Artists paintings of clan castles
scottish art

Mackay Clan

Manu forti

Clan Mackay information
mackay clan crest
painting of Tongue House with clan shield
clan mackay tartan
clan mackay map
Clan crest badge
Tongue House
Mackay tartan
Clan Location
Scottish picture of Varrich Castle belonging to clan MacKay
old etching showing Borve Castle
an oul painting of the Wellington at the battle of Waterloo
a German woodcut print showing Lord Reay's MacKays at the capture of Stettin in 1630
Varrich Castle
Borve Castle
Battle of Waterloo
capture of Stettin

  • Clan Name: Mackay
  • Clan Motto: Manu forti
  • Clan Chief: Hugh William Mackay of Reay
  • Castle Location:Tongue
  • Clan Lands: Strathnaver.
  • Plant Badge: Great Bullrush
  • Castle Paintings :
  • Clan Name: Mackay - including variations like - Mackays, MacKaye. Macky.
  • Clan Motto: Manu forti - With a strong hand
  • Clan Chief: The Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh William Mackay of Reay, 14th Lord Reay, Baronet of Strathnaver, Chief of Clan Mackay (or MacAoidh ), also Baron Mackay van Ophemert and Zennewijnen, of the Netherlands.
  • Clan Lands: Sutherland and Ross
  • Clan Tartan:
  • Clan links :
  • Clan links :
  • Clan links :

Clan History

The MacKay clan history should really be lost in the mists of time, considering the misfortunes piled on the clan the biggest one being cleared of their lands by the Sutherlands. Fortunately thanks to some scholars through the years there are some good historical publications remaining giving a better than most historical rundown on clan history.

In the early years there are still the usual hazy areas, In the 11th and 12th century Scotland still consisted of a few remaining Principalities. The families who were to later form the MacKay Clan, as such, were living in the region of Moray. Descendants from the Royal House of Moray they were eagerly fighting for their right to the throne of Scotland, as other Princedoms had done previously.
After 200 years of fighting they lacked the power to withstand the forces of King Malcolm 4th and later his brother King William the Lion. The Royal House had been depleted by battle, capture and execution to such an extent that that a concerted attack by King Alexander 2nd in 1215 put an end to their claim and they fled north over the mountains to safety.

They settled and thrived in the area known later as Strathnaver. Iye MacEth, born in 1210, is looked on as the first leader of the group now resembling the MacKay Clan. He was the high stewart to the Bishop of Caithness and when his son married the Bishop's daughter they were gifted lands at Durness. This was a start for the the clan in their accumulation of lands and property.

In 1296 the MacKays were at Stirling bridge with William Wallace.
In 1314 the Mackays were at Bannockburn with Robert the Bruce.
In 1370 the clan chief and his grandson was murdered at Dingwall Castle by the Sutherlands while pursuing a claim through the courts to establish land borders.
The next notable would be Angus Dubh, sixth in line of descent after Iye. In 1415 he married Elizabeth who was granddaughter to King Robert 2nd and daughter of Donald, Lord of the Isles. This indicates his standing and he was said to be able to muster 4,000 men at arms from Strathnaver.
Donald MacKay, the first Lord Reay was probably one of the busiest chiefs. The Earl of Sutherland had died in 1615 leaving his six year old son John to succeed. Sir Robert Gordon, Donald's uncle, was to become tutor and governor on his behalf. Sir Robert had a lot of unsavoury schemes he wished to carry out and his political manoeuvrings continued to try and ensnare Donald into carrying them out on his behalf and suffering the unpopularity for them. Donald, who was knighted as Sir Donald MacKay of Strathnaver in 1616 by King James 6th, began to distance himself from his uncle Sir Robert which was to increase the rift between the MacKays and the Sutherlands. In 1623 Sir Donald was appointed Justice of the Peace for Sutherland and Strathnaver and with his new position he increased his land holdings around Reay.
In 1626 Donald sought, from King Charles 1st, and was granted a warrant to raise a regiment of 2,000 men to help the King of Sweden fight for the protestant cause in the Thirty Years War. He raised an army of 3,600 men, having to sell lands at Moidart and Arisaig to the Earl of Seaforth to help fund it. The "Invincible Scots" as they were named performed valiantly first for the King of Denmark then later under Gustavus of Sweden. To replace those killed in battle Sir Donald had to return more than once and recruit more men. For the part played he was elevated to Lord Reay in 1628. In 1630 on returning from battle in Germany he was tasked with raising another 2,000 men for the cause. In 1632 Gustavus of Sweden was killed in battle and with it also the hopes of recompense for the costs of running such a venture which were draining Donald's resources and even moneys promised from the his sovereign, Charles, were not forthcoming, leaving the Clan lands extremely over-extended.
The civil war at home was now taking shape, one of the many reasons being the King trying to raise unpopular taxes to fund his armies on mainland Europe. Donald still remained loyal to the British Crown and was distinguished in leading the defence of Newcastle in 1644, during the siege by General Leslie with his Scots army.
In 1646 when the Royalist cause was hopelessly lost, as part of King Charles's bargaining, he called of Montrose and Reay cease hostilities and disband. Montrose sought exile in Norway and Reay sought exile in Denmark.
He died 1649 in Denmark, where he was still thought of highly, they sent a frigate to return his body to Tongue for burial.

His eldest son John, now the 2nd Lord Reay, also led the clan to fight on behalf of the Royalist cause. He was captured early in his reign in 1649 and spent a year locked up in Edinburgh Castle. John's future father in law was to be Hugh Mackay of Scourie, better known as General MacKay who commanded the forces of William and Mary at the battle of Killiekrankie in 1689.
Donald's second son, Angus distinguished himself as a Colonel in the Danish army.

George MacKay, the 3rd Lord Reay also supported the crown taking part against the Jacobites in the 1715 and 1745 uprisings.
John's second son Aeneas, served as Brigadier General of the MacKays Scotch Regiment in service in Holland. The family settled and prospered in the area. Barthold Mackay from that line was to be created Baron Ophemert in 1822.

The clan formed the bulk of the 1st Sutherland Fencibles who were formed in 1759 and also the Reay Fencibles raised in 1793. The Thin Red Line, famed at Balaclava, refers to an action carried out by the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment of Foot in Crimea. The regiment was raised mainly from Strathnaver MacKays originally recruited in 1800.

In 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the 79th ( Seaforth Highlanders) Regiment of Foot formed a square upon being attacked by the French Cavalry. Piper Kenneth Mackay, with no thought for his own safety, marched in and out of the square playing the tune "War or Peace". Kenneth was personally presented with a set of Silver Pipes from King George for his bravery.

Eric the 7th Lord Reay took over chieftain-ship in 1797 during a period of depression. The country was in the middle of a 23 year conflict against Napoleon and it was draining the countries resources. Tens of thousands of highlanders gave their lives and the resultant loss of young labour was reducing yields and incomes of lands. There were also punitive road taxes raised against highland clans who had to pay towards improving or creating roads through their vast tracts of land. Eric, partly to reduce tax liabilities which he could not afford and partly to fund his extravagant life-style started to consolidate properties, selling, trimming and reducing. He borrowed £100,000 from the Countess of Sutherland and gave his lands as security. By 1829 he needed more money and sold of the rest of the clan estates for £300,000. Eric's greed and financial mismanagement had just gifted to the Sutherlands what they had, by every other means, been trying to posses for over 500 years.
The Sutherlands were then one of the largest landowners in the country and still remain so today. They are also remembered bitterly, as the largest and most inhumane force behind the highland clearances and now they turned their energies against the MacKays.

On the death of Eric 9th Lord Reay in 1875, the line ended and title was passed to his cousin Baron Ophemert who became the 10th Lord.
The Dutch line consists of worthies such as Cabinet ministers, Brigadier generals and even the vice-president of the Netherlands bank.
Hugh William MacKay is the current 14th Lord Reay, Baron MacKay, clan chief, ex member of parliament, ex member of european parliament and now member of the House of Lords.

Varrich Castle is a ruin that was once the main clan seat. It was built in the 14th century on a site that had previous fortifications. It overlooks the Kyle of Tongue and is about an hours walk from Tongue village. Originally called Caisteal Bharraich it consisted of two floors with walls four and a half foot thick. Little is known of it's history.

Borve Castle was built on a promontory in Kirtomy Bay about 10 miles north-east of Tongue. It's destruction was ordered in 1555 after the Mackays had refused to appear before the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise ( mother and regent to the infant Mary Queen of Scots ). A cannon was pulled overland from Edinburgh and the castle was reduced to ruins in what was known as the battle of Garbharry. Rory Mor Mackay, the castle's commander was forced to surrender and hanged on the spot.

Tongue House is located at the north end of the village of Tongue. When Borve was destroyed the clan seat moved to Tongue. The house was built in 1678 on the site of the previous house, burned by Cromwell's army, and was then the new clan seat. It was purchased and is still owned by the Countess of Sutherland.

The Capture of Stettin picture above is of a German woodcut dated 1632 that mistakenly calls the soldiers Irish. Lord Reay and his Mackay's helped capture Stettin in Southern Ukraine (Crimea) in 1630. It is one of the earliest pictures of men in tartans.

The painting of The Thin Red Line was painted by Robert Gibb, Scottish artist in 1881 showing the charge in 1854 at the Battle of Balaclava in Crimea. The original painting is housed at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regimental museum at Stirling Castle.

Although drawing material from many sources, (my gran was a MacKay from Tongue),
the best source of further information on the clan history is The Book of MacKay
available as a free download through google books.


.  clan MacKay banner

the history of MacKay

Scottish contemporary Art
Scottish contemporary Art



clan Mackay shield



welcome stone



painting showing the Sutherland Highlanders fighting at Crimea

Painting showing
The Thin Red Line




painting showing the Queens piper

Painting showing
Angus Mackay who became household piper to Queen Victoria in 1843-1853.



shield showing the arms of Clan Mackay

Arms of
MacKay of Strathnaver
in 1508



painting of the Mackay armorial bearings of the 1st Lord Reay

Armorial Bearings of Donald 1st Lord Reay



clan MacKay highlander painting

Neil MacKay
painted 1868




painting of a clansmen from clan mackay