Siol Alpin – the seven clans that are ‘the seed of Alpin’

The Siol Alpin seemed a good place to start an occasional feature on the Clans of Argyll – because its origin underlines the centrality of Argyll to Scotland and because not everybody has heard of it.

Cinead mac Ailpin (Keneth MacAlpin), King of the Picts, is tradionally held to have become the first King of Scotland in AD 843, uniting the Scots and the Picts. This was a time when writen records were not kept, so much will remain matter for dispute. MacAlpin was said to have been crowned King at Dunadd Fort in Kilmartin Glen in Mid Argyll. There were certainly crownings there. The hill top, along with some ogham script, has a footprint carved into the stone – a key element in the ritual of the crowning of a King.

Whether or not MacAlpin himself was crowned there, it was his seat and remained the family seat when MacAlpin as King transferred his capital to Scone in Perth.

From Perth, coming successors to the crown were sent to Argyll to prepare for their inheritance and to defend it. This all sounds very ordered. In fact the history of the MacAlpins is a blood-spattered one, with murder after murder as family members dispatched each other to secure the throne for themselves.

This created a situation where there was a MacAlpin King in Scone and a MacAlpin Clan Chief in Argyll. Tensions and conflicts between the two led to the decimation of the clan, the loss of its lands and the absence of a recognised Chief. This 500 year-old situaton has led to the MacAlpins not being recognised as a Clan in their own right – something the Clan MacAlpin Society are disputing in an application for recognition to the Court of the Lord Lyon.

There are two reaosn why the Argyll or MacAlpin Clan may have broken. One was that the authorities at Scone used the Clan lands in Argyll to reward other local clans for loyalty and services – a move with the added advantage of weakening the position of challengers to the King from home territory.

It may also be that the Clan itself, never effective as such anyway, broke as strong family branches of it split away to establish strongholds in the new Kindom of Scotland. Each of these would have taken its own network of clansmen with it. Together, these became the Siol Alpin, a close connection of strong clans allied by a proud blood.

Surnames were not the currency of the Scotland of those days so these branch clans would have taken their names from the patronymic of their progenitor. So the seven clans of Siol Alpin are:

  • Clan Grant
  • Clan Gregor
  • Clan MacAulay
  • Clan MacFie
  • Clan MacKinnon
  • Clan MacNab
  • Clan MacQuarrie

The seven clans share a common bonnet badge – the Scots Pine. Several underline their royal blood in their mottos: Clan Gregor (generally recognised as the senior clan) has S Rioghal Mo Dhream, whose translation from the Gaelic is Royal is My Race. Clan Macfie has Pro Rege, pointing up their Jacobite allegiance meaning, in translation from the Latin, For the King. Clan MacKinnon’s is Cuimhnich bas Alpein which, in translation from the Gaelic, is Remember the death of Alpin.

Behavioural evidence is often cited as proof of the known blood bond between the seven clans of Siol Alpin.

Early on in 1603, the Campbells (of Argyll) persuaded the MacGregors to raid the Lennox clan. This resulted in the MacGregors routing the Lennox-supporting Colquhouns of Luss in something if a slaughter at Glenfruin, with much booty gained. This brought down on them the wrath of James VI who instructed the Duke of Argyll to extirpate the MacGregors – an ironic tasking, given that it was Argyll who had induced them to attack the Colquhours.

However, the name of MacGregor was proscribed. All MacGregors who had fought at Glenfruin were outlawed. Alasdair MacGregor was hanged. Argyll was granted Kintyre as a reward for his efforts. (There is a curious little contemporary note in that the widow of the last, the 12th, Duke of Argyll, now the Dowager Duchess Iona, is a Colquhoun of Luss, married into the family who incited the slaughter of her ancestors at Glenfruin.)

Anyway, during the 17th century proscription of the name MacGregor, the Chief of Clan Grant gave a massive amount of aid to the MacGregors and was very heavily fined for breaking the law in tbis way. The Chief of Grant would have had no reason for doing this at such cost unless he knew himself to be helping and protecting his own Siol Alpin kin.

Later, in the early eighteenth century, there was a two-week long meeting between the Grants and the MacGregors at Blair Atholl to discuss a merging of the clans. Provided the proscription of the MacGregor name could be lifted,  the agreement was that MacGregor would be the name for the combined clan. If it could not be lifted, the name to be adopted was to be MacAlpin of Grant. These promising discussions broke down over the issue of who was to be Chief of the new Clan. Nevertheless, several Grants – including Ballindalloch – went on to demonstrate fidelity to their kinship by adding the MacGregor patronymic to their name.

Other pieces of evidence for the known kinship between the seven clans of Siol Alpin and their individual blood link to Cinead mac Ailpin include:

  • In 1591 Alasdair MacGregor of Glenstrae and Aulay MacAulay or Ardencaple entered into a bond to aid each other against anyone but the King. The document recording the bond includes the sentence: ‘Alexander M’Gregor of Glenstray on the ane part and Awly M’Cawley of Ardingapill on the other part understanding ourselfs and our name to be M’Calppins of auld and to be our just and trew surname’…
  • In 1606 Lauchlan MacKinnon of Strathairdle and Finlay MacNab of Bowaine entered into a bond to aid each other, saying that they: ‘come from ane house and one lineage’.
  • In 1671, Lauchlan MacKinnon of Strathairdle and James MacGregor of MacGregor entered into a bond describing themselves as: ‘twa breethren of auld descent’.
  • in the aftermath of the first failed Jacobite rising in 1715, the lands on the Isle of Skye of Iain Dubh, Chief of Clan MacKinnon, were forfeited under the Act of Attainder. The Chief of Clan Grant then bought these lands from the Government and handed them back to the heirs of Iain Dubh. In the habits of the time, it is unthinkable that Grant would have done such a thing for anyone other than a known blood relative, sharing the special kinship of Siol Alpin.

NOTE: Links to the Clan Societies of the 7 Clans of Siol Alpin are to be found under Clan Associations in For Argyll’s Links Directory.

Some useful ‘lucky dip’ background articles include:

6 Responses to Siol Alpin – the seven clans that are ‘the seed of Alpin’

  1. Pingback: Argyll News: Argyll,Scotland,history,Dunadd: This is Argyll: Dunadd Fort, Kilmartin | For Argyll

  2. A tremendously interesting read – Diary of a Highland Lady (often in two parts) by Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchas. Fantastic detail of every day life, – daughter of the clan chief who escaped his creditors by taking legal post in India (18th century) – just a great read.
    Anne Shaw.

  3. This is my family and the DNA Grant project proves that,we still live in Canada..not alot but we live.

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