Return to Index 

Pict Clanns of Albann


In its genitive form MacAoidh, Son of Aodh, as it is pronounced in Strathnaver, is similar to the modern Irish spelling of Magee.  The MacKay country was the most remote from the seat of government of any part of the Scottish mainland.  

Originally, the MacKays belonged to the old ruling house of Moray.  Malcolm MacEth, Earl of Ross, was displaced from Moray by King Malcom IV in 1160.  His grandson, Kenneth, joined the rebellion against William the Lion, and was killed in 1215.  Kenneth's son, Iye, was the progenitor of the MacKays.  He became chamberlain to Walter de Baltrode, Bishop of Caithness, and his son Iye Mor, married the bishop's daughter, this acquiring the lands of Durness, in the far north-west corner of Scotland.

Iye Mor was succeeded by his son, Donald, (b:1265) who married a daughter of Iye MacNeil of Girgha.  Their son, another Iye, became Chief in 1330.  It was during his chieftship that a bitter feud between clan Sutherland and clan MacKay broke out.  King David II granted the Earldom of Sutherland 'in regality' to William, Chief of Clan Sutherland in 1345, giving him almost royal power in that part of Scotland.

He immediately claimed feudal superiority over the MacKays, provoking fierce resistance on their part.  Eventually, the matter was put to arbitration, with a tong possibility of a verdict in favour of the MacKays independence.  The Sutherlands struck first, and in 1372, and murdered Iye MacKay and his heir, Donald, in Dingwall Castle.

Donald's son, Angus, became the 5th Chief of clan MacKay.  He married a daughter of Torquil MacLeod of Lewis, and died in 1403, when his son, Angus Dubh inherited the chieftship.  Angus Dubh's uncle, Huisdean Dubh, was his tutor, and he quarreled with Angus's widowed mother.  She summoned her MacLeod kinsmen, who invaded the MacKay country in 1408.

After laying waste to the area, they withdrew but were overtaken by the pursuing MacKays in Strathoykel, far to the south, at a place near Oykel Bridge, where a fierce battle took place.  This fight was known as Latha Tuiteam Tarbhach (the Day of  Great Productivity).  It was a victory for the MacKays, and it was said that only one MacLeod escaped alive.  The remainder of Angus Dubh's chieftship saw a further strengthening of MacKay power.  In 1425, Angus invaded Moray and the next year, he invaded Caithness to settle scores with his longtime enemies.

In 1427, it was estimated the Chief could muster a force of 4,000 fighting men with whom to defend his province.  It was called Strathnaver, named after its largest river.  After the ascendancy of Kenneth MacAlpine, and the steady encroachment of Gaelic Scots throughout the former Pict provinces, the MacKay leadership decided to integrate into the top echelons of Scottish Gaelic Society.

Until the 17th century, every marriage of a Chief of MacKay was with a member of the Scottish Gaelic aristocracy.  In 1588, by violence, fraud, and the abuse of Royal authority, the first MacKay Chief was reduced to the status of a feudal vassal to a Gordon Earl.  Although the Gordons tried to use the MacKay fighting force to their own end, the MacKay Chief managed to take a force of 3,000 MacKays to fight on the Protestant side in Holland in the thirty years war.  Many MacKays served in the Swedish army and retired there, and took Swedish names.  Others retired in Holland and did the same, even producing a Dutch Prime Minister.

Hugh MacKay, of the Cadet house of Scourie, commanded the forces that fought against Bonnie Dundee at Killiecrankie in 1689.  As a result, MacKay country remained unmolested.  This world was destroyed in the Clearances of the 19th century.  The direct line of the MacKay Chiefs died out, and  today, Baron MacKay van Ophemert in the Netherlands, is the present Chief of MacKay.