CLANS OF SHISKINE PAST AND PRESENT by Mr. Charles Robertson, 1936.
More History of Arran
Arran is Scotland in miniature. The various clans throughout the centuries have been associated with separate locations. For instance, Argyllshire is the home of the Campbells, M'Alisters, M'Larens, Stuarts of Appin. Dumbartonshire-M'Farlanes, M'Gregors. Perthshire-Robertsons, M'Nabs and Murrays. Inverness-Frasers, M'Leods. Banffshire-M'Kinnon, M'Intosh, M'Pherson. Buteshire-Stewarts andBannatynes, and so on. Likewise in Arran the same names have been associated with the same district for centuries. In my own district, including Machrie, we find M'Alisters, Bannatynes, Curries,Robertsons, M'Kenzies and Murchies, and to a lesser extent the M'Masters, M'Gregors, M'Kelvies, etc. In the southend district we get the M'Kinnons, Cooks, Stuarts, M'Donalds, M'Neils. Whiting Bay-Hamiltons, M'Kelvies. Brodick with Davidsons, Fullartons. M'Brides in Lamlash. Corrie-M'Killops and Kelsos, and of course in the north end of the Island, Kerrs. Those are the names that we invariably connect with the districts just named. For instance, you won't find a Robertson or a Bannatyne in any part of the south end of the Island. Likewise, you won't find a M'Neil or Cook in Shiskine at the present day. Many of the Scottish clans never seem to have at any time a representative in Arran, viz., MacLeod, Grant, M'Farlane, M'Dougall,Cameron or M'Lean. My object in compiling this survey is not so much to trace the genealogy of the various clans, but rather to my mind, what is more important, to get the relative positions of different periods, to come up to the present day, and give my opinion of their chance of survival or otherwise. On the east side of the Island, owing to its closer proximity to the mainland, old honoured names are disappearing much more rapidly than with us on the west side. In the beginning of the last century Lamlash had almost one-third of its population M'Brides. What is the position to-day? There is only one male M'Bride under 50 on the eastside of Arran, and that one is a child of nine. Let us hope, in the words of the Scripture, that the little becomes a thousand. The last male Fullerton passed away two years ago. The Davidsons are reduced to a minimum. It makes one sad when reading reports in the public press of the various functions that there is little or no mention of those old names that we so long associated with those districts. I am now coming to the clans of Shiskine. First the M'Alisters, the clan that is no longer associated with Shiskine than any other. They hailed from Kintyre along with the M'Donalds, and for a long time were a thorn in the flesh to the early dwellers in Arran. Many of them may have settled there. Another report says somewhat unkindly that they came to Arran to fill the places left vacant by a great plague that visited to Island in 1666. The writer goes on to say that it was most fitting that such a forerunner should prepare a place for those who were so long a plague in the Island themselves. I do not hold with that theory, for in the Kilmory records we find them all over Shiskine. I was struck with the frequency the christian name Florence appeared in the female section of the clan. We come to a FlorenceM'Alister in Auchincar, one in Torbeg, one in Birchburn, and another in Ballygown. That lovely name has disappeared from the clan. In fact, there isn't a single female of that name in Shiskine to-day, abbreviated Flora. In 1776 we find a M'Alister, a taxman in Kilpatrick; one in Torbeg, one in Feorline, one in Ballygown, and the best known of the mall, Hector M'Alister, taxman of Glaister and Monyquil. This gentleman is credited with being involved in the '45 which ended disastrously at Culloden, and he had to go into hiding for some time. He was one of the two sent by the people of Shiskine to represent their interests at a meeting called by the factor Burrell, to consider steps to be taken to ensure better communication with the mainland. The descendants of the said Hector have been in the glen till about 27 years ago. The last tenant being also a Hector. In the Arran Rent Roll of 1812, James M'Allister, Monyquill, is the only tenant with Esquire to his name .Provost M'Allister, Troon, and Mr Constable, Rothesay, are descended from the same man (Worthie M'Allister). The first M'Allister we have record of is one Ranald M'Allister, who rented a line of farms on the west side of Arran from Lochranza to Machrie Bay. Unhappily those farms were the most exposed to the raiders from Kintyre. When we first come across his name in 1440, he is 3 1/2 years behind with his rent; 1447 repeats the tale, rent held back by Ranald M'Allister. We now come to 1458, when he departed his life. For 15 years he was tenant of nine farms, for four years he was lessee of the whole Island. It would appear that he never paid rent all those years. Yet he died without property, with those words for his epitaph-" He had nothing to distrain." In my boyhood days the M'Alisters were the most numerous clan in Shiskine. They occupied positions of trust in our public bodies. In fact, they ruled us both temporally and spiritually. A M'Alister would take as naturally to a Kirk Session as a Kerr or Kelso from Lochranza, would take to the water. Now, what is the position to-day apart from one family, the prospect of having any M'Alisters in either Shiskine or Machrie in the near future is very remote.
CURRIES.---The name Currie is alleged to be a reduced form of MacMhurrich. Tradition has it that like some of the old Arran families they had charters of the lands of Feorline. This, I am afraid, is unsupported by evidence. Down to the end of the eighteenth century the name Currie does not appear in Feorline at all. In 1796 they came to Feorline. (Tormore Curries.) One was a taxman in Kilpatrick, one in Feorline, another in Clachan. There were several in Tormore at the same period. Arran in all its long history has never thrown up a poet of any standing, though we have a few rhymers. There were one or two of the Curries who made brave attempts. One of them was called "Gobha Beag" (the wee smith). The other was Donald Currie. Poaching in Arran was always looked upon as a heinous crime. The Gobha Beag (first of these Curries) wrote a very pathetic poem of his eviction from Arran for poaching-the following is a translation from Gaelic of four of the verses:-
In the calm summer morn, ere the sun with his rays,
Would waken in beauty our valleys and braes,
With my take in my skiff I so gladly would come,
To the shade of the Castle where nestled my home.
Dear Beallach nam Mean, how my heartstrings were torn,
When banished the spot where my darling was born,
'Tis my fate in the Lowlands to nourish my wrongs,
Since fortune once placed too near to the Longs.
The factor ordained in the pride of his power,
My kin should disown me if e'en for an hour,
They'd shelter or aid me, his ire they would feel,
Be stripped of their farms, and crushed by his heels.
But those who expelled me from Arran shall be
Without sheep on the moorland, or cow on the lea;
While I openhanded shall live in Tormore,
To drink my cup yet, and eat of my store.
There is ample evidence of the survival of the Currie clan.
BANNATYNES. The Bannatynes, more than any of the others, are purely a Shiskine clan. They came to Arran from Bute. In an old record of 1400 we find the names of four Bannatynes acting on a jury in Rothesay. Tradition says that the first Bannatyne came to Arran to settle was a Ronald Bannatyne. He landed at Corrie, the place being still known as Rudha Raonal. In the early days there must have been among them men of scholastic attainments. The Kilmory Session records give in 1701 the Rev. Dugald Bannatyne, minister, and a few years later a Hector Bannatyne, schoolmaster. In 1776 one of the clan was taxman in Feorline. I find in the Estate books an entry regarding the building of a steading at Tighenfraoch, and a grant given by the Estate for thatching with heather. Incidentally, the thatcher's name was John Sloss. The Bannatynes were noted horsemen, good judges, expert in the saddle. One of the clan has started a riding school at Blackwaterfoot. The young generation of Bannatynes keep up the family reputation. It is a pure joy to watch them poise in the saddle. At onetime they had the reputation of being slick in a horse deal. A woman at Lochranza warned her son as he set out for Shiskine Fair to have no dealings with the "Nazaree." Notwithstanding this advice the poor fellow got badly bitten. In those far-off days slick work in a deal was looked upon rather as a virtue that a vice. In not a few cases they got the worse of the bargain. There was an Ebenezer and a Ronald. It is from the issue of the latter that your chairman and I made contact in the past. My great-grandmother was his grandmother's aunt. There is something unique in this family. There was 29 years between the first and the last birth in the family, the same mother. Now, Mr Chairman, with knowledge such as this before us, whatever misgivings we may have regarding the clan, there can be no doubt whatever regarding the fertility of the breed. Like the Curries, their prospects of survival are excellent.
ROBERTSONS. This, as you all know, is my own clan. Nobody seems to know when they came to Arran. At one time they were Clan Duncan. Tradition has them also associated with Robert the Bruce. You can take that for what it is worth. In 1719 I find an ancestor of mine, Wm. M'Rob, severely censured by the Kirk Session for grinding corn on the Fast Day. In the 1830 Rent Roll we get five families in Torbeg, one in Kilpatrick, one in Feorline, and one in Tormore. One of this clan was noted for physical strength, namely Strong Jock. If the reports we hear can be relied on this man's strength in Dominie Sampson's phraseology was "prodigious." Now, you may ask me what the prospects are regarding the survival of this clan. We have at the moment more young men of marriageable age in the district than any of the others. With so many potential progenitors in our midst, the prospect of survival is good.
M'KENZIES. We do not know exactly when the clan came to the Island. There is a Donald M'Kenzie mentioned in the Session records 200 years ago. There was a Patrick M'Kenzie taxman in Shedog in 1776. The first M'Kenzie settled in Tormore in 1796. His christian name is Gilbert. Evidently the first Sym settled there the same year. When I was a boy there were eight families of the name in Machrie alone. In the Free Church records of 1845 we find Peter and Alexander M'Kenzie, grandfather and great-grandfather of your secretary, members of Session. Now, the prospect of survival of this old and honoured nameis less favourable than any of the others I have mentioned. There is only one M'Kenzie under 40 in the whole district. Unless in the near future (I say this in all seriousness) there is a distinct and definite movement among the dry bones of those that remain, that old and honoured clan will have joined the company of the Crawfords, M'Gregors, Cooks, etc., and become only a memory. I trust those blunt and outspoken statements will have the desired effect.
SHAWS. One of Arrans most noteworthy literary men was a member of this clan, namely, the Rev. William Shaw, the author of the first Gaelic Dictionary that was ever written. He was born at Clachaig in 1749, was a graduate of Glasgow University. He went to London, and there met Dr. Johnson, the other literary lights. When he told Johnson of his great scheme for making a collection of Gaelic words, the old Doctor approved. Sir, said he, if you give the world a vocabulary of that language, while this Island stands, your name will be remembered. In 1780 his work appeared in two volumes. Owing to a great controversy raging in the Highlands on the authenticity of Ossian's poems, the author had to go to Ireland to finish his work. He died in England in 1831. Another of that same family and name distinguished himself while in the Navy. For an act of gallantry while in the West Indies with his ship, he was offered to be made a warrant officer on the spot, or get his discharge with a pension and a home in Arran. He chose what is known as Seafield Cottage at Blackwaterfoot, and remained there till he died. The name of William Shaw appears in the Arran Rent Roll of 1830. My maternal grandmother's name was Janet Shaw, a sister of the last named. There are no Shaws in Shiskine to-day. One of the Shiskine Shaws became Piermaster at Lamlash. His son is Captain Donald Shaw, who married a Shiskine lady. I'm very sorry that Captain and Mrs Shawdid not call one of their sons William to perpetuate the memory of those two men who shed luster on the clan, both in scholarship and gallantry. Time won't permit me going into details on the other families in the district, such as the Sillars, Hamiltons, Craigs, M'Kelvies, and those others who have died out, such as Crawfords, M'Gregors, M'Kinnons, etc. It may interest you to know the names that were in the village of Shedog 100 years ago-Wm. Nelson, D. Inglis, John Osborne, John Lee, Solomon Caldwell: another unusual name in the district was Jeremiah M'Bride. Miss M'Bride, in her address from the chair at the Arran Re-Union several years ago, claimed that M'Brides were in Arran since the days of Bruce. The Church was the centre of the people's life. The distance they walked to church on the Sabbath Day was amazing. I remember the people coming across the moor a distance of six to eight miles. In the summer time the young women used to come tripping through the dewy heather, with their bare feet, putting on shoes before entering the church. The service was conducted in Gaelic, and the singing was run-line. This was done to allow all the people to join in, many of them not being able to read, or not having books. At the time I am referring to there were no seats in the churches. So the people brought their own three-legged stools. Jenny Geddes found this type of stool a handy missile when she threw it in St. Giles. The Session had the status of a Civil Court, and the elders the status of Civil Magistrates. They made many of the laws and administered the laws they made and collected the fines. Culprits had to pay their fines graduated according to the heinousness or frequency of the offence. Offenders stood at the repentance stool clad in a cloak of sack cloth, which they might be obliged to buy, or make for themselves. These poor persons went through the ordeal of facing the congregation and receiving rebukes from the minister, and even on Communion Day this terrible ordeal was gone through. Frequent cases occurred when, rather than face this trial, delinquents fled from the place. Offenders of the moral law had to take the oath of purgation before the congregation (when charges could not be proved). The dread of this oath wrung confession from many when nothing else would terrify them into truth. Many of the clans were Baron Lairds in Arran, the Fullartons, Brodick, being the only family to have retained their titles. The Cooks, M'Brides, and M'Kinnons were the others. There was a M'Kinnonwho lived at Brodick who was styled the Baron in my own day. There is no more interesting study than the derivation of family names. I would like to throw out a hint to some of you young men before me to take up this as a subject for an address before the Ceilidh here at no distant date. Surnames only come into use in the twelfth century. Had you lived then you would perhaps be known by some physical deformity, or other characteristic, or by the occupation you followed. One of the early kings of Scotland was known by his big head, Callum Canmore. Hadour Saviour lived at the present day he would have been called in the Gaelic "Mac-an-t'saoir," or in plain English, Jesus M'Intyre. In the 1719 Session records we find three of the SILLARS clan in the Session. First we have Patrick M'Nargid, Patrick Silver, and John M'Nargenach. Those of you who have the Gaelic will see that they all mean one and the same thing, the worker or engraver in silver. (Now, at this stage, I would say to you young men, if you want a most interesting subject for the Ceilidh, take the derivation of Arran names.) The name in the course of its evolution appears as Sellar (Marchioness of Graham), now is a Sillars, whether the evolution has ceased is open to conjecture. This clan was numerous in 1830. We find four families of that name in Banlikan, in Auchincar, one in Glaister, one in Tormore, and one in Torbeg.
THOMSONS. The Thomsons came to Arran from Argyllshire, farmed in Auchincar. There are no Thomsons in the district now. One cannot mention clans without associating certain christian names with those clans, for instance, you could not think of Bannatynes withoutEbenezers and Ronalds; M'Alisters without Hectors and Matthews;M'Kenzies without Gilberts and Angus; Robertsons, Archibalds and Charles; Sillars without Malcolms; and Curries without Johns and Donalds, and M'Brides without Peters. I was very surprised at findings o many Old Testament names among the christian names of the clans of Arran. Now, just listen-Adam, Abraham, Gershom, Moses, Joseph, Samuel, David, Solomon, Ebenezer, Ephraim, Jeremiah and Daniel. I think we find here a solution to what happened to the lost tribes of Israel-they may have found sanctuary in Arran. I will now come to what to some of you at least be more interesting-how these clans moved, lived and had their being in those far-off days. Before doing so I would like to read to you some extracts of the Kilmory Session records that will throw some light on the customs and life of the people. The first entry is dated in 1701. A woman at Whitefarland is inflicted with ex-communication for six fortnights. 1719-Wm. M'Rob, Torbeg (my own ancestor) , severely rebuked before the congregation for grinding corn on the Fast Day. 1719-Donald Shaw,Tormore, takes his wife, Janet Hamilton, before the Session for throwing a pair of shears at him, and wounding him very severely in the arm. Asked why she did so, replied that her husband was bawling and swearing, was told she should have tried more peaceful methods, and was severely censured by the Session, had to stand before the congregation to be rebuked publicly as a warning to other spouses in the district. 1715-Session pays Hector Bannatyne ?2 for teaching poor children at Drumaghiner. Paid Wm. Russell 1/- for herding horses at Communion time. 1724-Alexr. M'Alister, Machray, lost his wife after giving birth to twins, did inform Session that he is unable to support same, prays the Session to allow him to "thig" the Parish. Session views the petition with favour, allows him twelve months to thig the Parish, gives him a line to Kilbride Session. This means going round with a bag collecting handfuls of corn. 1724-Twelve men called before the Session for going out to a ship in the Channel on the Sabbath Day. Said they thought the ship was signalling for a pilot. Asked why it needed twelve men to go out, admitted that they took brandy ashore, confessed their fault, and sin, and were fined 5/- per man. Money to be put in the poor box. 1764-Session instructs that only Schoolmasters be appointed who are able to teach Latin, Gaelic, Navigation, Mathematics, book-keeping, and Church Music. Rev. Angus M'Millan, in his statistical account, says, "The people are generally tall, at least they are above the middle height, athletic and very well made. Their features are open and regular, and they look remarkably well formed. The women are taller, handsomer, and better looking than in most other parts of the country. The remarks apply generally to all parts of the parish." The power of the Church was great and its arm was long. There are instances of it reaching people even as far as Ireland. We may, in these enlightened days, smile at their crude methods, but I'm sure we will all agree they carried out their duties conscientiously according to their lights. I only came across one case of theft before the session, and that was not proven. They dealt very severely with those who strayed from the paths of virtue. Whether this harsh treatment had the desired effect is open to conjecture. I have gone through the Kilmory records very carefully seeking to find some reference to the stirring events that were shaking Scotland to its foundations. Arran seems to have been undisturbed by several of the issues which elsewhere lead to the shedding of blood. We have no knowledge of sufferers for the Covenant in Arran, though there were many in the neighbouring country of Ayrshire who were hunted like deer in the hills and moss hags of their native land. Nor do we find any reference to the '45 which ended so disastrously at Culloden. The Session at Kilmory seems to have been undisturbed to any extent. Now, cast back your minds and picture Shiskine four centuries ago-no hedges, no roads, just bridal tracks, no bridges. The houses were not on their own ground as you see them to-day. They were all clustered into villages or townships, as they were called, something after the style of Auchengallon. Should you with to leave the Island you walked to Brodick, had to ford all the streams on the way across, then cross to Saltcoats by sailing smack, and often storm and calm delayed the vessel, sometimes all night in the Firth. We always went from and came back by Brodick. We look on Brodick as the port of Shiskine. I have already referred to the frequent raids by the clansmen of Kintyre. In the year 1444 to 1447, we have a melancholy record of losses in the Island through devastation by what is termed "those cursed raiders from Kintyre." The country at that time was in such an unsettled state there was no force in being that could be brought into play to prevent them taking place. Arran lay in such close proximity to the Argyllshire coast that it was fairly easy for the M'Alisters and M'Donalds to make frequent incursions that caused so much havoc and loss to the people of Arran. There is a long list of abatement of rents allowed as a result of these raids. The Arran people did not seem to be able to repulse the invaders, nor do we know of any reprisals taken against them. In order to protect their families and property they built forts or Camps which were used in time of danger. The most noteworthy of these is at Drumadoon, splendidly situated on the cliffs some 200 feet above sea level. The cliffs from the bottom to the top are almost perpendicular. The walls round the top were 12 feet thick, enclosing a space of several acres. Its commanding position, and its excellent defenses rendered it almost impregnable, a safe sheltering from the whole district. There were several of those forts serving other districts. None of them were so impressive as the one at Drumadoon. As late as the 15th century we read of the Arran lairds strengthening the defenses on account of the raids of the Kintyre clans. It is unfortunate, owing to the stormy nature of the times and the absence of authentic records the full story cannot be written.