Story of the Clan


story_mapThe MacFarlane homeland is located in the Highlands of Scotland between Loch Long and Loch Lomond, having the same boundaries as the Parish of Arrochar. For over five centuries this area was held by the Chiefs of Clan MacFarlane and before them by their ancestors, the Celtic Earls of Lennox. A Saxon male line ancestry was first proposed for this family in Crawford’s Peerage in 1716. Walter MacFarlane, the renowned antiquarian, in his Notes on Genealogy (available on microfilm from the National Library of Scotland) also held this belief. On the other hand, William F. Skene, (in The Highlanders of Scotland, Vol. II p 149), provides a Celtic descent of this family. These sources base their statements on the old Celtic genealogy of Duncan, eighth Earl of Lennox, who was executed in 1425, and the coming of age poem composed for Alwyn, last Mormaer and first Earl of Lennox in the twelfth century. This Alwyn was the son of Murdac (son of Maldouen son of Murdac) and his wife who was a daughter of Alwyn MacArkil (son of Arkil son of Ecgfrith in Northumbria). When the first earl died his children were still minors so the king warded the earldom to his own brother David, Earl of Huntingdon.  By 1199 Alwyn, the second Earl of Lennox, had finally succeeded his father.  The second earl may have had as many as ten sons.  Among the youngest (maybe seventh) was Gilchrist who obtained a charter to the barony of Arrochar from his eldest brother Maldouen, third Earl of Lennox.  Although the charter is not dated, it bears the seal of King Alexander II (r. 1225 – 1239), and is thought to be from the earlier part of his reign. Gilchrist’s son, Malduin, is said to have befriended and aided Robert the Bruce during his fight for independence from the English.  He and his followers are reported to have fought at Bannockburn in 1314.  Robert I granted a charter to a Dougal MacFarlane for the lands of Kindowie and Argushouche, etc., but it isn’t known who this Dougal was, or where he was from originally.The clan takes its name from Malduin’s son, Pàrlan.  All we know about him is that he lived during the reign of Robert I and David II (r. 1329 – 1371).  There is a strong possibility that he, too, fought at Bannockburn for the Bruce, but there is no way to be certain at this time. Nevertheless, his place in this chronicle is of the highest importance, as he provided the surname for his descendants and their followers. Malcolm Mac Phàrlain, his son, received the first charter for the lands of “Arrochar above Luss” made out to a “Mac Phàrlain” in about 1344 from Donald, the sixth Earl of Lennox. The name, Pàrlan, has been linked to Partholán in Irish myths and legends. Gaelic grammar requires changes within a word to indicate possession. A “P” is softened to a “Ph”, and an “i” is added to the last syllable.  In this way, “son of Pàrlan” becomes Mac (son) Phàrlain (of Pàrlan). In many 18th, 19th and 20th century books, it is said that “Pàrlan” or “Partholán” are Gaelic forms of “Bartholomew”.  Linguistic studies of Old Gaelic and Old Irish Gaelic have shown this to be an invalid assertion.  In fact, both languages use the Latin form, “Bartolomeus” in their early liturgical writings in Latin and in Gaelic-language Bibles.  It is far more likely that “Partholán” and “Pàrlan” are remnant names from the pre-Gaelic languages of Ireland and Britain.

story_castleWhen Duncan, the last Celtic Earl of Lennox, his son-in-law, and two of his grandsons were executed by James I in 1425, there were some who considered that the MacFarlanes were the legitimate heirs to the Earldom.  However, Iain (John), the 7th Chief, didn’t have enough political power to make the claim stick.  The title was given by the Crown to John Stewart, Lord Darnley. Over a period of nearly fifty years, the MacFarlanes sought to oppose the Stewarts, but they proved too powerful.  In 1486, John Stewart finally overrode all opposition, becoming the ninth Earl of Lennox.  About two years later, Andrew MacFarlane the 10th Chief, married Stewart’s younger daughter, forging a new alliance. Thereafter, the MacFarlanes followed the new earls of Lennox in most of the major conflicts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The 11th Chief and many of his clansmen fell at Flodden in 1513. The MacFarlanes later opposed the English at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547 where Duncan the 13th Chief and his uncle were killed along with many others.

After the murder of Henry Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots’ second husband, the MacFarlanes opposed the Queen and were noted for their bravery at the Battle of Langside in 1568.  It is reported that the MacFarlane Chief, Andrew, and 300 of his clansmen turned a flank of Mary’s forces, and captured three of their opponents’ standards.  The valour of Andrew and his men was rewarded by the Regent, James, Earl of Moray, with the Clan’s original crest and motto.  The crest and motto alludes to the defense of the Crown and Kingdom.  Mary had abdicated previously in favour of her infant son, so she was actually in rebellion against the Crown, Moray, and James VI during these times.

plateFor much of their history, the MacFarlanes were a very turbulent lot. Their rallying cry, “Loch Sloy”, signalled many a night raid to “collect” cattle from their richer neighbors to the south and east. Their march-piobaireachd “Thogail nam Bo theid sinn“(To Lift the Cows We Shall Go) gives ample notice of intent. They were so competent that the full moon was known as “MacFarlane’s Lantern”.  In 1592, the Clan was accused of slaying the Colquhoun of Luss and was outlawed.  It no sooner got out from under that ban, than it were named in legislation in 1594, as being required to provide surety for good behaviour.  Feuds, reiff (cattle raids), murder, fire-raising (arson), and even sorning (taking food and drink without payment) were commonplace accusations against the MacFarlanes and their allies during this period.  They had to establish their homes on the islands of Inveruglas and Eilean a’ Bhùth (now called Island I Vow).  This last was burned out twice during the Cromwellian invasions in the mid-17th century. John “Môr”, the 17th chief, Andrew, the 18th and his son, John, the 19th, managed to bring a level of prosperity to their people that allowed the latter John to build “Arrochar House” in New Tarbet, now the village of Arrochar on Loch Long.

Walter, the 20th Chief, (1705 – 1767) was a renowned scholar and antiquarian. William F. Skene, the 19th Century Scottish scholar wrote of him:

walter“Walter Macfarlane, of that ilk, who is as celebrated among historians as the indefatigable collector of the ancient records of the country, as his ancestors had been among the other Highland chiefs for their prowess in the field. The most extensive and valuable collections which his industry has been the means of preserving form the best monument to his memory, and as long as the existence of the ancient records of the country, or a knowledge of its ancient history, remain an object of interest to any Scotsman, the name of Macfarlane will be handed down as one of its benefactors. The family itself, however, is now nearly extinct, after having held their original lands for a period of six hundred years.”

At present, the Clan Chiefship is dormant.  However, the Clan MacFarlane Society, Inc. has been recognised by the Court of the Lord Lyon as an official  representative of the clan, with a grant of arms in the year 2000. The Clan MacFarlane Heritage Trust was founded by the International Clan MacFarlane Society, Inc. to create a Heritage Centre in Scotland for the preservation and presentation of MacFarlane Heritage and the Loch Lomond area.

After Death Remains Virtue


Memorial stone to the Macfarlane chiefs in the wall of the kirk at Luss. Inscription: "After Death Remains Virtue."

Plant Badge: European Cranberry

Slogan: Loch Sloy (Loch Sloidh - The Loch of the Host)

Motto: This I'll Defend

Crest: A demi-savage brandishing in his dexter a broad sword Proper and pointing with his sinister to an Imperial Crown or standing by him on the wreath.

Arms of the Chief: Argent, a saltire engrailed between four roses Gules

Supporters: (on a wavy compartment) Two Highlanders armed with bows and arrows, all proper.