559 MacDonald family No 231
The first sheet bears the crest of Clanranald and an indistinct stamp
of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax
This is one
of our common Nova Scotian names of Highland Scottish origin, and it is
especially common in Inverness and Antigonish Counties. It does not appear
that the MacIsaacs form a separate clan of their own, and they have no
tartan that the writer is aware of, but as Mr. John L. MacDougall pointed
out in his "History of Inverness County", the majority of the
Inverness and Antigonish MacIsaacs probably belonged to those of that
name who were associated with the Clanranald MacDonalds in the capacity
of bailiffs, and this being so, the descendants would be entitled to wear
the Clanranald tartan.
As to MacIsaacs from other parts of the Highlands the writer cannot speak,
but as he has come across numerous references to those from Moidart, Arisaig,
and the Isles, some information about them may be of interest to those
of the name now residing in Nova Scotia.
How the name originated is uncertain - though Mr MacDougall thought it
came from St. Kissock, and this may be so. It seems likely that the MacIsaacs
were of the original Gaelic stock, and perhaps of those who came over
from Ulster to the Western Highlands, i.e. - the Dalriadic Scots. Many
of the MacIsaacs in Scotland and in this country changed their name to
MacDonald, as they were so long associated with the clan of that name,
and no doubt some of the MacIsaacs assumed clan names other than MacDonald.
We have spoken of one family having filled the office of hereditary bailiff
for Clanranald in Moidart, Scotland. This seems to have gone on for several
generations, and at that period these MacIsaac bailiffs occupied the farm
of Lochans in Moidart. Just what period this covered is uncertain, but
we know from tradition that when Dugal - 5th Chieftain of Clanranald,
was assassinated at Polnish, Arisaig, in 1519, by Allan na Corc and his
accomplices, it was his MacIsaac bailiff or "Maor" who rescued
the body of the Clanranald Chieftain and took it away for decent burial.
Tradition also records that in 1715 it was Dougal MacIsaac, acting under
instructions from Ailean Dearg, the Chieftain, who set fire to Castle
Tirrim, on Island Tirrim, Moidart, and presumably this Dougal MacIsaac
was of the same family. Then in Sir Walter MacFarlane's "Genealogical
Collections" there is an old history of the Clan MacIntosh, and in
Vol. 1, page 164, there appears a note about a very early MacIsaac from
The note indicates that when Ferquhard 5th, Chief of the MacIntoshes,
married Mora Macdonald, daughter of Angus Og Macdonald of the Isles, there
came to Moy from Moidart with Mora, "Roderick, otherwise Reven MacMilmor
Vic Isak", from whom the Clan Reven. Also there came at that time
from Moidart Donald Macgilleandrick, from whom the Clan Andrish was named.
The posterity of these two men from Moidart counted themselves as of the
Clan Chattan and devoted themselves to MacIntosh as their Chief.
Now I have no reference books at hand to prove the date, but the only
Angus Og Macdonald of the Isles that I know of was the one who took part
in the Battle of Bannockburn with Robert Bruce. The date would be in the
thirteen hundreds, and if the record quoted is correct, it shows that
MacIsaacs were in Moidart at a very early period.
Mr. J. L. MacDougall, in his book already referred to, states that Sir
Thomas MacIsaac of Largie married Matilda, daughter of Robert Bruce, but
he does not say which of the three Robert Bruces is meant. The Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 11th Edition, says that Matilda, one of the two surviving
daughters of Robert Bruce, married Thomas Isaak, a simple esquire. Robert
the Bruce, who fought at Bannockburn, was a contemporary of Angus Og MacDonald
of the Isles, and received strong support from the latter.
One Scottish authority has expressed to me the opinion that the name MacIsaac
is an ecclesiastical one, meaning "son of Isaac", and adds that
the names Kessog and Kessan are found as personal names in Perthshire
about 1500. St. Kessog, or MacKessog, the patron saint of the Luss, Loch
Lomond district, was born at Cashel, the capital of Munster in Ireland,
and was said to be of the race of the Kings of Ireland. On coming to Scotland
he resided on the Island of Innis-Mhanach, Loch Lomond, from where he
carried on his work of evangelising the neighbourhood, and at his death
he was buried in the graveyard of Luss. Deo et Beato Kessog, a sanctuary
girth of three miles, and the bell of St. Kessog was still held in reverence
in the Lennox district in the 17th century.
Another kindly authority on Highland history has informed me that in all
probability "Milmor" in the name "Roderick, otherwise Reven
MacMilmor Vic Isaak" may be translated "Myles" which stands
for "Maol-Moire", "Servant of Mary" - or "One
dedicated to the service of Our Lady".
At any rate, whether the MacIsaacs of Moidart were of the same race as
the MacIsaacs of Argyle and Perthshire, it is evident they must have been
a fairly notable family to have held the post of bailiff or "Maor"
for a hundred years or so.
When we come down to 1745 we find on record the names of the following
MacIsaacs in Moidart as being called out to fight for Prince Charlie:
John MacIsaac the Violer Gun Kinlochmoidart
Duncan MacIsaac Gun & Sword Lochans
John MacIsaac " " Smerisary
Angus MacIsaac " " "
Angus MacIsaac Wants Glenfinnan
MacIsaac the Violer" took his fiddle along as well as his gun when
marching out for the Prince is not stated, but it seems unlikely. Some
of the Smerissary MacIsaacs must have settled at River Inhabitants, for
on page 296 of the History of the County of Antigonish mention is made
of a John MacIsaac of "Smiorasaraidh", River Inhabitants. Others
of the MacIsaacs from Moidart went to Giants Lake, Guysboro County, about
In 1880 some MacIsaacs of the same stock were still residing at Smerisary
and occupying the same croft as did their great grandfathers, who were
called out in 1745. There may have been other MacIsaacs than those quoted,
who were called out in 1745, but as many of the names on the list appear
in Gaelic style, viz. in patronymics, it is impossible to say now what
the surname may have been.
The 1748/49 list of tenants for Moidart shows MacIsaacs as holding crofts
at the following places: Smerisary, Glenuig, Tongowie, Scardoisk, Mingarry,
There is no mention of any of the name in Arisaig, Scotland, in 1749,
but there is a note of Donald MacIsaac in Kirktown in the Island of Canna,
and the 1749 records for South Uist show the following:
John MacIsaac at Bornishochterach
John MacIsaac at Stonybridge
Lachlan MacIsaac at Stonybridge
Angus MacIsaac at Machiemeanach
Donald MacIsaac at Machiemeanach
Donald MacIsaac at Aird
Donald MacIsaac at Linique
John MacIsaac at Linique
It may be said, therefore, that the MacIsaacs of Moidart and the Isles
were quite numerous, and no doubt the most of them emigrated to Nova Scotia,
although I think some went to the district of Alexandria, Ontario. In
our own Province of Nova Scotia they have made their contribution to the
Church and State, and like other of our Scottish families, they have scattered
far and wide over Canada and the great Republic to the south.