MacNeil Clan

MacNeil Clan Crest: A rock sitting upon on a chapeau.

MacNeil Clan Motto: Buaidh No Bas (To conquer or die).

History of Clan MacNeil:
Descent is claimed from Niall of the Nine Hostages, who lived around 400 AD and was founder of the Irish O'Neill, Kings of Tara and Ireland. In 1049, one of Niall's descendants, also Niall, arrived on the Island of Barra. In 1252, Neil, 5th Chief of MacNeil, attended the Council of the Isles and is described as “a Prince.” Neil Og Macneil fought for Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn and in recognition of this, was granted lands in Kintyre. In 1427, Gilleonan Roderick Murchaidh MacNeil, 9th Chief, was granted a Charter for Barra and Boisdale from the Lord of the Isles.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the MacNeil Chiefs were an unpredictable force, the 13th Chief supporting an allegiance between the Lord of the Isles and Henry VIII of England, and Ruairi, 15th Chief, gaining notoriety as a pirate.

Ruari's son Neil Og fought with the Royalist forces at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The Clan supported the Jacobite Cause, and Black Roderick Macneil fought alongside Viscount Dundee at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, and supported the old Pretender during the 1715 Uprising.

In 1838, General Roderick Macneil, 21st Chief, was forced to sell Barra to cover his debts. Having no children, the Chiefship passed on his death to a cousin who had emigrated to the USA. In 1937, the Chiefship and Kisimul Castle were reclaimed by Robert Lister Macneil.

Sir John Benjamin MacNeill (1793-1880) was an assistant to Thomas Telford, the great Highland road builder, and became Professor of Civil Engineering at Trinity College, Dublin.  Duncan MacNeill (1794-1874), son of Sir John, became Solicitor General for Scotland in 1834, Lord Advocate in 1842, and Justice General in 1852. He was created Baron Colonsay and Oronsay.

Surname distribution in Scotland: The MacNeil name is most common in The Western Isles (the main islands include Lewis and Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Benbecula and Barra) and Argyll and Bute.

Places of Interest:
Kisimul Castle, Isle of Barra. Erected in the thirteenth century tower, but most of the existing building dates from the 15th century. The ruins were restored and made habitable in the 20th century.

Stack Island, south of Isle of Eriskay. Lair of the MacNeil pirates.

Castle Sween, Knapdale, Argyll. Twelfth century Norman keep. The Hereditary Keepers were the MacNeills of Gigha.

Associated family names (Septs): MacGougan, MacGrail, MacGugan, MacGuigan, MacNeal, MacNeale, MacNeilage, MacNeill, MacNelly, MacNeil, Neal, Neale, Neil, Neill, Neilson, Nelson, Niel, Nielson.

Clan MacNeil membership display certificates.