Macalister Clan Centre Established

In September of 1984, Angus Macalister of Glenbarr presented his home, Glenbarr Abbey, to the Macalister clan worldwide for use as a clan centre.

The Macalisters of Glenbarr descend from Ranald Mòr, a younger son of Angus vic Ean Dhù who was chief of the clan c. 1515. More specifically, their ancestor was Ranald Macalister of Skerinish (1715-1762), factor to the MacDonalds of Kingsburgh in Skye. Ranald married Anne MacDonald, Kingsburgh’s daughter, and together they had twelve children, although not all of them survived. The family is most famous for its role in sheltering Prince Charles Edward Stuart as he escaped after Culloden: Flora Macdonald (Anne’s future sister-in-law) brought him to Skye disguised as her maid; he left the following morning wearing one of Ranald’s kilts.[1]

But the family’s later adventures were also impressive. One of their sons, Norman, became the governor of Prince of Wales Island (now Penang). Another, Alexander, purchased the Strathaird estate in Skye (his daughter Janet married into the dispossessed Tarbert line), and Keith purchased the initial properties from which his brother Matthew would build up the Glenbarr estate. Later generations were prominent in the East India Company and in law, and they played a key role in colonising New South Wales. Two of them died in shipwrecks.

The Abbey, which was built by Ranald’s son Matthew (and completed in the 1840s by Matthew’s son Keith), is on the Glenbarr estate in western Kintyre. Glenbarr itself was purchased bit by bit during the early 19th century; it includes most of the lands that once made up the Loup estate. It is the last property in Kintyre to be owned by one of the clan’s leading families. (Nearby Torrisdale Castle was owned by the Strathaird family, but it was sold by them in the late 19th century. The current owners are called Macalister Hall.) By 1843, Keith Macalister was the only heritor in Killean & Kilkenzie parish who lived on his property year-round rather than leaving it to the care of factors.[2]

Angus Macalister died in 2007.[3] Today as he wished Glenbarr Abbey serves as a clan centre, and Macalisters come from all over the world to learn about their history and celebrate their heritage.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]Kingsburgh manuscript, copy in my possession. Original copies are held at Glenbarr Abbey.
[2]New Statistical Account, vol. 7, p. 391 
[3]Angus MacAlister of Glenbarr“, the Scotsman, 17 April 2007. 

Macalisters in Pigot & Co.’s Commercial Directory of Scotland

In August 1837, Pigot & Co. published their National Commercial Directory of the Whole of Scotland and the Isle of Man. Like the directories of various counties in England and Wales and of Ireland, this pre-telephone directory was intended to be an aid to business, and both businesses and individuals are listed with their addresses. General information is given about the towns or parishes listed, and other useful data – such as the names of postmasters, costs of shipping, and timetables for coaches and ships – is also included.

Macalisters by this time are to be found throughout Scotland, but the main Macalister families are still mostly in the west: Charles Somerville McAlester of Kennox, who had been recognised in 1808 as clan chief and proper representative of the Loup family, is in Stewarton, Ayrshire; Keith Macalister is found at Glenbarr, and his mother, the widowed Mrs Matthew Macalister, living in Campbeltown; Angus Macalister is at Balinakill. Keith Macdonald Macalister of Inistrynich – whose wife, Flora, was the daughter of Norman Macalister, late Governor of Prince of Wales Island (Penang) – is named in both Bonawe and Inverary; it is unclear to me whether he held two properties, or whether his property simply lay between the two places and was included in both lists.

Representing the Clann Alasdair Bheag are Major M’Alister of Springbank (Arran) andJames M’Alister of Rothesay (Isle of Bute). Also identified as ‘gentry’ by the directory but of unclear connexion to the others are several Macalisters in Dunbartonshire: James M’Alester and Mrs John M’Alester in Auchincarroch, and Mrs William M’Alester in Dumbarton proper.

Unlike the Directory of Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Seats published twenty years later, however, this directory lists not only the landholdersand representatives of the major families but also ordinary people, working ordinary jobs in numerous places. Members of this clan in 19th-century Scotland appear to have been an industrious lot. Macalisters are well represented in the professions, as schoolmasters in Ardnaw, Rothesay, and Lochwinnoch; two solicitors and a depute session clerk in Dumbarton and Glasgow; surgeons in the Isle of Skye; insurance agents in Paisley and Dumbarton; and clergymen in Edinburgh and Dundee (both Presbyterian, but also apparently both Gaelic speakers, suggesting that their origins lay further west).

Macalisters can also be found as makers and sellers of all sorts of things: They are merchants of food and wine or spirits; ironmongers; tailors and milliners; makers of shoes and household furnishings; of linen, cambric & muslin; of cabinets, candles and trunks. There are stonemasons, tin- and coppersmiths, joiners, coopers and painters. There is a M’Alester selling timber in the shipbuilding trades of the west cost; numerous bakers and an innkeeper. A surprising number of the merchants are women, apparently running their own businesses. Only two of those listed appear to be directly connected to agriculture – one as a cowkeeper and the other milling corn – though there were no doubt numerous tenant farmers who would have had no need to attract business through a directory. 

The directory published by Pigot & Co. in 1837 offers us a contemporary record of the position of early 19th-century Macalisters in Scotland.  It is now available for free online.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

Loup Lands Lost (sort of . . .)

On this day in 1803, William McNeill of Hayfield was seised in (registered as owner of) the Loup lands of Portachoillan, Corran, Margard, Shirgrim, and Shenakeill with the mill, on disposition by trustees for the creditors of Angus McAlester 11th of Loup; McNeill also purchased three merklands of Dunskaig and two merklands of Lemnamuick from Angus’s widow, Jane McDonald, and the wife of their son Charles (these properties were also held by Angus’s trustees.) Angus and Charles had appointed trustees for the Loup lands eight years earlier, giving them the right to sell any or all of the estate in order to pay Angus’s debts.[1] By this time, the Loup family had already settled in Ayrshire, having acquired the Kennox estate by marriage (see Macalister of Loup and Kennox.)

Local historian Ian MacDonald explains the loss of the Loup lands as the result of the family’s support for the Jacobite cause in the ’45, saying that “Generally all of the old Highland estates who supported the House of Stuart failed with the second Jacobite rebellion”.[2] However, the forfeited estates of Jacobite families had been restored to their heirs by 1784, nearly two decades before this occurred. Furthermore forfeited lairds would not have had the luxury of appointing trustees to dispose of their lands or profiting from the sales. 

A more likely explanation is given by Alexander Fraser, who notes that the late 18th century saw the beginnings of “an economic landslide in Mid-Argyll . . . . The accumulated difficulties of more than one hundred years proved insupportable, and the landed families . . . failed, one after another”.[3] Historian T. M. Devine agrees: “Manifestly, the minor lairds were under considerable economic pressure before the 1750s.”[4]

But new families were rising in Kintyre as the old ones disappeared. Within five years of MacNeill’s acquisition, most of the Loup lands were purchased by Keith Macalister of the Kingsburgh family, who was building up what became the Glenbarr estate.[5] In 1984 part of that estate was donated to the clan by Keith’s descendant, Angus Macalister of Glenbarr; it now serves as the Macalister Clan Centre.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] “Clan McAlester” Report, p. 5

[2] personal correspondance with Ian MacDonald, Oct. 2000

[3] North Knapdale in the XVII and XVIIIth Centuries, p. 81. 

[4] Scotland‘s Empire and the Shaping of the Americas, p. 67

[5]  For some time after this, apparently assuming that the designation went with the property, Keith and his close relatives titled themselves ‘of Loup’. (see, e.g., NSA, vol. 14, p. 305). However, in 1847, the Lord Lyon recognised Charles McAlester of Loup and Kennox as the “heir male and representative of the ancient family of the Macalesters of Loup.” (“Clan McAlester” Report, pp. 9–10; Castleton, p. 173), decreeing that the designation ‘of Loup’ remained with that family despite the loss of the Loup lands.

Macalisters in the 1857 Gentlemen’s Directory

In March of 1857, the Directory to Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Seats, Villages, etc. etc. in Scotland: Giving the Counties in which they are situated, the post-town to which each is attached, and the name of the resident was published in Edinburgh under the patronage of the Scottish post office. The information for this directory was obtained by means of questionnaires sent to post offices and individual residences. If a questionnaire was not returned, no information could be given about the residents, but the place was listed anyway so that the information could be included later.

The Directory gives us a glimpse of the location of significant Macalister families in Scotland at this time. The chiefly family had settled in Ayrshire some time before this, and there they are found in 1857: Major Somerville Macalister, proprietor of Kennox House, is the clan chief, Charles the 13th of Loup; also living at Kennox House is C[harles] S[omerville] M’Allister, the future 14th of Loup. James Macalester of Chapelton, near Stewarton (Ayrshire) is the brother of the chief – he is erroneously called John in the index.

N. M. Macalister, MD, represents both the Tarbert family (on his father’s side) and the Strathaird family (through his mother). This is Norman, brother of Alexander of Torrisdale who had by this year removed himself and his family from Scotland. Norman seems to have been left in charge of the Strathaird estate, although most historical references to the estate indicate that Alexander was the actual proprietor.

The Clan Alasdair Bheag is represented by James D. Macalister, a farmer in Kilcattan (Bute), and Robert Macalister of Ascog (also Bute). There are also three whose origins are not clear: Reverend D. M’Allister at Stitchell Manse (4 miles from Kelso in Roxburghshire); Archibald Macalister of West Clyth Cottage, Caithness; and William & John Macalister, thread manufacturers in Paisley, who I’m guessing were probably brothers.

It appears that Glenbarr, Balinakill, and Inistrynich were among the questionnaires not returned. The places are listed, but no further information is given. This is unfortunate, because aside from Glenbarr (which was owned by Keith Brodie Macalister), I am not sure who was living in the other two locations. Angus of Balinakill had died in 1839; his only child, Charlotte, married Edward Seaton in 1846, and by 1861 was living in England.[1] The Inistrynich estate had passed on the death of Keith Macdonald Macalister (about 1855) to his daughters Ann Amelia Crichton and Margaret Frances North. However, Ann and Charles Crichton were living in Fort William and Margaret and Brownlow North in Oxford, so neither seems to have taken up residence on their father’s estate.[2] It’s possible that their step-mother and young half-sister were still living there, but by 1858, when the property was rented by the painter Philip Gilbert Hamerton, ownership had evidently passed to William Campbell Muir.

The Directory of 1857 can be found online here.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] Sir William MacKinnon did not purchase the Balinakill estate until 1867.
[2] Journal of the House of Lords, vol. 88 (1856-7), pp. 49-50ff.