Taken from
Issue Number 19 Spring 1986


A. I. B. Stewart

Studies of Seventeenth Century Kintyre personalities have tended to concentrate on leading Lowland lairds who made such an important contribution to the history of the times. But there was one man of the pure Celtic stock who falls to be remembered not only for his own contribution but for that of his descendants throughout the English speaking world. He was Lachlan, the son of that Neill Buidhe McNeill who witnessed a bond of Manrent between Sir James McDonald and McNeill of Carskiey and several other leading McNeills, signed at Killeonan on 18th July 1594 [1].

Neil Buidhe was a substantial farmer and in 1619 he held the lands of Clochkiel, Darlochan, Aros and Lochorodale at a rent of £368 and Drumore at £80 [2]. In 1611 he held Clochkiel, Letregan and Machrihanish [3]. These farms were part of a holding of 16 marklands in the Laggan of Kintyre which pertained of old to the McNeills of Gigha [4] and their occupation by his father provides some evidence for the justification of Lachlan's claim when he matriculated arms in 1672 that he was of the family of Gigha.

Lachlan is said to have been born in 1611 and to have died in 1695. His life therefore spanned the most turbulent years in the history of Kintyre. The McNeills had apparently supported Sir James McDonald in his unsuccessful attempt to recover his ancestral lands from the Campbells in 1615, but after his defeat and exile they appear to have been won over to the Campbell side and to have adopted the Presbyterian religion: though the Irish Franciscan missionary Patrick Hegarty in a letter dated in Kintyre 29th December 1625 reported that many McNeills including Neilanus c neill, nobilis dominus kildaca, cum uxore Domina Margaret Dubhuy et quattuour liberis nobilis, among those reconverted to the old faith [5]. This Neil may be the Neil McNeil in Kildavie in the 1619 decree and in the 1636 list of tenants.

Lachlan's first appearance on record is as an elder of the kirk when on 25th May 1653 at a meeting of the Synod of Argyll held at Rothesay his name was added to a Committee of visitation of Parish Boundaries consisting of such distinguished personages as the Marquis of Lorne, Ralstone of that Ilk, Hillabeth, Laird McNachtan, the Laird of Loup and McNeill of Carskiey [6]. He appears in the first recorded Minute of the Presbytery of Kintyre on 15th August 1655 as ruling elder of Lochheid (Campbeltown).

There is no mention of Lachlan's involvement during Montrose's war which culminated in the occupation of Kintyre by Alastaire McColla's forces in 1646-47 and the Massacre of Dunaverty, but his Presbytarianism was recognised by the Scots Parliament in 1662 when he was specifically excluded from the general amnesty granted by King Charles II on his restoration "in respect of all manners of treasons rebellious murthers and crimes done by any person from 1st January 1637 to the 1st September 1660." He was fined £280 Scots [7].

On the other hand, in the same year, the Privy Council included him among a group of the most prominent Kintyre lairds who were authorised to suppress and apprehend robbers, who, coming from Ireland and the North Isles, were at that time plundering the district [8].

Lachlan was probably too old in 1685 to give support in the field to the Earl of Argyll's ill fated rising though no doubt he was among the first to attend his feudal superior when he set up his standard only some four miles distant from Lachlan's house. Certainly the Rev. David Simpson, a local minister, gave evidence that "he saw Alexr. fforester on Knockriochmore lying in arms wt the late E. Argyl and wt the Cochron's company of these rebells, and that the deponent was informed to be the said Alexr. fforester himself that he had ane order from the lait E. Argl to protect the countries; and also that Lachlan McNeil boie did see the forsd order and yt the sd E required him to be assisting to fforester in the prosecutione of the said order." [9]

The Privy Council must always have had him under suspicion. Like many of the Earl's principal adherents in Kintyre he had been forced, on the Earl's forfeiture in 1682, to give a Bond for good behaviour and in 1686 special instructions were issued by the Privy Council that persons in Kintyre and Islay interrogated about the late rebellion should be specifically asked if Lachlan McNeil and his three sons were involved, and further Lachlan along with eleven other prominent Kintyre men had to grant a Bond for good behaviour [10]. He had already been one of a group of twelve, including five McNeills who had granted Bonds at Lochhead Kilkerran on 8th September 1685 on behalf of themselves, their men servants, tanants, subtanants, cottars, kinsmen descended of their family, nativemen and followers to keep observe and secure the peace of the Highliands in all time coming. The reversion to Campbeltown's old pre-Campbell name may be noted.[9]

Lachlan was twice married: first to a kinswoman Mary McNeil, daughter to Carskiey, by whom he had John, Neil buy, Archibald, Torquil, Isobell and Elizabeth, and secondly to Margaret, daughter of McAllester of Tore in Arran, by whom he had Hector, Malcolm, Daniel (or Donald), Neil oig, Mary, Annabell, Isabell and Margaret. Despite his eldership he also produced a natural daughter Margaret [11]. During his lifetime Lachlan acquired substantial lands in Kintyre beginning with a wadset Charter of Tirfergus and Largieban in 1660 followed in 1668 by Losset, Knockhantie and Glenahantie.

His eldest son John succeeded him in Tirfergus, and later moved to Ireland and acquired the estate of Faughart in Co. Louth. Neil Buie, the second son, also crossed the sea to Ireland and acquired the estate of Killoquin in County Antrim. The third son, Archibald, married an Irish McNeill, Torquil, the fourth son, acquired Ugadale by marriage with Barbara, the last of the McKay family which had held Ugadale, Arnicle and Arinanuan since the Bruce's day. Hector, the fifth son, succeeded to Losset. Malcolm, the sixth son, went to Ireland as a Tory hunter and was so successful in dealing with these native Irish outlaws that it is said he was given in gratitude the estate of Ballymascanlon. Daniel or Donald, the seventh son acquired Kilchrist and Neil Oig, the eighth son purched Macrihanish. The daughters had good marriages. Isabel married Dugald Campbell of Drumnamucklach, younger son of Archibald Campbell of Glen Carradale who played such a prominent part in the expulsion of the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg and Kintyre; Elizabeth married John Campbell of Kildalloig. Mary's husband was Donald McNeill of Crear, the founder of the family of Colonsay. Her second son was the first McNeill of Ardnacross. Annabell, the fourth girl, married Rev. John McLean, Prebendary of Roseharken in Ireland, and her sister, Isabell married David Simson, Minister of Southend and Kilchoman in Islay, whose father of the same name had been exiled in 1685. Margaret married a relative, Donald McNeill in Ballygrogan. Lachlan's natural daughter, also Margaret, married an Irish Stewart.

Any person studying his life and times must be moved to ask two questions. How did the son of a comparatively obscure farmer acquire such wealth and social distinction and how did he avoid being personally involved in the persecution of Presbytarians by Allister MacColla when he occupied Kintyre in 1646/7 and by the Marquis of Atholl when he was appointed Royal Lieutenant in Kintyre after the forfeiture of the 9th Earl and more particularly after the failure of the latter's rising in 1685.

Papers have recently been discovered in the Losset archives which may give an explanation. After the death of Major Hector MacNeal in 1817 attempts were made in succession by three of Lachlan's Irish descendants to prove that they had a better title than Hector's son, Captain George MacNeal. In the course of this litigation evidence was sought of the oldest inhabitants and a remarkable story was told by the Losset gamekeeper, Neil Fleming, who was also no less a person than the Constable for the Trigonometrical Staves and Poles of Kintyre. In 1853 Neil was about 55 years of age. He had been brought up by his maternal grandfather, Archibald McMath, who had reached the age of 88 when he died in the 1830s, and who had taken to reside with him on Torquil McNeal, known as "Little Torquil" or "the Prophet" and who "wanted about five years of a hundred" when he died during the witness' boyhood. The witness had often fallen asleep as a child on his grandfather's knee listening to Torquil and his grandfather talking over the history of the MacNeals. As witness recollected it, the story was told of Neil Buidhe, Lachlan's father. During the plague Neil Buidhe was sent to Ireland to avoid infection. He had been betrothed to a girl, McKillop, and he returned to find all her family dead and she herself very ill. She, being infected, would not allow him near her. and she told him to go back to Ireland and stop till things would get better, and then to come back, and, if she was dead, he was to look the west corner of the house and he would find there what would be good to himself and those who might come after him. She died of the plague; Neil Buidhe came back, searched the west corner of the house and got a large quantity of gold which was buried three feet deep, and with the money Tirfergus was feud or bought.

Lachlan MacNeal of Tirfergus and Lossit was the only son of this Neil Buidhe as the witness had heard and Lachlan got Tirfergus and besides a great sum of money with which he feud Lossit, Kilchrist and other places.

If the story is transferred from Neil to Lachlan there are several facts which make it more credible.

Tradition is that Lachlan was an only son but one Archibald McNeill Buidhe, who could well have been a brother was dealt with by the Synod of Argyll for consorting with Alastair MacColla MacDonald during his rebellion [13].

Lachlan had at least eighty grandchildren. His descendants have included persons of distinction in local, national and international affairs in all three kingdoms and in Canada and the United States. Eight of the twelve McNeills (in its variety of spellings) in the Dictionary of National Biography are certainly his descendants.

In large groups of kin it was necessary to distinguish persons otherwise bearing the same name, so descriptive epithets were often added such as Og, or Oig - the younger; Buidhe or Buy or Bowie - the yellow haired; Ban - white haired; Gearr, anglicised Keir - probably short, but possibly from Ciar, swarthy; Dhu or Dow - black. All these names were common among the Kintyre McNeills. Gorm, meaning blue, was a common McDonald appellation. Others common in Kintyre are Beg - small and Mor - big.

G. Albert Ramsay

Faraway in Bonnie Scotland,
In the shores of Kintyre Bay,
In the quiet town of Campbeltown
The Annabella lay;
With her hatches safely fastened
To protect her precious store
Of provisions for their journey
To a far off shore.
It was seventeen and seventy
In the records written down
That the Annabella sailed away
From that ancient Scottish Town.
There were Ramsays and Montgomeries
And many many more:
Sailing on the Annabella,
As she left the Scottish shore.

As she sailed the great Atlantic,
Many weeks and months passed by
For the records of her passage
No one living can supply;
But from somewhere comes the story
That somehow she went astray,
North Carolina was intended;
She was wrecked in Malpeque Bay:
In an early autumn snow storm
Off the shores of P.E.I.
There the Noble Annabella,
As a helpless wreck did lie.
The sailors man the lifeboats,
Carrying hundreds less or more,
Leaving everything behind them;
Thus they landed safe ashore.
They were met by friendly natives,
Who saw their awful plight,
And prepared for them a shelter
On that stormy night.
They were glad they were not dead.

These early Scottish settlers
Were Proverbial men of steel;
They logged the virgin forest
Which they burned to fertile fields.
They built their humble dwellings
Where they sang around the fire
The songs of dear old Scotland,
As with loved ones in Kintyre.
Lucy Maude Montgomery of literary fame
No doubt was a descendant
Of that little band that came;
Or should I say was driven
By a Providential storm
To settle on this island
Where this writer, too, was born.
'Twas a visit that prompted
The writing of this little poem
When I visited Kintyre
In September Nineteen eighty five.
I stood one sunny day
On the very dock in Campbeltown
From which she sailed away.
A dear old Scottish lady
Who was rich in history lore
That day brought forth the records
Of all who were on board.

She assures us that very wharf
0n which we stood that day
Was there two hundred years ago
When our forbears sailed away.
With misty eyes we turned our gaze
Towards the open sea
And stood where loved ones stood that day,
As the good ship sailed away.
In fancy there we watched her sail
Though Centuries had rolled by,
And we thanked the Lord
They found a home on the shores of P. E. I.


annabella (102K)

NOTE In No 17 of this Magazine you will find more about the Annabella and her passengers in "Sons of the Highland Manse."

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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