About the Clan MacInnes

The name comes from the Gaelic MacAonghais, literally "Sons of Angus":
    Mac means son or family of.
    Aon means one or unique.
    Gusa means choice.

Thus MacAonghais means Unique Choice or Choice One. Mac or Gaelic mhic does not imply strict bloodlines, but could reflect kinship, dependant allies or tenants. There are many Anglicized spellings of the name: McInnis(h), McGinnis, McKinnis, MacAngus, McKynes, M'Aneiss, McCanse, and more. “Mac” and “Mc” are interchangeable. The name Angus, as the stem, is naturally included. In addition, Masters, MacMaster, McNiesh are considered septs of the Clan. That’s another long story. The name “Innes” is often inaccurately linked to MacInnes. Innes is another clan on the opposite side of Scotland and has a later origin in Moray. Innes translates as an river island.

Our distant forebears were among the early inhabitants of Islay, Jura and the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland, generally part of the region known as Argyll, or “coastland of the Gael”. These Celtic, Gaelic-speaking people first appear there as settlers from Ireland in the last years of the 3rd or 4th century A.D. Circa 500, three brothers - Fergus Mor, Loarn, and Oengus, (Fergus, Lorne and Angus) expanded the north Irish kingdom of Dalriada to southwestern Alba. It is now thought that Oengus had already established a colony on Islay and/or Jura and was the master of ships for the new Kingdom. Fergus was the first King. There is speculation that historical documents later linked these three as “brothers” only to assure the kingship lines. Oengus (Angus) is considered to be the first of our Clan and is thought to be buried on Iona. In the ensuing century, Dalriada gained influence and strength, and eventually the indigenous Pictish peoples and their culture were overwhelmed and the entire area became known as Scotland after the “Scotti” immigrants.

Stories and records that mention the MacInnes name go back to the earliest days of Scottish history, c.500 A.D. It is believed that MacInneses lived on Iona with Columba. The time, place and affection for the Church make this feasible. Oengus and his descendants would have exploited their seagoing skills and ventured to Iona at an early time. Iona is the final resting-place of many with our name and lore says that Columba selected the site where the Kiel Church now stands in Lochaline near the castle built by MacInneses.

The MacInneses, MacGillivrays, MacMasters and MacEachearns were original members of an alliance known as Siol Gillebride (Seed of the Servant of St. Bride) somewhat in the manner of Clan Chattan. The great Celtic-Norse warrior Somerled is often referred to as Somerled MacGillebride and his father was believed to be a MacAonghais Chief. Somerled’s grandson was the first of Clan Donald. By the time of Somerled, (killed in 1164), MacInnes people were well established in all of Morvern (the peninsula bounded by Loch Sunnart and Loch Linnhe and adjacent to the Isle of Mull). They moved there probably as a result of constant Viking raids in the islands during the 9th century.

A reliable account tells how MacInnes came to follow Somerled, progenitor of the McDougall and McDonald clans. In the early 12 th century, with Vikings terrorizing their lands, the Chief of MacInnes sought Somerled to seek his aid. A skilled warrior, Somerled agreed to help them if they would follow his directions completely. He told them to kill and skin a herd of longhaired highland cattle, and to then march their normally kilt-clad fighters in plain sight of the invading Vikings. Next they were to dress in the cowhides with the long hair turned outwards and march again before their enemies; then a third time they were to march in front of the Vikings, but the this time wearing the hides turned skin side out. The MacInnes men followed his advice. The Vikings were fooled into thinking the MacInneses had three times their actual fighting strength. They turned and fled the “overwhelming numbers” and many were slain. In thanks to Somerled, the MacInnes’ vowed to become his vassals.

In Morvern, the MacInnes Clan was known as the keeper of Kinlochaline Castle. This 12 th century fortress is known as Caisteal an Ime ( Castle of Butter) because a Lady of Clan MacInnes, Dubh Chal, is said to have paid the builder with butter equal to the volume of the castle. Its location, high on a rock at the head of Loch Aline, positioned it strategically for coastal defense. Its walls are 10 feet thick blocks of rare sandstone and it is now fully restored as a home. It is visible from the Sound of Mull on clear days.

In c.1358, the last chief of the Clan MacInnes was killed along with his sons by order of MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, presumably for interfering in the marriage of John, 1 st Lord of the Isles. In 1390, the lands and castle were deeded to Clan MacLean, which had carried out the deed. Clan MacInnes remains without a Chief to this day. In 1997, the Chief of MacLean apologized for the act at the Glenfinnan Games. It is known, however that MacInnes was in defense of the Castle when it was assaulted and burned by Colkitto in 1645.

In the 16th Century, many of the MacInnes Clan moved to Sleat on the Isle of Skye. Five longships are said to have made the journey, each holding a family group. From these five families are descended the five lineages of the name of MacInnes on the Isle of Skye. Some of these MacInnes men became the hereditary bowmen to the Mackinnon of Strath. The bowmen were known as Sliochd Neill a’ bhogha (The Line of Neil of the Bow). Others of the dispossessed Clan had joined with Clan Dugall Craignish and some went to Perthshire and joined with the MacGregors, leading to an ill-informed present-day claim that MacInnes is a Sept of MacGregor. It should be also noted that Clan Innes is unrelated to MacInnes having arisen in Moray east of Inverness at a later date.

In the 1745 uprising, MacInnes Clansmen took up arms on both sides. Some stood with the Campbells and the House of Argyll, but others (mostly Skye men) supported Prince Charles Edward Stewart and fought beside Stewart of Ardshiel, who commanded of the Appin (Stewart) Regiment. A MacInness clansman, MacMaster of Glenaladale, raised Prince Charlie’s banner at Glenfinnan. Four MacInnes men were killed and two wounded in the battle. Others may have been captured and subsequently hanged. Donald (Molach) Livingstone, the 18-year-old son of Anna MacInnes of Morvern, saved the Appin Banner from Culloden from humiliation and smuggled it home. The banner is now housed in the Museum of Scotland. These kinsmen are buried in the cemetery of Kiel Kirk in Lochaline. One John MacGinnis helped row Charlie to safety and when captured and flogged, refused to disclose the details.

The Highland Clearances, from about 1790 to 1840's, drove many MacInneses from their homes, notably on Skye and Mull. These Clearances were designed to get the tenant farmers off the land to make room for profitable sheep herding. Poverty, crop failures and high rents also contributed to the tide of emigration that emptied the highlands during the 19 th Century. Numerous parish cemeteries on Mull, Skye, Iona, Islay and across Argyll hold the remains of our early kin.

MacInneses are found all over the world, but principally in Britain, Eastern Canada, the northeastern and southern US, and Australia. Many have served or are active in government, the military and the Church or have prospered in commerce, agriculture, shipping and banking. As with all Scots, many left their mark in pioneering and building America. Several MacInnes’ today are active recording artists.

The oldest crest of the MacInneses is a bee alight upon a thistle and the motto “E labore Dulcedo” (in labor, pleasure) coming from an incident in the 13 th century when a MacInnes Chief was awakened by a bee sting to lead his forces in surprising and defeating a party of Viking raiders. In 1960, a branch of the Clan matriculated arms from which was adopted the crest of a Left Arm in Proper Tartan Holding a Bow and the motto “Irid Ghipt Dhe Agus an Righ” (by the grace of God and King). This crest was adopted for commercial use by the Council of Chiefs. The arms are lodged with Lord Lyon King of Arms, there being no Clan Chief (an armigerous clan). There is little current support for seeking a Chief.

Today, our Clan works to preserve and restore historic sites in Scotland (Kiel Kirk, Eilean Munda, Lietir Fura), to revive the interest in our history, to support the traditional arts, to increase contacts among the MacInneses and to foster goodwill among all Scots whether in Scotland or dispersed.

MacAonghais a’ rithist (again MacInnes).

For detailed information about the MacInnes Clan and Scottish History, please consult these resources:

  • Prebble, John. The Highland Clearances, Penguin 1963, and Culloden, Penguin. 1961
  • MacInnes, John . Brave Sons of Skye
  • Williams, Ronald. The Lords of the Isles. House of Lochar, 1997
  • Chadwick, Nora. The Celts. Penguin. 1971
  • MacKinnon, Rev. John. New Statistical Account of Scotland. 1840
  • Faulk, Mary. Clan MacInnes History, 1992.

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Clan MacInnes History
Clann Aonghais

Scotland is an old land, an ancient land of history, tradition, folklore, legend and mythology.

It is into this past we must journey to seek the Celtic origins of Clan MacInnes. We must go to the very birth of the Scottish Nation. To the early Kingdom of the Scots of Dalriada to find the roots of this ancient Celtic clan from the West Highlands and Hebridean Islands of Scotland. The MacInneses are regarded as the original inhabitants of Morvern, Ardgour, Ardnamurchan and Lochaber.

The MacInneses or the Cinel Aonghais, the ‘Kin of Angus’, first appear in the old Irish Annals and in the seventh century Scottish ‘Senchus fer n’Alban’ - ‘The History of the Men of Scotland.’

The origin story tells that three sons of Erc, an Irish ruler, settled on the coast of Argyll at the beginning of the sixth century to found the Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada. The three sons were Fergus, Loarn and Angus. Angus occupied the Isles of Islay and Jura in Argyll. The MacInneses, the sons of Angus, claim this Angus of Dalriada as the progenitor of Clann Aonghais, the Clan Angus. Angus is buried among the Scottish kings on the holy Isle of Iona.

In the Senchus fer n’Alban details are given of the military and naval strength of the Cinel Aonghais together with a list of their dwellings and locations on Islay. It is also on the Isle of Islay around 850 that we learn of the clan’s first encounter with the Vikings. The Vikings were to drive Clan Angus from the Isle of Islay – but the clan later returned to the island.

The Gaelic oral tradition has always associated the MacInneses with Saint Columba of Iona. What is certain is that MacInnes was the most numerous of surnames on the sacred Isle of Iona for centuries.

We later learn from the ‘History of the MacDonalds‘ written by Hugh MacDonald of Sleat. That in the twelfth century: ”the principle surnames in Morvern were MacInnes and MacGillivrays – who are the same as MacInneses.”

One tale of Morvern tells of how a lady of Clan MacInnes – the Dubh Chal - built the Castle of Kinlochaline, the traditional seat of the Chiefs of Clan MacInnes. The Dubh Chal paid the builders in butter to a quantity equal to the volume of the castle, hence the local Gaelic name in Morvern for Kinlochaline Castle is Caisteal an Ime – the ‘ Butter Castle’.

It is in Morvern that we witnessed the rise of MacInnes and MacDonald alliances. There is the famous Battle of Morvern in which the MacInneses, led by the legendary Somerled, drove the Vikings from Morvern and much of the mainland of Scotland. Again in the Gaelic tradition we have a Lord of the Isles praising a MacInnes Chief of Kinlochaline for the brave performance of the MacInneses in battle.

It is interesting that some modern genealogists cite Somerled and Clan Donald as descendants of the old Cinel Aonghais of Islay – the early MacInneses. If so, this kinship would make sense of the intertwining of MacDonald and MacInnes history.

In the judicial commissions of the sixteenth century, MacInneses are listed as being among the leading gentry of Clan Donald of Glencoe.

On the darker side we have the incident of a Lord of the Isles authorising the murder of his MacInnes foster father and his five MacInnes foster brothers in the Castle of Ardtornish on the Sound of Mull. MacInnes as the chief Councillor of the Isles had advised the Lord of the Isles to divorce his current wife and marry the future king Robert the Second’s daughter. Amie, the estranged wife and instigator of the murders, was said to have been the ‘ruin’ of MacInnes.

Following the purge of Alexander the Second and the decline of the Lordship of the Isles the clan dispersed and many MacInneses left Morvern for Skye, Appin, Lochaber and Craignish. A core of the clan remained in Morvern and on the islands of Mull and Iona.

The MacInneses of Morvern, Lochaber and Appin fought with the Stewarts of Appin for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the ’45. Young Donald Livingstone, the son of Anna MacInnes of Morvern, rescued the famous Appin Banner from the bloody field of Culloden – the banner is now on display in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. West Highland Tales also relate how the sons of Anna MacInnes of Morvern secreted the remains of the ill fated ‘James of the Glen’ from the gibbet at Ballachulish to a Christian burial at Keil Church in Appin.

After Culloden and ‘The Clearances’ large numbers of MacInneses sought their fortunes in the New World and elsewhere. Many to rise to distinguished positions in the new homelands.

Five men of the clan have received the Victoria Cross for valour over the past 150 years – the highest military honour of the British Commonwealth.

The chiefship has been dormant since the murders at Ardtornish in the fourteenth century - there are no present plans to call a derbhfine to elect a chief.

Today the descendants of this ancient Celtic clan of Scottish Dalriada are active worldwide in preserving their heritage through The International Association of Clan MacInnes.

Donald MacInnes, 4th Adjutant, International

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A Brief History of Clann Aonghais (MacInnes)

Fergus Mor, Loarn and Óengusa (Angus), presumed to be sons of the late King Erc of Dál Riata (in Dunseverick, Antrim) colonize Alba and establish an outpost kingdom. Fergus occupies Kintyre/Knapdale/Bute with Loarn settling Colonsay and lands around present-day Oban (at Dunollie).  Óengusa, a master of ships and sailors, settles in Islay and Jura and perhaps also in Colonsay.  Fergus establishes Dál Riata’s high-kingship at Dunadd.  Historians presume Óengusa to be the forebear of Cineal n’Óengusa (Clann Aonghais).  These settlements make possible increased trade and traffic between Alba and Hibernia.

Columcille establishes a monastery on Iona, possibly aided by Cineal n’Óengusa.  On the foundation built by Columba and King Aedan, Albain Dál Riata thrives for 200 years.

Mid 9 th C.  

Norse raiders (gone a-viking) invade and occupy the western isles and drive the Celtic occupants out.  Clann Aonghais is dispossessed and resettles in ‘Earraghaidheal’ (Argyll), generally in today’s Morvern and Ardgour districts.


The reknown warrior, Somerled, leads the Clan in warfare against Vikings in Morvern.  Somerled was Norse/Celtic and is the and son of Gillebride (possibly descended from Clann Aonghais) and whose Grandson was forebear of Clan Donald,
Late 13 th C. 
For vanquishing a force of Viking invaders, Chief of MacDonald gives chief of Kinlochaline (the MacInnes Chief) permanent favor and protection.

MacInnes of Ardgour and his five sons are murdered in or near Ardtornish Castle on orders from John of Islay, Lord of the Isles.  The deed was done by Donald MacLean.  (In 1997, the Chief of MacLean apologized at Glenfinnan).  There being no male successor to the slain chief, MacInneses begin to disperse throughout the Highlands seeking protection from other clans.   MacInnes lands are deeded by MacDonald to the MacLeans in 1390.

15th C.

Castle Kinlochaline is built by the Lady “Dubh Chal” (dark cowl?) of Clan MacAonghais.  Legend says workmen were paid in butter enough to fill to the castle’s interior, hence the  Gaelic name Caisteal An Ime (Butter Castle) is attached to the structure. 

16 th C. 

Five Clan families led by a descendant of the last Chief, move to Skye seeking protection of Clan MacDonald.  Maol-Calium mac Neill mhicAonghais is given lands possibly including Leitir Fura in Sleat, high above the southeast coast.  MacInneses descended from Niall a’Bogha, become archery masters for Clan MacKinnon on Skye.  Appreciation for that relationship thrives to this day. 

Kinlochaline Castle is besieged and burned by Alasdair MacColla and his Cavaliers during the English Civil War.

MacInneses fight on each side of the Jacobite Uprisings.  A MacInnes, MacMaster of Glenaladale, raises the banner of Prince Charlie at Glenfinnan.  Donald Livingstone (son of Anna MacInnes) rescues the Appin Stewart banner from disgrace at Culloden.  It is the only banner to survive.  A John MacInnes helps sail Prince Charlie to safety in the Hebrides. 

The Clan system, crushed by Royal edict, added to poverty, high rents and prospects for a better life in the Colonies launches the Scottish diaspora to Canada, United States, Australia and elsewhere and all but empties the Highlands.
Leitir Fura, one of the last known Clan MacInnes croft holdings on Skye, is abandoned as the clearances drive crofters from Argyll, Mull and Skye into the cities and to America and Australia in large numbers.
19th C.
Agricultural and industrial revolution and dense population causes large numbers of highland families to leave rural Scotland and emigration to US & Canada grows.

Clan MacInnes Society is formed to restore the Clan’s formal identity.

Restoration of Kiel Kirk in Lochaline (on a site believed chosen by Columba) is aided by Clan MacInnes.  Clearing of Eilean Munda, the traditional burial island in Loch Leven for many clans, is initiated by efforts of Clan MacInnes and others
Clan Society is re-incorporated into International Association of Clan MacInnes (IACM).  Kinlocaline is restored as a residence by owner, Hugh Raven.  Clan MacInnes standard again flies from its turrets. 
Association is granted Arms by the Lyon Court.  Annual Gathering & General Meeting moves from Grandfather Mountain for 1st time – Tulsa OK
An armorial banner formally depicting our Arms is first flown at our 35th anniversary at Grandfather Mountain and is now in care of owners of Kinlochaline Castle where it flies on special occasions.  A second such banner is kept in the U.S.
Annual Gathering & General Meeting held out of the U.S. for 1st time – in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Clan MacInnes hosts its first Annual General Meeting in Scotland and proudly marches the Royal Mile with the assembled Clans at the “Homecoming Scotland” Gathering in Edinburgh.  As part of the clan’s visit, a Gaelic service was held at Jt. John’s Church in Ballachulish during which Holy Communion was served from the Chalice & Paten used by the Appin Stewart forces bound for the Battle of Bannockburn.
The IACM celebrates its 45th anniversary at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina.
First gathering of the IACM west of the Rockies – Enumclaw, Washington
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