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Issue 66 - The Clan MacIver

Scotland Magazine Issue 66
December 2012


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The Clan MacIver

James Irvine Robertson looks at one of Scotland's great families

Iver is an ancient Norse personal name and Ivers and MacIvers were to be found across Scotland. For centuries the heartland of the clan was in the west. The chief had his base at the mouth of Loch Melfort, on the Atlantic coast about 15 miles west of Inveraray, which is the seat of the earls, marquises and dukes of Argyll.

One of the origin myths of the clan places it in Glen Lyon in Perthshire. The MacIvers were said to be invulnerable to the bite of serpents. A viper is said to have uttered a poem, in good Gaelic, which translates as 'I have sworn to Clan-Iver, And Clan- Iver has sworn to me, That I will not injure Clan-Iver, And Clan-Iver will not injure me.' It is thought to commemorate an alliance between the MacIvers and a local clan, possibly Clan Donnachaidh, the Robertsons, who have a serpent in their coat-of-arms.

An ancient traditional story tells of conflict between the MacIvers who controlled the glen and the newly arrived Stewarts. At the Battle of the Sandals, so-called because the Stewart warriors removed their sandals before the conflict so that afterwards their losses could be calculated by the unclaimed footwear, the Stewarts trounced the MacIvers and drove them from the district. But people of the name long farmed the nearby shores of Loch Tay, often sheltered on Robertson lands.

Before this time, the clan had joined the army of Alexander II when he led an expedition to assert royal authority over the semi-independent district of Argyll against that of the Kings of Norway and the Lords of the Isles in 1222.

For many, if not most, clans it is impossible to pin down the truth of their origins. As far as the MacIvers are concerned they seem inextricably mixed with the Campbells who, of course, were by far the most successful and dominant clan of the west, if not in Scotland, after the downfall of Clan Donald. Certainly modern DNA testing seems to show a common origin between many MacIvers and Campbells. Colin Maol Math (good, bald), a progenitor of the Campbells, had a son, Gillespick, by a niece of Alexander I, from whom the Clan Campbell descends.

On her death at the beginning of the 12th century, he married a daughter of Sween of Castle Sween who possessed Cowal, Glassary and Knapdale. One of their sons was ancestor of Clan MacTavish, the other of the MacIvers.

The first McIver territory was Glassary; 'Malcolm M’Ivyr' is named as one of the magnates of Argyll in 1192. The leading families were MacIvers of Lergachonzie and Stronshira, all within a few miles of the head of Loch Fyne where a branch of the clan were captains of the castle of Inveraray. Other MacIvers held estates in the vicinity and, by the 15th century, all were inseparably mingled with the Campbells. But they were still recognised as a clan in their own right.

The 'calp' was a tribute paid to an overlord by the heirs to an estate. It usually took the form of cattle or grain. In 1564, the Earl of Argyll resigned any direct claim upon MacIvers in Argyllshire and agreed that the MacIver chief should collect all their calps and only he need pay directly to the earl to acknowledge his position.

A branch of the clan had settled further north in the shadow of the powerful MacKenzies of Kintail with their stronghold of Eilean Donan opposite Skye. For most of the 15th century the chief of Clan Donald was Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross as well as an inveterate enemy of the MacKenzies. On their behalf, Donald Garbh MacIver, chieftain of the MacIvers in Kintail plotted to kidnap the Lord of the Isles. The plot was discovered and Donald was imprisoned in the castle at Dingwall.

The MacIvers and their allies retaliated by capturing the chief of Clan Ross and broke Donald out of the castle. As Earl of Ross, the Clan Donald chief asked for assistance. Lord Lovat, the Munros of Foulis and others of his adherents caught up with the kidnappers a few miles north west of Dingwall. The subsequent battle of Bealach nam Brog was a bloody affair. It may be that the survivors emigrated to Lewis, still MacKenzie territory, where another branch of the clan was located.

Yet others of the clan moved to Lochaber where they attached themselves to the MacDonalds of Keppoch. 'At the battle of Culloden, though acting under Keppoch, they insisted on being drawn up as a separate clan, under their own officers. They also, mindful of their origin and of the fact that they wore the Campbell tartan and carried the Campbell colours, refused to be marshalled in such a position as would have compelled them to engage the Argyll militia.' Back in the Clan heartlands of Argyll, the MacIvers suffered the same vicissitudes as their Campbell kinsmen. The Marquis of Argyll supported the Scottish estates against the Royalists.

His followers suffered grievously during Montrose's campaign and he lost his head and estates at the Restoration. His son rebelled against the Catholic James VII in 1685. The MacIvers joined with him; the rebellion collapsed and Argyll suffered the same fate as his father.

The political wheel went full circle after the revolution of 1689. The Campbell estates were restored to the now elevated Duke of Argyll. He regranted Duncan MacIver his lands, but stipulated that the head of the family should henceforth take the name of Campbell and should quarter the Campbell arms with those of his own. In subsequent centuries the MacIver chiefs, now named Campbell, made contributions to the life of the nation but their identity was lost and the main line died out. Clan MacIver is known as an Armerigous Clan, one that currently has no chief recognised by Lord Lyon, King of Arms.

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