Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Mid Argyll MacAlpins

Kilmichael Glassary Parish, Mid Argyll

The Mid Argyll Kinship DNA Project is a genetic genealogy research project on a group of families that share the same paternal ancestry, primarily from the parish of Kilmichael Glassary in mid Argyll.  Two of the families in the group are the MacAlpins (Mac Ailpín) and MacCains (Mac Eáin).  The chronology of the common male ancestor of these two mid Argyll families is currently under study.  Members of both families are doing the "Big Y" DNA test.  The BIG Y is a direct paternal lineage test and explores deep ancestral links.  It tests both thousands of known branch markers and millions of places where there may be new branch markers.  Both the Mac Ailpín and Mac Eáin families share SNP FGC19435 and the projected chronology to the TMRCA is circa 500AD.  The basic question is, are these MacAlpin families connected to the historical king from mid-Argyll, Coinneach Mac Ailpín (810 AD – 858 AD).  Coinneach Mac Ailpín was the first king of Scotland and founder of a dynasty which ruled Scotland for much of the medieval period.  This would mean the entire Mid Argyll Kinship group descends paternally from this old Dal Riada family.

The MacCains go back to a pivotal figure of Giolla Chríost who was a lord in Kilmichael Glassary in the 1200s.  He had three sons. One of these sons, Giolla Padraig, was the progenitor of the Cowal Clann Lachlainn.  His other two sons, Giolla Easpuig and Eoghann, had lands in Kilmichael Glassary in mid Argyll.  The descendants of Giolla Easpuig and Eoghann eventually lost their lands in Glassary to the Scrymgeour family.  In the late-1200s, Giolla Easpuig’s line failed to produce a male heir and their lands went to Ralf of Dundee by marriage. The lands of Eoghann were held by his son named Eáin, which passed to his sons by the 1340s.   In 1346, the Scottish Crown forfeited the Glassary lands of Eáin’s sons to Gilbert of Glassary, who was a grandson of Ralf of Dundee.  So by the late 1300s, Gilbert of Glassary had acquired, technically that is, much of the lands of the descendants of Giolla Easpuig and Eoghann, the two sons Giolla Chríost.  However, Gilbert of Glassary produced no male heir and in the 1370s all of these lands went to Alexander Scrymgeour, who had married Agnes, the daughter and heiress of Gilbert of Glassary.

How much control the Scrymgeour family had over the lands that had belonged to Giolla Easpuig and Eoghann Mac Giolla Chríost is questionable.  At this time, Glassary was the epicenter of the Redshanks society. Redshanks were a warrior class in high demand as mercenaries in Scotland, Ireland, and Europe.  They were a law unto themselves. They were supported by the tenants of the lord, a practice called “sorning.”  One sixteenth-century Scottish observer complained that the Glassary Redshanks were, “wild men who cannot be coerced or punished by secular judge or power.”[1]  The local lore says, and it is probably correct, that the descendants of Eáin son of Eoghann Mac Giolla Chríost took the “clan” surname of their cousins, the Mac Lachlainns of Cowal, and remained on their lands in Glassary.  It is also remembered that the Scrymgeours, quite wisely, made no changes and did not require rents, per se.  Given the remoteness of mid Argyll and the warlike nature of the local Gaels, the Scrymgeours showed wisdom.  The status of land possession in Glassary becomes clearer when a “McCain” family appears there in the 1430s and we are told they are of Clann Lachlainn.

In 1432, a John M’Ean (Eáin Mac Eáin) appears in the Glassary writs selling a tract of land at Kilmun in Cowal to John Scrymgeour, son of Alexander.  In the writs, we are told John M’Ean’s uncle is Giolla Easpuig Mac Eáin, showing us they both were known by the same surname.[2]  Then four years later, in 1436, Ailean Mac Eáin received a grant to extensive lands in Glassary which included many of the lands that had been held by Giolla Easpuig and Eoghann, the two sons of Giolla Chríost.  Ailean Mac Eáin’s son, Dunnchadh Rua, is also listed as “McCain” in the 1400s.  In other words, a McCain family appears on the scene in the 1430s in control of the lands held by Giolla Chríost’s two sons in Glassary.  Alastair Campbell of Airds, the Officer of Arms of Scotland and historian, noticed the appearance in Glassary of these McCains in his book The History of Clan Campbell.  When writing about the sale of land by John M’Ean to Sir John Scrymgeour he noted, “the lands of Kilmun presumably held by the MacIans or MaKanes, whoever they may have been.”[3]  Mac Phail, the editor of the The Highland Papers, also noticed this McCain group and observed they were probably descendants of Giolla Easpuig Mac Giolla Chríost.[4]   I would agree with this observation, but suspect they were the descendants of Eáin the son of Eoghann Mac Giolla Chríost. This is why they were known in Gaelic as the Mac Eáin family.  The salient point is that, from the early 1430s onward, there was a McCain family and Ailean Mac Eáin and his son Dunnchadh Rua were part of this family and they were connected to the Scrymgeour family through multiple marriages and land transactions.

Much of the history can be deduced from the lands themselves.  Several of the Glassary lands that Eoghann and his brother Giolla Easpuig held are the same ones granted to Ailean Mac Eáin in 1436 and later held by his sons.  Put into a historical context, the 1400s were a golden age for the local Gaelic powers in mid Argyll and Eáin Mac Lachlainn’s (Taoiseach of Clann Lachlainn) grant to Ailean Mac Eáin reflects this.  There may have been official land resignations, but the reality was Clann Lachlainn still retained control of much of their ancestral lands in Glassary and the 1436 grant confirms this.

By the late 1500s, McCain was fixed as a surname. This was almost certainly done to distinguish them as the line of Ailean Mac Eáin.  This use of the surname was noticed by local historian Herbert Campbell in the 1922, volume 38 edition of The Genealogist.  As he put it, “it is practically sure that two of the three Johns nicknamed ‘reoch’ belonged to the Dunadd line, so that it looks as though the family were playing with the nickname.”[5]  “John Reoch” was Campbell’s way of anglicizing Eáin Riabhach.  He was correct. The name was being used more at that time.  An example of what Herbert Campbell meant is seen in the name of Giolla Easpuig Mac Eáin Riabhach Mhic Dhonnchaidh Rua Mhic Lachlainn, who appears in the Lamont Papers in 1612.  This derbhfine name would be Archibald McCain in today’s English.  In 1570, Alexander M’Ean of Glassary held the lands at Bormolloch.   Bormolloch is the farmstead to the immediate east of Creag an Tairbh.  Significantly, Alexander M’Ean is listed in the Scrymgeour family records showing yet another connection between these two families.[6]  One Campbell tacsman listed in the year 1603 is “John M’Donald V’Ean, alias M’Loauchlan.”[7]  In Gaelic, his name was Eáin Mac Dónaill Mhic Eáin.  The “alias M’Loauchlan” means also known as Mac Lachlainn.  In 1705, another example of the multiple surname use is recorded in the Argyll justiciary records, with “Duncan Vc Lauchlane alias McEan.”[8]  These are examples of a clerk feeling the need to clarify a McCain’s clan affiliation.

The Mid Argyll MacAlpins are more difficult to locate in the primary sources in the 1400s, but in the 1500s they appear and are linked to the Ailean Mac Eáin family.  On 6 May 1573 John McDonche VcAlpine (Eáin Mac Donnchaidh Mhic Ailpín) was a witness to a sasine given by Alexander Scrymgeour at Kirnan, Kilmichael Glassary parish.  Alexander Scrymgeour was father of James Scrymgeour who was married to Aifric Nic Dhonnchaidh Rua (a descendent of Donnchadh Rua Mac Eáin).   This established a connection in the primary sources between the Mac Ailpín and Mac Eáin families.  Next we have, on 4 January 1608, in the Poltalloch Writs recorded at Inveraray castle, the Earl of Argyll addressed a precept of clare constat to Duncan McAlpine (Donnchadh Mac Ailpín) in Garbhallt.[9]  Garbhallt was part of Donnchadh Rua Mac Eáin's lands.  By the 1600s, there are many Mac Ailpín families that show up in the records, often living in the same settlements as the McCains other descendants of Ailean Mac Eáin. The MacAlpin families that participated in the DNA test were from the Loch Ederline area, which is on the southern end of Loch Awe within minutes of both Garbhallt and Bormolloch.

While the research is still on going, the DNA results of the mid Argyll Mac Ailpín family suggests they may be the historical Mac Ailpín family and their paternal line provided other clan progenitors in mid Argyll. The ancestral origins results for the family shows connections to central Scotland and no deep connections to Ireland, which  points to an indigenous Cumbric or Pict progenitor of this family.  News and research updates of the mid Argyll Mac Ailpín families will be posted on the Mid Argyll Group’s blog page.

[1] Heather Frances James, Medieval Rural Settlement, a study of Mid-Argyll, Scotland, (PhD thesis, University of Glasgow) 124.
[2] JRN MacPhail, 175.
[3] Alastair Campbell, The History of Clan Campbell, Volume I, From Origins to Flodden, (Edinburg, Edinburg University Press, 2000) 127.
[4] MacPhail, 225,226.
[5] Harwood,”Poltalloch Writs”, 71.
[6]  J Maitland Thomson, ed., Inventory of Documents Relating to the Scrymgeour Family Estates 1611 (Edinburgh: J Skinner and Company, 1912), 24.
[7] Innes, Parochiales, 165. Taken from the Brendalbane Charters.
[8] John Cameron, ed., The Justiciary Records of Argyll and the Isles 1664-1705, Volume 1(Edinburgh, The Stair Society), 75.
[9] Ibid., 142.

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