MacAulay of Lewis

The MacAulays of Lewis were sept or clan located on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. There is no connection between the MacAulays of Lewis and the Clan MacAulay who were centred in the Loch Lomond area, bordering the Scottish Highlands and Scottish Lowlands. Up until the turn of the seventeenth century Lewis was controlled by the Clan MacLeod of Lewis, together with two somewhat smaller clans: the Morrisons of Lewis and the less powerful MacAulays of Lewis. The MacAulays lived in the area surrounding Uig on the western coast of Lewis, and had a deadly, long-standing feud with the Clan Morrison, whose lands were located on the northern coast around Ness. Today the MacAulays are said to be of Norse descent, due to the origin of their name and the early history and tradition of Lewis, though in the seventeenth century tradition gave them an Irish descent. Though the MacAulays of Lewis were never a clan in their own right, and were under the protection of the MacLeods of Lewis, they have left their legacy in the rich folklore of Lewis.







The surname MacAulay, when found in the Scottish Hebrides, is thought to be derived from the Gaelic Mac Amhlaoibh or Mac Amhlaidh. These names are Gaelic patronymic forms of the Old Norse personal name Áleifr and Óláfr. Óláfr was a common name among the Norsemen who settled in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

The eponymous ancestors of most west highland clans first appear in around the 13th century. At the beginning of the 13th century Lewis was under Norse control. According to the Chronicle of Man one eminent Olafr had connections with Lewis at this time—Olaf the Black—who would later become King of Man and the Isles. Today the MacAulays of Lewis are generally said to be of Norse descent, and in consequence a favourite modern tradition of theirs is a descent from Olaf the Black. However, according to Rev. William Matheson, there is no real evidence for descendants of Olaf the Black living on Lewis. A tradition of the MacAualsys of Uig was that they descended from Magnus, King of Norway. The family of the Victorian historian and politician, Lord Macaulay (also descendants of the MacAulays of Uig) had their tradition of a descent from “Olaus Magnus, King of Norway”. Matheson pointed out that Olaf the Black did indeed have a son named Magnus. The Victorian era historian, Captain F. W. L. Thomas, wrote that there was no real tradition among the Lewis MacAulays as to their eponymous ancestor. Thomas maintained that the claim of descent from Olaf, King of Mann was an example of historical induction, where a historical figure is grafted on to a tradition. Thomas also showed that in the 17th century the belief on Lewis was that the MacAulays descended from an Irishman. It should be noted that Olaf the Black is also claimed as ancestor of the MacLeods and the Morrisons of Lewis, as well.



Origins according to the Indweller of Lewis

In the late 17th century the origin of the MacAulays was documented among an historical account of Lewis. John Morisone, Indweller of Lewis, wrote between about 1678 and 1688, that the ancient inhabitants of Lewis were three men from three separate races:

The first and most antient Inhabitants of this Countrie were three men of three severall races viz. Mores the son of Kenannus whom the Irish historiance call Makurich whom they make to be Naturall Sone to one of the Kings of Noruvay. some of whose posteritie remains in the land to this day. All Morisones in Scotland may challenge there descent from this man. The second was Iskair Mac.Awlay ane Irish man whose posteritie remain likvise to this day in the Lews. The third was Macknaicle whose onlie daughter Torquill the first of that name (and sone to Claudius the sone of Olipheous, who likewise is said to be the King of Noruway his sone,) did violentlie espouse, and cutt off Immediatlie the whole race of Macknaicle and possessed himself with the whole Lews and continueth to his posteritie (Macleud of Lews) dureing 13 or 14 generations and so extinct before, or at least about the year 1600 the maner of his decay I omitt because I intend no historie but a descriptione.

– John Morisone, A Descriptione of the Lews.

The name Iskair is rendered in Scottish Gaelic as Sgàire. The Biblical name, Issachar, Zachary, Zachariah, is used as an Anglicisation of this Gaelic name hich is most commonly found on Lewis and a name peculiar to the MacAulays of Lewis down to the present day. There is however, little known about this Gaelic name. The name appears in that of an old chapel—Cill Sgaire—in Bragar. The name is thought to be of Norse origin, however there is no known Norse personal name that would correspond to Sgàire. One possible origin of the name is the Norse skari meaning “young seamew”, from which the Scottish Gaelic sgaireag is derived from. According to Matheson this could have began as a nickname.

John Morrisone made no mention of a royal ancestry to the MacAulays, but gave them an Irish ancestry. Curiously, Irskar is Icelandic for Irish. Even so, Matheson remarked that it was possible Morrison gave an Irish descent to the MacAulays because of the fact that many families in Ireland names which can equate to MacAulay.



Hebridean feuds

The most notable of the Lewis MacAulays was their hero Donald Cam MacAulay, who lived during the early seventeenth century, and appears frequently in Lewis lore. The Gaelic byname cam commonly means ’squinting’ or ‘blind in one eye’. Donald played a large part in the feuds with the Morrisons. When Morrisons of Ness invaded MacAulay territory and drove off cattle belonging to the MacAulays, Donald Cam, Big Smith and a force of MacAulays pursued the Morrisons across Loch Roag and in the night approached Dun Carloway. After killing the sentry and with his men blocking any exit, “Donald Caum M’Cuil” scaled the walls of the broch, aided by his two dirks, which he slipped between crevices in the stone wall. Once atop the tower Donald Cam ordered his men to gather large bundles of heather, which he threw into the dun and set alight, smothering and burning the Morrisons inside, thus destroying Dun Carloway.



Prophecy of the Brahan Seer

It is on the day Allt nan TorcanThat injury will be done to the women of Lewis:
Between Eidseal and Aird a ‘Chaolais
The sword edges will be struck.
They’ll come, they’ll come, ’tis not long till there
Will come ashore at Portnaguran
Those who will reduce the country to a sorry state.
Alas for the woman with a little child -
Everyone of Clan Macaulay
Will have his head dashed against a stone
And she herself will be slain along with him.

A prophecy attributed to the Brahan Seer, translated by Rev. William Matheson.


Coinneach Odhar, more famously known as the Brahan Seer was, a possibly legendary, Highland seer who is well known for his prophecies across the Highlands. Possibly an historical Coinneach Odhar is the Keanoch Owir who appears in a Commission of Justice in 1577, as being charged with “diabolical practices of magic, enchantment, murder, homicide and other offences”, in Ross-shire. Though according to popular tradition, Coinneach Odhar was born in Baille-na-Cille, within the Lewis parish of Uig, (the heartland of the Lewis MacAulays), and lived during the early seventeenth century. Tradition stated that Coinneach Odhar was eventually burnt to death by Isabel, the wife of Kenneth Mor Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Seaforth. One of the many predictions, today attributed to Coinneach Odhar, involves the MacAulays of Lewis:

Rev. William Matheson proposed that this prophecy may describe a battle in which the MacAulays were massacred by the MacLeods, on the road between Stornoway and Uig. The only survivors of the MacAulays were the chief’s youngest son Iain Ruadh (John Roy or Red John) and his illegitimate half brother. Iain Ruadh was the grandfather of Donald Cam MacAulay, placing this instance in the early sixteenth century. Matheson theorised that it is possibly that the legends of a historical Coinneach Odhar in Ross-shire were brought to Lewis by a MacKenzie who was made tacksman of Baille-na-Cille, in Uig. Some speculate that through this MacKenzie’s mother, who had connections in Ross-shire, that the legend of Coinneach Odhar may have grown in Lewis and incorporated other tales that had been originally been attributed to others.



Conquest of Lewis

Up until the beginning of the seventeenth century the Outer Hebrides, and particularly Lewis, were considered backward and in a state of anarchy by the rest of Scotland. An official account of Lewis described the inhabitants “given themselves over to all kynd of barbaritic and inhumanitie,” who were, “voyd of ony knawledge of God or His religion.James VI of Scotland encouraged a Syndicate of Adventurers to undertake the colonization of Lewis, in the hopes of making the island profitible to Scotland. The syndicate were for the most part lairds from Fife and the colonists themselves lowlanders. The “Fife Adventurers” made three unsuccessful attempts at colonization lasting from October 1598 to December 1601, August 1605 to October 1606, and for a brief time in 1609. During this period of invasions the islanders rallied and resisted the lowlanders, in time driving out the invaders.

In 1607 the MacLeods of Harris landed in Lewis and captured Stornoway Castle and other “fortalices” from the Lowlander colonists. In August of that year the Government ordered the fortresses delivered back into the hands of the colonists. Not long afterwards Stornoway was again captured, this time by Lewismen, led by Neil MacLeod and Donald Cam MacAulay. It was during the fray that Donald’s brother was killed on South Beach by a shot from the castle.

In 1610, in light of the collapse of the third colonization attempt, the syndicate of Adventurers sold their charter rights to Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail. Within two years the Mackenzies of Kintail had succeeded where the lowlanders could not, and reduced the island to submission. In the years of the Mackenzie conquest the MacAulays fought alongside the MacLeods of Lewis against the invaders who had the aid of the MacLeods of Harris and Skye (Clann Thormoid).

Although eventually the MacKenzies gained control of Lewis some islanders still resisted, notably Neil MacLeod and Donald Cam MacAulay. Donald Cam fortified himself on a 100-foot (30 m) high promontory of jagged rock on the seacoast, which is still called today, Stac Dhomhnuill Chaim (Donald Cam’s Stack). Tradition is that Donald Cam’s daughter, Anna Mhòr (Big Anne), carried water to her father on her head, as she needed her hands to climb the cliffs.



Flight of the Young Pretender



The Outer Hebrides. The major islands include Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, and South Uist.

Following the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden, as Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to the Outer Hebrides in the hope to sail to France, several Lewis MacAulays are noted as supporting the government cause in attempting to apprehend The Young Pretender. On April 27, 1746 Rev. John MacAulay, a Presbyterian minister, was having dinner with the chief of Clan Ranald in Benbecula when Bonnie Prince Charlie secretly landed on the island. When the Catholic chief of Clan Ranald heard the news he secretly advised the prince to make for Stornoway on Lewis, where he could find a ship to take him to France. The Rev. MacAulay descovered the identity of the prince and his plans, and immediately sent warning to his father, Rev. Aulay MacAulay, minister of Harris. On the small island of Scalpay near Harris, Rev. Aulay just narrowly failed to capture the fugitive prince, before sending warning to another minister in Lewis. When no help was to be found in support of the prince on Lewis, the fugitives made there way back south into the largely Catholic, Clan Ranald territories of Benbecula and South Uist. An accomplice of the prince afterwards exclaimed “it was that Devil of a Minister that caused all the mischief“; Rev. Aulay MacAulay.



Post 1746

In 1861 Lewis had a population of 21,059 with almost one fifth of the island being Macleods. Half the population of the island (10,430) were a combination of Macleods, Macdonalds, Mackenzies, Morrisons and Macivors. Another quarter of the population, (4,598), consisted of Macleans, Mackays, Smiths, Macaulays, Murrays and Campbells, all with at least 400 members. In 1861 North Uist had a population of 3,939 and Harris 3,764. Macaulay was the third most common surname on North Uist with 165, following th Macdonalds (1,064) and Macleans (392). There were 64 Macaulays recorded on Harris. By 1961 MacAulay was the eleventh ranked surname on Lewis, with about 500 MacAulays on Lewis. The MacLeods were ranked first with just over 3,000 and the MacAulays’ old enemies, the Morrisons, were ranked third with about 950.



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