Clan MacArthur history


Clan Arthur, (Scottish GaelicClann Artair), or Clan MacArthur is a highland Scottish clan that once held lands on the shores of Loch Aweopposite Inishail.[1] The clan has been described as one of the oldest clans in Argyll.[2] Clan Arthur and Clan Campbell share a common origin, and at one point the MacArthurs challenged the seniority of the leading Campbell family.[3] A branch of MacArthurs from the Isle of Skye were a sept of the MacDonalds of Sleat, and were hereditary pipers for the MacDonalds of the Isles.[1][4] In late 18th century the chief of the clan died without an heir, leaving the clan leaderless until the late 20th century. In 2002, the first chief of Clan Arthur was recognised in about 230 years.


Mac Arthur by Robert Ronald McIan, from Logan’s Highland Clans (1845).

Early history

During the reign of Alexander III (r.1249-1286), the Clan Campbell made its first appearance, and was dived into two branches Mac Cailinmor and Mac Arthur.[5] The nineteenth century historian William F. Skene wrote that during the reign of Robert I (r.1306–1329), the Mac Cailinmor branch (the Campbells) did not possess any land in what is now Argyll, while Mac Arthur, head of the Mac Arthur branch was in possession of extensive territory in the earldom Garmoran, which was the original seat of the Campbells.[5] Skene wrote that “it is therefore impossible to doubt that Mac Arthur was at this time the head of the clan, and this position he appears to have maintained until the reign of James I of Scotland.”[5]

Arthur Campbell, of the Mac Arthur branch, along with Neil Campbell, of the Mac Cailinmor branch, supported Robert the Bruce and were richly rewarded by the king with the forfeited lands of his opponents.[5] Arthur Campbell was made keeper of Dunstaffnage Castle along with extensive territory in the district of Lorne.[5] Later, during the reign of David II, the Mac Cailinmor ever becoming more powerful, since the marriage of Sir Neil Campbell with a sister of Robert I, were resisted from taking control of the clan by the Mac Arthur branch with the obtaining of a charter “Arthuro Campbell quod nulli subjictur pro terris nisi regi,” by Arthur Campbell.[5]

In 1427 James I held parliament at Inverness and summoned the Highland chiefs.[1] Iain MacArthur, the chief of the MacArthurs, was one of the unlucky chiefs who were beheaded by the king of Scots. This chief had been described as “a great prince among his own people and leader of a thousand men”.[note 1] With the execution of Iain MacArthur, and Alexander, Lord of Garmoran, the MacArthurs lost possession of all their lands with the exception of Strachur and lands of Glenfalloch and Glendochartin Perthshire.[1][5] From this time, and on, the Mac Cailinmor branch were the head of the clan and the Campbells continued their rise in power.[5]

Modern history

MacArthur tartan as published in theVestiarium Scoticum of 1842.[4] TheVestiarium is the source of many of today’s tartans and has been proven to be a Victorian hoax.[7]

In 1771 Patrick MacArthur, chief of Clan Arthur, died in Jamaica without a male heir. With his death, the official title of Chief of Clan Arthur ceased to exist. In 1986 senior members of Clan Arthur hired a genealogist to trace back through the last chief’s family tree to find a living representative with a common ancestor to the chiefs of Clan Arthur.[8] Genealogical research concluded that the chiefly line of the MacArthurs, the MacArthurs of Tirivadichcould be traced as far back as 1495, to a John MacArthur of Tirivadich. The MacArthur chiefly line was traced nine generations down from this John MacArthur of Tirivadich, through his eldest grandson: Duncan MacArthur of Tirivadich; and three generations through John MacArthur of Tirivadich’s younger grandsons: Niall MacArthur of Querlane and John MacArthur of Drissaig. Research showed that the main line had become extinct, however a living descendant through John MacArthur of Drissaig was found – a Canadian born man named James Edward Moir MacArthur. This man traced his descent from a Margaret MacArthur Moir, who died about 1775. A great nephew of hers, Archibald MacArthur Stewart, recordered Arms in 1775 and traced his descent from John MacArthur of Milton, who died in 1674. The genealogical research conducted on behalf of Clan Arthur linked this John MacArthur of Milton back to John MacArthur of Drissaig.[2]

In 1991 a derbfine was organised by armigers of the clan. There is was determined that James Edward Moir MacArthur of Milton should petition the Lord Lyon to be appointed Clan Commander of Clan Arthur. Ten years later, James Edward Moir MacArthur of Milton successfully petitioned the Lord Lyon to appointed chief of the clan. In August 2002, the Lord Lyon recognised James Edward Moir MacArthur of that Ilk as the rightful heir to the arms of MacArthur of Tirivadich, and that he was entitled to the chiefship of Clan Arthur. Later in April 2003, he was officially inaugurated by clan members as Chief of Clan Arthur. He was the first official chief of the clan in about 230 years.[8] Upon his death in 2004, he was succeeded as chief by his son, John Alexander MacArthur of that Ilk.[2] The current chief of Clan Arthur represents the clan as a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.[9][10]

The MacArthur of Milton Hunting tartan is similar to Campbell tartans, and is consider the oldest MacArthur tartan.[11]

Clan symbols

The current chief of Clan Arthur is John Alexander MacArthur of that Ilk. The chief bears the undifferenced arms of the name MacArthur, and is the only person legally entitled to these arms under Scots law. The blazon of the chief’s armoiral shield is Azure, three antique crowns Or and corresponds to one of the attributed arms of the legendary King Arthur.[12] A modern crest badge, suitable for wear by a member of Clan Arthur contains the chief’sheraldic crest and heraldic motto. The chief’s crest is two branches of bay in orle, proper.[2] The chief’s heraldic motto is FIDE ET OPERA which translates from Latin as “by fidelity and work” or “by faith and work”.[13][14] The chief’s slogan is EISD O EISD which translates from Scottish Gaelic to “Listen!, O Listen!”.[2][13] Several clan badges have been attributed to Clan Arthur. These include: Wild Myrtle and Fir Club Moss.[3]

There are several tartans attributed to the MacArthurs. The most commonly used tartan today was is the MacArthur tartan and was first published in theVestiarium Scoticum in 1842. The Vestiarium was the work of the dubious “Sobieski Stuarts” and has been proven to be a forgery and a hoax.[7] A group of MacArthurs from the Isle of Skye were hereditary pipers to the MacDonalds, and this tartan shares the same basic form of the MacDonald, Lord of the Isles tartan.[4] Another MacArthur tartan is the MacArthur of Milton Hunting tartan. This tartan is considered the elder of MacArthur tartans and is similar to the Campbell tartan. The source of this tartan is Wilson’s ‘1823’ Sample Book.[11]

 Origins of Clan Arthur


Once upon a time, long, long ago could be the starting line for a fairy tale or the defining of the history of Clan Arthur.  The name MacArthur is among the oldest in the Argyll Highlands, so ancient as to  make modern research difficult.  We had resided there since the earliest of times, that even in the old Celtic days, we were the subjects of a celebrated couplet:

Cruic ‘is uillt ‘is Ailpainich, Ach cuin a thainig Artairich?    

The hills and streams and MacAlpine, But whence came forth MacArthur? 

Another Scottish proverb describes MacArthur in this fashion:

“There is nothing older, unless the hills, MacArthur and the devil”

When describing MacArthur in historical terms, it is typically describing the history of the Loch Awe MacArthurs, or the Tirevadich MacArthurs. These MacArthurs were the possessors of the chief line.  Since the 1400’s, clan Arthur has been without an official chief…until now. On August, 2002, Lord Lyon, King of Arms granted the petition of chief of clan arthur to James Edward Moir MacArthur of that Ilk.  Jim, as he was fondly remembered, oversaw the establishment of a worldwide network of macarthur societies, and nobly performed his duty as chief until his death in April, 2004. His son, John Alexander MacArthur of that Ilk, assumed the position in June, 2004.

Some claim our descent from Arthur, legendary high king to the ancient kingdoms of Dalriada, Strathclyde and Rheged, represented by three crowns.

Other research reveals that the Tirevadich MacArthurs (those that possessed the chief line) share the same ancestor with the Campbell chiefs through the O’Duibhnes, direct descendants of King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland. Known seals of Tirevadich MacArthurs dated  in the late 16th Century.

Although there may be controversy as to precise lineage, two schools of thought about MacArthur of Tirevadich are listed as such:

King Malcolm Canmore — Malcomb — Dubni mac Mal-colaim —Arthur Armdhearg — Arthur Andarian — MacArthurs of Darleith & Inistrynich (Tirevadich)

Norma Lorre Goodrich, an authority on the subject of King Arthur describes MacArthur lineage as:

King Arthur — Smerevie — Ferrither — Duibne Mor — Arthur Og — Ferrither — Duibne “Falt Dhearg” — Ferrither — Duibne Dearg — Duibne Donn — Diarmid O’Duibne — Arthur — Arthur Andarian — MacArthurs of Darleith & Inistrynich (Tirevadich)

Chief Ian MacArthur was described as a “great prince and leader of a 1000 men.” It would seem apparent that the Tirevadich MacArthurs were of royal descent.

The MacArthurs of Tirevadich on Loch Awe

Reprint of “The MacArthurs of Tirevadich On Loch Awe”, by Lady Mary McGrigor, FSA Scot, Loch Awe Resident and Historian.  

The historian Frank Adam, whose book on “The Clans, Septs, and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands” was revised by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon King of Arms, in 1952, states: “The Clan Arthur is one the oldest clans of Argyll, and its duthus was on the shores of Loch Awe where its chief also held Innestraynich. This particular clan was known from others of the name Arthur as the  Clann-Artair-na-Tir-a-Chladich (= of the shore-land).  The title Mac-ic-Artair suggests that the Clan Arthur of Tirracladich were originally a branch of a major line. Staunch supporter of the Bruce, Mac-ic-Artair was rewarded with grants of land forfeited by the MacDougalls, but a century later this influential position was lost.” The same historians then explain that “There has been a good deal of confusion between the foregoing Clan Arthur and another of the same patronymic – the MacArthur-Campbells, one of the branches of Clan Campbell, who are not an independent clan.”

Neal Campbell, 10th Duke of Argyll, wrote categorically that “In fact beyond all reach of written records this ancient family springs from a common remote origin like the Campbells, being the O’Duibhnes, they had been Martys to the Lords of Lochow, from whom as very old vassals they held their lands.  They are not the same family as the Campbells of Strachur, who were descended from a Sir Arthur Campbell in the reign of Robert the Bruce, but had branched off centuries earlier and never used any other name but that of MacArthur, and they are always spoken of as “bearing the name and arms of Clan Arthur.”  According to legend the MacArthurs, because of their adherence to Bruce, were persecuted by resentful MacDougalls to the point where they had to accept the superiority of the Campbells to gain protection.  Subsequently when the chiefs gathered at Inveraray MacArthur of Tirevadich was forced to resign his accustomed place at the head of the table to Sir Colin Campbell of Loch Awe.

   The controversy over the ancestry of the MacArthurs of Loch Awe re-emerges in 1428 when John or Ian Macarthur was one of the three men executed by James I of Scotland at his parliament in Inverness.

   Adam and Innes state the “Ian, chief of the Clan Arthur of Tirracladich, was one of the chiefs of Argyll who was put to death by James I.”

   Donald J. MacDonald of Castleton, however, in his “Clan Donald” (1978) says that “John MacArthur, a member of the house of Campbell, advanced a claim to a portion of the land of Garmoran … upon a charter by Christina, daughter of Alan MacRauiri, to Arthur, son of Sir Arthur Campbell, Knight, early in the 14th century”.  This would certainly imply that the unfortunate John MacArthur was descended in some way from Sir Arthur Campbell, whatever his earlier ancestry.

   The Macarthur lands on the north shore of Loch Awe were centered round their house of Tirevadich – the name means Hayfield – where the ruined mansion of that name now stands.  The island of Inishail formed a link to their property on the south shore which comprised the present Cladich Estate and the farm of Accurach in Upper Glen Aray.

   During the 16th century the MacArthurs’ hereditary position as Captains or Officers of Over Lower Loch Awe seems to have been furiously resented by their neighbors, the Campbells of Inverawe.  Conflict of some sort took place, for a charter in the Archives of Inveraray Castle, dated 1567, confirms that a pardon was granted to the Campbells of  Inverawe for “the drowning of Clan Arthur”.

   The location is described as “somewhere on Loch Awe; the word “drowning” suggests that the MacArthurs, in trying to defend themselves, were driven into the loch. (Some thirty years ago our son Jamie, then a little boy, unearthed an ancient sword on the south shore of Inishail).

   Subsequently a charter of 10th January 1569 clarifies the situation.  Granted by Archibald, 5th Earl of Argyll to Iain (or John) MacArthur Tirivadich and his heirs male… it confirms their possession of “all and haill the Office of Baillgiarie (sic) of all and sundry the lands and heritages lying in the side of Over Lochow pertaining and belonging to Clan Arthur with their haill pertinents viz All and sundry the lands of Barbraik (Barbreck), Auchnagaun (Achnacarron?), Larachban, Teirwidych (Tiravadich), Mowey (Bovuy), Drumurk, Capechin (Keppochan), Bocardie (Boccaird), Caupurruck (Accurach?) and Ardbrecknish with haill pertinents (This charter proceeds on the resignation of Archibald Campbell of Inneraw (Inverawe) and Dugald Campbell his son.)  To be holden of the Earl and giving to him and his heirs two parts of the profit of the said Court and doing and administering justice only”. On March 8 1634 a charter confirming possession of the same lands held by “his fore grandsire” was given to Iain’s grandson, also Iain, by Archibald Lord Lorne (later the Marquess of Argyll).  Younger sons and other relations of the family, installed in the various properties, were called, as then was common, by the place names.

  The terms of the charter illustrate the feudal services involved.  The reddendo, including the office of Sergeant or Mair of Loch Awe, carried the obligation to provide yearly payment in kind as well as some money in rent.  Significantly “a hall, chamber and kitchen” had to be provided on the then island of Inistrynich for the use of the Lord Lorne.  More importantly “the grantee and hsi heirs were also obliged to come and ride with Lord Lorne and his levis (sic) in forensic services, viz. hunting, besieging of enemies both in hosts and with enemies as the rest of the tenants do when enemies chance to be”.

   In 1625 the rentals of the Argyll Estates show MacArthur of Tirrewadich as the Captain and Marty of Innistrynich and Officer of Over Lochow.  Succeeding generation continued in this hereditary office, and in 1680 we find Johnne MacArthur rendering his accounts to the 9th Earl of Argyll.

   Five years later, in 1685, when Argyll, who had risen with Monmouth against the Catholic James VII and II, was captured and executed, the land of the MacArthurs on Lochaweside was cruelly ravaged by the “Anthollmen” (as the army of occupation was named).

     The loss at Boccaird, where the laird’s beasts ran with those of his tacksmen, was claimed to be no less than £2,223.6s8d.  The “Athollmen” also destroyed the mill at MacArthur’s farm of Bovuy and all else that they could find.

     John MacArthur, who apparently lived to a very old age, may have had some compensation, but his grandson Patrick, described as Fiar of Tirivadich in 1709, was also to see his land destroyed.  In 1715 the two great Campbell houses were divided when Breadalbane rose for James VIII (The Old Pretender) and Argyll for the reigning Queen Anne.  Breadalbane despatched an army, commanded by Colin Campbell of Glendaruel, to attack Inveraray, and inevitably the Highland soldiers looted all they could find.

     In 1744, when Patrick himself was dead, his brother Duncan, bed-ridden after a stroke, petitioned Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll, for assistance on the grounds that he had “embraced all opportunities of serving His Grace’s family, being in command of parties searching for thieves and constantly with the Guards sent to convey recruits for the late Duke’s regiment.  In 1715 Your Grace appointed me Lieutenant in the Baron McCorquodale’s Company of Militia where I remained on my own charges till the Company was dismissed.”

     Further to this Patrick’s son Duncan, also appealing to the Duke, pointed out that in 1685 his father had been forfeited for his adherence to the Argyll family, and that they had run into great arrears of feu duties etc.  Also “in 1715, the Highland  Clans not only took free quarters for some nights in their march to and from Inveraray but also destroyed houses and corns by which we contracted additional debt.”  Admitting that the late Duke had accepted payment of 3000 merks in token of 5000 merks which were due, he still insisted that he had “scarce subsistence for himself and a family of seven small children” and though he has come to this town (Inveraray) to reside for the schooling of his children he is not well able to afford them education.  As “ane old vassal and cadet of the family” he prays to be assigned some office and emolument about the Duke’s concerns or elsewhere and “if Your Grace would be graciously pleased to take notice of your petitioner’s son, a youth of sixteen years, to recommend him to any office of employment that could be bread to him”.

     Duncan seems to have moved with his children to Inveraray after Christian, daughter of his first marriage, sent there to board with a couple while she went to the grammar school, had scandalised the locality by eloping with a young man to Ireland.

     The strain of providing for his family, adding to the burden of his debt, appears to have been the main reason why Duncan now resigned his hereditary land of Keppochan, Drumuirk, Barrandryan and Bovuy, on Lochaweside, to his superior the Duke of Argyll.   Nonetheless he retained his hereditary position as Captain or Marty of Over Loch Awe, and as such he must have raised the fencible men when Prince Charles Edward landed in Scotland in 1745.  Probably he marched at their head to the Cross at Inverearay, assembly point of the army raised on the Duke’s command.

     Following the suppression of the Rising in 1746, the government abolished hereditary jurisdiction in Scotland, and the old order, whereby men held land from the great chiefs largely on a military basis, virtually came to an end.  Estates had to be profitable and inevitably rents were raised.

     Subsequently Patrick MacArthur, some thirty years later, sold the rest of his land.  Told that he had forgotten the island of Inishail, he reputedly said sadly “Let the tail go with the head!”.  Previous to disposing of the last of his estate on Lochaweside Patrick emigrated to Jamaica, apparently in the hopes of retrieving his fortune; but he died there – it would seem soon after his arrival – in February 1771.

     The sale of Tirevadich appears to have taken time to complete, for Arthur MacArthur of Malvern, Pennsylvania, writing to the Lord Lyon in 1981, told him that it remained the principal Clan Address until c.1776.

     Patrick MacArthur, styled “of Inistrynich” (duke Neil said this was synonymous with Tirevadich) and said by Neil Munro to be the “last chief of the Sept”, married Mary Campbell of Craignish c.1752.  They had two children, a daughter Lilly born about 1752 and Charles born in 1755.  Charles, who became a midshipman, died unmarried in India between 1786 and 1788.  Lilly, who must have stayed in Scotland, married Neil MacArthur in 1775.  Neil was a tenant of Campbell of Sonachan at Balliemeanoch and also lived at Kames on Loch Awe.  They had eight children of whom the eldest, Patrick (Peter) was born in 1777; his sister Anne was the ancestor of Neil Munro.  Mrs. Lesley Bratton (Neil’s granddaughter) kindly gave this information, which would seem to establish that, in the absence of new evidence, the male line of the MacArthurs of Tirevadich and Inistrynich on Loch Awe has now become extinct.

The writer is immensely indebted to Rae MacGregor of Inveraray for her help in supplying photocopies from the Argyll charters.

We wish to thank Lady Mary McGrigor for her kind permission to reprint her article.  She is a renowned author and has a book about a history of Argyll that is excellent reading.  

The book is titled:

Argyll, Land of Blood and Beauty

Only a few copies are available through:

The Scottish Cultural Press. Unit 13d The Newbattle Abbey Business Annexe.
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A new printing is due in 2005.

Other books by Lady McGriger:

Sir James McGrigor -The Scalpel and the Sword – The Autobiography of the father of Army Medicine.  Edited by Mary McGrigor.
Published by The Scottish Cultural Press. Unit 13d The Newbattle Abbey Business Annexe.
Newbattle Road Dalkeith. Scotland. EH22 2 LJ.
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Dalmally and the Glens
Published House of Lochar
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History of South Lochaweside
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Lady McGriger’s latest book is “Defiant and Dismasted at Trafalgar,” the Life and Times of Admiral Sir William Hargood, released in April, 2004 and available at:

Pen & Sword Books Ltd.- 47 Church Street- Barnsley- South Yorkshire. S70 2AS- U.K.



Clan Arthur Pipers

From an early time, Clan MacArthur became famous for the number and quality of its pipers. Following the dispersement of the clan after the beheading of Chief Ian, the piping branches were spread widely throughout the Inner Isles, principally at Mull, Ulva, and Islay. By the end of the 17th Century, Skye MacArthur pipers were firmly established at Hunglander on the Trotternish Peninsula., between Kilmuir and Duntulm Castle. The first piper mentioned was Angus (approximately 1665-1745). His son, Charles (c1668-c1768), would become the most famous of the MacArthur pipers.  He studied 11 years under Patrick Og MacCrimmon, the most celebrated piper of his day. Charles had two sons, Donald and Alexander, both good pipers. Charles died  in the late 1700s and was buried at Peingown in the same cemetery as Flora MacDonald. At the time of Charles death, Donald commissioned a carved headstone. The stone read,  “Here lies the remains of Charles MacKarter whose fame as an honest man and a remarkable piper will survive this generation.  For his manners were easy and regular as his music and the melody of his fingers will.” The stone was never finished because Donald drowned while bringing a boatload of cattle from Uist to Skye,   leaving the mason unpaid. Therefore the mason abandoned the task. The popularity of  MacArthur and MacCrimmon piping ushered in the bagpipes as Scotland’s national instrument, replacing the clarsch or Celtic Harp. Perhaps, the most influential MacArthur piper was also our last hereditary piper to the Lords of the Isles. Angus, son of Charles’ brother Ian Ban succeeded his uncle as piper to Lord MacDonald.  Shortly before his death he was responsible for a manuscript of 30 piobaireachds (pronounced ‘peebrocks’), six composed by family members. Apparently Angus would play the tunes on a practice chanter while John MacGregor, himself an accomplished musician, set down the tunes in staff notation. These tunes were recorded in the key of C, five notes lower than the now standard key. The current universally accepted key was later standardized by Donald MacDonald and Angus MacKay.  Upon Angus MacArthur’s death in 1820, his cousin Alexander, Charles’ surviving son, petitioned Lord MacDonald for the position of piper, but was denied. He then immigrated to America.

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