.

    As for me, I have little personal knowledge of Lewis or Harris, although I spent two years there in hospital and family medical practice. Likewise, I have only some knowledge of the Uists although I spent some of my school years there while a blow-in from Glasgow, but at least I have family connections.

    Watch this space.

    • Don MacFarlane

      February 20, 2011 at 10:53 am

      Mission achieved! I have located an expert on Harris who will take care of any queries about that neck of the woods. Peter, otherwise tagged as ‘Direcleit’, will appear in these pages and he also has his own excellent website which can be found at

      Next, the Isle of Skye?

  6. Don MacFarlane

    July 11, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Some rarer forms of Gaelic names peculiar to the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, which was Gaelic-speaking up till the late 1800s were:

    Caolaisdean (Kelso)
    Cearrach (Kerr)
    Luos (Lees)
    Mac a Charraige (Craig)
    Mac an Airgid (Sillars)
    Mac O’ Seannaig (Shannon)
    MacBhraighdeinn (Bryden)
    MacCnusachainn (Kennedy)
    MacCuga (Cook)
    MacEanain (MacKinnon)
    MacMhurardaich (MacCurdy)
    MacRaoimhin (MacNiven)
    MacUrchaidh (MacMurchie)

    Visitors to the site are invited to correspond if they have any of these names in their family trees, or can otherwise enlighten about how they came to be Anglicised or Gaelicised.

    To make a start, one suggestion is that MacUrchaidh (MacMurchie) derives from the Orchy (Urchaidh) district in Argyllshire which surrounds Bridge of Orchy. Alternatively, more likely and given the propensity within Arran Gaelic to contract consonants, it may merely come from MacMhurchaidh (son of Murdoch) – especially so as the consonant M appears in the English version.

    The name Caolaisdean is Gaelicised by the Kelso clan who lived originally in Largs on the Ayrshire coast, just 12 miles by sea from the Isle of Arran. The Gaelic form is peculiar to Arran and appears never to have caught on outside this region. A fanciful but unlikely interpretation might be that it comes from the Gaelic ‘Caol Uisdean’, or Thin Hugh, a possible progenitor of this branch of the clan but ii is anybody’s guess?

    An idiosyncratic Gaelicisation in Arran produced MacCnusachainn (MacRusachainn) – which is of totally obscure derivation – as the Gaelic for Kennedy, the most prominent clan in Ayrshire. Elsewhere, Kennedy appears as MacUalraig in Gaelic. A stab at that version might produce ‘son of Ulrick’; not so fanciful, as Vikings owned at one time the whole of the Western seaboard, down as far as the Firth of Clyde.

    A similar Gaelicisation rendered MacNiven into MacRaoimhin but this is probably just a form of MacCraoimhin, a version of MacNiven which originated in County Galway, where an Irish branch of the clan came from. MacBhraighdeinn (for Bryden) may be connected to MacIlleBhraigh who were a branch of the MacDonalds of Sleat in Skye.

    Lees are a branch of Clan MacPherson and also were known as MacLeish, or Mac an Leighis (son of the healer). Luos may be an incorrect spelling of ‘leighis’ as vowels do not come in the order ‘uo’ in Gaelic. Sillar (siller) is Ulster-Scots for money, hence Mac an Airgid as ‘airgid’ is Gaelic for money.

    Most of the above is highly speculative, but maybe not so far off the mark, as Arran was in a prime position to be a melting pot and interface for raiders and others who ventured up the Firth of Clyde from places much further afield. To be even more speculative, MacaCharraige (for Craig) may be some reference to the landmass, Ailsa Craig, next door to Arran in the Firth of Clyde, which had Roman Catholic inhabitants who had escaped there to avoid persecution at the time of the Scottish Reformation?

  7. Don MacFarlane

    March 27, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Commercial sheep farming in the Highlands developed in about 1760 and gradually spread north over the whole of the region by the beginning of the 19th Century. Enticed by the low price of land in the highlands, a small number of pioneer lowland farmers moved north with their flocks, producing twice the output from mutton plus highly valued wool. The Blackface sheep, which could survive on the poorest pastures, dominated at first but Cheviot sheep displaced them until the harsh winter of 1860 which highlighted the superior hardiness of the Blackface. The price of mutton also favoured the Blackface, as hill grazings could carry greater numbers of them compared with Cheviots.

  8. Don MacFarlane

    March 27, 2009 at 9:35 am

    The first topic for an Faoilteach was the religious divide that exists across the different islands. Why does it exist? Who was responsible? How prevalent were proselytising and missions? How much were the Inner Isles influenced by proximity to Ireland? How influential was the Statute of Iona? How did clan allegiance determine choice of religion?

    The next topic was genealogical research into Highland names of apparently (but not so) non-Highland origin which have repeatedly popped up with visitors – Shaw, Fletcher, Livingstone, Darroch and Buie. The same format will be followed of asking awkward questions to challenge too readily accepted assumptions. For example in the case of the clan Fletcher – did it really take its name from fletcher, meaning arrowmaker; why does the English name Fletcher have AngloSaxon origin and also mean arrowmaker (as in the broad Scots language); is there any evidence of Scottish clans using bows and arrows, if not why does Fletcher mean arrowmaker; what is the connection between Joseph Lister, the father of modern surgery, and the name Fletcher?

    The third topic explored reasons for the demise of the Gaelic language in Scotland and Prince Edward Island over the past three hundred years. This topic explored recent attempts to revive the language. Is this based on sentimentality, a need to preserve what may be lost forever, a nationalistic gesture, or on some other less definable motive?

    • Mary-Lynn Schlifer

      November 27, 2011 at 9:57 am

      My mother’s maiden name was Lister ( Mary Fair) and the family had roots primarily in and around Fife for nearly 1000 years. When I was very young she told me we had Irish roots. I was surprised to learn that the Gaelic meaning was arrow-maker as I have learned that some of the Listers over many centuries were and continue to be involved in textiles.

      From what I have been able to learn so far, there were at least two branches who came over in the invasion from Normandy. The first one I have of a family member is George Lister in Symington Cemetery (1160), a community founded by a Norman, Simon Loccard (Lockhart). On the English side, the name Halyfax was granted by Earl Warrein in the town of Halifax (originally means holy way), near York in England. There is a St. John the Baptist Church and the Lister Coat of Arms is painted on two sections of the ceiling. It was founded in 1116. Joseph Lister was English born.

      Lister is the Scottish “anglicized version” and Fletcher is the English version. While we are at it, here’s some more: in France, the name can be either Lister or Lassiter or Lestre ( Normandy); in Hungary, Romania, Austria, Germany, Poland and Lithuania, the name can be Lister or Lyster or Listner or Litner or Lydster.

      I have not worked full-time on my family geneology, but it is exciting to explore all the connections which go around the globe. Ancient languages need to be honoured and used just as much as treasured family heirlooms.

      • donfad

        November 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm

        Much more on the Scottish clan of Fletchers and their eviction by the notorious Campbells of Breadalbane could have been found on the Fletchers of Glenorchy website but I don’t recommend trying out any of the links. They appear to be broken but perhaps direct contact with the author, Margaret Mason, who has given her address could produce results.

  9. Don MacFarlane

    March 21, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    About 70 native sheep, suitable only for mutton, survived the journey to Australia with the First Fleet of convicts. In 1797 Governor King, Colonel Patterson, Captain Waterhouse and Kent purchased sheep from the widow of Colonel Gordon, commander of the Dutch garrison in Cape Town. By 1801 Australia had 33,818 sheep. John Macarthur is considered the father of the Australian Merino industry by introducting Saxon Merinos to Australia in 1812. The first Australian wool boom occurred in 1813 when the Great Dividing Range was crossed.

  10. Don MacFarlane

    February 2, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    The State of Gaelic Language Today

    The percentages of population in 2001 able to understand and/or speak Gaelic in all traditional Gaelic-speaking regions, including the Scottish mainland, can be found in full PDF format in the Lingua Celtica website. For example, in Ardnamurchan and Lochaber District the overall percentage ranged from 10% in Ardtornish to 54% in Acharacle. Lochaber did less well where the overall figure was 16%. The District of Glenorchy and Lochawe, which has been the subject of lively discussion on this site between Angus MacMillan and Douglas MacKinnon, had a Gaelic-speaking community of around 10%.

  11. Don MacFarlane

    February 2, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Gaelic, Language of the Disempowered

    Kerby Miller, Professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Missouri, has a theory about the passsive-stative structure of the Gaelic language. The theory is that Gaelic has an emphasis on passivity which becomes embedded in the psychological DNA of those who use it. Hence, Gaelic has been a contributory factor in the willingness of its speakers to be parcelled around the globe.

    An example would be:

    Instead of saying, as in English, I have a wife and family, a Gaelic speaker might say Tha bean agus teaghlach agam > a wife and family are at (with) me. Likewise, instead of saying I am homesick, a Gaelic speaker might say Tha cianalas orm > homesickness is upon me.

    In each case, the emphasis seems to be upon the use of adverbs that express happenstance and things out of one’s control.

  12. Don MacFarlane

    February 1, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Linguistic Survey of Scotland

    Each language reflects a unique world-view and culture complex, mirroring the manner in which a speech community has resolved its problems in dealing with the world, and has formulated its thinking, its system of philosophy and understanding of the world around it. In this, each language is the means of expression of the intangible cultural heritage of a people, and it remains a reflection of this culture for some time even after the culture which underlies it decays and crumbles, often under the impact of an intrusive, powerful, usually metropolitan, different culture. However, with the death and disappearance of such a language, an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view is lost forever.

    Bi- and multi- lingualism make it possible for speakers of languages under threat from languages spoken by bearers of aggressive cultures and civilizations to acquire a good knowledge of the latter for economic and other reasons, while maintaining a good knowledge of their original languages. This allows them to preserve their cultural and traditional identity and maintain their own self-respect and self-esteem. Even if bi- and multi- lingualism are the most advantageous quality any person can possess, they are not encouraged in most of the major cultures, the speakers of whose languages regard monolingualism as the norm and the preferred state for human language.

    A barrier to the preservation of Gaelic is that, to speak Gaelic with any kind of authenticity, this requires aptitude in these forms of speech production which are alien to native English speakers. No matter how proficient Gaelic can be learnt as a second-language, a native listener will be able to tell the difference.

    Word-internal h
    A long vowel or diphthong reflex
    Non-palatal and palatal r as trills.
    Distinction in the mid area between closed and open vowels.
    High unrounded vowels.
    Attribution of vowel quality to adjacent consonants.
    Short back vowels.

  13. Don MacFarlane

    February 1, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Solution to the MacDonald-Darragh (Darroch) Schism

    The ODubhdaras (Darrochs) and McDonalds both claim descent from the Three Collas who were the sons of Eocaidh Dublein, brother of Fiachaid Sraibtine, sons of Carbri Lificar. The Collas’ mother was Oilech (Alechia), daughter of Ugari (Updar), King of Alba (Scotland) and wife of Eocaidh. All three Collas were cousins of Muredach Tirech, King of Ireland, and well known to be schemers and troublemakers. They were despatched to fight battles and claim territories of their own in Ulster and Scotland to get them out of Tirech’s hair. The three Collas were called Cairell (Colla Uais), Muredach (Colla fo Chrith), and Aedh (Colla Menn). The McDonalds claim descent from Colla Uais while the Darrochs claim descent from Colla fo Chrith.

    On the basis of the above, the objections of Darroch seem to be ill-founded as the lines are separate but with a common heritage.

  14. Don MacFarlane

    February 1, 2009 at 10:09 am

    The Darroch objection is that the MacDonalds should trace their lineage from Darrochs, not the other way round!

    “The Dubhdaras/Darrochs were chiefs and Kings of Chiefs of Fermanagh and Airghialla from circa 961 until 1190 and were drawn from the Airghialla [Oriel], its Clann Lugainn branch.” (?)

    The Darrochs trace their descent from Conn and the three Collas, using the same historical documentation the Donald historians use. (?)

  15. Angus Macmillan

    January 31, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    There is a common enough misunderstanding behind the Darroch annoyance relayed above. I take it the objection was to the phrase reproduced in the earlier posting about a MacDonald ‘overlord and protector.’ That specifically does not imply that the former was a sept of the latter. Exactly the same phrase might have been used when the Duke of Argyll had the Superiority of the whole Clanranald lands. No-one would suggest that Clanranald was a sept of the Campbells.

    A sept implies some degree of blood relationship or cadetship. Many of the overlord cum calp arrangements were purely temporary but when they persisted, the appropriate phrase was ‘associated clan.’ At most it was the latter that was being claimed for the relationship of what was presumably a relatively modest Darroch group with the powerful (and useful to them) Clan Donald North.

  16. Don MacFarlane

    January 31, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Bows and Arrows Courtesy of Angus MacMillan

    ‘On the matter of the superiority of English archers, actually almost always Welsh, I can make two points.

    The first is that the superiority was primarily over the French. Bannockburn, for example, was not decisively affected by Edward I archers. There must have been reasonable equivalence of such firepower, otherwise the English could have moved in and vitiated the tactical advantage enjoyed by the Scots behind the stake filled marshes that hindered the superior English heavy cavalry?

    The second is the unique selling point of the clans until Culloden of their fury and bravery in their death defying charges. This tradition was from the period when they were fighting their own, Highland v Lowland. Go back to the Bruce and the subsequent wars of Independence and there was a broadly professional army with at least a light cavalry, pikemen organised in schiltroms and archers. Even after that and once muskets arrived, the order of action was to run preferably downhill at speed, fire a volley, throw away the encumbering musket and close with the enemy before they could reload. It is quite probable that earlier, for musket read bow.’

  17. Don MacFarlane

    January 31, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Disputed origin of Shaw v. Darroch

    Angus in an earlier posting gives a thorough background to the Shaws. A possible bone of contention is to be found in the official Darroch clan website which claims the name to have come from the Gaelic, MacIlleRiabhach or ‘son of the freckled one’. A branch of the Shaws also claim this origin, as distinct from other Shaws known as Sitheach and MacIlleChainnich associated with clans MacIntosh and MacDonald.

    • Sherri Smith

      May 4, 2009 at 12:55 am

      Well, I can at least say that my Shaw family of Jura possibly extended to Harris in Skye, built their first home in PEI and named it the McDonald Shaw House. This helps me to know I must descend from the McIntosh name but I still seek direction from your members as to which line : MacIvor Line – or the Farquarson/Shaw line in the book History of Clan Shaw by Major Torrodach.

      • Don MacFarlane

        May 4, 2009 at 10:10 pm

        From Angus MacMillan

        There is no doubt that there was an historical Sitheac on the mainland, complete with dates that would predate the days of the MacDonalds having hunting grounds in Islay. Whether one of the established family moved to Islay/Jura, or some other Sitheac in fact became known for wolf hunting and became known as Sitheac (Wolf Hunter) in the inner islands must remain entirely speculative.

        Clann Shaw had a single origin that split into two groupings. The descendants of the historical Sitheac were known both as Shaw and then MacIntosh. This group may indeed have divided into – one branch remaining as leaders of the Clan Chattan confederation alongside MacPhersons and others; another branch becoming closely associated with the MacDonalds, closely enough to stir the Clan Darroch debate. On the other hand, if the Shaws did indeed emerge specifically from Clan Darroch and that clan was a parallel line alongside, and perhaps senior, to Clan Donald, then we really are looking at two separate Shaw clanns that happen to share a name. The Major Torradoch information seems to refer to a later tracing of branches of a clann Shaw and to not add anything to the issue of single or double origin.

        There is no question that what is being called the Sitheac/ Farquhar/ MacIntosh line expanded in various directions, perhaps to Jura, but certainly from Badenoch to Skye and the Uists. However, the evidence has not yet been produced that, of the two separate lines, one line found its way to Harris while the other did not. Any resolution would depend on a full audit trail for the particular family involved, including perhaps the McDonald Shaw designation for the PEI house. That particular connection may be no more than a result of a more recent marriage?

    • Don MacFarlane

      May 5, 2009 at 6:40 am

      From Sherri Smith

      There could indeed have been such a marriage but I can’t find one prior to the first house being built. The closest connection in Scotland appears to be with Mackinnon and MacNeil kin from Mull and Colonsay.

      Archibald Shaw married Catherine Bell. We believe they emigrated from their beloved Scotland in 1819 aboard the Ship Economy alongside the McNeills/McMillans/Bells/Shaws (and most likely others), though no passenger list has been found. This ship may have first stopped in Pictou, NS and then voyaged to Canoe Cove, PEI though many stories say it landed first in PEI and only five people stayed aboard and landed in Pictou. No wedding or death information has been found to date for either Archie Shaw or Catherine Bell. We believe them to be buried either in St. Catherine’s or Argyle Shore Cemetery. It is as well quite possible they are buried in the New Dominion Cemetary. Their parents above are most likely buried either in townships in Argyll mentioned above or perhaps in Colonsay.

  18. Don MacFarlane

    January 31, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Reply from an irate and anonymous Darroch.

    ‘It is an insult to our name to have it told that our name was given to us by the Donalds or that we created our name out of service to the McDonalds. Darroch is a Clan in its own right and most certainly NOT a SEPT of the Donalds. Indeed, the Darrochs predate any Donald in antiquity as Somhairle descends from the Darrochs. The Darrochs or O’Dubhdaras were kings in Fermanagh from circa 961 until 1190, together with O’hEignigh and O’Maolruanaidh. They are direct descendants of Ulla Da Crioch through the Clan Lugain.’

  19. Don MacFarlane

    January 31, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Jura Shaws

    Rev. Donald Budge, in an extract from his book: ‘Jura: An Island of Argyll’. (1959) gives the name,Shaw, as “son of the wolf”, from “sitheach”, an old Gaelic name for the animal. The earliest Shaws were, according to tradition, hereditary wolf killers to the MacDonalds of Islay, to whom Jura belonged and whose hunting ground it was. They are consequently among the earliest of the Jura families. Oher families of the name of Shaw claim to have come later from North Argyll, but all of the name have a very long connection with the island. The early Jura Shaws were a powerful and influential family and they resented the coming of the Campbells. The Shaws in Jura are still referred to in Gaelic as “Macillesheathanaich.”

  20. Don MacFarlane

    January 31, 2009 at 11:28 am

    The history of Clan Shaw by Major Torradoch gives family trees of many Shaws, with lines not yet filled. His book lists Iver, son to Alex Ciar MacIntosh in Trumpan, Harlosh, later to MacLeod estates as ground officers, to others in Diurinish, Skye, to finally a Donald in Harris, a John and a Malcolm in Bemeray/Berneray? This group is listed as the Shaws of Harris and Skye in a book with a similar title by Norman Shaw.

    Sherri Smith

  21. Angus Macmillan

    January 31, 2009 at 1:55 am

    I suspect that Shaw is the most straightforward. The run of clans from Atholl to Mull that emerged in the 12th Century that included the MacNabbs, Lenys, MacMillans, MacKinnons and MacQuarries and in all probability the Malcolms and MacGregors, were clann Morgan descendants of An Gilleasbuig Mor, Cormac the great Bishop of Dunkeld. A couple of generations down the line, Sithean or Shaw who I seem to recall was a MacMillan, emerged as a prominent figure in Badenoch and accordingly was identified as a toiseach or chief, with some MacIntosh descendants but some maintaining the Shaw name.

  22. Angus Macmillan

    January 31, 2009 at 1:46 am

    It was by no means unknown for colour identifiers to evolve into surnames. The obvious example is MacIlledhuibh, which became Black, initially it seems in the Isle of Gometra off Mull and of which there is a cluster in Lismore. A glance at Am Paipeir will show a distinguished Gaelic scholar alternating between the two forms of his surname. I have not checked but I would guess that MacGlashan may well similarly stem from the Gaelic ‘glas’ that is often wrongly translated simply as grey. Accordingly, there seems no reason why the conventional explanation that Buie/Bowie stems from buidh, yellow haired should be out of court. However, there is a North Uist sloinneadh back to an individual called Buidh that is said to apply to someone who came from or had a close association with the Isle of Bute. That at any rate seems to be the preferred explanation today for the surname Boyd that spread from North Uist into Benbecula.

    In origin Fletcher was even more specialised than an arrow maker. It was the ceard who made the arrow with its iron head and the Fletcher then trimmed it. Until about 1600, bows and arrows were part of the necessary equipment of the Highland fighting and hunting man. The MacLeod poetess Mairi nighean Alasdair Ruaidh mentioned them in a poem from that period but probably had her inspiration from earlier verses:

    Bow of yew from Easragin
    Eagle feather of Loch Treig
    Silk of Gall vinn
    Yellow wax from Galway town
    Arrow of the birch of Doire-Donn
    And arrow-head made by MacPhederan
    Feathers of the eagle of Loch Treigh

    Bow of yew of Easragain and Silk of Gall vinn are reproduced in Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, a Gaelic collection from the second half of the 19th Century but that derived from earlier publications from the 18th. They record the ideal outfit of a Highland archer and one applies to Alasdair MacGregor the Arrow of Glenlyon, who lived at Glenstrae at the north end of Loch Awe in the 16th Century. That is the latest date to which the poems are likely to apply as muskets were introduced to Scotland about 1550.

  23. Don MacFarlane

    January 31, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Origins of names Fletcher, Shaw, Livingstone, Buie and Darroch

    A first stab at the origins of these names takes from what is generally held to be true, quite possibly wrongly:

    Fletcher: an anglicisation of the Gaelic name, Mac an Fhleisdeir, son of the arrowmaker. The derivation seems somewhat suspect for two reasons. Fletcher is an Olde English name, also meaning arrowmaker, of Anglosaxon origin. Also, the Lallans or Lowland Scots word ‘flech’ means to feather an arrow. Either way, the transformation of the Gaelic word ‘fleisdear’, to mean arrowmaker sounds a bit too much like onomatopoiea. Also, the mythology and perhaps truth of the matter is that Fletchers were indeed reputed to be arrowmakers. However, there are very few reports of Scottish clans being proficient in the use of the bow and arrow. Indeed they were more likely to be on the receiving end from English archers. The only clans to have the symbol of arrows in their clan crest are Brodie and Cameron. With all the rest, if they have a weapon in their coat of arms, it is a claymore or a dirk. Therefore, the notion that Fletchers followed around after whichever clan had use for their arrowmaking sounds somewhat spurious.

    Shaw: an English version,but not an Anglicisation, of Mac Ille Chainnich.
    The Shaws were closely associated with clan MacIntosh. The Wars of Independence saw the bundle of clans split into two confederations. One based in Lochaber and Lorn was effectively absorbed into the Lordship. The other, led by a Sythac MacMallon or Shaw MacMillan on record in 1228, based itself a bit further inland on the Perthshire borders and was left much more to its own devices. Shaw had a son Ferquhar who had a son Angus, father of Uilleam mac Aonghais ‘ic Fhearchar ‘ic ‘Shaw’. William was Captain of Clan Chattan in 1346 and, in consequence of his status, his descendants were MacIntosh, sons of the Chief, captains of Clan Chattan in Badenoch. Under the related names of Shaw and MacIntosh, there was a gradual spread from there over some hundreds of years to Skye and on to the Outer Isles. Men of the name were vastly influential in the Uists in the 19th Century; Duncan Shaw was the factor who oversaw the sale of the Clanranald estates to Colonel Gordon and one or more of the name played the role of Sheriff Substitute in the Isles. (this entry is courtesy of Angus MacMillan).

    Livingstone: popularly thought to be an English version, but not an Anglicisation, of Mac an Leibhe, son of the physician. The Gaelic for physician is, however, not ‘leibhe’ as suggested but ‘leighe’ or ‘lighiche’.

    An entirely different interpretation may be that the original name, MacLea, from which Livingstone is derived refers to descendancy from a prince, Dunsleve, from Ulidia which is modern-day County Antrim in Ulster. Dunsleve was the son of Aedh Alain, son of Aedh Anradhan (Anrothan), the O’Neill prince who married a Princess of Dalriada, inheriting her lands of Cowal and Knapdale. Anradan was descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland in the fifth century.

    Many members of the clan Maclea are said to have taken up the surname Livingstone as if it were an English translation of their own Gaelic name. The Lowland Livingstones took their name after the place that is called Livingstone today, in Gaelic called Dun Leibhe, and in its original English form, Levin’s Town. There may, however, be no relationship between the Lowland Livingstones who originated in Lothian and the Highland Livingstones who only adopted the surname in the early 1700s.

    Buie: perhaps derived from buidhe, meaning fair-headed; or from the place Loch Buie in Argyll. The first explanation is somewhat questionable as there is no tradition in Scottish Gaeldom to derive names purely from complexion or hair colour. The name Ogilvie is somewhat fancifully thought perhaps to derive from Ogha Gille Bhuidhe or ‘grandson of the blonde-haired boy’. This is unlike Ireland where this practice was quite widespread, for example the name McGilloway is thought to come from MacGilleBhuidhe, ‘son of the blonde-haired son’. One possibility for the name is that they were a sept or associated with the clan MacLaine of Lochbuie.

    The name darroch is said to derive from the Gaelic word ‘Macdara’ which meant “son of oak”. In 1623 the Clan Darroch appears on a bond acknowledging Sir Donald MacDonald, first Baronet of Sleat as their overlord and protector. Although the Darrochs were notable in and around Stirling they were most numerous on the Isles of Islay and Jura where they were part of the powerful Clan Donald and ruled by MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.

    Further research is needed to expand on the above.

  24. Angus Macmillan

    January 31, 2009 at 12:43 am

    The Reformation never really came to Benbecula, South Uist and Barra. Not so much initially because there was resistance but through sheer neglect. There were few Ministers and those that were planted were pretty dilatory. The story is of people reaching 80 and never having had benefit of Minister or Priest. In those circumstances, it was first come first served and it was the Irish itinerant priests like Frs Whyte, Winn and Hegarty that had an influence.

    Chance then took a hand. By the Satutes of Iona, religion and education were rolled together and the Captains of Clanranald and their families, like those of Sleat to the north, were at least nominally Protestant. However, with the death of Donald Duibh na Cuthaige XIII of Clanranald while his sons were still minors, their upbringing went to their cousin, Donald III of Benbecula, whose family had not been subjected to the same pressures. Hence Allan Dearg XIV killed at Sheriffmuir in 1715 and his brother Ranald, who died without issue in Paris in 1725, were brought up at Nunton in Benbecula in the Catholic faith. They were then succeeded by their old ‘tutor’ Donald who became XVI of Clanranald, whose own family were deeply rooted in Gaelic culture and loyalty to the Stuart monarchy. His son, Ranald XVII ‘the elder’ of the ’45, duly sent his own eldest not to be educated in the lowlands or in England as required by the Statutes of Iona, but at the Catholic Scots College in Paris, where he met Prince Charlie and the rest is history.

    It was only when Patrick Nicolson, supplier of black tobacco to Old Clan’s wife, Lady Clan, became Factor later in the century that it was decided to introduce some Protestant work ethic by encouraging in-migration from North Uist, and Benbecula in particular began to build a Protestant community.

  25. Don MacFarlane

    January 29, 2009 at 9:33 pm


    Lest we be in danger of romanticising all things Highland, this contemporaneous verse was written about the Highland Regiments that were the scourge of the Lowlands in 1678. Clearly they were regarded as little better than savages, albeit they were acting on the orders of the King. Their mission was to wipe out all traces from Scotland of Covenanters and their new fangled Presbyterian religion.

    Oer hill and hop they came together,
    How in such storms they came so far,
    The reason is they’re smeared with tar,
    Which doth defend them heel and neck.

    Just as it doth their sheep protect,
    They’re just the colour of tarred wool,
    Nought like religion they retain,
    Of moral honestie they’re clean.

    In nothing they’re accounted sharp,
    Except in bagpipe and in harpe,
    They break our pleughs, een when they’re working
    We dare not hinder them for durking.

    Another instance I shall tell
    When they a poor man had destroyed
    They left him nought that they could take
    Except two horses and a corne stack.

    Till he some money them did give,
    One half whereof they did receive,
    While the poor man with heavie looks,
    Was begging favour from these ruikes.

    And what great credit to the King
    His grace procur’d by this designe:
    How conventickles all were quast,
    And schismaticks destroy’d and dasht.

  26. Don MacFarlane

    January 17, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Verses by Father Alan MacDonald, South Uist 1884-1898

    A non-native Gaelic speaker from Fort William in the Scottish mainland, Fr. Alan developed a strong love for the language and people of South Uist. Unlike the earlier Catholic hierarchy who instigated mass emigration to Canada as a solution to the islanders’ ills, Fr. Alan became a rallying point and strong civil rights campaigner against impoverishment and oppression. His memory survives today despite his premature death at the age of 46, probably hastened by his exertions and hardships. His command of the Gaelic language is still unsurpassed, as is seen in these verses.

    Sìde chorrach ghruamach,
    Mar bu dual dhith ‘san Fhaoilleach*
    Sìoban geal nam bruach
    ‘Ga fhuadach feadh an t-saoghail,
    Marcan-sìne luaithreach
    ‘Na ruaig thar a’ chaolais,
    Sgrath is sgliot ‘gam fuasgladh
    Le luathbheum na gaoithe.

    Frasan garbh a tuath
    Toirt crathadh air gach stuagh,
    Clachan meallain cruaidh
    A bheumadh barr nan cluas;
    Daoine laithte fuar,
    Nach fhaod iad sealltuinn bhuap’,
    A stigh an oir a’ luaith
    ‘Gan caibhleachadh.

    “Ceann na beinn’ ud shuas
    Air a shuaineadh ‘san anart,
    Bho na mharbhadh leis an fhuachd
    Na bha bhuadhannan oirr’ an ceangal;
    Chaill i gu buileach a tuar,
    Thàinig suain a’ bhàis ‘na caraibh,
    ‘S chan-eil coltas oirre gluasad,
    Mur fuasgail am blàths a h-anail.”

    English Translation:

    All around is rough, surly weather, as is our due in Fuilteach*; the white spindrift of sandbanks sprayed around; clouds of ashes driven across the Sound; sod and slate loosened by sharp blows of the wind. Fierce squalls from the north shake every gable, hard hailstones cut the tops of ears, people chilled with cold dare not look outside, huddled as they are around edges of ashes. The peak of the hill up yonder is in deep sleep in a shroud as the cold has choked her beauty. She has lost all of her complexion, the sleep of death upon her, with no sign of change in her unless the warmth of spring loosens her breath of life.

    * Faoilteach or Fuilteach fell on the Friday nearest to the three weeks before the end of January, and ended on the Tuesday nearest the end of the third week of February. It was said to be three weeks of winter, and three weeks of spring. Sometimes the first half was called Am Faoilteach Geamraidh (Winter Faoilteach), and the second half Am Faoilteach Earraich (Spring Faoilteach).

    Much like St. Swithin’s Day, there was much superstition about Am Faoilteach. Despite the bleak tone of Fr. Alan’s verse, the Uidhistich would take much comfort from a grisly Faoilteach. Weather that was unseasonably good was thought to be a harbinger of a bad Summer and a poor harvest – “For every mavis that sings in Faoilleach, she’ll lament seven times ere Spring be over.”

    On a personal note, I have reason to remember Fr Alan MacDonald’s work only too well. As a medical student, I took on a Summer job for An Comunn Gaidhealach as a door-to-door book salesman. Amongst the Gaelic books was Fr. Alan’s handsome compilation of Uist Gaelic words, many of them extinct or obsolete. It was the only book I found interesting enough to buy and I still have it in my possession. It was the only copy I sold as Uist customers were, to my disappointment, completely disinterested. The rest of the books ended up in the sea as the clutch in my car slipped while it was parked on a slope outside a customer’s house in North Uist. I almost lost my mother to the sea as well but she managed to jump out of the passenger door just in time.

  27. Don MacFarlane

    January 16, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    The Reformation and Afterwards

    Courtesy of Anon

    With the arrival of John Knox, in 1560 the Scottish Parliament abolished Papal jurisdiction, outlawed the Mass, and made the Church of Scotland officially Presbyterian. In the Highlands the immediate impact of the Reformation was less drastic as at first few ministers of the Kirk ventured there. Neither were there many priests as by 1600 there were only about 12 Catholic priests in all of Scotland, none of whom served in the Highlands. As late as 1679 there were only four priests for all of the Highland and Islands.

    Highlanders were strongly inclined to follow the lead of their chiefs and the conversion of a chief often caused the Clan to follow. Archibald, fourth Earl of Argyll and Chief of Clan Campbell, was an early convert to the Protestant Faith and after his death in 1558 so also was his son, another Archibald. The progress of the Kirk was encouraged by the Scottish Government and, as a result of the Statutes of Iona, the MacDonalds of Sleat and the MacLeods of Harris adopted the new religion. Other Clans, including the MacDonalds of Clanranald, Keppoch, Glengarry, and Glencoe, remained resolutely Catholic. A few powerful chiefs were able to achieve for a while some peace and compromise between the Protestant Faith and traditional Highland Culture. Notable among these were the Campbells.

    Despite the Bishops’ Wars of 1639 and 1640, Covenanters remained firmly in control and then the The English Civil War broke out. Scottish opinion was firmly on the Parliamentary side and in 1643 Scotland entered the war against the King. The impact of these events in the Highlands was quite complicated. The Campbells firmly supported the Covenanters, as did the Frasers, Grants, Monros, and Rosses, but many other Highlanders were not so enthusiastic. In the Western Highlands and Islands, many clans had suffered greatly from the growing power of the Campbells and they were reluctant to follow a cause embraced by their enemies. All of these reasons applied to the Southern MacDonalds, and some of them plotted an uprising in the King’s name against the Campbells. Little came of this. Many Highland Protestants remained loyal to the King and, despite his faults, they did not believe Parliament had the right to supplant his authority. This, along with the retention of Catholic practises, would lead them to favour the Episcopalian party over the Covenanters. Even after the Kirk became finally Presbyterian in 1689, a lot of Highlanders remained loyal to the then disestablished Episcopal Church.

  28. Don MacFarlane

    January 16, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    From Revival of Catholicism in ‘Clan, King and Covenant’ by John L Roberts.

    ‘Gaelic-speaking missionaries of the Franciscan Order first appeared after 1619, encouraged by Ranal MacDonald, First Earl of Antrim. The Franciscans travelled widely, often in fear of their lives, to cover the Uists and Barra; Canna, Eigg, Muck and Rhum; Oronsay, Colonsay and Jura; and Islay. The revival of Catholicism by the MacDonalds restored close links between Ulster and the Western Isles which had existed during the sixteenth century. Prominent amongst the converts was John MacDonald, Captain of Clan Ranald, who wrote from Uist to the Pope in 1626, offering to drive ‘the turbulent, detested followers of Calvin’ from his territory if provided with military help.

  29. Don MacFarlane

    January 16, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Gaelic as a medium of conversion

    Many Western Isles families settled in the Glens of Antrim and Inishowen in Donegal at the time of the Ulster Plantation.

    As conscientious churchgoers and not understanding the divine service when celebrated in English, a goodly number of them went over to Catholicism. At that time, priests usually preached to their congregations in Irish.

    When asked why they changed over , they said, ‘It was better to be of their religion, than none at all’ (Richardson, 1711).

  30. Don MacFarlane

    January 14, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    The Statutes of Iona in 1609-10 and 1616 in seeking to eradicate Gaelic, the suppression of the Lordship of the Isles (1411), the Reformation (1560), the final failure of the Jacobite cause (1746) and the end of the clan system, while helping to put to an end the previous and customary marauding and unrestrained behaviour of the Islanders, also required that clergy were to be properly obeyed and paid, churches were to be rebuilt, sabbaths were to be kept and the Reformed Kirk discipline was to be observed. Some of the islands may have assimilated those ‘reforms’ better than others?


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