Whether you’re visiting Scotland for the first time, or are a lifelong denizen of this beautiful country, you’ll know that it’s rich with natural and human history. Perhaps one of the most enduring and renowned aspects of Scottish history are its clans, but how much do you know about them?

With people in all corners of the globe claiming Scottish heritage, this genealogical connection is often intertwined with clan history, with names and mottos proudly espoused by those descended from them.

But who were the clans? And where did they come from? With several clans originating from Argyll & Bute, let’s explore some of the most famous names that have called the area home. 

What is a Scottish Clan?

So, what is a Scottish clan?

Taken from the Gaelic word ‘clanna’, meaning ‘children’, the clans, as most likely know, took their name from their chieftain’s surname.

Trading predominantly in cattle, the clans would subsist off the land, with their chieftain taking on the role of ruler, lawmaker, and guardian of the land. 

Modern Scottish Clans
Image by Scottish Government

Clans were composed of many people who were often not blood relations, but those with a perceived kinship. While we typically think of the clans as quintessentially Scottish, clans were often made up of many races, including but not limited to Normans, Anglo-Normans, Gaels, and Flemish. 

Most clans were ruled under the feudal system, with the ruling king or queen of the time demanding financial fealty and support during times of war in exchange for land. This ended around the battle of Culloden in 1746, in which the English King George II wiped out the majority of the Scottish clansmen, forever altering their culture and way of life.

Despite a challenging existence and a tragic end, the legacy of the clans lives on in popular culture, appearing in numerous guises on the silver screen, and through the celebration of family history and associated clan tartans. 

How Many Clans Were There in Scotland?

While it is impossible to determine how distinct clans there were at any one time, it is estimated that there were 140 distinct clans, with over 1000 clan names associated with Scotland.

Having looked at the history of clan culture, we can look at some of the most famous clan names in more detail. If you are visiting the area and want to impress your party with your knowledge, consider your clan history cheatsheet! 

Which Clans Originated from Argyll, Scotland?

Here’s a brief overview of some of the clans that were found across the region of Argyll, where our hotel is found.

Clan MacDonald (Oban)

Motto: Per mare per terras (‘by sea and by land’)

As one of the largest and perhaps most well-known clans, Clan MacDonald (or more accurately, Clan Donald) was a Norse-Gaelic clan.

Based in Oban, their chieftain was typically known as Lord of the Isles, with their influence and power spreading farther than all but Kings of Scotland and England.

Clan Campbell

Motto: Ne Obliviscaris (‘Forget Not’)

Another one of the largest and most influential clans, Clan Campbell held power in Argyll, but also throughout the Western Highlands and Edinburgh.

One of the primary reasons for this was clan nobleman Neil Campbell’s loyalty to the famous Scottish King Robert The Bruce.

Clan Stewart

Motto: Virescit vulnere virtus (‘Courage grows strong at a wound’)

Known for their connections to Scottish royalty, the Stewart clan has been tied to many monarchs, including Mary Queen of Scots. In fact, a recent DNA study discovered that half of all men with the name are descended from Scottish royalty.

Clan MacNaughton

Motto: I hope in God

With many different races and groups occupying Scottish lands throughout history, the Clan MacNaughton can trace its roots back to the earliest Pictish rulers, a medieval race thought to be descended from the land’s earliest native peoples, including the Caledones and Vacomagi.

MacNaughton is also derived from the Pictish royal name ‘Nectan’ meaning ‘clear’ or ‘pure’.

Clan MacDougall

Motto: Buaidh no bàs (‘Victory or Death/Conquer or Die’)

Coming from similar familial origins as Clan MacDonald, the clan takes its name from Dougall, the son of Norse-Gaelic lord Somerled.

Dougall is derived from the term for ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’, which may speak to the family’s Norwegian roots.

Clan Lamont

Motto: Ne Parcas nec Spernas (‘Neither spare nor dispose’)

Descended from the Scots who crossed the Irish Channel to find a new home, the name Lamont is derived from the Scots’ term for ‘lawgiver’.

Their motto refers to their belief that one should show mercy to their enemy, but should not go so far as to humiliate them. Very justicial! 

Clan MacAlister

Motto: Simply ‘Boldly’ – short and sweet!

So massive were some of the clans that spin-offs were inevitable. One such clan was Clan MacAlister, who split from Clan Donald.

One of the most notable aspects of this clan is the controversy around who the real Alister, the clan’s namesake was, with a prominent uncle and nephew within the clan who can claim it.

Despite a hazy origin story due to a lack of fixed location and many descendants from both men, the clan took a more permanent residence in Kintyre from the 14th century to the 18th century.

Clan Maclean

Motto: Virtue Mine Honour (‘My Virtues are my Honour’)

One of the oldest clans, the name Maclean is well-rooted in Argyll and the Inner Hebrides, with the clan itself known for their honour and ferocity in battle, hence their motto.

Not only this, but their founder’s name also was ‘Gillean of the Battleaxe’, a name we can only assume he earned through an easy charm and winning smile. 

Clan MacLachlan

Motto: Fortis et Fidus (‘strong and faithful’)

Last on this list, but certainly not least, is Clan MacLachlan, who can trace their lineage back to an Irish High king Niall of the Nine Hostages who ruled the country in 400AD.

The name ‘Lachlan’ first appeared in Scotland in the 13th century with Lachlan Mor, who resided on the shores of Loch Fyne.

Discover Your Scottish Roots at No17 The Promenade

If you’re interested in learning about Argyll’s Clan history, there’s no better way to do so than right here, where it all happened!

If you’re making the trip over, up, or down to Argyll, there’s truly no better place to stay than our luxury seaside hotel in Oban. With gorgeous rooms, an incredible Italian restaurant, and impressive customer service, you’ll feel right at home as you discover the history of Argyll’s clans.

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