Clan MacRae - A Most Brief History1

Chapter One - Origins of Clan MacRae

The Scots came from Northern Ireland and settled in Argyll in Roman times. In about AD 500 a fresh influx from Ulster established a separate kingdom which is called Dalriada after them, ‘the tribe of Riada’. They made their capital, such as it was, at Dunadd.

The dominant race in Scotland at this time were the Pics, a Celtic people of diverse origins who inhabited roughly the north. Strathclyde in the south-west was a kingdom of the Celtic Britons, while most of the south-east, from the Forth to the Tweed, was Anglo-Saxon. 2

Maurice Macrath – On Arrival in Scotland

The earliest references to Clan MacRae take us to Maurice Macrath3 (abt 1280 – abt 1350) on the lands of Lord Lovat of Clunes. Maurice Macrath and two other men, Colin Fitzgerald and Gileoin na Tuaigh, arrived in Scotland4 from Ireland following a quarrel that came about after too much celebration during a wedding feast. When they arrived in Lovat country in Clunes, southeast of Kintail, they came upon an assassin about to attack Bissett, Lord of Lovat. The two other men refused to intervene because they had just fled from trouble caused by becoming involved in an argument. Maurice, however, killed the would-be assassin, and a grateful Bissett invited Maurice to settle on his estates in Lovat.5

The Bissetts lost control of Lovat sometime between 1305 and 1333.6 Having no male heirs, the Lordship of Lovat passed to the Frasers when Mary Bissett married a Fraser. The Macrath family remained at Lovat for several generations, and at least three generations of Fraser children were raised in a Macrath home, a common practice of the period. The Macraths and Frasers maintained such a close warm relationship through the generations that the Frasers inscribed the following over the door at Beaufort Castle in Beauly:

‘Fhad ‘sa bhitheas Frisealach a stigh, na biheadh Macrath a muigh’
(As long as a Fraser lives within, let not a Macrath remain without.)

Maurice Macrath became chief forester for the Lovats and he had several sons; John, Christopher, Duncan, and Finlay7. Since there is no reference of his sons coming with him from Ireland, it is likely that all of the sons were born in Clunes. As chief forester, it was Maurice’s responsibility to assign starting positions in the forest to the hunters when great hunts were held. On one such occasion, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Lovat objected to his assigned position, and became abusive to Maurice. One of Maurice’s sons, John (Ian Charrich of Clunes), came to his father’s defense. Words led to blows, and finally to the death of Lovat’s son at John’s hands.

The clan appears to have inhabited the lands of Clunes in the Beauly district in the 12th and 13th centuries, and removed to Kintail in the 14th century. The founder of the Kintail branch is said to be Fionnla Dubh MacGillechriosd (Finlay Macrae) who died in 1416. Duncan, 5th of Kintail, whose arrow caused the death of Donald Gorm of Sleat at Eilean Donan in 1539, was granted the lands of Inverinate about 1557, and these remained in the family for over 200 years. In 1677 Alexander, eldest son of Rev. John Macrae of Dingwall, received a wadset of the lands of Conchra and Ardachy, and became the progenitor of the Macraes of Conchra.9

This gives us the three primary branches of Clan MacRae;

Clan MacRae of Kintail  - Finlay Macrae
Clan MacRae of Inverinate - Duncan Macrae
Clan MacRae of Conchra - Alexander Macrae

John (Ian Charrich) Macrath

John Macrae (abt 1315 – abt 1400) was forced to leave Clunes after killing the Earl of Lovat’s illegitimate son. Ian Charrich, which means ‘fidgety John’, went to Kintail in western Ross, northwest of Clunes, where he spent his first night in the house of Macaulay at Achnagart. He eventually married Macaulay’s daughter, and their first child, Christopher (abt 1340 – abt 1410) was the first Macrae born in Kintail. John became connected with the Mackenzies who were just getting a foothold in the west, having recently acquired Eilean Donan Castle near Dornie, Ross-Shire. The family he established was called Clann Ian Charrich Macrath of Torlysich. This was one of the chief families of Kintail for approximately 200 years.8

Christopher Macrath

Christopher went to Braeross near Dingwall, and lived at Brahan, the main home of the Mackenzies. A piece of land became known as Cnoc mhicrath (MacRa’s hill), and the spring that provided water to the castle was called Tobair Mhicrath (MacRa’s well). Christopher’s descendants settled in Strathgarve, Strathbren, and Strathconan.

Duncan Macrath

Duncan went to Argyleshire, married the heiress of the Campbells of Craignish, and his successors took the surname of Campbell – effectively ending this branch of the Clan Macrath.

Finlay Macrath

Finlay eventually arrived in Kintail where his brother John (Ian Charrich) Macrath had settled earlier.


1 This brief history is not intended as an academic study and not all references can be historically validated. I’ve used many sources, and I quote or paraphrase heavily while interspersing my own thoughts with those of others. The sources referenced by others are contained in their original documents and are not necessarily repeated here.

2 Scottish Clans & Tartans, Neil Grant, The Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1987, p. 7.

3 The name Macrath in its many forms is not patronymic, and was applied to men ‘endowed with more than an ordinary measure of sanctity or grace.’ It means Son of Grace, or Luck, or Favour, or Prosperity. The first written appearance of the name is found in The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters (AD 448) in reference to Macraith the Wise, a member of the household of St. Patrick. Since Maurice was an Irishman, it may be more correct to use the Irish form Magrath. To allow for some consistency however, we will continue use of the form "Macrath" for Maurice and his sons. We begin use of the anglicised form "Macrae" for the offspring of Maurice's sons, and then change to the modified form of "Mcrae" later still, when and where the majority of records indicate such a change may be appropriate or necessary.

4 Working back from other dates, it is likely that Maurice arrived in Scotland around the year 1310 at about the age of 30.

5 The Scottish Connection, Faye Emily (McCraw) Moore, 1996. The source document can be found at http://www.macrae.org/mccraw2.html.

6 Since the Bissetts owned the estates of Lovat when Maurice arrived, we can surmise that they lost control sometime after Maurice’s arrival (about 1310), and sometime before John killed the Earl of Lovat’s son. Assuming that John would need to be at least 15 years of age before being able to kill another man of hunting age, this would place the death of the Earl of Lovat’s son sometime after 1330, narrowing the probable period when Bissetts lost control of Lovat to the years 1311 – 1330.

7 The four sons of Maurice give us some of the most dominant Clan MacRae names. Two other names that appear frequently are Murray and Alexander, and their origins will be discussed in later chapters.

8 Rev. John Macra, Rev. Alexander Macrae and Ella Macrae-Gilstrap, in describing the departure of John, indicate that although it was some time before the other sons left, there was at last only Maurice remaining at Clunes. This is not consistent with the Macraths remaining in Lovat for several generations, and 'fostering’ the children of the Frasers. While it is clear that the Macraths did develop a strong, lasting relationships with the Frasers, it is not clear which Macraths remained in Clunes during this period.

9 The Clans and Tartans of Scotland, Robert Bain, William Collins Sons & Co., 1968, p. 230.

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Chapter 2