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. 

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.

Ranald, Tutor of Loup

On this day in 1607, Ranald Mcalaster, tutor of Loup, signed a bond of manrent “to James Marquis of Hamilton . . . for himself and taking burden for Alester Makalester, Hector Mcalaster his brother, sons to the late Charles Mcalaster of Dowpyne [Dewpin], and all others of his kin and clan of Mcalaster binding them to do no hurt to the Isle of Arran, under a penalty of 6,000 merks, for 2,000 of which John Kennedy of Blairquhan is cautioner. Mcalaster signs by the hand of a notary. At Hamilton, 26 June 1607.”[1]

A ‘tutor’ was the person – often but not always a close relative – who took control of a deceased landowner’s estate when the heir was under the age of 14. For a brief time, the tutor was authorised to make decisions and alliances for the young heir – and indeed for the whole clan, as this bond illustrates; but when the ‘pupil’ came of age, the tutor was required to relinquish control.[2] The young Macalister chief at this time was Hector, 6th of Loup, whose father Godfrey had been the second son of Eachann (Hector), 3rd of Loup; Godfrey succeeded at the death of his elder brother, Alexander. It is possible that Ranald was a third brother in the same family and was thus young Hector’s uncle. However, I have no evidence for this and am not yet sure where Ranald fits into the family.

Judging from the phrasing of the bond, certain Macalisters at this time were still causing problems for the Isle of Arran.  The sons of Charles Mcalaster of Dewpin are mentioned specifically. They represent the future Kingsburgh family, who seem to have held Dewpin (later called Torrisdale) since at least 1541 and from whom descend both the Strathaird and Glenbarr lines. The property is on the eastern side of Kintyre, granting easy access for raids on Arran and Bute, if that is indeed what the sons of Charles were up to.

Whatever the specific details, this bond shows a Tutor of Loup going about the business that had been entrusted to him – protecting the chief’s interests by ensuring that his clansmen behaved themselves until the chief himself was old enough to control them.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

NOTE: Further research has revealed that Ranald the Tutor of Loup was Ranald of Dunskeig, a younger son of Charles, 3rd of Tarbert. He is on record (as both ‘of Dunskeig’ and as Tutor of Loup) in numerous records, one of which identifies him as the brother of Archibald, 4th of Tarbert. The Dunskeig property was traditionally held by a younger son of the Tarbert laird. [LM – 26 Nov. 2019]

[1]Hamilton Manuscripts (Historical Manuscripts Commission), p. 46.
[2]The relationship wasn’t always ideal — in 1597, Godfrey Macalister (Hector’s father) actually murdered his former tutor (A Macalister Murder), and more than one tutor over the centuries had trouble stepping aside when the time came. 



On this day in 1746, the last pitched battle on British soil was fought at Culloden Moor between the Jacobite forces under Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the forces of King George II under the Duke of Cumberland. It was the final act in a story that had begun in 1688, when Charles Stuart’s grandfather, King James VII/II[1], fled his kingdom and was replaced by William of Orange. William, who claimed the thrones of Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales by right of his wife, Mary (James’s daughter), had been invited to replace the Catholic King James by the leaders of the Protestant establishment. After holding out in Ireland for a time, James eventually went into exile on the Continent.

Though King James never returned to Britain, some in Britain remained loyal to him and his family, and his son and grandson both attempted to retake their kingdoms by force. The rising of 1745 was the last and most successful of these attempts. Gathering his forces as he went, Charles captured Edinburgh and marched into England – so far south that London seriously began to panic. And then, for no apparent reason, the Jacobites withdrew. Despite a few military successes during their retreat, they were chased into the Highlands to Culloden, where in the space of an hour they were utterly defeated. Once those on the field had been killed, Cumberland’s forces began to chase down those who had escaped, anyone who had supported them . . . and some who’d had nothing to do with the rebellion at all. So many people were killed off the field that Cumberland became known as ‘the Butcher of Cumberland’. Even so, many of those who had survived Culloden reassembled several days later, willing to fight on. But Charles knew the cause was lost. He dismissed his followers, urging them to save their own lives. 

Although the story is well known, a number of misconceptions are often accepted as fact – perhaps especially in the New World, where the details of the conflict itself are largely forgotten. For example, the Rising of 1745-6 had nothing to do with Scottish independence. The Stuart kings had been kings of England as well as Scotland since 1603; they had, frankly, preferred England. Neither Charles Stuart (The Young Pretender) nor his father (The Old Pretender) had any intention of setting up a kingdom in Scotland and leaving their cousins on the throne to the south. It is true that there was greater support in Scotland than in England for the House of Stuart. However, not only were there Jacobites among the English, but a decent number of English soldiers deserted to the Jacobites during the campaign.[2]

“The ’45” was also not a matter of Highlanders versus Lowlanders. Again, there were more of the former than the latter in their ranks, and certainly the Highlanders bore the brunt of the government’s retaliation. But parts of Lowland Scotland – particularly the northeast (where Marischal College in Aberdeen saw all but one of its professors deposed for Jacobitism after the rising of 1715) – were considered hotbeds of Jacobite activity. Whole units of Lowlanders are included among the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46.[3] In fact, if there was any clear division between those who supported the Stuarts in 1745 and those who did not, it was along religious lines. Catholics in Scotland and England of course supported the Stuarts, but research has shown that the vast majority of the Jacobite forces in Scotland were Episcopalians[4]; it’s likely that in Scotland the Jacobite cause was seen by some of these as the only defence against total Presbyterian dominance.[5]

The Macalisters as a clan did not fight at Culloden – indeed, there are not that many of them named in the Muster Rolls or the prisoner lists. The Loup family had always been Jacobites, as were the Tarbert family early on; by the time of the last rising, however, the Tarbert family were once again tenants of the anti-Jacobite Campbells of Argyll, and Tarbert allowed a force to be stationed on his land specifically to prevent local Jacobites from joining Charles’s army. It is possible, too, that Loup was one of the many Highland chiefs who thought the rising of 1745 doomed from the start and opted to sit it out. 

Nonetheless, individual Macalisters did serve in Charles’s army as part of the Clan Donald contingent. Seven of them are known to have survived the battle of Culloden, though at least six of these were later captured. And one branch of the clan found another way to serve ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’: It was to the home of Ranald and Anne Macalister of Kingsburgh in Skye that Flora MacDonald brought Charles Stuart – famously dressed as her maid – during his escape back to France after the defeat at Culloden.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]The king was the seventh King James of Scotland; he was only the second King James of England.
[2]Seton & Arnot, The Prisoners of the ’45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1928).
[3] Livingstone of Bachuil, Aikman & Hart, eds., Aberdeen University Press, 1984. See also McDonnell, Jacobites of 1715, North East Scotland, and Jacobites of 1745, North East Scotland (Clearfield, 1997).
[4]“Well over 75 percent of the manpower mobilized for the Stuarts consisted of Episcopalians”, according to Andrew MacKillop of Aberdeen University (Oxford Companion to Scottish History, p. 350).
[5]When the Scottish bishops refused to support him, William of Orange gave in to the demands of the Estates of Parliament that prelacy be abolished and Presbyterianism established as the official Church of Scotland.

Col. Macalister, Governor of Penang

Col. Norman Macalister of the Kingsburgh family was sworn in as lieutenant-governor of Penang on this day in 1807. This made him ruler of part of the British Empire, but not an employee of the British government. In fact, Penang, then known as Prince of Wales Island, was governed by the Honourable East India Company, a nineteenth-century mega-corporation that resulted from several mergers of similar companies in the preceding century.

Like those it absorbed, the HEIC began as a commercial venture, trading with the far-flung colonies of the British Empire. Although its commercial activities continued, by 1807 the Company had found a new role in the Empire: serving as proxy government to a good number of Britain’s colonial possessions in the east. It had its own armies, fought its own wars, and in some places it even issued its own money.

The Kingsburgh family was deeply involved with the Company. Five of Col. Macalister’s brothers served the Company in India; three of them died there. One of his nephews served with him in Penang; a second nephew would die in the Company’s service in 1825 in Italy. His younger daughter married an HEIC man. 

As for Governor Macalister himself, he served in Penang’s top post until 24 March 1810, when he was appointed second member of the governing council and commandant of local forces. The legacy of his time in office includes the present structure of Fort Cornwallis, built by convict labour during his term, and two streets named in his honour in the capital city. But he, too, was destined to die in the Company’s service – or at least on its ship: Shortly after his term as governor ended he went down with the HEI Ocean in the South China Sea, apparently on his way home to Scotland.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011