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.