The name Blair is derived from the Gaelic ‘Blar’ meaning open space or field, and consequently can be found in many different place names across Scotland. It was originally spelled ‘Blare’ but this form of the name has long since died out.
Although many people share the surname of Blair, it is generally accepted that the clan name refers to two different clans, one originating in Ayrshire – the Blairs of Blair, and one from Perthshire – the Blairs of Balthayock.
The Blairs of Blair
In 1608 Timothy Pont refers to the records of the Monastery of Kilwinning. These records show that the title Barony of Blair was conferred upon Jean Francois (John Francis) of Normandy by King William I of Scots (1165 – 1214). He would also have been granted land along with the title, giving the family considerable influence. It is thought that John Francis de Blair’s’ grandson, William de Blair married one of the daughters of King John of England. His successor, Sir Bryce de Blair was a close supporter of Sir William Wallace, but was executed during the Barns of Ayr massacre in 1296.
Sir Bryce’s nephew, Roger de Blair received a knighthood from Robert the Bruce after fighting alongside him at Bannockburn in 1314.The clan thereafter enjoyed a high position in the region, making many well-aligned and prosperous marriages until 1732 when the original line of inheritance ended with the death of William Blair of Blair.
Blair Castle (now known as Blair House) was the seat of the Blairs of Blair and is located in northern Ayrshire. It originated as a wooden building at the end of the 12th century, but by 1201 it was replaced by a stone Norman Keep with moat and drawbridge. This Norman structure still exists within Blair House today.
The Blairs of Balthayock
The Blairs of Balthayock are descended from Stephen de Blair in the 12th century when he owned land in the area now known as Blairgowrie. This same Stephen de Blare/Blair is recorded as a witness to a charter on land at Balgillo (in Angus) by an Abbot of the monastery of Arbroath. Another Blair of Balthayock was Alexander de Blair, probably Stephens’ son, witnessed a charter in about 1214. He married Ela, daughter of Hugh de Nyden, thereby gaining the lands of Cults in Fife which the Blairs held for several generations. Alexander’s son, William de Blair received a knighthood from King Alexander II of Scots, becoming Steward of Fife in 1235.
Further history of the Blairs of Balthayock can be found in the book ‘The Blairs of Balthayock and Their Cadets’ by Jack Blair (Available through the Clan Blair Society, www.clanblair.org).
The two families competed for many years over which should hold the Chiefship. Eventually King James VI ended the dispute by stating in 1658 that” The eldest male of either of the two Families would have precedency over the younger to the Chieftainship”.
Although this statement suggests links between the two families, there are no records of marriages between Ayrshire and Perthshire, and taking into account the fact that the two coats of arms are different, it likely that the two families have different origins.