McAlester of Loup is the chiefly line, represented by William McAlester of Loup. The Loup family was in cahoots with the Macdonalds throughout their time in Kintyre. This means that they, and most of the clan, were on the losing side in many of the famous conflicts in Scotland’s history (though evidence available now suggests they were active supporters of Robert Bruce, contrary to the traditional view of Clan Donald historians). They acquired the Kennox estate through marriage and moved to Ayrshire in the 1700s; later the military took them abroad. The current chief, a veteran of the 1980s Falkland Islands war, lives in England.

MacAlister of Tarbert branched off early from the Loup line. They were constables of Tarbert Castle and held their lands from the Earl of Argyll. This inclined them at times to oppose their chief — for instance, the Tarbert family were committed Hanoverians despite the Loup family’s active association with the Jacobites. After financial trouble cost the Tarberts their lands, the line is difficult to trace. The primary family is believed to be that represented in the early 20th century by Sir Donald MacAlister, a Chancellor of Glasgow University; however, the Strathaird family is also connected.

Macalister of Strathaird and Macalister of Glenbarr: Both of these lines descend from a family of Macalisters who were factors on the Kingsburgh estate in the Isle of Skye; the Kingsburgh Macalisters came to prominence in 1746 by hiding Prince Charles Edward Stuart during his escape after Culloden. In the following generation, they were closely associated with the East India Company, several losing their lives in its service. The oldest surviving Kingsburgh son purchased the Strathaird estate, also in Skye; his daughter Janet married Duncan of Tarbert. Many of that family’s descendants reside in Australia. The youngest surviving son established the Glenbarr family, which was the last of the primary clan families to hold land in Kintyre.* The last laird of Glenbarr, Angus Macalister (d. 2007), donated his home at Glenbarr Abbey to the clan for use as a clan centre.

Alexanders of Menstrie: Contrary to popular belief and the claims of tartan-makers, most Alexanders even in Scotland are not connected to the Macalisters. There were, however, a handful of MacAlisters or MacAlexanders who migrated fairly early to the Lowlands and adopted the English form of the name. The best known of these are the Alexanders of Menstrie, whose most distinguished member was created Earl of Stirling in 1633. The Menstrie family loomed large in 17th century history, both in Scotland, where they were Masters of Works to the Crown of Scotland, and in Canada, where they are remembered as the founders of Nova Scotia.

Macalister of Ceannlochcaolisport: or Kinlochkellisport. This family came into its lands about 1650; in 1716, the last of them wadsetted the properties to Campbell of Shirvan, after which they disappear from the record. Unlike the rest of the clan, they appear to have supported Argyll in 1685, but they also helped their clansmen raid Campbell properties after the 9th Earl was executed. The head of this branch fought alongside Loup in the 1689 Jacobite Rising. Somerled MacMillan suggests they might be part of the Tarbert family.

Clann Alasdair Bheag (or Clan Alister Beg):  The name given to those Macalisters who, after decades of inflicting violent raids on Arran, Bute, and the Cumbraes, decided to settle there. It is thus a territorial description rather than an indication of common descent. Though several writers name them among the ancient native families of these islands, the first on record does not appear until 1440. In the late 1500s, bonds of manrent were signed by the Macalisters living here to the House of Hamilton, who owned the lands. Eventually they were numerous.

*The Torrisdale estate, once owned by the Strathaird family, is still in the possession of a family called Macalister-Hall, but they are not connected to the Strathaird/Glenbarr family, who built Torrisdale Castle, or indeed to any of the primary families. I’m not sure how they fit in. They appear to originate in the Cumbraes, so they may ultimately belong to Clann Alasdair Bheag. Like Glenbarr Abbey, Torrisdale Castle now offers overnight accommodation to visitors.



4 thoughts on “Branches

  1. I have traced my family Ellyson back to the MacAlister I find this very exciting I told my mother who is 88 that she is really a Macalister and one of the sons after John Alexander continued on as Ellyson/Allison

    • Interesting. Allison might occasionally be Macalister, but Ellison is a completely separate name (so is Allison, most of the time). Where did your John Alexander originate?

  2. Hi,
    I’m doing a bit of research on Mcalexanders in Ayrshire (Drummochreen/Corseclays/Dalreoch/Barr) around 1600. I descend from a line that appears in County Down in Ireland on the 1630 and 1641 Muster Rolls. I couln’t find any other Mcalexanders in Scotland within a generation of 1630, so I’m looking into this line. I assume that they came across from Kintyre, and anglicized the name from Macalister, and I’m hoping you can shed some light, or put some flesh to the bones?

    • The MacAlexanders of Corsclays and Dalreoch, as far as I can tell, descend from Godfrey (or Rory – the name appears in Latin as both Gotheris and Rotheris, leading to confusion; I’m inclined to think it was Godfrey, which name was far more common among the MacAlasdairs), son of Alasdair Mòr, the progenitor of the Clan Alasdair. His family settled in the Carrick area of Ayrshire. This is a different family from the MacAlexanders of Menstrie in Stirlingshire, of whom the most famous was the Earl of Stirling. The Menstrie family descend from Gilbert, a son of Godfrey’s brother Donald of Islay (and thus a grandson of Alasdair Mòr). Eventually both lines dropped the ‘mac’ and came to be known simply as Alexander, which makes it very difficult now to know which of the many Alexander families in Scotland are really Macalisters and which are the unrelated majority.

      I don’t know anything about what happen to the Carrick MacAlexanders, but the Menstrie family followed James VI to London (WIlliam Earl of Stirling tutored both Henry and Charles I) in 1603. The male line died out after a few generations, and the rest of them seem to have settled in Northern Ireland.

      If you like, send me your email address (at, and I will send it to a woman who has researched the Ayrshire MacAlisters a fair bit – perhaps she will have more information for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s