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Clan MacTavish

Clan MacTavish
MacTamhais, MacTavish, McTavish, Mac Tavish, Mactavish, MacTavis, M’Tavish, Thomson
File:Clan member crest badge - Clan MacTavish.svg
Crest: boar’s head erased or langued gules" encircled by a strap and buckle (belt) bearing the motto "NON OBLITUS".
Region Highland
District Argyll
Pipe music "MacTavish Is Here"
File:MacTavish of Dunardry arms.jpg
Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry
Chief of the Name and Arms of MacTavish, the 27th Hereditary Chief from an unbroken line
Historic seat Castle of Dunardry

Clan MacTavish is an Ancient Highland Scottish clan.



Tavis, Tavis or Taus is considered, and accepted in multiple sources, as the progenitor, epytom and founder of Clan MacTavish.[citation needed] However, this is incorrect.[citation needed] The MacTavish consider themselves much older than the traditional stories of Argyllshire, promulgated by the old seannachies, and newer writers still insist upon the old stories, when none have looked beyond those traditional stories for any possible alternate origin. Such a beginning is found in the old Irish annals and the old writ, Ceart Ui Neill, out of Donegal, Ireland. The MacTavishes come from the Cenel nDuach a branch of the Cenel Conaill, descended from the Pictish Kings of Ros Guill and Irguill, now part of Donegal, and also from Dal-araidhe, now part of Antrim and Down. The Greek (Roman)historian, mapmaker and mathematician, Ptolemy, mentions the tribe under the name of Ouenniknoi (Windukatii), and the MacTavish lineage is tracable in such texts as the Irish Annuls of Ulster and Four Masters.

As the above text alludes, it is commonly held that Clan MacTavish descends from Taus (Tavis) Coir, son of Colin Mael Maith and a daughter of Suibhne Ruadh (Sween the Red of Castle Sween).[3] Nothing certain is known of Taus Coir other than he is listed in traditional genealogies.[4] The 17th century genealogy Ane Accompt of the Genealogie of the Campbells, randomly and inexplicably traces Colin Mael Maith back to the mythological King Arthur. Furthermore this record conveniently references Colin Mael Maith having one legitimate son and two illegitimate sons. The Accompt states the legitimate son as "Gillespic" or "Archibald", ancestor of Clan Campbell; and the two illegitimate sons are "Taius Coir" and "Iver", ancestors of the MacTavishes and Clan MacIver.

It can be difficult to find accurate information about the history of Clan MacTavish. This is a result of the clan being ancient and the fact that history is written or rewritten by those in power whom often must go to great lengths in order to establish or strengthen their position. It is all too common to find documentation like that of Alastair Campbell of Airds whom in 2000, wrote a more probable candidate for the ancestor of the clan, rather than the possibly mythological Taus Coir, is the historical Sir Thomas Cambel.[5] Earlier in the 1970s, W. D. H. Sellar was also of the same opinion about Thomas.[6] In 1292 his name is recorded on a list of landowners in the sheriffdom of Kintyre. In 1296 he signed the Ragman Roll as 'Thomas Cambel among king's tenants in Perthshire'. The next year he was released from his imprisonment in the Tower of London. In 1308 he signed his name on a letter to the King of France. He was possibly dead by 1324, when his probable son, Duncan, was granted lands in Argyl for services rendered. In 1355, Duncan is listed as among 'the Barons of Argyll' at an inquest in Inverleckan, under the name of "Duncanus MacThamais".[7] All the previous possibles and probables do not make the story historical.

A more probable solution to the question of MacTavish origin is found in the 2012 publication of the book, History of Clan MacTavish, containing over 150 years of MacTavish research.[8]

The ancient and unbroken chiefly line of MacTavishes are styled 'MacTavish of Dunardry' (the Gaelic Dun-ArdRigh means "fort or castle of the High King"). It is unknown who built the castle of Dunardry, or even when it was built. The castle is marked on a 1634 Timothy Pont map. By 1686 it must have been in the possession of the Earls of Argyll. It was renovated in 1704 by Duncan MacTavish, and according to the 19th-century historian G.D. Mathews, it was owned by the MacTavishes.[4] Today little of it exists as it was torn down to make way for the Crinan Canal venture, which also changed the size, shape and water level of Loch a'Bharain.Crinan Canal.[7] See: The West of Scotland Archaeology Service Report WoSAS Site ID: 4164 at

18th century and Jacobite uprisings

In 1715 the Jacobite cause saw its first failed attempt to place the Stuarts back on the throne of Scotland and England. During this time Chief Archibald MacTavish was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause but took no action to support either the Government or the Jacobites.

Due to the fact that Dugald, the Younger, was imprisoned in September 1745 and that the Chief (Archibald) was quite elderly, during the 1745 Jacobite Rising, some of the MacTavishes fought within the ranks of their neighbor, MacIntosh.

On 16 April 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, the Jacobite army was defeated by a much larger force of the British government army (5000 fighting for Prince Charles and 9000 fighting for the government). On that day, the Jacobite army of Prince Charles lost the battle, and the fate of the Jacobite cause was sealed.

Highland Clearances

Unfortunately, after Culloden, British government and Scottish collaborationists treated highlanders very badly, transporting them off their land and, indeed, from their country, using them as slaves in colonies and just killing. This was the period known as the Highland Clearances. The MacTavish Chiefly line, still seated in Dunardarie with their clansmen, were not involved in the "clearing" of their own kin, and no MacTavishes were put off the lands.

After Culloden, a few of the MacTavish started to use the Thom(p)son spelling. The Chiefly line of MacTavish, however, retained the name MacTavish and remained seated at Dunardry. Parish registers and family groups of gravestones in Argyll express the transition of the name from MacTavish to Thomson or Thompson.

Sale of Dunardry

Dugald's son and heir, Lachlan MacTavish, succeeded his father in 1775. On 5 November 1785, the Estate of Dunardry was advertised for sale by public auction in December[9] after Lachlan had fallen into financial trouble, partly due to judgement debts against him. At least two decisions by the Court of Session in Edinburgh arose from his father’s lead role in failing to account for, and to properly execute, the estate of Duncan Campbell of Kilduskland who had died in 1766.[10] A "considerable sum" (£400 Sterling plus interest) was due to Elizabeth MacDonald of Largie,[11] Kilduskland’s niece, and £2,000 including interest to Ronald Campbell, Kilduskland’s nephew, by 1780.[12] Lachlan’s portion of these two debts alone amounted to four times the annual income from the Dunardry lands (£392) as stated in the advertisement of 1785.[13] Lachlan, his wife and son Dugald, who was three years old, moved to Edinburgh where Lachlan was installed as Governor of Taxes for the Crown, living at St. James' Court.

In 1797, three years after work was started on the Crinan Canal, which subsequently divided the estate, Dunardry was purchased by Simon McTavish of Montreal, from Stratherrick, Invernesshire. Simon McTavish was born of the Garthbeg branch of the family and at this time was probably the richest man in Canada. Some Stratherrick McTavishes were considered a sept of Clan Fraser.[14] Lachlan's son John George McTavish soon became a fur trader with the North West Company under Simon's patronage.

20th century

Back in the 18th century Lachlan's son, Dugald, under age in 1796, did not register the MacTavish arms; and as a grown man, with his duties as the Sheriff Substitute of Kintyre he obviously did not feel inclined to do so, as he was, already, legally known as MacTavish of Dunardry. He died without having re-registered the Arms. Unfortunately, this carried on with his son William MacTavish who had moved to the "wilds" of Canada. William also declined to register the Arms. It is nominally suggested by Lord Lyon that at least every other generation re-register the Chiefly Arms, to avoid dormancy of the Clan. As a result of William not matriculating for the arms, the Chiefly line was "lost" until 1949, when the Lord Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, contacted the MacTavish family in Canada, advising them that they were the long-lost Chiefly line, inviting them to petition for the Arms and Chiefship of the Clan.


File:MacTavish Tartan (Modern Red).jpg
Clan MacTavish modern red tartan, as published in 1906 in W & A K Johnston's "Tartans of the Clans & Septs of Scotland".

Clan MacTavish experienced a dormancy of 200 years when Lachlan MacTavish was the last Chief to register at that time. The dormancy ended in 1997 when Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry matriculated. His son, Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry is the current Chief of Clan MacTavish.

William's great grandson, Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, was matriculated by the Court of the Lord Lyon 23 July 1997 and granted the Arms and Title of Chief of the Clan MacTavish of Dunardry, and was the 26th Chief of the Clan in an unbroken line. He died on 19 June 2005 at his home in Vancouver, BC. He is succeeded by his son and heir, the 27th Chief, Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, a member of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

Clan profile


The current chief of Clan MacTavish is Steven Edward Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, Chief of the Name and Arms of MacTavish.[15] He is the 27th Hereditary Chief of Clan MacTavish from an unbroken line. He assumed leadership of the clan upon the death of his father, Edward Stewart Dugald MacTavish, the 26th Chief.[16]

Origin of the name

The clan name MacTavish is an Anglicised form of the Gaelic Mac Tamhais, which translates to Thomson or Thom(p)son in English.[17] This name is a patronymic form of the Scots personal name Tammas, which in turn is a form of the name Thomas.

The Gaelic name Mac Tamhais is pronounced similarly to 'MacTavis' or 'MacTavish' (the "mh" in Gaelic pronounced as the "v" in the English word "very"). In old charters, the name had many variant spellings. Some spellings found within old charters, post-Culloden parish registers, and in The Commons Argyll appear as MacAvis, MacCamis, McCawis,McKavis, McKnavis, M'Ash, MacAnish, mcTais, MacTavifh and mcThavish, to give but a few. It seems that from near the end of 17th century, the spellings, MacTavish and/or Thom(p)son or Thomas were the most common. Variations in surname spelling within one document are often seen for the same person.[18]

Clan Symbols

The crest badge suitable for members of Clan MacTavish contains the crest and motto of the clan chief. The crest is blazoned a boar's head erased or langued proper.[19] The motto is NON OBLITUS,[20] which translates from Latin as "not forgetful".[21] The MacTavish family name was wrongfully claimed by Clan Campbell, during the 200 year period where the chiefly line was "lost", until 1997 when the "Chief of the Clan MacTavish" was recognized by the Lord Lyon. The motto is a response to the Campbell chief's NE OBLIVISCARIS (which translates from Latin as "do not forget").[21] The phrase “Clan MacTavish”, the crest badge and the Chief's coat of arms have all been trademarked in both Canada and the United States. The serial numbers for the existing trademarks are: Clan MacTavish 78847088 Crest Badge 78847258 Coat of Arms 78849931

Chiefly Arms

In 1793, John Hooke-Campbell Lord Lyon King of Arms granted the following coat of arms to Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry: Quarterly, 1st and 4th a Gyronny of eight Sable and Or; 2nd and 3rd, Argent, a buck's head cabossed Gules attired Or on a chief engrailed Azure a cross crosslet fitchèe between two mullets Or. Crest a boar's head erased Or langued Gules. Motto: NON OBLITUS. The arms display in the first and fourth quarters the gyronny prominent in Campbell heraldry reversed for difference. The second and third quarters are a differenced version of the arms of Thompson of that Ilk.[22]

In 2002 the Lord Lyon King of Arms re-granted Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry arms with certain amendments. Lord Lyon switched the Campbell gyronny from the first and fourth quarters to the second and third quarters. The new arms are blazoned Quarterly, 1st and 4th, Argent, a Buck's Head cabossed Gules attired Or on a Chief engrailed Azure a cross crosslet fitchèe between two mullets of the First; 2nd and 3rd, Gyronny of eight Sable and Or. Above the Shield is placed a Helm befitting his degree with a Mantling Azure doubled Argent, and on a Wreath of the Liveries is set for Crest a boar's head erased Or langued Proper, and in an Escrol over the same this Motto "NON OBLITUS".[19]

The phrase “Clan MacTavish”, the crest badge and the Chief's coat of arms have all been trademarked in both Canada and the United States. The serial numbers for the existing trademarks are: Clan MacTavish 78847088 Crest Badge 78847258 Coat of Arms 78849931


Names, variant names, and septs for Clan MacTavish include Cash, MacCash, MacCavish, MacLehose, MacSteaphain, MacTavish, MacThom, MacThomas, Stephen(son), Steven(son), Tais, Taws, Taweson, Thom, Thomas, Thomason, Thompson, Thomson, Tod(d) and all variant spellings.[23][24][25][26]


  1. ^ "Clan MacTavish Official Website". Retrieved 2012-10-17. 
  2. ^ "Clan MacTavish Connected Names or Septs". Official Clan MacTavish Seannachie. Retrieved 2012-10-17. 
  3. ^ "The Bloodline of the MacTavish Chiefs" (PDF). Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Mathews, G.D. Adams, Patricia, ed. "Argylshire" (PDF). Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  5. ^ Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2000). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 1, From Origins To The Battle Of Flodden. Edinburgh University Press. p. 46. ISBN 1-902930-17-7. 
  6. ^ "The Origins of the Campbells". Clan Campbell Society North America. Retrieved 14 April 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2000). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 1, From Origins To The Battle Of Flodden. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 243–244. ISBN 1-902930-17-7. 
  8. ^ Thompson, Patrick (2012). History Of Clan MacTavish. LCCN 2012942086. 
  9. ^ Edinburgh Evening Courant, 5 November 1785, advertisement of sale on 7 December 1785
  10. ^ National Archives of Scotland, CS230.MC.3.3.1 MacDonald of Largie v Campbell & MacTavish British Library, BLL01015832985, Answers by MacDonald of Largie
  11. ^ Argyll & Bute Archives, MacTavish of Dunardry papers, letter from Charles MacDonald to Lachlan MacTavish, 2 May 1777
  12. ^ National Archives of Scotland, CS237.C.5.2.A. 1780
  13. ^ The Edinburgh Evening Courant, 5 November 1785
  14. ^ Alexander Mackenzie. 1896. History of the Frasers of Lovat, with Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name, to which is added those of Dunballoch and Phopachy, Inverness: A. and W. Mackenzie, printed by The "Scottish Highlander" Office, pp. 697-699.
  15. ^ Clan Chiefs
  16. ^ burkes peerage
  17. ^ "McTavish Name Meaning and History". Retrieved 14 April 2008. 
  18. ^ "Names Found in Anglicized Irish Documents". 
  19. ^ a b "Clan MacTavish Press Release, New Arms For MacTavish Chief". Retrieved 17 January 2009. 
  20. ^ "Chief or Representative - The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs". Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  21. ^ a b Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2000). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 1, From Origins To The Battle Of Flodden. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 246–247. ISBN 1-902930-17-7. 
  22. ^ Campbell of Airds, Alastair (2004). A History of Clan Campbell; Volume 3, From The Restoration To The Present Day. Edinburgh University Press. p. 394. ISBN 0-7486-1790-6. 
  23. ^ Surnames of Scotland; by Professor George Black, 1866–1948, 12th Printing, 1999.
  24. ^ The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands; by Frank Adams, 7th Edition revised by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon King of Arms
  25. ^ "Clan MacTavish Family Names – Septs". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  26. ^ Patrick Thompson, Clan MacTavish Seanachie. "Clan MacTavish Connected Names or Septs". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  • A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants before the Confederation, Donald Whyte
  • Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Middle Ages, Edward J. Cowan and R. Andrew MacDonald
  • Annals and Chronicles: (Ulster, Four Mastes, Tigernach, Inishfallen, Senchus fer nAlban, Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Life of St. Columba, etc.) Translations of these records can be brought into your nearest public library through Inter-Library loan.
  • Chronicles of Mann and the Sudreys, from the Manuscript Codex in the British Museum with historical notes by P. A. Munch, Professor of History n the Royal University f Christiania, HON. F.R.A.S.S., Revised, annotated, and furnished with additional documents, and English translations of the Chronyca, and of the Latin Documents by the Right Rev. Dr. Goss.
  • Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, Frank Adams, revised by Sir Thomas Learney, Lord Lyon
  • Hebridean Sea Kings: The Successors of Somerled, 1164–1316, W. D. H. Sellar
  • Highlanders: A History of the Gaels, John MacLeod
  • Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands, Bannerman, J W M & Steer, Wm, 1977,Edinburgh.
  • Rebels without a Cause. The Relations of Fergus of Galloway and Somerled of Argyll with the Scottish Kings, 1151–1164, R. Andrew McDonald
  • Scottish Surnames, Donald Whyte, 2000
  • Surnames of Scotland, Professor George Black, 12th Edition 1999

External links

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