Taken from
Issue Number 11 Spring 1982


The Shannons of Lephenstrath
Hew Shannon Stevenson

On Saturday, 17th May, 1975, about 80 MacShannons met in the Argyll Arms Hotel, Campbeltown, Kintyre, for a family ceilidh, MacShannons from Kansas, Nebraska and Oregon came to visit the land of their forefathers to sing songs and tell stories with their Kintyre kinsmen, including Mr. Dugald MacShannon, a Campbeltown builder, who as Fear-an-tighe, organised the affair.

The MacShannons of today are descended from the ancient family of McShenoig, the hereditary harpers to the Clan Donald, who held the important castle at Dunaverty Point on the south coast of Kintyre from the 13th to the 16th century. A rocky headland close to the ruins of Dunaverty Castle on the east side of Brunerican Bay is still called Hubba McShannuich, or MacShannon's Point. On a fine day you can see the coast of Ulster quite clearly from here.

In 1505 the McShennoigs held the 4 merkland estates of Brunerican, Amod, Drumhereanoch, Dalsmeryl, Lagnadaf and Innynkew Callache, all in the Southend parish, rent free for their services as harpers, by 1541 a branch appears in Lyel and Lephenstrath which lie within two or three miles of the original harpers' lands. In 1596 at least two branches of the family were flourishing in Kintyre: Duncan Macohennach in Brunerican, Amod etc. and Murdoch MacOShennoig in Lyel and Lephenstrath.

The name has undergone many variations from its original Gaelic. The Southend parish registers which begin in 1769, invariably give the name as McShenoig to start with, but towards the close of the 18th century and afterwards the older name gives place time and again to the more anglicised Shennan, Shannon and MacShannon. As well as in Kintyre, the name is found in Antrim, north east Ulster, all old Macdonald country. One of the earliest instances of the name must be the reference in the Annals of Ulster to "Amlaim MacShenaigh, accomplished emperor of melody" who died of the plague in Tuaim-da-ghulann in 1371.

The first name on the connected Kintyre Pedigree, however, is Malcolm McOshenog, recorded as tenant in Lephenstrath in 1678 and 1684, and as proprietor there in 1701. His son, Hew McOshenog of Lephenstrath, is mentioned in the estate journal of the Kintyre laird, MacNeill of Carskey, in 1720. He was succeeded by his son Archibald McShenoig, 3rd of Lephenstrath, who was alive in 1788.

Thanks to the exertions of 74-year-old Captain Hugh MacShannon, a retired harbour master of Campbeltown, who as a boy used to cycle down to the little churchyard of Keil on the south coast of Kintyre within a stone's throw of the sea, to record the gravestone inscriptions of his forebears, we have the following inscription of a headstone now completely obliterated and indecipherable:

Erected by
of Lephenstrath in
Memory of his child
ren, Malcolm
who died 19th Aug
1774 agd.31 yr also
John he died 28Feb
1763 agd 19yr
Alexr died 14 Apr
1771 agd 17 years.

Archibald was succeeded by his son Neil Shannan, 4th of Lephenstrath, who is described in a bond dated 1788 as Captain of the ship "Speedwell." Neil is probably the last of his line to have lived in the old house of Lephenstrath. His wife Mary was the daughter of Hector McAllister of Springbank, Isle of Arran, and, although we find the Southend parish register recording on 13th May 1786 the baptism of "John, lawful son of Neil Shannon of Lephenstraw.Esq," the baptism of his three subsequent children are all recorded in the parish of Kilbride, Arran.

The first of these, Charles McAllister Shannon, was baptised on 7th December 1786, only seven months after John. His father is here described as "Capt. Neil Shannon, Springbank." It is odd that the designation of "of Lephenstrath" appears to have been dropped, and this and the closeness in the baptisms of John and Charles made me think at first there were two separate Neil Shannons, the one in Arran being quite another line. However, when I visited Arran in the summer of 1975, I was lucky enough to find in the Kilbride cemetery, just outside Larnlash, an inscription to "Neil Shannon Esqr. of Lephenstrath, died 1795 aged 45 years and His spouse Mary Macalester died 1818 aged 72 years." Both are interred in "The burying tomb of Hector Macalester Esq. Springbank" along with various other McAlister relations.

From his testament dative (Argyll Commissariat 1799) it appears that Captain Neil owed £600 to one James Wright, writer in Stirling, and that this debt had been taken over by Neil's executor and creditor, Hector MacNeal of Ugadill. Neil was owed £10 by Nobles Shannan and Co., merchants in Greenock, "being part of a greater sum due to him."

I have not established the identity of Nobles Shannan and Co., but I think it must have been a firm of Alexander Shannan, a merchant in Greenock who together with one James; Noble, shipmaster in Port Glasgow and William Noble of Taims was seized of a tenement in Greenock on 1785. This Alexander Shannan and his wife wrote many letters to their eldest son (also Neil) in Newfoundland between 1806 and 1812, and these letters, which are now in my own possession, contain many references to the children of Captain Neil notably Charles, the 5th and last laird of Lephenstrath, and his brothers Archibald and Hector.

I do not know whether Alexander Shannan was related to Captain Neil of Lephenstrath, but the two families were certainly well acquainted with one another for at least fifty years spanning three generations. Alexander was born on 25th November 1749, the son of another Alexander Shannan, sailor in Greenock, by his wife Jean Gay. Alexander the father had a brother Dugald, a shipmaster in Greenock, but the baptism of the two brothers are not recorded at Greenock. Alexander, the son, is known to have been distantly related to a Mr. McNachtane in Campbeltown, a fact which hints at a Kintyre origin.

Captain Neil's eldest surviving son, Charles McAllister Shannon led an unsettled life, and his financial troubles evidently caused him to sell Lephenstrath in 1819. Margaret Shannan, wife of Alexander, the merchant, writes to her son on 30th July 1806, "Poor Charles Shannan is still in Arran disappointed of a place on evry hand. I saw a leter to his mother. He says he does not know in the face of the earth what to turn his hand too. He now feels the effects of not paying more attention to business."

Charles's younger brother, Archibald, evidently met with more approval. Alexander wrote to his son Neil on 12th August 1806, "Archy Shannan sailed lately from Sheilds for Newfoundland, he is a fine boy and deserving of attention which I wish you to show him as far as in your power - a son of Mr. McNachtanes at Campbeltown I understand goes out as a sailor in the Vessel which carries this, the Jean Capt. Omay, but as he never would take Education and I suppose is little worth do not pay any attention to him, as you can have no Credit by such acquaintences, but the reverse."

By May 1807 Charles Shannon was "still going about at Arran can here of no situation to answer him. He had hopes of getting a Cadetship for India but is disappointed even of that. I really pity him and also his mother as it is very hard on her to have him passing his time in idleness at his time of life …. anything that he has will not aford to keep him idle yet I am sure if he had had nothing he woud have paid more attention to his business and studies more to gain the favor of his employers." (Mrs. Margaret Shannan to Neil).

A friend, Daniel Belches, writing to Neil on 4th October 1807 says Charles Shannon continues roving about betwixt Ayr, Erran and Cantyre doing nothing like another fool. I doubt he will lose himself in the end. His brother Archy poor fellow was taken by a French privateer on his way home from Jamaica after a severe action and carried prisoner into Cuba from whence I am happy to say he and the Capt. found means to make their escape. to Jamaica oooo I suppose he will be home with the first fleet which are now reported to be in the Channel."

In March 1808 there is another reference to Archy who had "gone second mate of Mr. Richie's ship Neptune for the South Seas," and to the youngest brother Hector who "is gone into the navy as midshipman. Charles is still at Arran." Poor Hector was still in the Navy when he died on board H.M.S. Minstrel in the Mediterranean in 1815 affectionately esteemed by his Capt., Brother officers and crew, and regretted by all who knew him." (Greenock Advertiser, 6th November 1815). He was only 22.

In later life Charles was a tenant farmer at Bennicarrigan in the south of Arran. In 1810 he was appointed a captain in the Argyll & Bute Militia. He died some time after 1831 leaving descendants. His son, Captain Neil Shannon (b.1814 d.1865) became a distinguished commander of Cunard's fast transatlantic steamships in the forties and fifties.

Archibald fulfilled his early promise and became a captain and later Collector of Harbour Dues in Greenock. He died honoured and respected in 1860 leaving many descendants, including several branches now in Australia.

The present Kintyre Mac Shannons deduce their descent from one Malcolm Shannan in Kilblaan East, whose wife Florence McMath died in 1765 aged 40 and is buried in Keil Churchyard. Malcolm is said to have been a younger son of Hew McOshenog, 2nd of Lephenstrath, and father of Donald McShenoig, herdsman in Keil. I believe that most of the present day McShannons in Kintyre descend from two of Donald's sons, Duncan McShenoig (born 1799) and his wife Flora Campbell, and Malcolm MacShannon, grocer and spirit dealer at Lephenstrath Bridge (born ca. 1810, died 1874) and his wife Ann McKendrick, alias Henderson.

Interesting, there is still a strong musical tradition in this family of old time harpers. Dugald MacShannon, the Campbeltown builder became Pipe Major of the Campbeltown Pipe Band, and his 18 year old son, Ronald, won the Piobaireachd Contest at Lochaber in 1975. Two of Dugald's sisters, Mary and Rhona, have won gold medals and achieved distinction as singers. The present head of the MacShannon branch, Captain Hugh, the retired harbourmaster, is himself a skilful player of the fiddle. He said his "grandfather and grand uncle were always singing and ranting about the old times and great times that the family had known."

The Port of Machrimore
J. Irvine

The port of Machrimore at the south end of the Mull of Kintyre was formerly known by so many different names that there has recently been some confusion as to its exact location.

"It is our duty," wrote the Campbeltown Customs Collector to his !bard in Edinburgh on 2nd March 1808, "to observe that in our opinion the Public Service requires this vacancy to be filled with as little loss of time as possible on account of its being the principal Com.munication betwixt this Country and Ireland from whence there is daily intercourse, and at Southend there is a regular ferry boat to Ireland."

The vacancy referred to was that caused by the promotion of Archi.bald Thomson, lately tidewaiter (customs officer) at Southend, to the position of Boatman at Campbeltown. In 1800 Thomson's predecessor, Charles McDonald, was referred to in the Custom Records as tidewaiter at Machrimore, and a year later as tidewaiter at Southend; while Thomson’s successor, George McMillan, was referred to in 1811 as tide.waiter at Dunaverty.

Two ferry boats operated, one from each terminal. In 1790 Ken.neth Morrison owned the boat which ran "from Machrimore ~o Ireland." This gentleman also kept a hostelry for in 1792 he was described as "innkeeper at Monroy" and in 1807 as "ferryman at Monerua to whose house passengers to and from Ireland resort." In 18021 the ferry which ran from Ireland was the "Rattlesnake" of Cushendun, an open boat of under fifteen tons burden, master Charles McAllister.

In addition to the regular ferry boats, for which a lease from the Duke of Argyll was required by the Kintyre-based operator, there were many other vessels sailing between the two shores. These used such primitive ports as Marypans, Carskey, Polliwilline, Glenhervie and Feochaig, but undoubtedly the port most frequented vas that at Dunaverty, the port of Machrimore. This port possessed advantages enjoyed by none of the others. Besides being situated at the extreme end of the Kintyre Peninsula, it offered alternative landing sites which could be used according to which way the wind was blowing at the time of a ship's arrival. If wind and tide permitted, the normal landing place lay within the Conie Water mouth, under the shelter of Dunaverty Rock. But if weather conditions were such as to render entry there impossible, an in-coming vessel could pull up in "Dunaverty Bay, the beach thereof being contiguous to the Water of Machrimore on the East side." ~is choice of landing place was of the greatest benefit to a small sailing craft, such as the ferry boat. from Ireland, seeking a landfall under difficult conditions. Never-the-less, both landing and departure at Dunaverty were difficult enough. In Sep.tember 1802, because the wind was from the south and his vessel was in danger, John McKillop, master of the "Mary Ann" of Cushendun, an open boat, threw his load of fifteen cattle into the sea at Southend and sailed back to Ireland without making a landing at all. And Custom Records made repeated references to the difficulty of shipping horses to Ireland from the rocks at Dunaverty. In August 1813, the Customs Surveyor wrote, "The Creek of Dunaverty is in a particularly exposed situation and the entrance to the River is narrow and dangerous. In consequence of which it is only at particular times of the Tide and with the wind from certain airts that vessels can come in and out with safety.

It has been thought that, prior to the straightening of the lower Conie Water in 1817, yet another port existed close to the site of old Machrimore House, but as this stood a thousand yards upstream of the "highest point to which Ordinary Spring Tides flow" and at a height of thirty feet above sea level, its existence must be discounted.

For the Antrim glensmen the short crossing between their coast and that of the Mu:l was undoubtedly a blessing. Until the Antrim Coast Road was built in the mid 1830's those living in the glens han no easy access to their hinterland. The barren plateau behind and the precipitous promontories of Park Head and Garron Point effectively cut them off from the rest of Ireland. They were thus largely depen.dent upon neighbourJng Kintyre for the sale of their produce and the purchase of those requirements they could not provide for themselves. For them the port of Machrimore at the mouth of the Conie Water was indeed a port of considerable importance.

Further information about the Port of Machrimore has come to the Magazine from several sources. Kenneth Morrison, the ferryman and tenant of the Inn, petitioned the Duke of Argyle, 8th October 1792, saying that he had been ferryman for ten years at Muneroy (i.e. South.end) belonging to the Duke and that he "always kept up two half deckt boats for the accommodation of the publick, passing to and from" He continued "the landing place at this Ferry is Machrimore water foot which is extremely Dangerous with the Wind at South and West which blows in Shore and raises a great Surff at the landing place (which) is obstructed at the entrance by two rock~ in the middle of the Channel, which are extremely dangerous with the winds ~ above mentioned and blowing anything fresh but this danger however imminent must be encountered as when the ferry boat aproaches near the Shore.

There is no retreating and if the Ship could retreat Campbelltown on the East at a Distance of more than Twelve miles' or Loch farbert on the West at the Distance of at least Forty miles are the first Harbours to afford shelter."

He continued that "within these Eighteen months the Petitioner has lost two Boats worth £60 upon these rocks in the Channel of the landing place which has embarrassed him so much in his Circumstances that he is not now able to keep two Boats plying as formerly or to pay his rents to your Grace's Chamberlain as punctually as he was in use to do •••• that by two Estimates herewith to be produced it will appear that the Entrance to the landing place and the Channel of the water can be cleared for £15, and if this was done it would render the water.foot a safe and Commodious Harbour not only to the Petitioner but also to a great Body of your Graces other Tenants who might be thereby en.duced to ship their Grain and Butter and Cheese for Greenock or Camp.belltown to obtain better and more ready market."

"May it therefore please your Grace to consider this Petition and upon finding the facts above stated to be truly represented to be graciously pleased to give directions for removing the obstructions in the Channel of the water above described or to Grant such relieff to the Petitioner as your Grace in your goodness shall seem proper."


This petition was successful for in 1194 the Argyll Estate paid Kenneth Morrison for blasting and clearing a Rock: out of the Harbour of Monroy, the sum of £15.

Four years later George Langlands was paid £5 5s. for plans and operations at Monroy, which probably included the surveying of the present village site, the re~lignment of the main road from Keprigan to the village, and the surveying of the Connyglen Water from the present Mill Bridge to the sea at its present mouth at the east of Dunaverty. Formerly the river meandered through the flat and then was~e ground south of the present village of Southend, known variously as Newton, Monroy, Muneroy or Southend, and where the oldest house, still standing, was built by one of the Brown brothers about 1794.

The Editor wishes to pay tribute to the late Arch. McEachran, and Robert Kelly, some of whose papers have come into her hands. Arch. McEachran as Andrew McKerral says "placed at my disposal his stores of local historical knowledge."

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

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