The Clan MacLea is a Highland Scottish clan, which was traditionally located in the district of Lorn in Argyll, Scotland, and is seated on the Isle of Lismore. There is a tradition of some MacLeas Anglicising their names to Livingstone, thus the Clan Livingstone Society’s website also refers to clan as the Highland Livingstones. The current chief of Clan MacLea was recognised by Lord Lyon as the “Coarb of Saint Moluag” and the “Hereditable Keeper of the Great Staff of Saint Moluag.”






Origin of the names MacLea and Livingstone

It is possible that there are several origins for the surnames MacLea, MacLay and similar and there are also several theories of their etymology. It is thought possible that the name is an Anglicisation of Mac an Léigh (Scottish Gaelic), meaning son of the physician. The leading theory today, however, is that the name is derived from the patronymic Mac Dhunnshleibhe, meaning son of Donn Sléibhe (son of + the brown haired, or chieftan + of the mountain). In 1910 Niall Campbell, 10th Duke of Argyll maintained that the surname MacLea evolved from the name Maconlea, which was originally Mac Dhunnshleibhe. By the eighteenth century the standard form of the name had become MacLea or other forms with similar spellings (MacLeay, McClay, etc.).

The surname Livingstone/Livingston is a habitual name derived from Levingston (Middle English), which is located in West Lothian, Scotland. Levingston was named after Leving who appears in the early twelfth century in the charters of David I of Scotland. This Leving was the progenitor of the powerful aristocratic Livingston family. There are multiple theories of the origin of Leving (Anglo-Saxon, Fleming, Frank, Norman, and even Hungarian). In the mid seventeenth century James Livingston of Skirling, who was of a branch of these Lowland Livingstons, was granted a nineteen year lease of the Bishoprics of Argyll and the Isles. Sometime before 1648, James Livingston seems to have stayed at Achanduin Castle on Lismore, and it is thought that around this time that the surname Livingstone would have been adopted by MacLeas on the island.



Descent from Dunshleibe

The Duke of Argyll wrote that it was possible that the eponymic progenitor of all the MacDunsleves, (MacLeas, highland Livingstones. etc.), of Lismore may be Dunshleibe son of Aedh Alain. Aed Alain was the son of the Irish prince Anrothan, who traditionally was to have married a Princess of Dál Riata, inheriting her lands of Cowal and Knapdale. Anrothan, in turn was son of Aodh O’Neill, King of the North of Ireland (r.1030-1033). From this descent the MacDunsleves were ultimately descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland, who reigned in the fifth century. Dunshleibe is also thought to have been the common ancestor of the several clans in western Argyll including the Lamonts, the MacEwens of Otter, the Maclachlans, the MacNeils of Barra, and the MacSweens.



Dunshleibe Ua Eochadha

An alternative theory is that the Coarbs of Saint Moluag were closely related to the rigdamnai or Royal Family of Ulster and that the use of the name Mac Duinnshleibhe was a proud reminder and declaration of that fact. see

According to Byrne the Ulaid rigdamnai alone used the name Mac Duinnshleibhe

“ So for instance when after 1137 the Dál Fiatach kingship was confined to the descendants of Donn Sleibe Mac Eochada (slain in 1091), the rigdamnai set themselves apart from the rest of the family by using the name Mac Duinnshleibhe (Donleavy).” Francis John Byrne, Irish Kings and High-Kings page 128.

It seems as though Ruaidhri Mac Duinnsleibhe was the last king of Ulidia dying at the end of the twelfth century . Rory, son of Dunsleve, is number 54 on O’Hart’s roll of the kings of Ulidia and described as “the last king of Ulidia, and its fifty-fourth king since the advent of St. Patrick to Ireland.”

In Irish Pedigrees – The Stem of the Dunlevy family, Princes of Ulidia, O’Hart says

“Tuirmach Teamrach, the 81st Monarch of Ireland had a son named Fiach Fearmara, who was ancestor of the Kings of Argyle and Dalriada, in Scotland: this Fiach was also the ancestor of MacDunshleibe and O’Dunsleibhe, anglicised Dunlevy, Dunlief, Dunlop, Levingstone and Livingstone. …

According to Dr O’Donovan descendants of this family (Cu-Uladh the son the last MacDunshleibe King of Ulidia), soon after the English invasion of Ireland, passed into Scotland, where they changed their name.”



Livingston and MacLea DNA project

In 2003 a DNA project was established to compare the Y-DNA of males bearing the different variations of the surname Livinston. The project also aims to find a blood link between the so called Highland Livingstones and the Lowland Livinstons, and to investigate the various origins of names associated with MacLea / Livingston.

At present the strongest conclusion to be drawn so far is that, despite containing very many male lines, the clan seems to have no male line with the DNA signature associated with Ui Neill families in Ireland. Apparently many Irish families with “Mac Dunshleibhe” surnames do have such a DNA signature. Mac Dunshleibhe DNA.



Coarb of Saint Moluag



The Isle of Lismore and the hills of Kingairloch beyond.

See also: Saint Moluag

Saint Moluag was a Scottish missionary, and a contemporary of Saint Columba, who evangelized the Picts of Scotland in the sixth century. According to the Irish Annals, in 562 Saint Moluag beat Saint Columba in a race to the large Isle of Lismore. The nineteenth century historian William F. Skene claimed the Isle of Lismore was the sacred island of the Western Picts and the burial place of their kings whose capital was at Beregonium, across the water at Benderloch.

The Coarb, or successor, of the saint was the hereditary keeper of his pastoral staff. The Great Staff of Saint Moluag, or Bachuil Mor is thought to be the sith century saints crozier or staff. The Bachuil Mor is a plain wooden staff that is 10 feet, 2 inches long. There is evidence that the Bachuil Mor was at one time covered with plates of gilt copper of which some remain. On December 21, 1950 on the petition of Livingstone of Bachuil, the Lord Lyon King of Arms ruled that Livingstone was the Coarb of Saint Moluag. Livingstone’s ancestor Iain McMolmore Vic Kevir appears in a charter of 1544 as “with keeping of the great staff of the blessed Moloc, as freely as the father, grandfather and great-grandfather and other predecessors of the said Iain.




Despite claiming ancient heritage the clan wasn’t formally recognised until 2003. The first clan chief of Clan MacLea to be recognised by the Lord Lyon was William Jervis Alastair Livingstone of Bachuil, in 2003. The chief represented the clan as a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. William Jervis Alastair Livingstone of Bachuil died in February 2008.




      Battle of Bealach na Broige. The Battle of Bealach na Broige was fought between various north-western highland clans from the lands of Ross, against the Earl of Ross and his followers. Though the date of the battle is obscure what is known is that the rising consisted of the “Clan-juer” (Clan Iver), “Clantalvigh” (Clan-t-aluigh, ie. Clan Aulay), and “Clan-leajwe” (Clan-leaive, ie. Clan Leay). The Munroes and Dingwalls pursued and overtook the rising clans at Bealach na Broige, where a bitter battle unsued, fed by old feuds and animosities. In the end the MacIvers, MacAulays and MacLeays where almost utterly extinguished and the Munroes and Dingwalls won a hollow victory, having lost a great number of men including their chiefs.

      Achnacree. 1557. The McLeays of Achnacree were almost wiped out, losing 80 men supporting the MacDougalls of Lorn against the Campbells of Inverawe in a clan battle. McLea Manuscript, Highland Papers, Vol. IV, 1296 to 1752, third Series, Scottish History Society, pp 94 to 103.

      Dunaverty. 1647. Many of the clan MacLea seem to have been killed when they took the side of the MacDougalls against the Campbells of Inverawe, a conflict exemplified by the Dunaverty Massacre. Placed prominently at the top of the second column of a list of those massacred at Dunaverty, 1647, supporting the MacDougalls were these McLeas: Iain Mc Iain Vc ein dui alias Mc onlea, Dunsla M’ein Vc onlea and Iain M’onlea, his brother, (Highland Papers, II, p. 257).

      1745 Several MacLeas (later referred to as Livingstones) fought in the Appin Regiment. Donald Livingstone, Bun-a-mhuilinn, Morvern, was of the Livingstones of Achnacree, Benderloch and was 18 when he fought at Culloden saving the Appin Standard see



Clan profile



Modern Livingstone tartan. Although the Livingstones or MacLeas are associated with the Buchanans, MacDougalls and the Stewarts of Appin, the tartan sett does not resemble that of any of these clans. The tartan most closely resembles the MacDonell of Keppoch tartan.



Livingston Dress tartan.



Livingstone or MacLay tartan. This tartan is based upon the Maclaine of Lochbuie tartan which dates before 1810.



Crest badge, clan badge and clan chief

      Crest badge: Note: the crest badge is made up of the chief’s heraldic crest and motto.

                        Chief’s crest: A demi-man representing the figure of Saint Moluag Proper, his head ensigned of a circle of glory Or, having about his shoulders a cloak Vert, holding in his dexter hand the great Staff of Saint Moluag Proper and in his sinister hand a cross crosslet fitchée Azure, and in an Escrol over the same this Motto CNOC AINGEIL.

                        Chief’s motto (slogan): CNOC AINGEIL (translation from Scottish Gaelic: “Hill of fire”). Note: this motto or slogan is derived from a Pictish burial mound behind the chief’s house at Bachuil.

                        Chief’s motto (alternate, not used in crest badge): NI MI E MA’S URRAIN DHOMH (translation from Scottish Gaelic: “I shall do it if I can”). Note: This motto is said to be a play on words of the unrelated Livingston’s heraldic motto: Si Je Puis (”If I can”).

      Clan badge: The Flower of the Grass of Parnassus.

      Clan chief: William Jervis Alastair Livingstone of Bachuil, Chief of the Highland Clan MacLea, Coarb of Saint Moluag, Hereditable Keeper of the Great Staff of St Moluag, Baron of the Bachuil ‘by the Grace of God’ Alasdair Mconlea na Maconlea agus Bachuil, Baran a’ Bhachuill. Recognised and arms matriculated by Lord Lyon King of Arms in 2003.




There are several tartans associated with the names Livingston, Livingstone, MacLay and MacLea. The Clan MacLea website lists three tartans deemed appropriate for clan members.

      Livingstone Sett, or Livingstone.

This tartan is very similar to the MacDonald of Keppoch tartan.

      Livingstone Dress, also known as Livingston Dress.

      Livingstone / MacLay.

This tartan is very similar to the MacLaine of Lochbuie tartan. The Maclaine of Lochbuie tartan dates before 1810 and was first published in 1886.


Clan MacLea or Livingstone



Cnoc Aingeil (Scottish Gaelic Hill of Fire)


District of Lorn in Argyll, Scotland

Gaelic name(s)

Mac Dhunnshleibhe, Mac an Léigh


Lismore (Chiefly line), Achnacloich, Achnacree, Ach na Skioch, Lindsaig, Lochnell, Strathconnon, Gorm of Perthshire







Clan badge

Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)

Clan chieftain

Niall Livingstone of Bachuil, Baron of the Bachuil

Clan seat(s)

Bachuil, Isle of Lismore


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