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BADGE: Giuthas (pinus sylvestris) pine

Very considerable doubt exists as to the origin of the MacAulay clan. The name itself might suggest descent from a Norwegian source, as it might mean "Son of Olaf", and the situation of the ancient stronghold of the chiefs, Ardincaple, at the mouth of the Gareloch in Dunbartonshire, might be used to support this theory. A similar sea-eyrie, Dunollie near Oban, on the Argyllshire coast, is said to have been the "Fort of Olaf". Ardincaple is perhaps rather far up the Firth of Clyde to have been a fastness of the bold Norse conquerors who built the castles of Rothesay and Dunoon, but this fact in not conclusive against the suggestion. Another theory regarding the origin of the name MacAulay - as of Dunollie - is that it was derived from "ollamh", a physician. But whatever may be the resources of a Harley Street specialist at the present day, it is extremely unlikely that a medicine-man of the Highlands in the time of Somerled or Hakon, or even Robert the Bruce, would be able to build himself a stronghold like either Dunollie or Ardincaple.

The favourite tradition of the MacAulays themselves is that they are a branch of Clan Alpin, and therefore kin to the MacGregors. The only evidence in support of this idea, however, is the action of MacAulay of Ardincaple in 1591 and his descendant in 1094. In the former of these years the chief signed a bond of manrent with MacGregor of Glenstrae, in which he acknowledged himself a cadet of the MacGregor family, and agreed to pay Glenstrae the "calp", or tribute of cattle, in token of his superiority. And a century later, in 1694, in a similar bond to Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbriae, the MacAulay of that time acknowledged the same descent from the House of MacGregor.

It looks, however, as if rather much reliance had been placed on these statements. The chief of 1694 seems merely to have copied the statement of his predecessor of 1591, and there is considerable reason to believe that the earlier statement may have been made for other reasons than mere zeal to elucidate a Highland genealogy. In 1591 the MacGregors were threatening to make things more than uncomfortable for their neighbours on the shores of Loch Lomond, Gareloch, and Loch Long. They secured the alliance of MacFarlane of Arrochar, and it was possibly only to protect himself from their vengeance that MacAulay in 1591 found it prudent to sign the bond of manrent. He escaped, at any rate, from the fate which befell his neighbours, the Colquhouns, in the following year the MacGregors and MacFarlanes raided Colquhoun's lands, shut the chief up in his castle of Bannachra, and, aided by Colquhoun's servant when lighting his master up a stair, shot him dead through a loophole. Eleven years later the MacGregors, in still greater force, again raided the lands of Luss, defeated the Colquhouns with great slaughter in Glenfruin, and destroyed all the Colquhoun possessions.

From such attacks the bond of manrent saved MacAulay and his lands of Ardincaple on the other side of the hill. The action of the Government of James VI which followed, seems to have recognised the fact that MacAulay, in signing the bond of manrent with MacGregor, had merely done so under force majeure, for, while MacGregor was executed and his clan proscribed, Sir Aulay MacAulay of Ardincaple and his clan were exempted from retribution.

For this exemption, according to Skene, MacAulay was indebted to the protection of the Earl of Lennox. The fact may be taken as evidence of a very different origin of the clan. Joseph Irving in his History of Dunbartonshire, states that the surname of the family was originally Ardincaple of that ilk. "A Celtic derivation", he says. "may be claimed for this family, founded on the agreement entered into hetween the chief of the clan Gregor and Ardincapte in 1591, when they describe themselves as originally descended from the same stock, "M'Alpin of auld"; but the theory most in harmony with the annals of the house (of Ardincaple) fixes their descent from a younger son of the second Alwyn, Earl of Lennox". Alwyne or Aulay was a common Christian name in the Lennox family. The second and third of the early race of earls bore this name. The MacAulays, further, repeatedly appear in the deeds in the Lennox chartulary, and their relations with that house appear to have been fairly personal and close. If, as seems likely, they were really cadets of the Lennox family, they could claim Kinship with James VI himself, who was the actual head of that house, and this would largely account for the fact that they escaped prosecution after the battle of Glenfruin, when their quondam allies, the MacGregors, were being everywhere relentlessly hunted down.

Another clan proved by undeniable documentary evidence to be descended from the Lennox family was that of MacAulay's neighbours, the MacFarlanes, who in similar fashion were coerced into an alliance by the MacGregors, and similarly escaped punishment after Glenfruin.

As if to show still more unmistakably that the statement of kinship with the MacGregors inserted in the bond of manrent of 1591, was no more than a convenient fiction, Sir Aulay MacAulay, when the MacGregors were proscribed for their evil deeds, was one of those who took up their prosecution with most energy.

In view of all the facts it would seem that the tradition attributing the origin of the house of Ardincaple to a younger son of an Earl of Lennox, has the chief weight of evidence on its side. In any case the family was of consequence as early as the thirteenth century, for the name of Maurice de Arncaple appears on the Ragman Roll. Nisbet (vol. 2 appendix, page 35) in his Historical and Critical Remarks on the Ragman Roll, states that MacAulay was not adopted as a surname till the time of James V. Alexander de Ardincaple, son of Aulay de Ardincaple, then adopted it as more suitable for the head of a clan than the feudal designation previously borne, of Ardincaple of that ilk.

Sir Aulay MacAulay, of the time of the battle of Glenfruin, died in December 1617, and was succeeded by his cousin-german Alexander. This chief's son, Walter, was twice sheriff of Dunbarton. The sheriff's son, Aulay MacAulay, though a member of the Episcopal Church, was by no means a Jacobite, but on the contrary, at the Revolution in 1689, raised a company of fencibles for the cause of William and Mary.

It was with this chief that the decline of the family began. He and his successors, as a result of their extravagant habits, were forced to part with one possession after another, till every acre of their once great territories was gone. Aulay MacAulay, twelfth and last chief, sold his roofless castle to John, fourth Duke of Argyll, and died a poor man about 1767.

Meanwhile, early in the eighteenth century, forced to migrate, probably, by the impoverished state of their chief, a number of MacAulays settled in Caithness and Sutherland, while others passed into Argyllshire, where some of their descendants were afterwards known by the name of MacPheideran. A number also migrated to Ireland where their chief owned the estate of Glenarm in Antrim:

Already, however, at an earlier date, another tribe of emigrants from Garelochside had moved farther afield. It was from this race that the chief distinction of the clan was aftenvards to come. Settling at Uig, in the southwest of Lewis, they engaged in constant feuds with the Morrisons of Ness at the north end of the island. In the days of James VI, when the Fife Adventurers settled at Stornoway, in the first of those attempts to bring prosperity to the Lewis, of which the attempt of Lord Leverhulme is the latest example, an outstanding part in the strife that ensued was played by one of these MacAulays. This individual, known as Donald Cam, from his blindness in one eye, was renowned for his strength. His son, "the Man" or Tacksman, of Brenish, has had his feats commemorated in many songs and tales. His son again, Aulay MacAulay, was minister successively of Tiree and Coll and of Harris. Of the minister's six sons, five were educated for the ministry and one for the Bar. One of these sons, Kenneth, minister of Ardnamurchan, wrote the History of St.Kilda, praised by Dr. Johnson. Another, the eldest, the Rev. John MacAulay, A.M., was minister of Inveraray, where he encountered Dr. Johnson, and afterwards of Cardross on the Clyde. He had three distinguished sons. One became a general in the East India Company's service. Another, known by his literary works, was made vicar of Rothley by Thomas Babington, M.P., who had married his sister. A third, Zachary, became notable as a member of the Anti-Slavery Society, under its auspices became Governor of Sierra Leone, and had his efforts recognised by a monument in Westminster Abbey. Zachary married Selina Mills, the daughter of a Bristol bookseller, and their son was Thomas Babington, Lord MacAulay, M.P. for Edinburgh, author of Lays 0f Ancient Rome, The History of England, and some of the most brilliant essays in the English language.


MacPhedron MacPheidiran

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