So called Clan Maps

A word of caution about so called “clan maps”. Although these may be interesting and even a good starting place to learn about your clan, they should not be taken literally. Maps that divide Scotland into small parcels of land attributed to different clans are not what they appear. They too often misrepresent that each clan inhabited only certain areas of Scotland and to the exclusion of all other clans. That each area was inhabited by only one clan is simplistic and not historically accurate. Obviously all MacDonalds did not always live in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland where Clan Donald’s roots go deep. MacDonalds were and are currently found all over Scotland as well as most other countries. They did not cease to be Clan Donald if they moved to Ireland or any other country. Quite the opposite is true. Thousands of MacDonalds were “transported” to British colonies because they stubbornly refused to abandon their Highland culture during the “Disarming Act” and the “Daunting of the Isles”. Neither did they cease to be Clan Donald when they found employment in the 18th & 19th century shipyards & industries of Glasgow.

What Clan Maps Are

Clan maps are a representation of the royal land grants to feudal lords who became a new type of feudal clan chief. The feudal concept of Landlords was Norman/ Saxon culture that was in conflict with, and gradually replaced Celtic culture. Clan Donald was one of the last clans to be absorbed by the feudal Lord system. This cultural change began first in the Lowlands and finally spread into the Highlands after Culloden. There is record of this as early as Robert the Bruce who granted lands to chiefs who supported him at Bannockburn. The Kingdom of the Isles already included most of the lands granted to Angus Og by Royal Charter, but had been shared by Clan Dougal, Clan Donald and their unrelated neighbors. The Bruce granted lands to Clan Donald and Clan Campbell that were previously governed by Clan Dougal. By doing so the Bruce acknowledged the Lordship’s right to govern those lands and islands. Subsequent Scottish Kings weren’t always as generous. The same was true of Royal land deeds to other chiefs. The people who inhabited the lands seldom changed, but the clan chief, to whom the people answered, was changed frequently by the King. The style of governing took hundreds of years to change from Celtic father figures to Saxon Landlords (Lairds).

The two hundred and fifty years between the forfeiture of the Lordship (1493) and Culloden (1745) brought increased Royal charters to Lairds with the right to tax and even charge rent of those who had lived on the land for fifteen generations. Because most Highlanders (especially Clan Donald) ignored the Feudal Landlords’ demands, they were branded as squatters, outlaws, and thieves culminating with Culloden and the Highland Clearances (deportation of the original inhabitants to colonies such as America, Australia, and New Zealand). Most “Clan Maps” are nothing more than an indication of how the King divided up his Kingdom among the Landlords. They indicate what chiefs were in the King’s favor at the time (by how much land the King granted them).

What They Are Not

Clan maps will vary considerably depending on the time period they represent. The chief’s surname was not necessarily the most common surname in the lands granted a clan chief. The King often granted lands to a rival chief to punish a rebellious clan. There were many MacDonalds who remained in Argyll when several generations of Campbells were the King’s Lairds of Argyll. There were many Campbells who lived on Islay and Kintyre when they were part of the Lordship of the Isles. Keppoch lands were “given” to the Earl of Huntly and Islay “given” to the Duke of Cawdor, but the people remained predominantly MacDonald and their kin. The maps on this web site indicate where the majority of the people of Clan Donald lived and died. Shaded areas representing Clan Donald lands are not intended to infer that no other clans lived on those same lands. Many MacDougals, MacLeods, MacKeans, Camerons, Stewarts, MacGregors, MacPhersons, and Campbells occupied the same lands as Clan Donald. Together they intermarried and shared the harvest of the Highland seas, forests, and wildlife for centuries before the incursion of feudalism pitted clan against clan. Of course the clans hadn’t always lived in peace. The dark ages were not a peaceful time anywhere in Europe, but the advance of feudalism and the religious reformation combined to destroy the Celtic way of life. Clan Donald chiefs fared better in armed conflict than they did the financial maneuverings of the feudal Lairds of Scotland. Many Clan Donald chiefs were forced to “sell” their clan’s land to another Laird who had the means to pay back taxes. One Clan Donald Laird actually sold his clansmen into bondage to pay his debts! Many Highland chiefs cleared their lands of people to raise Cheviot sheep. The few crofters left after the clearances told their Laird “We have no country to fight for. You robbed us of our country and gave it to the sheep. Therefore since you preferred sheep to men, let sheep defend you!”