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Clan and Tartan

Tartan Tuesday: Clan Mackay

Tartan Tuesday: Clan Mackay
By Kirsty McIntyre


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In Gaelic: Mhic Aoidh (Translates approximately to "Son of Fire")
Clan motto: Manu Forti ("With a strong hand")
Pipe music: Bratach Bhan Chlann Aoidh (The White Flag of Mackay)


Clan Mackay are an ancient clan originating from the far Highlands of Scotland. Their lands historically encompass the northwestern area of Sutherland, and the area became known as "Strathnaver" after the River Naver which flows through the territory.

The early genealogy of Clan Mackay is unclear. It is speculated that they may be one of the tribes expelled from the district of Moray during the The Meic Uilleim Rebellions. Other theories are that the clan chief of Mackay shares a common ancestor with the chiefs of Clan Forbes and Clan Farquharson.

Clan Mackay are famous for long-running feuds with a number of their neighbouring Highland clans, including Macleod of Lewis, Ross and Sutherland. The Mackay feud with Clan Sutherland is one of the most well documented, and was ongoing between the 14th and 16th century. It reportedly dates from the murder of clan chief Iye Mackay at Dingwall Castle by Lord Nicholas Sutherland of Duffus, and ended in 1588 when chief Huistean du Mackay married the daughter of the 12th Earl of Sutherland.

Clan Mackay supported Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence, but positioned themselves on the side of the British government during the Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century, fighting against the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden.

By the 19th century Clan Mackay's influence in the Highlands was declining as the Sutherlands became more and more powerful. The Strathnaver lands were gradually bought up by the Sutherlands, and became the site of some of the most devastating acts of the Highland clearances.

As one of the most ancient and powerful clans from the clan era, there are a number of castles in Scotland with ties to the Mackay clan heritage. Most notably, Castle Varrich in the village of Tongue in Sutherland is recognised as the ancient seat of Clan Mackay.

There are also Mackay holds in Farr, Thurso and Caithness.

Strathnaver is still known as the historic lands of Mackay, and there are six "Mackay Country" stone signs placed in locations around the ancient lands of the clan in Sutherland, welcoming people to the ancient clan lands.


The current head of Clan Mackay is the 15th Lord Reay, Aeneas Simon Mackay, and the present seat of the Clan Mackay is Ophemert Castle in the Netherlands.

Notable MacKays

Scottish explorer John Mackay, from Inverness, gave his name to the city of Mackay in Queensland, Australia. The pronunciation of the city's name was a point of contention until 2007, when descendants of Mr. Mackay confirmed that the pronunciation was derived from the Gaelic name MacAoidh.

There are a number of prolific MacKays in the world of sport and politics, particularly in Australia and North America. The current president of the Atlanta Falcons football team, Rich McKay, was the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they won the Super Bowl in 2003. His father, John McKay, was the Buccaneers first head coach in 1976.

In the arts, the musician Al McKay is a former member of the band Earth, Wind and Fire, and Gardner McKay was a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 60s.