In these remote regions were raised generations of strong, hardy men and women of strong
convictions, fierce loyalties and seemingly limitless endurance, weaving their particular threads
into the tapestry of history. They lived out their lives in peace when peace was possible, and war
when it was not. Because of the present interest in genealogy, their early history has become of great
The origin of Clan MacMillan is ecclesiastical with its roots in the early Celtic church. The progenitor was a clergyman belonging to the Culdee order, whose priests, unlike those of the Roman church, did not practice celibacy, their office was hereditary and they had no lay order. The name Mac Ghillemhaoil, meaning "Son of the Tonsured One", was the designation by which they were originally known. Later the name became "Clann an Mail" which in English became Clan MacMillan.
In the book "MacMillans and their Septs", Rev. Somerled MacMillan has listed many variations of the name. The writer will not bore the reader with the completed list. However a few Gaelic ones found in records down through the centuries include Gille-na-maoile, Mac-namaoile, MacMolan, McMevlane, McMullane. At the present time there are still several forms Macmillan, MacMillan, McMillan, Mullen, McMullen and MacMillian. Also Browns, Baxters and Bells are septs of the clan, as well as some Blues, Murchisons and Walkers.
Now, from whom have the MacMillans descended? Airbertach had twelve septs inhabiting
territory, known as Mull, Tiree and Iona, at approximately 880-887 A.D. Colonizing of these islands did
not begin probably till quite some time later. It is believed that Airbertach himself did not come to
Scotland until the early part of the eleventh century. His son Cormac had six sons named Guaire,
Fingon, Gille-Chriosd, Gille Adhamnan, Anrias and Fearchar Ruadh. They were the progenitor of several Highland clans. However most interesting is Gille-Chriosd meaning "the servant of Christ" or An Gillamaol, "the tonsured servant", since he was the true progenitor of the MacMillans. The name is derived from the particular tonsure known as tonsure of St. John which differed from the tonsure of the Romans in that the hair was shaved off in front of a line drawn from ear to ear whereas the Roman tonsure was a clean-shaven top with a circlet of hair left to grow around it.
Gille-Chriosd and his family were attached to the Culdee preaching station at Old Spynie, an ancient place of worship, the site of Kintrae Church on Westfield Estate near Elgin.
That the MacMillan clan is very old, in fact, that it is among the oldest of the Highland Clans, can be established by examining an entry in the old book of Deer. Deer was an ancient abbey surrounded by its abbey lands near the monastery of Turriff. The ancient document just mentioned is simply a record of grants of land and offerings made to the Celtic church, from 1000 - 1150 a period of 150 years. It contained sections of the Bible beautifully written by the monks on sheets of parchment. These monks wished to keep records of land transfers, gifts to the church, etc., and did so in Gaelic in the margins of the book. Only one volume was ever in existence and is now in the possession of the Cambridge University Library.
It contains at least two entries which refer to the MacMillans. One mentions Gillchrist, son of Cormac as a witness to a gift of land to Cormac, Bishop of Dunkeld (circa 1132) during King David's reign. The other entry contains among others the name Malcoluim McMolini (Malcolm McMillan) eldest son of Cormac who was also involved in a gift to the church.
During the next few hundred years when times were so turbulent and uncertain in Scotland, the fortunes of the MacMillans ebbed and flowed according to the fortunes of the day. They were forced to leave Old Spynie and removed to Loch Arkaig, Lochaber where they remained for thirty years or more. Another branch moved to Galloway where their descendants still remain.
Many members of the clan fought with Robert Bruce at Bennockburn in 1314 and their help he seems to have appreciated. After the battle, he gave them permission to wear the same colours in their tartan as those in the rampant lion. For quite a number of years, a large group dwelt in peace in Lawers along the River Tay long before the Campbells of Bmadalbane claimed it.
A family's tenure on land depended entirely on the whims of the king or whoever was in control. Displeasure with the clan often arose which meant eviction to some isolated spot and the land over which they had laboured so industriously would go to some of the king's favourites. MacMillans were evicted from Lawers because their nearness to Perth became a threat to King David (circa 1360) and their land was given to a family of Chalmers who did not enjoy their new-found prosperity for long and they, in their turn were also evicted. After this some of the MacMillans returned to the Loch Tay and the River Tay area and settled at Ardtalnaig, Killin and Strathtay.
A short time previous to 1360, John, the first Lord of the Isles was granted extensive land holdings in Kintyre, Knapdale, Mull, Lewis and Skye. Consequently When the Lawers MacMillans found themselves victims of King David's ire, they removed to Knapdale under their first Knapdale chief Malcolm Mor as hereditary squires of the Lord of the Isles.
Because of their bravery, Malcolm Mor and his men were usually chosen to lead the van in any desperate encounter, Tradition has it that Malcolm Mor's charter was engraved on rocks at each corner of the estate. However, if this is true, no trace remains of such markers today but time is a great obliterator.
For many years Knapdale and most of Kintyre belonged to the House of Sween whose stronghold was Sween Castle, reputed to have been built by a Dane.
The ruins of this castle still stand on a formidable promontory looking out over the Sound of Jura. In the 1450's the MacNeils were the hereditary keepers of Sween Castle having taken over from the Campbells who were vassals of the Lord of the Isles. As often happened, a dispute arose between the Lords of the Isles and their vassals which brought about the appointment of the MacNeils to Sween.
By this time Lachlan Og, who took part in the Douglas Rising in 1455, a grandson of Malcolm Mor, was MacMillan chief and a good friend of Hector MacNeil, Lachlan Og's son, Alexander, married MacNeil's daughter Erca. Consequently, in time, probably about 1472, Alexander took over as keeper of Sween and a new wing, MacMillan's Tower, was added to the castle. Unfortunately the MacMillan's sojourn there did not last long. Because of double dealing by the Lord of the Isles, he fell into disfavour with the Scottish Parliament at Edinburgh and was forced to forfeit all his estates. The MacMillans were able to retain a small portion of land in South Kintyre, probably part of Erca's dowry, and there they lived for quite a number of years. It was Erca's husband, Alexander, for whom the famous Kilmory Cross was erected at Kilmory Chapel in South Kintyre.
These two historical spots and Sween Castle are today historical monuments in the care and protection of the Scottish Trust.
Malcolm Mor, first chief of Knapdale, had several sons who seemed to have a penchant for
getting into trouble. The eldest one, John, found himself in such a bad spot, that he fled with six of his
friends (circa 1365) to Lochaber and settled at Tora Mhor, near Fassifern. He, John, became the
progenitor of the Lochaber branch of the clan.
In the latter part of the 14th century, they lived on the shores of Loeb Arkaig. For some time they were in the service of the Camerons who feuded for many years with
the Mackintoshes over a land grab executed by the Camerons. Finally, in 1396, Robert III attempted
to end this feud by having thirty men from each clan fight it out at Perth. To this Barrier Battle, as it
was called, were sent MacMillans to represent the Camerons and they were the proud victors of the
The main branches of the MacMillans in this area were the Murlagans and the Glenpeans but branches spread to other areas - Caillath, Glen Spean, Glen Moriston and Glen Urquhart. Life was very harsh and hard and the clans lived from day to day, using whatever they could to wrest a living for themselves.
When the Jacobite feeling became strong and the dream of restoring the Stuarts to the Scottish throne fired the imagination of the Highlanders, the MacMillan chief was approached to rally the clan in support of the Stuart cause. Although this support was not given, many members of the clan fought at Culloden on that fateful day, April 16, 1746, under other clan chiefs.
Hugh MacMillan was one of the "Men of Glen Moriston" who attended Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden and helped to get him safely out of the Highlands. The Highlanders all suffered greatly at the hands of the English whether they were at Culloden or not. Their homes were devastated, their lands forfeited, their livestock stolen and they themselves hunted like animals. The clan system was destroyed, the wearing of the kilt forbidden and life became completely intolerable. Consequently whole families were uprooted from their old homes and forced to seek new homes across the Atlantic in the New World. Also Highland landlords were discovering that it was to their financial advantage to turn their estates into sheep farms.
So the crofters were forcibly evicted, their homes burned, and the Clearances
(a blot on Scottish History) began at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the
nineteenth century. Hundreds of the crofters, who could manage it, emigrated to different parts of the New
World - Glengarry, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, North Carolina - to name a few. A large emigration
arrived in Glengarry in 1792. Another led by Archibald MacMillan of Murlagan and Allan MacMillan of Glenpean brought two hundred clansmen to Canada in 1802.
These people came to an uncaring, empty, enormous land to start anew. Most of them easily received grants of land. However, there were some who applied time after time, had others intercede for them and still were refused.
It is very easy in writing a background sketch such as this to say, "They were forcibly evicted", or "The clearances began".
However, a glib statement does not take into account the hardship, the heartbreak and the isolation which these people must have experienced in breaking all their ties with home which they knew was permanent. There were no jets flying back and forth then. The only touch they had with the homeland was the very infrequent letters which arrived when some friends or relatives newly emigrated settled near them. Yet they stayed, suffered their setbacks and built for a better future. They were the forerunners of today. They gave us this country and to them we are forever indebted.
MacMillan, Rev. Somerled
MacMillan and their Septs, Davidson Primers,
MacMillan, Rev. Somerled
Bygone Lochaber, Davidson Printers, Glasgow,