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The Official Home of the Clan McLea - the Highland Livingstones







Sir Ian Moncreiffe of that Ilk in his authorative book "The Highland Clans" has written.

 A small sacred Highland clan in the Argyllshire district of Lorn and especially in Appin have long tended to English as Livingstone' their Gaelic name of Macleay, i.e.. Mm Dhunnshleibhe or Son of Dunsleve '. The late Duke of Argyll, a great Gaelic genealogist, wrote of the. Maclays or Mconleas that ' there is little doubt that their eponymic ancestor was Dunsleve, the son of Aedh Alain ', who belonged to that group of clans in the south of Argyllshire-including the Maclachlans, Lamonts, McEwens, MacSwenes and MacNeills descended from the marriage of a local Scottish princess to the Irish prince Anrothan, son of Aodh O'Neill, King of the North of Ireland (1030-1033). 

At this difficult period, when it was becoming convenient for Highlanders to have fixed surnames, often that of a powerful lord taken for protection, the ruler of Lismore was James Livingston of Skirling, of the branch of the Lowland Livingstons who became Earls of Newburgh. He was baron of Biel, also Keeper of the Privy Purse to King Charles I, who in 1641 granted him a nineteen-year lease of the lands and teinds of the bishoprics of Argyll and the Isles, followed in 1642 by a grant of the spiritualities and temporalities of the bishoprics for life, and to his heirs for nineteen years after his death. In 1648, when the King was a prisoner in England, they both found it wise to assign the lease to the victorious Marquis of Argyll who had been present at the Dunavertie massacre.

Before 1648, however, James Livingston of Skirling apparently resided for a while at Achandun Castle on Lismore; and it was probably at this time that the Macleays adopted his surname. Since he was their then overlord, this was perfectly proper by Highland practice, and it had the advantage of being a neutral but powerful Lowland name that tactfully prevented them from having to choose otherwise between the three great Lorn surnames of Campbell, Stewart and MacDougall. So the little sacred clan of Macleays on Lismore became Livingstones. However, as they spell it with an ' e ', it is not so much Leving's Town as Livingstone: which makes at least a modern though artificial difference.

The present head of this sanctified clan is Alastair Livingstone of Bachuil, whose Arms and insignia as 'Baron of the Bachuil in the isle of Lismore, lordship of Lorne and county of Argyll, Heritable Keeper of the Bachuil or Pastoral Staff of St. Moluag' are recorded in Lyon Register. The Gaelic bachuil (from Latin baculum) was a crozier or pastoral staff, and many a saint's bachuil was held by hereditary keepers (usually called dewars) in mediaeval Scotland: but only two or three have survived the Reformation.

St. Moluag's bachuil was eventually entrusted to a line of hereditary dewars, ancestors of these Macleays or Livingstones, who held a tiny ecclesiastical barony on the Isle of Lismore (where there is a Tigh-nan-deora or ' dewar's house'), as the bachuil's hereditary guardians on behalf of the lords of Lorn: now Dukes of Argyll. An ecclesiastic of the clan is said to have founded the castle of Achandun on Lismore, long the bishops' residence. In view of the quasi-sacerdotal character both of dewars and of heralds, it may be noted that the present Baron of the Bachuil's ancestor, lain McMolmore Vic Kevir (i.e. John son of' Maolmoire son of Ivar), Heritable Keeper of the Bachuil in 1544, is also described as signifer (normally ' pursuivant ', but in this case perhaps literally ' ensign-bearer ') to Archibald, Earl of Argyll. Of course, he may also have been one of Argyll's officers-of-arms as well, possibly called Lom Pursuivant. The charter of 1544 confirming him in his lands on Lismore 'with the keeping of the great staff of the blessed Moloc, as freely as the father, grandfather and great-grandfather and other predecessors of the said lain, held the lands of our predecessors, Lords of Lorn, with the keeping of the said staff', is especially interesting, as it was granted by Mac Chailein Mor's heir while staying with Lachlan Maclachlan of that Ilk at Castle Lachlan, and lain MacDougall of Dunollie (Chief of the old royal Clan Dougall of Lorn) was a witness to it. The lands included half of Peynabachuile (Penny- Bachuil).

Dewars were usually heads of cadet branches of the abbatial family. Celtic abbey-lands were held either by the  fine erluma, the kin of the founder saint, or else by the fine grin, the kin of the dynastic granter of the land. As Picts, St. Moluag's kindred would in any case have been reckoned in the female line, and may well have been related in the male line to the kin of the granter, who was presumably the King of Lorn. Certainly the abbey-lands belonged in later times to the local kings who became the lords of Lorn, and whose representative is the Duke of Argyll. In the fifteenth century, a female-line branch of this dynastic stock retained these lands and became the Stewarts of Appin, which means 'abbey-lands'.. The Macleays or Livingstones of Bachuil adhered to the Stewarts of Appin locally and as keepers of the Bachuil to Argyll as lord of Lorn.

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Last modified: September 02, 2004