Clan Mackay History

The name MacKay takes its origins from the gaelic “Macaoidh” or “son of Hugh”. The identity of this Hugh is uncertain but the name probably derives from a member of the ancient Celtic royal house, whose branches disputed the throne in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The MacKays also have strong links with the progeny of Queen Gruoch, who was married to MacBeth.

Remains of Castle Varrich, Sutherland. An ancient seat of the MacKays, thought may have been built as early as the 14th century

Remains of Castle Varrich, Sutherland. An ancient seat of the MacKays, may have been built as early as the 14th century

By the fourteenth century, the clan Mackay was well established in the most northerly and remote area of Scotland – their land extending from Cape Wrath along the north coast to Caithness. This land was known as Strathnaver.

The Mackay clan were both numerous and powerful and theirs is a history of continual strife with their neighbours. After five centuries of dispute, they finally lost their lands to the Sutherlands in the nineteenth century. The importance of the clan at this time is best illustrated by the marriage of Angus Dubh MacKay with the grand-daughter of Robert II, and important political alliance.

The warlike reputation of the clan is echoed in the family motto, “with a strong hand”.

The military tradition of the family continued with 3000 MacKay clansmen fighting in the 30 Years War, and also providing a fighting force alongside William of Orange.

During the nineteenth century, the clan MacKay suffered greatly as a result of the Highland clearances, and by 1875 the direct line of the clan had died out, with the entire MacKay country being in the hands of the Lords of Sutherland.

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