Origins of the clan

In Gaelic, the name Macintyre is rendered ‘Mac an t-Saoir’, meaning ‘son of the carpenter’.

A traditional account dates the origins of the name to the early twelfth century, when Somerled was establishing his lordship in the Western Isles. After Olav the Red, Norse King of Mann and the Isles, resisted Somerled’s ambitions, he then resorted to diplomacy, and sought the hand of the king’s daughter, Ragnhild, in marriage. Somerled’s nephew, Macarill or Maurice, assured his uncle that he could devise a scheme to win the bride. It is said that Macarill sabotaged Olav’s galley by boring holes in the hull, which he then plugged with tallow. He contrived to be a passenger on the king’s galley, and went well supplied with wooden plugs. Heavy seas washed out the tallow and the galley began to founder, at which point Macarill promised to save the king’s life if he would promise his daughter’s hand to Somerled. The pact was sealed, and the plugs used to stop the leaks. Macarill was thereafter known as the ‘wright’ or ‘carpenter’, and found high favour with his uncle.

Macarill’s descendants later established themselves on the mainland where, according to legend, they were warned by a spirit only to settle where a white cow in their herd came to rest. The land they settled was the rich and fertile Glen Noe by Ben Cruachan on Loch Etiveside. By the end of the thirteenth century the Macintyres were foresters to the Lord of Lorn, an office they held through the passing of the lordship from the Clan MacDougall to the Stewarts and finally the Clan Campbell.



Stone of the White Calf at the Lairig Noe

Tradition suggests that the MacIntyres originally lived in Sleat on the Southern tip of the Isle of Skye. The MacIntyres moved from Sleat to the mainland on Loch Etive in Argyll. They settled at a place called Glen Noe on the North Slope of Ben Cruachan and the South shore of Loch Etive. Exactly when the MacIntyres arrived here is unclear, but is was sometime between 800 and 1200 AD, give or take a few hundred years. Once they arrived at Glen Noe the MacIntyres naturally became connected with the larger Clans in the area. They were foresters to the MacDougalls of Lorn and then with the Appin Stewarts. The largest clan bordering their small glen were the Campbells with whom they also share their war cry - Cruachan. It was either good fortune, good strategy or both, that the MacIntyre Chiefs often married Campbell’s. The Campbell Chiefs also thought it was a good strategy and routinely had their daughters marry the Chiefs of neighboring clans. More often than not, this resulted in the Campbell’s acquiring the other clan’s territory and sometimes the entire clan when there was no heir except for the Campbell widow. Fortunately, MacIntyre Chiefs continued to produce heirs or outlive their wives, but that did not deter the Campbell’s who eventually got the MacIntyre land anyway.

MacIntyres are probably the only independent clan that has close connections with both the Campbells and MacDonalds, who were fierce rivals. It is Donald, the grandson of Sommerled, who is the progenitor of Clan Donald. However, it is highly likely that it was the nephew of Sommerled through his sister, who is the progenitor of Clan MacIntyre. His first name is variously called Maurice or Murdach and his surname MacArill, MacNeill or O’Neill. It is likely that the MacIntyre Chiefship predates by at least one generation and probably more that of Clan Donald, but MacIntyres lacked the power inherited by Sommerled’s son and grandson.

Sommerled and Thane of Argyll wanted the Western Isles which at that time were possessed by Olav the Red, Norse King of Mann and the Isles. Sommerled hoped to accomplish this without fighting by aiding Olav in his own conquests further South in England and by marrying Olav’s daughter, Ragnhild. Olav didn’t take the bait but Sommerled’s nephew stole aboard Olav’s galley and bore holes in the side above the water line and plugged them with wax. When Olav’s galley went out to sea, the waves began to wash out the wax and the galley took on water. To save himself, Olav agreed to the marriage and the nephew saved the galley using wooden plugs he had prepared. There is reason to believe that the nephew’s reward was Glen Noe and thenceforth he gained his nickname, “the wright” or carpenter. His son was the son of the carpenter, the name that was inherited by the descendent from that time hence. This connection with Sommerled explains the number of similarities with Clan Donald, such as the white heather badge, and the galley, eagle and cross crosslet fitchee on the coat of arms.

Of course, it is a habit of Clans with greater military or territorial strength to spread rumors that smaller clans are their Septs or inferiors. Clan Donald has used the similarities mentioned before to insist that MacIntyres are a Sept of Clan Donald and they do this to this day at Scottish gatherings. Not only is there no evidence for this but there is evidence to the contrary. In addition to what has already been mentioned, Clan Donald’s own official historian fails to mention MacIntyres even once in his extensive and authoritative History of Clan Donald. To the contrary, in the 1994 edition of Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia, which is sponsored by The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, the heroic role of the progenitor of Clan MacIntyre in achieving the marriage of Sommerled to Ragnhild, daughter of Olav the Red, is mentioned under MacDonald of MacDonald as predating the formation of Clan Donald. This heroic act was reason enough for Sommerled to give his nephew Glen Noe on the mainland to and to give him a Chiefship in his own right, if wasn’t one already. The MacIntyre name may have originated at that time but the hereditary line probably went back much further. There is evidence that Maurice was connected with three royal lines, one Norse and two Irish (which at that time was called Scotia).

In any event, his heroic and historic act clearly predates the formation of Clan Donald. The Standing Council includes the Chief of Clan MacIntyre along side the Chiefs of Clan Donald. Likewise, but not a blatantly, the Campbell’s whisper that the MacIntyres are their feudal inferiors. This was never the case as evidence by the fact that James III, the MacIntyre Chief was not obligated to supply men at arms and did not personally fight on the side of the Campbell’s and Government against Bonnie Prince Charlie. At the same time, a number of MacIntyres fought with the Stewart of Appin regiment and five died at Culloden for the Jacobite cause.

It seems obvious that as Chiefs, MacIntyres held full rights to Glen Noe at some time in their history. That this was modified is also clear. It seems that in the early 1300 Glen Noe was still part of the Chief inheritance. However, the sons of the Chief apparently killed some Campbell’s and the punishment was to require a symbolic payment of a fatted calf in December and a snowball in June. It was Donald II who accepted payment of a small sum of money in place of the symbolic calf and snowball.

The Chief of Clan MacIntyre is called by one name, Glenoe, after the place in Scotland, on Loch Etive near Oban, where they lived for centuries until 1816. Although the MacIntyre Chiefs were recognized by other Clans and by the Kings of Scotland, it was only in 1991 that the Lyon Court of Scottish Heraldry gave their recognition to James Wallace MacIntyre of New York, the tenth Chief of Record. Glenoe’s son, James Thomas MacIntyre, the younger, is age one. The Chiefs of Clan MacIntyre have alternated their given name between Donald to James since Donald, the second Chief of record. It was in 1822 that the MacIntyre Chiefs finally left Scotland and emigrated to the United States as did many other Scots. In 1955, the Lyon Court recognized and awarded arms to Camus-na-h-Erie, a cadet branch of descent from the younger brother of a Glenoe many years before written records are available.’

MacIntyres have always been a small, industrious, and well-respected Clan that usually kept out of trouble by keeping out of politics and major battles. This is perhaps why they remained an independent clan. However, they lost clear title to Glen Noe as a free hold as punishment for an accidental homicide of a person belonging to Clan Campbell. The only other significant battle that affected the MacIntyres directly was at Culloden in 1746 where ten MacIntyres were killed or wounded as part of the Stewart of Appin regiment that supported Bonnie Prince Charlie. There is no record of fatalities of MacIntyres fighting for the Government. These fatalities were not the cause of MacIntyres leaving Glen Noe but Culloden was fatal to the highland way of life and governance.

MacIntyres distinguished themselves in cultural activities. Duncan Ban MacIntyre, born in 1725 in Glen_Orchy on the other side of Ben Cruachan, is considered by scholars to be the “Burns of the Highlands”. He spoke only Gaelic and in the oral Gaelic tradition composed and passed on his songs in public and private presentations. It was left to others to write down and publish his “songs”. Although he fought against Bonnie Prince Charlie, he was imprisoned for a song he wrote against the Act or Proscription of the Highland Dress that was imposed after the ‘45 rebellion failed. His contemporary, James MacIntyre, third Chief of record, was also a poet and wrote with great force and sarcasm against the criticism of Scottish life by Samuel Johnson, the famous English writer and lexicographer. MacIntyres of Rannoch were hereditary pipers to the Menzies of Menzies.

In the 1490s the MacIntyres were admitted as the sixteenth clan to the Clan Chattan Confederation. This confederation is probably the longest, continuous extant alliance in the history of the world!

MacIntyres living in Cladich, not far from Glen Noe near Loch Awe, were highly acclaimed for their weaving and for some time their “Cladich Garters” (stockings) were an essential part of the Highland Dress. It has been said that these garters were the forerunners to the “Argyll Socks” that many a young lady knitted for her boyfriend in the United States in the 1940s and 50s.



17th century & Civil War

As the family records have been lost, the Macintyre chiefs cannot be listed with any accuracy, but the first chief of record was Duncan, who married a daughter of Campbell of Barcaldine. The chief led the clan in support of the Duke of Argyll at the Battle of Inverlochy (1645) when the Clan Campbell of Argyll were surprised by Montrose and routed. Duncan died in 1695 and was buried in Ardchattan Priory in a tomb worthy of his rank.



18th century & Jacobite Risings

Originally the MacIntyres held their land by right of sword but they had acquired feudal obligations to the Campbells, which were purely symbolic until the 18th century.

James, the third chief, was born around 1727. He was sponsored by the Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane and studied law, being regarded as a good scholar and a poet. On his father’s death he returned to Glen Noe. When Prince Charles Edward Stuart raised his father’s standard at Glenfinnan in 1745, James Macintyre would have joined him but for the influence of his Campbell wife and neighbours. Many Macintyre clansmen, however, slipped away and fought for the Jacobites, like those who fought in the Appin Regiment at Culloden. On the other hand, the great Macintyre bard, Duncan Ban, fought for the government side at the battle of Falkirk (1746)after being hired to fight in place of a gentleman. His military career was less successful than his art, as the gentleman refused to pay him after Duncan lost his sword in the battle. A monument to the poet’s memory was erected in 1859 near Loch Awe.

When the Campbells of Breadalbane imposed a rent that progressively grew too great, first Duncan, then Donald, 4th & 5th Chiefs respectively, emigrated to America by 1806.



Clan profile



MacIntyre tartan, as published in 1842, in the Vestiarium Scoticum.

      Pipe Music: “We Will Take The Good Old Way” (Scottish Gaelic: Gabhaidh Sinn An Rathad Mór) Midi file from macintyreclan.org

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