In the 17th century, the Isle of Lewis was owned by the Mackenzie clan, a prominent family based on mainland Scotland. The Mackenzies had taken over from the Macleods. Other important families in Lewis at the time were the Macaulays and the Morrisons. One of these Morrisons – John - had a ‘tack’, a large landholding, in Bragar. With the Mackenzie owners of Lewis based off island, this John Morrison was one of the most important men in Lewis at the time, and all VIP visitors would head straight to Bragar to see him. We think that is a great example for modern day visitors, and encourage everyone to make their way to Bragar and to Grinneabhat!
What is a clan? Do you think of tartan, of chiefs, castles, crests, Culloden and other battles long ago? Membership of a clan is important to many people of Scots descent who live overseas. The word itself comes from the Gaelic clann which means ‘children’, and the mac at the beginning of many clan names translates as ‘son of’. Historically, the Gaelic people of Scotland lived in kinship based groups, ruled over by a ‘chief’, as was common in the past in many different societies. The ruling family would have been closely related, but it is highly doubtful that all members of the ‘clan’ would have shared a common ancestor.
What is certain is that they did not have a ‘surname’. Gaelic society uses a patronymic naming system, like present day Iceland and some African countries. As Gaelic society no longer has its own ruling class, but is under the jurisdiction of the British state, every Gael now has to have both a given name and a surname. In Bragar and Arnol, and other Gaelic speaking areas, the local Gaels will be known by two names. They will have their ‘official’ names, for example Murdo Macleod, and their Gaelic name, eg Murchadh Tharmoid Chaluim. In this example Murchadh is the given name, Tarmod is his father’s given name, and Calum is his grandfather’s given name. Although it is usually a patronymic (based on the father’s name) matronymics (with the mother’s name) can also be used.
Modern day Gaels have a very strong bond not to clan, but to their home village and region, with families often living in the same area for hundreds or maybe even thousands of years. In Gaelic, people belong to a place, rather than a place belonging to a person. The Gaels share that strong link to territory with other indigenous peoples worldwide.