Belonging to Ardnamurchan Clan MacIain

The scattering of the Ardnamurchan MacIains which began early in the 17th century means that it is unusually difficult for its present members to establish their sense of belonging to the clan.  Your situation is further complicated by there being two MacIain septs within Clan MacDonald, those of Ardnamurchan and Glencoe.  While the Ardnamurchan MacIains are descended from the followers of Iain Sprangach, those of Glencoe are descended from Iain Fraoch MacDonald, who was Sprangach’s brother, Angus Og of Islay’s son.

The MacIain Tartan

The MacIain Tartan

We don’t believe that DNA tests help, particularly in the circumstances of the Ardnamurchan MacIains.  While the MacIain clan is a sept of the much larger Clan Donald, it would always have been a mixed population.  When Iain Sprangach took over the land after Bannockburn, he would have inherited the resident population left behind when the MacDougals fled.  An even more mixed population would have arisen over the centuries from the geographical position of the peninsula of Ardnamurchan: it blocks the main sea route north-south along the west coast of Scotland.  In days when travel by sea was far more important than by land, many people would have come to the peninsula and settled.  What bound this disparate clan together was fealty to the clan chief.

The clan tartan is shown.  As with all these things, we have to exercise some care: the modern concept of tartans didn’t come into being until late in the 18th century, by which time our MacIains were long scattered, but that did not prevent their descendants establishing the tartan and heraldry of the clan.  The tartan of the Ardnamurchan MacIains is a simple but very beautiful one, well suited to the landscape of their home.  Particularly in autumn, these are the colours of Ardnamurchan’s hills.

MacIain Arms

MacIain Arms

In heraldic terms, the arms of Ardnamurchan Clan MacIain are described as “Or, a lymphad, sails furled and oars in action, Sable, between in fess dexter an eagle, displayed, Gules, and sinister a buckle, of the last.”

‘Or’ means the background is gold. A ‘lymphad’ is an heraldic ship based on the Scottish berlinn, wikipedia entry here. The sails are ‘furled’ and the oars ‘in action’. ‘Sable’ means the lymphad is black. ‘Fess’ is a horizontal division across the shield, and the dexter means to the right, as seen by the carrier from behind, in which there’s an eagle ‘displayed’ – which means the wings are spread. The spreading has a significance it indicates the bearer’s role as protector. ‘Gules’ is red, and refers back to the eagle. ’Sinister’ is left, and that the buckle is ‘of the last’ means it has the same colour as the previous mentioned item, the eagle, i.e., ‘Gules’, red.

Two things stand out.  The ship is a berlinn.  While these were the main mode of passenger and freight transport up and down the Scottish west coast for generations, they were also the man-o’-war of the feuding clans.  The power which Clan MacIain held in the Lordship of the Isles came, in large part, from their holding Mingary Castle, which dominated and controlled the northern entrance to the Sound of Mull.  From the bays on either side of the castle, Port Ur to the east and Port na Spainteach to the west, MacIain fighting ships would have launched both to battle and to intercept passing merchantmen.

The bird on the left is an eagle.  There are two types of eagle flying across Ardnamurchan, the golden and the far larger sea eagle.  The sea eagle is Europe’s largest bird, so big it is sometimes described as a ‘flying barn door’.  As well as a bird of myth and legend, it was the great predator of the Scottish skies, to the extent that, by 1916, it had been hunted to extinction.  It has been reintroduced, and now once again soars across Ardnamurchan.

The Badge of the Ardnamurchan MacIains.

The Badge of the Ardnamurchan MacIains.

The badge of  Clan MacIain is shown here.  It features the heraldic ‘eagle displayed’ and the motto of Clan MacIain, “In Hope I Byde”.  For a clan that has been scattered to the corners of the Earth, yet still has so many members who feel an intense loyalty to it, it’s a truly great motto.


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9 Responses

  1. Reg Mayhew says:

    As pleased as I am to discover this website, I’m astounded that there appears to be a huge and fundamental omission from its information. Are you aware that the arms of Ardnamurchan Clan MacIain shown on the website were in fact granted to the Reverend William James McKain in 1905 by Lord Lyon King of Arms ? William claimed succession, as 20th Chief of Clan Iain of Arnamurchan, to John Sprangach and in 1913 was recognised by the Society of Clan Donald as Chief of Clan Iain of Ardnamurchan. My website provides the necessary information. I’d be pleased to hear your views on this.

    • Nancy McKean Conner says:

      Hi there!
      I was Florida Commissioner of Clan Donald USA for four years, and knew our National Geneologist James MacDonald very well. I have never heard this.Since the MacIains are a sept of Clan Donald, (Clan Donald of Ardnamurchan), and with all the trips that James MacDonald made back and forth to Skye in Scotland, (where the Clan Donald seat is) to meet with our High Chief, you’d think that he would have known something about this???
      Nancy McKean Conner

  2. Hi there,

    interesting to stumble across this. Looks lovely! Can I ask, who operates the site, please? And, since you have my email address, now, I’d be very grateful to get in touch.

    Many thanks


  3. Nancy McKean Conner says:

    Hi there!
    I’m Nancy McKean Conner, and will be visiting in April. I was Fla Commissioner for Clan Donald USA for 4 years in the 1990s, and was told by Clan Donald USAs geneologost at that time, Jim MacDonald, that I am MacDonald of Ardnamarchan. Looking SO forward to our trip! I love our tartan, and have a kilt skirt and sash made
    In it.Is there a way to join with you as well? Thank you! Oh, my father ‘s family (MacKeans) came to the White Mountains of New Hampshire USA in 1705. Thomas McKean,a cousin of mine, signed the US Declaration of Independence. He was in Delaware at the time.
    Nancy McKean Conner

  4. Alan McKean says:

    I’m Alan McKean, and as traced i am a descendant from the MacIains of Ardnamurchan. I also have a wrap tartan of the same pattern from the late 1800’s that has been in my family’s possession for generations. I’m glad that I found this site. “In Hope I Byde” that it continues – keep up the wonderful work….. my son visited there in 2012 – before the restoration work began, but found the towns to be very friendly and the area beautiful…… Thanks!

    • Nancy Mckean Conner says:

      Hi Alan!
      Where are you from? My family is from New Hampshire, and immigrated to the US in 1705, from Ireland.We went from Argyllshire Scotland, to Northern Ireland ( according to our genealogical research this was in the early to mid 1600s,) and then to the US. Is your ancestor one of William’s sons ? There were 4 brothers that left Ireland together. We went to Ardnamurchan last year (4/17), and were escorted to Mingarry, etc. by Jon Haylett. I’d been corresponding with him for a while, and he met us there.What a wonderful historian he is! He had no doubt about my family coming from Ardnamurchan, and Clan Donald’s National Geneologist didn’t either! Jon said that there are only 2 spellings of the name, that make it a shoe in, and McKean is one of them. “Ean” of course is the ancient way of spelling ” Iain.” But you probably knew that!The other he said would be McIain of course! Hope I’ll get to meet you some time! Take it easy cousin! Sincerely Yours, Nancy McKean Conner

  5. Richard MacKeen says:

    Hello, I am Richard Paul MacKeen, descendant (either blood or adoption…still unknown) of Henry MacKeen (emigrated to St Louis area in late 1800’s) who lists Truro Nova Scocia as his birthplace. We think we are from one of the three sons of James McKean of Northern Ireland who’s father William MacKean was a descendant of the MacIian Chiefs of Ardnamurchan. James McKean had three sons James, Senr. (New England branch), John, Senr. (Nova Scotia branch) and William, Senr. (Pennsylvania branch). This information was from a paper written by John MacKeen of St Paul, MN in 1990 called “MacIan Chiefs”. We are very interested in how to get our tartan and in visiting Ardnamurchan. What a great web site!!!

    • Nancy McKean Conner says:

      Hi Richard!
      I think you and I are distant cousins! My great, great, great, great (I think that’s the proper amount of greats!) Grandfather is James McKean, and my family is from the New Hampshire branch of the McKeans (MacIains) Weve got 3 cemeteries loaded with McKeans, including the grave of James McKean. Through Clan Donald, I met Kathy McKeen Shepard, who spent hours working on genealogy research. She connected herself to me, through the same family line that you are referring too, your line going to Pennsylvania. My family has had our genealogy done by other people in and out of the family, and it traces back the same every time. We’ve got our line going back from Argyllshire Scotland, to Northern Ireland, and finally to New Hampshire in 1705. Maybe I’ll get to meet you someday!

  6. Peggy McCain Roberts says:

    Do the McIain’s have a gathering each year or do they meet with Clan MacDonald? And when and where would either of these gatherings take place? My family, like yours moved from Scotland to Ireland for about 100 years and then to America before the revolution. I am so amazed that I have not seen this site before.

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