Colonsay Isle Priory

The Macfie Clan
Society of America

Ancient History of the Clan

In the Western Highlands, in the county of Argyle, the great rock fortress of Dunadd rises steeply from the surrounding Kilmartin Glen. Fifteen centuries ago, this was a stronghold of the newly arrived Scots (or in Latin Scotti) and was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada. Near the summit you can still see a stone basin and the mark of a human footprint, carved out of the rock.

Here, after ceremonial purification, the ancient kings of Dalriada stood to be crowned. Legend has it that the Stone of Destiny (Stone of Scone) was used here in the crowning of these first kings. In the green, hilly countryside and glens surrounding Dunadd, you can still see many carved stones, standing stones and cairns, giving the place a misty feeling of timeless antiquity. The Scots waged sporadic warfare against the Picts until they were defeated in 843 by the newly crowned Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Dalriada. In the words of one chronicler "Kenneth was the first Scot to rule over the whole of Alba which then became known as Scotia." Our clan, Clan Macfie, is one of the oldest clans in Scotland and was one of the seven clans that made up the Siol Alpin alliance under King Kenneth. Some representatives of Clan Macfie were probably on hand to see Kenneth crowned as king, right there on that spot. Thus this area had particular meaning to several Macfies on a recent trip to Scotland. As we placed our feet into the carved footprint and looked out over the cold grassy hillside, we were transported back in time to a darker age, shrouded in mist and obscurity.

History reveals that at the time of the arrival of the Macfies on Colonsay/Oronsay, the residence of the chief was Dun Eibhinn. This was a fort built by King Adamnan who was claimed to be the great-grandfather of Donald of the isles. The name Dun Eibhinn was given because it was one of the many forms which the name Adamnan takes. When the Norsemen surrendered all authority in the isles in the year 1265 AD and handed it over over to the Crown of Scotland, the Macfies were not ejected, but continued as the Chiefs of Colonsay under the Lords of Isla and the Isles. It would seem that at that time, the MacDonalds held the Macfies in high esteem.

We have evidence to support the fact that "Macfie of Colonsay" was the Keepers of the Records of the isles, and the Judge on Colonsay and Oronsay, and was known to have been involved in several circumstances which required him to sign important documents. According to Clan Historian, the late Dr. Earle Douglas MacPhee, Clan Macfie was as independent as any other clan could be in Scotland, and for over four centuries functioned as an entity. Although small in number, the Macfies thrived on Colonsay. At one end of Colonsay there is a little depression, extending across it's width and when the tide rose the sea ran through the depression, thereby separating the two parts and making two islands. This lower island is Oronsay and it became a historic burial ground of much renown. Many tombs of the Macfies were found there. The body of an earlier chief Malcolm, however, lies on the island of Iona, about 18 miles from Colonsay. Here was located one of the most famous seats of learning and piety to be found in the world and in ancient times, bodies of princes and kings were brought from afar for honored burial. The carvings and inscriptions on the tomb of Malcolm Macfie present an effigy of a warrior, in high relief, armed with the great two-handed sword, and among the ornaments was the long fada or galley which is the invariable ensign of a West Highland Chief. The inscription on his tomb is as follows: Hic Jacet Malcolumbus MacDuffie de Colonsay -- Here lies Malcolm MacDubhsithe of Colonsay

In June 1615, Malcolm Macfie, Chief of the Clan, as recorded in the record of Privy Council, joined Sir James MacDonald on an expedition against Argyll. This was a serious mistake which ultimately lead to the demise of the Clan. It  seems that there was among the leaders of this expedition a traitor called Coll Ciotach MacDonald, who made terms with the Campbells in order to save his own life. The understanding was that during the execution of the expedition Coll Ciotach was to apprehend and deliver as many of the Chiefs involved as possible to Argyle. Macfie was one of the principal chiefs who was betrayed and incarcerated. Malcolm
Macfie was later allowed to return to Colonsay. Upon Malcolm's return to the island he found Coll Ciotach MacDonald residing there on Colonsay. As time wore on, turmoil developed between the Macfies and the MacDonalds and Clan Macfie had become weakened in the conflict. Malcolm was hunted from one place to another and as he crossed to Oronsay the hunt continued. He swam to Eilean nan Ron (the island of the seal) and hid among the seaweed. Sadly his position was given away by a seagull and he was captured and returned to Colonsay. Malcolm and two of his sons were murdered by Coll Ciotach and his men, in February
1623, and the clan became a broken clan.

 

THE MACFIE WARRIOR:

The Macfie WarrierThe figure which illustrates the clan is dressed in a shirt of mail, of which the Highlanders so long retained the use.  It is called lurich in Gaelic.The openings in the skirt gave freedom to the wearer, and the sword was thrust through a hole, as the most convenient method of carrying it. The head is protected by the clogaid, skull-piece, or helmet, of the conical form, worn by both the Gael and the Scandinavians, but longest retained by the Highlanders. He wears in it the eagle's wing, which we find was the peculair distinction of the chiefs. He is armed with the da Sleag two missile spears or darts, which are often associated with having been carried by the heroes of old.

What's In A Name

The oldest form of this surname is MacDhubhsith, and we find it written in a charter of 1463. Since the Gaels have a tendency to soften the pronunciation of words, thus the Gaelic language, which to a stranger would appear to be harsh and unpleasing from it's numerous consonants, is rendered very musical to the ear.

In the case of our clan name, 'Macdhubhsith' the 'd' is aspirated. Also in Gaelic two consonants written together are softened even further which then gives the effect of a soft guttural sound after the 'Mac" and the following 'h' is then spoken which then makes the pronunciation of the name more like Mhic-A-Phi, and is written thusly on
the 'Carragh Mich A Phi' standing stone on the island of Colonsay. After the death of the chief in 1623, the clan lost the home island of Colonsay and became a broken clan.

Many clansmen joined the MacDonalds of Islay, others settled with Camerons of Lochiel, where they are reported to have distinguished themselves for bravery at Culloden. Others chose homes along the entrance of the Firth of Clyde while still others crossed the channel and settled in the north of Ireland. From there many migrated to America and Canada. It was probably while in Ireland the name began to be spelled according to the pronunciation, hence we get the different spellings of McAfee, McHaffie, McDuffy, McGuffey etc. In Kintyre the name assumed the form M'Covvie (Mac-ko-vee)
some of this name emigrated to Canada before the middle of the 19th century. The name Cathey was prevalent in the Galloway district. The spelling Macfie, is associated with the Macfies of Aird, Beach, Dreghorn, Langhouse and the Trust of Oban. McPhee is usually found throughout Lochaber and MacPhee is the spelling which is often found Barra, Mull, South Uist, Moidart, and Morvern. However, The Lord Lyon of Scotland recognizes the spelling 'Macfie' as the only official spelling of our clan name.