by John Dye

MG1 Vol 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

The MacIsaacs

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 Moidart.
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:

Arms Place
John MacIsaac the Violer Gun Kinlochmoidart
Duncan MacIsaac Gun & Sword Lochans
John MacIsaac " " Smerisary
Angus MacIsaac " " "
Angus MacIsaac Wants Glenfinnan

Whether "John 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 1843.

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, Lochans.

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.

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