Origins of the Clan
The Gaelic name for the Clan was MacTamhais (pronounced MacTavis or MacTavish - the “mh” in Gaelic pronounced as the “v” in the word very). In old charters, the name had many variant spellings. Some spellings found within old charters, post-Culloden parish registers, and in The Commons Argyll appear as MacAvis, MacCamis, McCawis,McKavis, McKnavis, M’Ash, MacAnish, mcTais, MacTavifh and mcThavish, to give but a few. It seems that from near the end of the 1600’s, the spellings, MacTavish and/or Thom(p)son or Thomas were the most common. Variations in surname spelling within one document are often seen for the same person.
Dating back to the early 12th century (circa 1100-1110), “Clan MacTavish” (Clan Tavish) begin with the birth of Taus Coir to the daughter of Suibhne Ruadh (Sween the Red of Castle Sween) and Colin Mael Maith (Clan MacDuine). The line that Taus was born into was an illustrious one, with the family of Suibhne descending from the Kings of Ireland and Scotland; and Colin Mael Maith being of Clan MacDuine and a close friend and follower of Alexander I of Scotland.
From Taus Coir, descended the families of MacTavish of Dun-ArdRigh (meaning fort or castle of the High King) in Knapdale. A Timothy Pont 1634 map marks the castellated building of Dunardry. Anyone traveling by the Crinan Canal and passing through Dunardry Lock is within a short distance of the site on which this castellated building stood.
16th Century & Anglo-Scottish Wars
In the 16th century during the Anglo-Scottish Wars the Clan MacTavish fought at the Battle of Flodden Field, 9th September 1513, the Scots Army faced the English, and many of Scotland’s Nobles and Chiefs lost their lives with King James IV. Chief Ewin MacCawes (MacTavish) was on of those.
18th Century & Jacobite Uprisings
In 1715 the Jacobite cause saw its first failed attempt to place the Stuarts back on the throne of Scotland and England. During this time Chief Archibald MacTavish was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause but took no action to support either the Government or the Joacobites.
Due to the fact that Dugald, the Younger, was imprisoned at in September of 1745 and that the Chief (Archibald) was quite elderly, during the 1745 Jacobite Rising, some of the MacTavishes fought within the ranks of their neighbor, MacIntosh.
On 16 April 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, the Jacobite army was defeated by a much larger force of the British government army (5000 fighting for Prince Charles and 9000 fighting for the government). On that day, the Jacobite army of Prince Charles lost the battle, and the fate of the Jacobite cause was sealed.
The Highland Clearances
Unfortunately, after Culloden, some Jacobite Highland Chiefs treated their own clansmen very badly transporting their Clan members off their land and, indeed, from their country. This was the period known as the Highland Clearances. The MacTavish Chiefly line, still seated in Dunardarie with their clansmen, were not involved in the “clearing” of their own kin, and no MacTavishes were put off the lands.
After Culloden, a few of the MacTavish started to use the Thom(p)son spelling. The Chiefly line of MacTavish, however, retained the name MacTavish and remained seated at Dunardry. Parish registers and family groups of gravestones in Argyll express the transition of the name from MacTavish to Thomson or Thompson.
Post Clan Activity
Dugald’s son and Heir, Lachlan MacTavish succeeded his father in 1775. By 1785, Lachlan was forced to sell Dunardry at public auction on the 31st December, as he fell into financial difficulites, partly due to the building of the Crinan Canal, which split the MacTavish lands in half. By this time, the Act of Proscription 1746 had taken away all the powers of the Chiefs except that of Landlord. The Canal had lasting effects for Scotland, and against the MacTavishes, who fell on harder times because the canal affected their ability to collect rents, as it separated their tenants from their farms and cattle. Lachlan, his wife and son, Dugald, who was three years old, moved to Edinburgh where Lachlan was installed as Governor of Taxes for the Crown, living at St. James’ Court.
In 1797 Dunardry was purchased by Simon McTavish of Montreal, from Stratherrick, Invernesshire. Simon McTavish was born of the Garthbeg branch of the family and at this time was probably the richest man in North America. The Stratherrick McTavishes are considered a sept of Clan Fraser.
Back in the 18th century Lachlan’s son, Dugald, under age in 1796, did not register the MacTavish arms; and as a grown man, with his duties as the Sheriff Substitute of Kintyre he obviously did not feel inclined to do so,. as he was, already, legally known as MacTavish of Dunardry. He died without having re-registered the Arms. Unfortunately, this carried on with his son William who had moved to the “wilds” of Canada. William also declined to register the Arms. It is nominally suggested by Lord Lyon that at least every other generation re-register the Chiefly Arms, to avoid dormany of the Clan. As a result of William not matriculating for the arms, the Chiefly line was “lost” until 1949, when the Lord Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, contacted the MacTavish family in Canada, advising them that they were the long, lost Chiefly line, inviting them to petition for the Arms and Chiefship of the Clan.
The Clan Today
Clan MacTavish experienced a dormancy of 200 years when Lachlan MacTavish was the last Chief to register at that time. The dormancy ended in 1997 when Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry matriculated. His son, Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry is the current Chief of Clan MacTavish.
William’s great grandson, Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, was matriculated by the Court of the Lord Lyon 23 July 1997 and granted the Arms and Title of Chief of the Clan MacTavish of Dunardry, and was the 26th Chief of the Clan in an unbroken line. He died on 19 June 2005 at his home in Vancouver, BC. He is succeeded by his son and heir, the 27th Chief, Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.
The Clan was seated at Dunardry, with those lands emcompassing the Dalriadic Kingdom of Dunadd. Scottish clans / Dal Riata
Clan MacTavish Septs
Cash, MacCash, MacCavish, MacLehose, MacSteaphain, MacTavish, MacThom, MacThomas, Stephen(son), Steven(son), Tais, Taws, Tawseon, Thom, Thomas, Thomason, Thompson, Thomson, Tod(d) and all variant spellings. (Source: “Surnames of Scotland” by Professor George Black, 1866-1948, 12th Printing, 1999. “The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands” by Frank Adams, 7th Edition revised by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon King of Arms).