During the 13th and 14th centuries, the MacNabs were a relatively large clan. They, along with the MacDougalls, opposed Robert the Bruce’s struggle for the Scottish crown. Bruce and the MacDougalls fought a number of times. Clan MacNab supported Clan MacDougall against Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Dalry. It was fought sometime during the summer of 1306, and saw a victory for MacDougall. However, despite this loss, Bruce’s cause prevailed and he became king. His victorious troops ravaged the lands of the MacNabs, destroying all the family writs. Only the Bowain, or Bovain, barony remained in the family’s possession after Gilbert MacNab received a charter from David II. Gilbert is recorded to have died during the time of Robert II.
Records of MacNabs from the beginning of the 16th century include Finlay MacNab, the clan’s chief, who received a charter dated January 9th 1502, and his son, titled the fifth “Laird”, was witness to a charter from the King to a Duncan Campbell in 1511.
At the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, during the Anglo-Scottish Wars, it is thought that the 8th chief, Finlay MacNab’s eldest son, was killed. The chief himself died in 1525 at Eilan Ran. He was buried at Killin, on the lands of Ewer and Leiragan, which were granted to his wife, Mariat Campbell, for her lifetime. In turn his son, also called Finlay MacNab, the sixth “laird” mortgaged a large percentage of the lands to Campbell of Glenorchy, an ancestor of the Marquis of Breadalbane. On 12th July 1606, the 7th laird, also Finlay MacNab, entered a bond of friendship with his cousin Lauchlin MacKinnion of Strathairdle from Clan MacKinnion. This chief Finlay continued the violent feud with the Clan Neish, or MacNeish, who held the lands in the upper part of Strathearn and lived on the lower part of Loch Earn, which they called Neish Island.
Many battles were fought between the MacNabs and Neishes with varying success for either side. The last battle fought between the two was at Glenboultachan, where the MacNabs were victorious. Nearly every Neish was killed in battle. Though a small number survived and continued to live on Neish Island, and continued to plunder and steal from the neighbouring families.
The MacNab chief, one Christmas, sent a servant to the town of Crieff for provisions for the coming festivities. However, on his way back to the MacNab home, the servant was beaten and robbed of everything he had, and could do nothing but return to his master empty handed. The MacNabs placed responsibility on the Neishes for this attack, and so the chief’s twelve strong and athletic sons were sent out to Neish Island to get revenge; which they more than did. The brothers, one of whom, called Iain mion Mac Appa, or “Smooth John MacNab”, was said to have been particularly strong and athletic, set off to Loch Earn carrying their boat on their shoulders. When they arrived at the loch, the men rowed over to Neish Island and killed every Neish there, bar two who managed to hide under a bed. As trophies of their revenge attack, the young men took back the heads of the Neishes along with any plunder they could carry. When the twelve returned they presented to the chief what they had come away with and the piper struck up the Pibroch of Victory.
At the time of the Civil War, the MacNab clan gave their support to Royalist cause of Charles I, and are known to have fought along side James Graham the 1st Marquess of Montrose. At the Battle of Kilsyth, on 15th August 1645, the Clan MacNab, along with the chief of the time, were known to have fought on the victorious side, along with their friends and allies Clan Robertson and Clan Ogilvy. Following the battle the MacNab chief was given command of Kincardine Castle near Auchterarder, a Royalist garrison. However, General David Leslie’s Convenanter forces besieged the castle, and MacNab found it impossible to maintain a strong enough defence during the night, and so went on the attack with his 300 men. All made it passed the besieging force except from the MacNab chief and one other man who were both captured and sent to Edinburgh as prisoners. MacNab was sentenced to death, but managed to escape and his rejoined the Royalist forces to continue the fight. At the 1651 Battle of Worcester, Smooth John MacNab, now a good bit older than at time of the Neish revenge raid, led a number of MacNabs into battle where he was killed.
The land of the MacNabs was once again ravaged, this time by the Covenanters, and the family once again lost a lot of their papers.
There was intermarriage between the MacNabs and the Campbells when Smooth John MacNab, who was then chief, married a daughter of Campbell of Glenlyon. Together they had one daughter and one son, Alexander MacNab, in 1647. Alexander was only four when he became ninth laird after his father was killed on the Worcester battlefield. The family tried to get some financial relief after the death of Smooth John, however this was unsuccessful.
The MacNab clan were divided during the Jacobite uprisings. John MacNab, the chief, held a commission in the Government’s Black Watch Regiment. He fought at the Battle of Prestonpans where he was captured and held prisoner at Doune Castle until after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. However, another branch of MacNabs supported the House of Stuart and fought with the Jacobites. These MacNabs were led by Allister MacNab of Inshewan and Archibald MacNab of Acharne.
A lot of the MacNab estate was passed over into the possession of the House of Breadalbane. This was due to the burdens of debt accumulated on the estate by the twelfth chief. Then the last chief who had his home at Kinnell immigrated to Canada. The chief later returned to Scotland and sold the Dreadnought Hotel in Callander, which was the last of his possessions here. When he died he left all his heirlooms to Sir Allan MacNab, Prime Minister of Canada, whom he considered the next chief. But Sir Allan’s son was killed in a shooting accident, and this has left the position of chief open since there were numerous claims.
The Clan MacNab family in Glendochart is their secluded, romantic burial place among the trees on the islet of Inch Buidhe, not far from Kinnell.