By Dr. David H Caldwell


Click here for a reference map from Dr. Caldwell




Islay is one of the main islands of the Inner Hebrides, the one nearest Ireland. It is about 19 miles wide and 25 miles from north to south, with the reputation of being one of the most fertile of the Western Isles. Its permanent population at present is less than 4,000, which – and this is guesswork – may be a few hundred less than what it was for much of the Medieval Period.

   In this paper I want to explore who the people of Islay were, using written sources from the fifteenth through to the nineteenth century. The great chiefs and landlords are reasonably well documented. It is only in the earlier part of this period that we can start distinguishing some of the gentlemen, tacksmen or substantial tenants who formed the back-bone of local society. In rentals from the seventeenth century onwards we get down to the level of the tenants who jointly farmed the lands of Islay. We have no real evidence for the bulk of the population, the sub-tenants and cottars, the womenfolk of all classes, prior to the census returns of the nineteenth century.

   The people of Islay in the Middle Ages were Gaelic speakers. The English language probably only started to make real inroads in the eighteenth century. They were of mixed ethnic origin, mostly with Celtic and Scandinavian blood. Unlike many parts of Scotland there was no admixture of Anglo-Norman or Flemish stock.


The MacDonalds - Lords of the Isles


In the Medieval Period the island was part of the great lordship controlled by the MacDonalds who identified themselves as an Islay family. The eponym of the clan - Donald son of Ranald, son of Somerled - was active in the early years of the thirteenth century, and it was his son and successor, Angus Mor, who first designated himself de Ile (of Islay).  This title was retained by the leaders of the clan, the Lords of the Isles, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. On a charter of 1408, written in Gaelic, Donald Lord of the Isles signs himself McDomhnaill and it is as The MacDonald that he would have been known to his subjects[1]. This was a clear sign of his kingly status in Gaelic society. Great native Irish lords did likewise[2]. The Lords of the Isles had residences on Islay at Kilchoman and Finlaggan. No trace of the former survives but at Finlaggan there are substantial remains of a complex which acted as the centre of the Lordship, the place of inauguration of new lords, and where the Council of the Isles met in its own council chamber.

   Donald’s younger brother, John, the progenitor of the MacDonalds of Dunyvaig, a castle on the south shore of Islay, has first name and surname recorded on the 1408 document as Eoin MacDomhnaill (John MacDonald). It is important to appreciate that the MacDonald surname was largely confined to the actual descendants of Donald, the grandson of Somerled, until the seventeenth century.

   The Lordship of the Isles collapsed with the forfeiture of John II Lord in 1493. Until then, the people of Islay would have been seen by outsiders as part of the Clan Donald. Amongst themselves real blood relationships with local leaders sometimes resulted in an awareness of membership of a kin group of local importance within the wider MacDonald sphere of influence. Such were the MacKays and the MacBraynes. In the sixteenth century the dominant family on the island remained a branch of the Clan Donald, the MacDonalds of Dunyvaig, leaders of Clan Donald South. With the acquisition of Islay by the Campbells of Cawdor in 1614 Clan Donald South effectively disappeared.



Great Chiefs and Landlords in the Sixteenth Century


The descendants of John MacDonald of Dunyvaig were the main power on Islay for most of the sixteenth century. They were the leaders of Clan Donald South with extensive lands elsewhere in Kintyre and Ireland. On Islay they had to compete with other rival clan leaders from other areas for authority and territory. His grandson John rebelled against royal authority and was executed in Edinburgh in 1499 along with his son.


The MacIans of Ardnamurchan

The royal agent who captured them was a distant Clan Donald kinsman, John MacIan of Ardnamurchan,  who now prospered in royal service. He had held lands in Islay before 1493 in his role of Bailie of Islay. His Islay residence was probably Eilean Mhuireill, a crannog (artificial island) in Loch Finlaggan. In the years after the forfeiture in 1493 of John II Lord of the Isles MacIan was awarded extensive lands on Islay, including those forfeited by John MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the castle of Dunyvaig itself [3]. In 1519, however, MacIan was murdered by MacDonald of Lochalsh, leaving only a child as heir. The threat of MacIan domination of Islay eventually evaporated and the new chief, James, of the MacDonalds of Dunyvaig was given a new grant of his family’s possessions in 1545 [4].

   The 1541 rental of Islay [5], then in the possession of the Crown, gives little indication of lasting MacIan influence. It is not possible to detect from it that there was any large influx of MacIan followers from Ardnamurchan or elsewhere. Only two MacIans are listed as tenants, Ian and Alastair. The latter was the clan chief, still holding on to the lands of Proiag (Kildalton Parish) and Baleachdrach (Killarow Parish) which had been granted heritably to his grandfather by Alexander, Lord of the Isles (died 1449)[6]. The grave-slab of a great grandson of John MacIan is in the old parish church at Kildalton. It has an effigy of him in armour.


The MacLeans of Duart

The MacDonalds of Dunyvaig also had to contend on Islay with the MacLeans of Duart (Mull). MacLean land-holding on the island extended back to the period of the Lords of the Isles when they had been granted the land of Torlissay (unidentified, but probably in the Rhinns). In 1542, however, Hector MacLean of Duart received a grant of substantial lands in Islay from King James V. It was alleged that these lands were his by right of inheritance, but that the writs had been destroyed by Angus Og, the heir of John II Lord of the Isles (died 1490). Included amongst them were lands around Loch Gorm in the Rhinns where there was a castle on an island. It was described in 1549 by Donald Monro, Dean of the Isles, as a MacDonald Castle which had been usurped by the MacLeans[7].

   It is impossible now to assess fairly the strength or legitimacy of the MacLeans’ claim, one which they may have first raised in 1506 when John MacIan and a committee of royal commissioners were making up a rental for Islay and other lands in the Lordship of the Isles[8]. It does seem astonishing that after a lapse of over fifty years they should have had their version of events so readily accepted. The consequence was a long running and bitter feud with the MacDonalds of Islay. The MacDonalds succeeded in pushing the MacLeans out but in so doing they gained the opprobrium of King James VI and irrevocably lost their Scottish estates in the early years of the seventeenth century.

   As with the lands held by the MacIans’ so with the MacLeans’ – there is little evidence of an influx of MacLeans and their supporters from elsewhere. The rental of 1541 only notes two Macleans, a John MacLean who was given the tenancy of the land of Clagenoch, then bordered on both sides by lands described as `waste’, and a Marion MacLean, tenant of Nosebridge and Roskern. On the other hand, the account of the MacLean-MacDonald feud given in Sir Robert Gordon’s History of the Earldom of Sutherland does suggest there was a body of MacLean supporters on the island in the late sixteenth century prepared to mediate in solving the dispute without bloodshed [9]. Perhaps there was a larger influx of MacLean supporters into Islay than can be verified from surviving documents.


MacNeils of Gigha

Apart from the church, the one other significant landowner on Islay in the sixteenth century was MacNeil of Gigha, with Knockrinsey and other lands in the parish of Kildalton. In 1539 the `nonentry’ (temporary control until the rightful heir was admitted), of their lands was gifted to Allan, brother of Hector MacLean of Duart, the man who had killed Neil MacNeil and sixty of his clansmen about 1530 when the MacNeils were in the service of the government. The MacLean hold on these lands did not prove to be secure, and in 1554 they were sold by MacNeil of Gigha to James MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the Glens[10]. John MacDonald of Knockrinsey was the only senior member of Clan Donald South on Islay after the Campbell take-over, and he sold out to the new masters in 1629 [11].



Lesser Islay Clans


There were three Islay clans which are known to have had a certain amount of local stature – the MacKays, the MacBraynes and the MacFarquhars. In 1618 the leaders of each of these kindreds subscribed bands of obedience with the new Laird of Islay, Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, admitting that they had previously been favourers of Clan Donald but would now be dutiful servants and tenants of Sir John [12]. Several lands on Islay were also occupied by MacDuffies or MacFies. The home of this clan was the neighbouring island of Colonsay, and they also were followers of Clan Donald.


The MacKays

The first recorded MacKay on Islay is one Odo (Hugh) MacKay who was parson of Kilchoman by 1393[13]. It is likely that he was related to the Brian Vicar MacKay to whom Donald Lord of the Isles granted the charter of 1408, previously mentioned, giving him possession of various lands in the Oa of Islay. The vicar element in his name may indeed signify that he held that ecclesiastical rank. One of the witnesses to the charter was Hugh MacKay, possibly the chief of the family.

   The MacKays of Islay, who do not appear to be related in any way to the clan of that name in the North of Scotland, are usually associated with the Rhinns of Islay rather than the Oa. The lands held there by members of the family can be traced in a rental of 1541[14]. These included Grimsay, held with other lands by Neill MacKay, possibly then clan chief. In 1618 the clan chief appears to have been another Neil MacKay, also in possession of Grimsay. There was still a Neil MacKay at Grimsay in 1631. At Grimsay there is a small dun or fort, Dun Mideir, of Iron Age or Early Historic date. Its stone walls are overlaid with a later rectangular enclosure. Might this be the home of the MacKays of the Rhinns?

   A MacKay of the Rhinns is said in a seventeenth-century source to have fought at the battle of Inverlochy in 1431 with the forces of the Lordship under Donald Balloch of Dunyvaig, routing a royal army led by the Earl of Mar[15]. MacKay of the Rhinns is listed as one of the members of the Council of the Isles[16]. The family held the post of officer or coroner of the Rhinns at the beginning of the seventeenth century[17], an hereditary appointment going back to medieval times with responsibilities for administering the area on behalf of the Lords of the Isles. The shaft of a cross of the fourteenth or fifteenth century in the burial ground at Nerabus in the Rhinns commemorates Neil MacKay (Nigelli Odonis), perhaps a priest, and there is a mortuary house identified as belonging to a member of the family, at the chapel on Orsay, a small island off the tip of the Rhinns.

   The 1408 grant of lands in the Oa to Brian Vicar MacKay might mark the foundation of another branch of the family. A Donald MacKay was coroner of the Oa and the Largie (i.e. Kildalton) in 1606[18], and by 1541 Alastair MacKay was renting extensive lands in the Oa and Kildalton, including the Island of Texa. Although the lands in the grant of 1408 were given to Brian and his heirs `to the end of the world’, only one of them, Cragabus, was included in the lands rented to Alastair, and that only for three years. We do not know if the grant to Brian was exceptional, and Islay families like the MacKays generally had security of tenure under the Lords of the Isles. It is clear that after the forfeiture in 1493 they had at best a status as kindly tenants, that is a right based only on continuous or long occupation of the land.


The MacBraynes

Another signatory to the 1408 charter was Patrick McAbriuin, who was probably an ancestor of the MacBraynes, a name sometimes later Anglified as Brown. It also appears early on without the `Mac’, as Brihoune in the case of Donald, one of the `sheriffs in that part’ (substitute for a sheriff) instructed by King James IV in 1499 to give sasine (possession) of lands in Islay to John MacIan[19]. The 1541 rental shows that Gilpatrik Bryon then had several contiguous lands to the south of Loch Indaal, including Laggan.

   The family, as indicated by their name, were the hereditary judges or Brehons of Islay, with their judgement mound, the Torr a’ Bhreitheimh, a natural hillock now largely quarried away, beside the road from Port Ellen to Bowmore. There was a tradition, recorded at the end of the seventeenth century, that one of the brehons was buried, by his own wish, standing on the brink of the River Laggan with a salmon spear in his hand[20]. This may reflect in some way the requirement for Irish kings – and hence possibly also the Lords of the Isles – to give their judge a salmon out of every abundant catch, and all their salmon heads[21]. The fishings of the River Laggan were identified as a right which belonged with the lands occupied by the family as early as 1614[22].


The MacFarquhars, or MacErchars

Less is known about the MacFarquhars than the two previous kindreds. At first site it does not appear that any lands were rented to them by the crown commissioners in 1541. In the rental of that year, however, there is one Tarloch McDonald Glass McClane holding three lands in the Rhinns, including Easter Ellister. In the following year Charles McDonald McFerquhar was let off paying the rent of Easter Ellister[23]. It seems clear that this was the same man. It is possible that the Johnne Dow McIncarroch who rented Lossit and Coultorsay, both in the Rhinns, was another of the MacFarquhars. Certainly Lossit was occupied by the chief of the clan in 1618, Archibald McKearchar, and was still occupied in 1631 by Johnne Mowle McvcKearchar[24]. Overlooking Lossit Bay there is small stone-walled fort or dun of Iron Age or Early Historic date. Within its walls is an enclosure wall of later date, perhaps the site of the residence of the MacFarquhar chiefs.



Professional Families


Several families in Gaelic society had relatively high status on account of professional skills passed from generation to generation. They included physicians, musicians, poets, and metal-workers. Their position in society was bolstered by hereditary appointments to serve chiefs and landlords. Some of these families, including the Macbeths, MacArthurs, MacVurichs and MacEacherns, are associated with Islay.


The Macbeths

Fergus Macbeth was one of the signatories of the1408 Gaelic charter, probably the man who wrote it. The Macbeths were hereditary doctors or physicians to the Lords of the Isles. Their ancestor is said to have been in the retinue of the Irish lady, Aine Ni Cathan, when she married Angus Og, who was the chief of Clan Donald in the early fourteenth century. By the seventeenth century there were branches of the family throughout the West Highlands and elsewhere in Scotland, maintaining their medical traditions. The surname Macbeth is derived from the Gaelic for `son of life’. Other versions of the name include McVay and McVeig, and some were named for their profession, for example Gilbert Leich (Leich being an old Scottish term for a doctor) who was one of the temporary sheriffs appointed to give sasine of Islay lands to John MacIan in 1506. The Gaelic word for a physician, Ollamh, was also used, thus Fergus Oldowe (Ollamh dubh, the black physician) in the 1541 rental. To add to the confusion, the family began to adopt the name Beaton from the late sixteenth century[25].

   The Islay land which is particularly associated with the family is Ballinaby in the Rhinns, certainly in their hands by 1541, and probably originally given to them by the Lords of the Isles. There was another branch of the family on Islay at Kilennan, rented by Neill Og Leich in 1541. Several Gaelic manuscripts associated with these and other branches of the family survive. It is almost certain that the magnificent fourteenth- or fifteenth-century cross which stands beside the old parish church at Kilchoman, commemorates the Macbeths of nearby Ballinaby. An inscription records it was erected by Thomas the doctor in memory of his parents and wife.


The MacArthurs

There is a grave-slab in the old parish church at Kildalton commemorating Charles MacArthur in Proiag, died 1696. There is a tradition that the MacArthurs of Proiag were hereditary pipers to the Lords of the Isles, but I have yet to trace any evidence for them at Proiag, on the Sound of prior to the late seventeenth century.  A possible ancestor to the family in Proiag is the Donald McKane McCart who was tenant of Duisker in 1541. A Charles MacArthur was joint tenant of Largybrecht in the Parish of Kildalton in 1631 and there was also a Gillycallum McArtherson at Nereby in the Parish of Killarow.

   MacArthurs are certainly famed in the annals of Scottish music as pipers to the MacDonalds of Sleat on the Isle of Skye in the eighteenth century[26] but there appears to be no sound basis for imagining that the Lords of the Isles retained pipers, never mind that they should have been pipers. Excavations at Finlaggan have led to the recovery of four harp pegs of medieval date and it is known that the Lords had hereditary harpists, the MacIlschenochs, with lands in Kintyre [27].


The MacVurichs

The MacVurichs are famous in Gaelic society as a bardic family, tracing their ancestry to an Irish poet of the early thirteenth century. In the time of the Lords of the Isles they had lands in South Kintyre, in mainland Argyll [28]. The earliest I have traced MacVurichs on Islay is the rental of 1686, and it is possible that there never was a branch of the family based on this island which practised the bardic tradition. In more recent times the name MacVurich on Islay has been Anglicised as Currie.


The MacEacherns

There is a tradition that the MacEacherns of Islay were smiths to the Lords of the Isles. There is a medieval grave-slab at Finlaggan that may commemorate a member of this family. It is uninscribed, but has a fine representation of an anvil. Islay sword hilts, made by these smiths, are famous in Gaelic tradition, though I have yet to establish what they were like. There are no surviving medieval documents with the names of MacEachern smiths. Indeed the only smith on Islay surnamed MacEachern that can be traced is John McEachern in Killarow, given a tack in the late eighteenth century [29].

   An early eighteenth-century history of the Campbells of Craignish says that this family of hereditary smiths were at that time commonly called Clan Gowan (from Gaelic gobhainn, a smith or blacksmith), and incidentally, says there was another branch of them long established in Morvern, in mainland Argyll [30]. It is possible that the Malcolm McGown who appears as the tenant of Tighcargaman in the Parish of Kildalton in 1541 is one of these smiths. Donald MacGuin of Esknish in the Parish of Killarow was one of the men of Islay who petitioned the Privy Council about 1600 in support of Angus MacDonald of Dunyvaig and his son James[31]. Tighcargaman and Esknish still had MacGowan tenants in 1631, and there were others elsewhere on the island at Kilbride (Kildalton P.), Tiervaagain and Ballighillan (both Killarow P.). Gillycreist Gow Smyth, tenant of Carnbeg (Killarow P.), might be a practising smith, and possibly of the same kindred. It is likely that many Islay folk of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, surnamed Smith, are descendants of the MacEacherns and MacGowans.

   There is another Islay family of interest in this context, the MacNocards. Their name is derived from the Gaelic for the son of the ceard, meaning a smith or metalworker, often with the sense of someone who worked in copper and silver, rather than iron. There was a Gilcrist McNarkerde in Braid (Kilchoman P.) in 1541 and several tenants with this surname occur in later rentals on various Islay lands, including Gearach in the Parish of Kilchoman (Donald McNokard in 1733 and 1741). It is believed that at a later date MacNokards in Argyll generally adopted the name Sinclair [32], and Sinclairs do indeed turn up in Islay rentals of the eighteenth century.

   The lands of Braid and Gearach are adjacent to each other, and the former possibly included, or was certainly near, Caonis Gall, said to have been the home of the MacEachern smiths [33]. There is also a small valley called the Gleann na Ceardaich (glen of the smiddy) less than a mile to the north. It is possible that the MacNokards were also descended from the MacEachern smiths of the Lords of the Isles. It is worth pointing out that the tenants of Gearach in 1733 included Donald McNokard, Archibald McKecheran and Donald Smith, perhaps all distantly related [34].



Clan Donald Gentlemen


The bulk of the tenants listed in the 1541 rental might be regarded as the gentlemen of Clan Donald South. They only appear in this rental as crown tenants because the MacDonalds of Dunyvaig had still not been restored to their Scottish estates and King James V and his advisers were determined to squeeze them out of the island. When the officers of the south part of Islay (Kildalton) and the Middle Ward (Killarow) rendered up their accounts for the year from October 1540 they had to record substantial sums from the Crown’s rents intrometed with (taken illegally) by James MacDonald of Dunyvaig. These amounted to about a tenth of the total rents for the whole island. This problem was solved for both sides in 1545 when Islay was re-granted to James MacDonald [35].

   Many of the tenants probably had an association with their lands extending back through their fathers and grandfathers to the days of the Lordship of the Isles. These tenants were not the sort of men renowned for getting their hands dirty in tilling the soil, but in what were then regarded as more manly pursuits. A report on the Western Isles written in the 1590s states that each unit of land on Islay valued at one merk – of which there were 360 - was required to support one household man, free from any work on the land, for service whenever required by his lord [36]. The MacDonalds had need of what amounted to a professional fighting force to pursue their ambitions, especially in Ireland. These tenants, along with others, were that fighting force.


The MacGillespies

One such tenant was Donald MacGillespie who held Finlaggan and two other nearby lands. His grave-slab is still at the ruined chapel at Finlaggan and demonstrates his status. He is dressed in armour and has a representation of a galley beneath his feet. It was with such galleys that Clan Donald maintained their dominance in the seas around Islay and across the North Channel to Ireland.

   Donald MacGillespie’s father is given on his grave-slab as Patrick, otherwise unrecorded. He may have been descended from Dougald MacGillespie who witnessed a charter of the Lord of the Isles on Islay in 1479 and was one of the temporary sheriffs appointed in 1499 to give sasine of Islay lands to MacIan of Ardnamurchan[37]. His son Malcolm was parson of Kilchoman and chaplain of Finlaggan [38].

   It is tempting to speculate that the MacGillespies might have been keepers of Finlaggan in the days of the Lordship. It is probable that Donald MacGillespie lived in a small two storey house rebuilt from the ruins of the residence of the Lords, and surrounded by the barns and houses of a farming township. There were still MacGillespies at Finlaggan in the 1630s, but then reduced to the rank of joint tenants.


Other families

Other families of some status on Islay in the sixteenth century, on the basis of their holdings in 1541, include the MacEachans, MacCawis, MacGillies and `McInays’. There were MacMurchies, including one called Neil who was a doctor. John Macmurchie, doctor of medicine, who witnessed a band by Ranald MacDonald to Sir James Campbell of Cawdor in 1615, might be a descendant[39].

   There is a sprinkling of other well known Scottish names like MacAlastair, MacPherson, MacEwen, MacCartney and MacIntyre. A particularly interesting Islay name is attested at earliest in the 1631 rental. It is MacLinlagan (servant of St Finlaggan). MacCuag (son of `Blackie’) turns up at the same time, and also appears to be an Islay name.



The Campbells


After the acquisition of Islay by the Campbells of Cawdor in 1614 new blood was introduced to the island, most obviously in the form of Campbell lairds and tacksmen to supplant the Clan Donald and its supporters. The rental of 1686 illustrates the extent of this process, with seven Campbell tacksmen holding significant swathes of land. All of these Campbells belonged to families which had come to Islay since 1614. The Campbells of Cawdor, however, were essentially landlords rather than Clan leaders. They failed during the civil wars of the 1640s to command the allegiance of all the islanders. In 1642 men from Islay were fighting in Ireland with the Covenanters, the cause favoured by the Campbells, but also with the native Irish who supported King Charles I [40].

   Some of the Campbell tacksmen also had land elsewhere, like the Campbells of Kilchoman (on Islay) and Ardesier (in Inverness-shire), and Campbell of Laganlochan (mainland Argyll) who had Ardlaroch in the 1730s. Many tacksmen acquired wadsets (mortgages) of their Islay lands from the Cawdor Campbells, and thus considerable independence and the near certain prospect that they would end up outright owners. Such were the Campbells of Octomore, Sunderland, Elister, Balliclaven, Daill, Torrabus and Lossit. All of them got a rude shock after Islay was purchased in 1726 by Daniel Campbell of Shawfield and their wadsets were redeemed, thus reducing them to the rank of mere tenants.

   There were also other families of incomers in the seventeenth century, including Pyotts, Stewarts, Wallaces, Dallases, Frasers, MacNabs and Hunters, all of whom could have come from the estates of the Campbells of Cawdor in the north-east of Scotland. All of these worked on the land, but others came in connection with the lead mining industry, notably Sir Alexander Murray, Baronet, of Stanhope, a mining entrepreneur who feued Torrabus in the 1730s and1740s [41], and Charles Freebairn, Manager of the Mines, who rented Persabus in the late eighteenth century [42].

   It is clear that several new names figure in Islay rentals and documents in the years after the acquisition of the island by the Campbells of Shawfield in 1726, including MacFadyens, Taylors, Bells, Keiths, Grahams, Carmichaels, Simpsons, Hyndmans, Johnstons and Wilkinsons. Some of these may be hitherto unrecognised old Islay families. Bell may be a name adopted by some MacMillans [43], and Johnston might be an Anglicised version of MacIan. Nevertheless, there may be evidence here, which must be scrutinised in more detail, of new people brought in by the Shawfield Campbells, partly to raise standards in farming.

   There may also have been a need to raise the population. Islay suffered badly in the years about1717 and 1718. Contemporary reports describe an epidemic of small-pox, thousands of cattle dying of disease, no grain, famine and arrears of rent. It is known that nearly five hundred left Islay in the years from 1738 to 1740 for the New York Colony but perhaps there were many more leaving in the previous twenty years [44].


This pattern of population loss as a result of adverse conditions, including crop failure, change of landlords, and the immigration of new tenants with new skills, was to be repeated again in the nineteenth century. Of course the process in the nineteenth century occasioned a drastic drop in population from 15,000 about 1830 to 8,000 at the end of the century. At least there is documentation for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries so these processes can be explored.

   Perhaps they were nothing new, and there was more population change in earlier times than has hitherto been supposed. There is no evidence for any population interchange with England, or any with Lowland Scotland prior to the arrival of the Campbells of Cawdor – whether by design, by either or both sides, is not altogether clear. There is, however, evidence in the time of the MacDonalds for people coming and going from Islay on the one hand, and parts of the West Highlands and Islands, and Ireland on the other. There the native population must have been ethnically very similar. Lack of documentary evidence for the Medieval Period has inhibited any attempt to access the full extent of this. Although the rentals suggest continuity on Islay for some surnames from the Medieval Period down to the present day it would be dangerous to assume this was the case for the majority.


Click here for a reference map from Dr. Caldwell


[1] Acts of the Lords of the Isles, ed. by J. and R. W. Munro, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1986, 21-31.

[2] K. Simms, From Kings to Warlords, Woodbridge, 1987, 33-35.

[3] G. G. Smith, The Book of Islay, 1895, 24-33

[4] Book of Islay, 50-53.

[5] The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, vol. 17, Edinburgh, 1897, 633-41.

[6] Book of Islay, 33.

[7] Book of Islay, 26-27, 48-50; R. W. Munro, Monro’s Western Isles of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1961, 56.

[8] Exchequer Rolls, vol. 12, 709-10.

[9] R. Gordon, Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, Edinburgh, 1813, 237-9.

[10] For the MacNeils of Gigha see K. A. Steer and J. W. M. Bannerman, Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands, Edinburgh, 1977, 147-8.

[11] Book of Islay, 380-81.

[12] Book of Islay, 364.

[13] Steer and Bannerman,  Monumental Sculpture, 125.

[14] Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, vol. 17, 633-41.

[15] Highland Papers, vol. 1, ed. by J. R. N. Macphail, Scottish History Society, 1914, 41.

[16] Highland Papers, vol. 1, 24.

[17] Book of Islay, 1895, 117.

[18] Book of Islay, 117.

[19] A copy of transcripts of documents from the charter chest of the Dukes of Argyll, Department of Scottish History, Glasgow University, vol. 2/2, 599.

[20] M. Martin, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland circa 1695, Edinburgh, 1994, 274-5.

[21] F. Kelly, Early Irish Farming, Dublin, 1998,291.

[22] Book of Islay, 488.

[23] Exchequer Rolls, vol. 17,  555.

[24] Cawdor Papers, Cawdor Castle Estate Office, Bundle 655, Rental of Islay for 1631.

[25] For a detailed account of this family see J. W. M. Bannerman, The Beatons, Edinburgh, 1986.

[26] The Music of Scotland, vol. 1, The MacArthur-MacGregor Manuscript of Piobaireachd (1820), ed. by F. Buisman, Glasgow and Aberdeen, 2001, p.xxii-xxvi.

[27] Steer and Bannerman, Late Medieval Sculpture, 146.

[28] Steer and Bannerman, Late Medieval Sculpture, 150.

[29] F. Ramsay, The Day Book of Daniel Campbell of Shawfield 1767,Aberdeen, 1991, 107.

[30] Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vol. 4 (1926), 205.

[31] Book of Islay, 451.

[32] G. F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland, New York, 1946, 552.

[33] M. Earl, Tales of Islay Fact and Folklore. Bowmore (no date), 45-47.

[34] Ramsay, Day Book of Daniel Campbell, 18.

[35] Book of Islay, 50-53.

[36] Book of Islay, 478.

[37] Acts of the Lords of the Isles, 185; Argyll Transcripts, vol. 2/2, 599.

[38] Steer and Bannerman, Late Medieval Sculpture, 123.

[39] Book of Islay, 239.

[40] Book of Islay, 393-6.

[41] National Library of Scotland: Murray of Stanhope MSS (Adv. MS 29.1.1), vol. 7, fol. 115r; Ramsay, Day Book of Daniel Campbell, 42.

[42] Ramsay, Day Book of Daniel Campbell, 108, 196.

[43] Black, Surnames, 67.

[44] National Library of Scotland: Anderson Papers (Adv. MS 29.1.2), vol. 5, fol. 162r; Ramsay, Day Book of Daniel Campbell, 21-36.