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Clan MacNeil

Clan MacNeil are a chiefly Scottish family associated primarily with the island of Barra.


Clan MacNeil, also known in Scotland as Clan Niall, is a highland Scottish clan, particularly associated with the Outer Hebridean island of Barra. The early history of Clan MacNeil is obscure, however despite this, the clan claims to descend from the legendary Irish King Niall of the nine hostages through his descendant, Aodh, or Anrothan.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref>

The MacNeils of Barra claim descent from a prince of the Uí Néill dynasty, Ánrothán Ua Néill, son of Áed, son of Flaithbertach Ua Néill, King of Ailech and Cenél nEógain, died 1036. Anrothan emigrated to Scotland in the 11th century. Anrothan is claimed as ancestor of several clans in the Argyll vicinity: Clan Lamont, Clan Maclachlan Clan MacEwen of Otter, and also the Irish Sweeneys (MacSween). If the MacNeils are indeed connected to Anrothan, then they appear to have been a junior branch of the family and were certainly overshadowed in the 13th century by the MacSweens, Lamonts and descendants of Gilchrist.

Barra means the 'island of St. Barr' but it is unclear whether this is St Fionnbar, the founder of Cork, or St. Barr, great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref> Neil Mcneil, fifth of Barra, was described as a prince at a council of the Isles in 1252. He was still the chief at the time of the Battle of Largs in 1263. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref>

There is a branch of the clan in Argyll who some historians have speculated may be older or even unrelated. They are associated with Gigha and Colonsay. <ref>David Dorward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames, 230</ref>

More than 1000 different spellings of the family name are recognised. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

Middle Ages

545px-Arms of MacNeil of Barra.svg.png

The fifth chief, Neil MacNeil, was described as a Prince at a Council of the Isles in 1252 and aided in defeating the Norse at the battle of Largs in 1263. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

Neil Og Macneil fought with Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn and was rewarded with lands in north Kintyre which were added to his barony of Barra.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref> The ninth chief, Gilleonan received a charter of Barra and Boisdale from the Lord of the Isles in 1427.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref>

Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

The remoteness of Barra allowed the chiefs to remain powerful well into the early modern period.

The ninth chief was one of the island lords tricked into attending on James V at Portree, where they were arrested and imprisoned. MacNeil was held captive until the king's death in 1542, when he was released by Regent Moray who sought to use the chiefs to balance out the growing power of the Campbells.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref>

In 1579 the Bishop of the Isles made a complaint of molestation against Macneil of Barra.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref> His grandson, Ruari, the fifteenth chief has been described as the 'last of the Vikings' , raiding from his island castle of Kisimul.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref> The king eventually issued letters demanding that loyal vassals 'extirpate and root out' the chief and clan of MacNeil. The chief's two marriages had resulted in rival factions who contested the succession. The Maclean faction supporting the son of his first marriage, surprised Kisimul Castle with 20 men armed with ‘swords, gauntlets, plate-sleeves, bows, darlochs, dirks, targes, Lochaber axes, twohanded swords and other weapons invasive.’ <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

Ruari was captured by his own nephews and taken in chains to Edinburgh.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 254</ref><ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

His son, Neil Og, had a more conventional attitude towards central authority and was appointed a Colonel of Horse by Charles I, fighting at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 255</ref> He reintroduced Catholicism to the southern Hebrides. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

His successor, Roderich Dhu, 'the black' was well received at Court and in August 1688 he received a crown charter to convert Barra into a free barony.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 255</ref>

In 1675 a Glasgow coal merchant issued MacNeil with a writ for debt, forcing the King’s Messenger to voyage from Glasgow only to find that he was refused entry to the castle and welcomed with shots from the ramparts and boulders being dropped on them from the ‘murder hole’ above the doorway so that they were ‘in hazard of being brained.’ The writ was left on the rocks whereupon a sally from the castle caught the messenger, and his writ was ripped up in front of his eyes. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

The incoming Catholic King James VII regranted the Crown Charter.<ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref> Roderich Dhu supported Viscount Dundee's rising against William of Orange and led clansmen at the Battle of Kilicrankie in 1689. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 255</ref>

Eighteenth Century

Roderich Dhu rallied to the Jacobite cause in 1715 and as a result his two sons went into exile in France. One, Roderick, was imprisoned for many years and was not released until 1747. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 255</ref> During this era there was mass emigration from Barra to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. During the chiefship of Colonel Roderick (c.1755–1822) Barra suffered its first mass emigrations, ironically the chief described himself as a melieuratier (an "improver"). <ref>Gibson, John G. Old and New World Highland Bagpiping. (MacGill-Queen's University Press, 2002) 103-107</ref>

The collapse of the kelp industry after the end of the Napoleonic Wars bankrupted General Roderick Macneil of Barra, and the islands were sold in 1838 to Colonel Gordon of Cluny.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 255</ref><ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref> One mass exodus of Barra folk was led by Gilleonan, elder son of the chief. This consisted of 370 Catholic Barra islandees (about 75 families in total) who emigrated in August to Pictou, Nova Scotia.<ref>Gibson, John G. Old and New World Highland Bagpiping. (MacGill-Queen's University Press, 2002) 103-107</ref>

The Gordon ownership of the islands was marked by antagonism and exploitation of the islanders. <ref>Tom Johnston, Our Noble Landed Families</ref>

Twentieth Century

The chiefship passed to a cousin of the death of General MacNeil. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 255</ref> Unlike many other chiefs who had emigrated, in 1937 Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Clan Chief, an American citizen and trained architect, succeeded in buying back the Island of Barra.<ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref> Immediately he began work restoring the castle, aided in part by funds from a British Government grant. By his death in 1970 he had completed the restoration of the castle.

His son, Ian MacNeil (1929-2010), twenty-sixth chief, was an active clan chief, described as 'much loved and respected on Barra'. <ref></ref> In 2003 MacNeil gifted Barra to its inhabitants. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref> In 2001 MacNeil gifted Kisimul Castle to the nation for 1000 years and the token rent of a bottle of whiskey a year. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014) </ref>


The current chief is Rory MacNeil of MacNeil.<ref></ref>

Rory MacNeil of Barra

Other spellings and Associated Names

Macneil, MacNeil, Macniel, MacNiel, Macneill, MacNeill, Macneal, MacNeal, Macneale, MacNeale, MacNeilage, Macneilage, MacNelly, Macnelly, MacNeally, Macneally, Mcneil, McNeil, Mcniel, McNiel, Mcneill, McNeill, Mcneal, McNeal, Mcneale, McNeale, McNeilage, Mcneilage, McNelly, Mcnelly, McNeally and Mcneally; also: Neil, Neal, Neale, Neill, Niel, O'Neal, O'Neil, O'Niel, Nelson, Neilson and Nielson and variants of these.

Other family names recognized as loyal to the proud traditions held by the chief include: MacGougan, Macgougan, MacGrail, Macgrail, MacGugan, Macgugan, MacGuigan, Macguigan, McGougan, Mcgougan, McGrail, Mcgrail, McGugan, Macgugan, McGuigan, and Mcguigan.

Names associated with the clan: MacNeil Of Barra: Gugan MacGougan MacGrail MacGreal MacGreil MacGreill MacGuckin MacGugan MacGuigan MacGuoga MacKneale MacKnilie MacKnily MacNail MacNaill MacNale MacNeal MacNeale MacNeall MacNeel MacNeelie MacNeil MacNeill MacNeille MacNeillie MacNeilly MacNele MacNelly MacNely MacNeyll MacNial MacNiel MacNielie MacNillie MacNily MacReil MacReill MacReull Magneill Magreill Makneill Maknely Makneyll Maknill Nail Neal Neale Neil Neill Neilly Niall Niel