One Clan or Two?

Most people with our surname associate themselves with the Scottish clans MacLean of Duart or MacLaine of Lochbuie. The two clans share an ancient history (and for most of that history the same spelling of Maclean).

Recorded history of these clans goes back to 13th century Scotland to Gille eoin-na-Taughe (“Gille eoin of the Battleaxe”).  Gille eoin was known for being a fierce fighter at the Battle of Largs against the Vikings in 1263. Gille eoin was succeeded by son Gilliosa (also known as MacGille eoin or MacGillean, Son of Gille eoin).

Research done by Nicholas Maclean-Bristol shows that of the two of Gille eoin’s great-great grandsons that were to become the progenitors of the Duart and Lochbuie families, Hector Reaganach (“Hector the Stern”) was the oldest and Lachlan Lubanach (“Lachlan the Crafty”) the middle son.  A third brother named John was the youngest.

In July, 1390, MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, granted his son-in-law Lachlan MacGilli eoin (great-great grandson of Gille eoin) lands on Mull including the the strongest fortress on Mull, the castle of Duart. MacDonald also granted Lachlan’s brother Hector land on Mull, which likely included Lochbuie. Although not the eldest, Lachlan established himself as the most powerful of the MacGillean clan. So, are the Macleans of Duart and the Maclaines of Lochbuie one clan or two? If two, to which clan do you belong?

Alasdair White, President of maintains that “there is only one clan Maclean”:

“The supremacy of Lachlan resulted in him being appointed as chief of the MacGillean kindred. At all times since then the clan has recognised the Duart family as the Chiefly family and at no time did the descendants of Hector of Lochbuie do other than recognise, accept and support this situation.

Legally and structurally (in clan terms) there is only one clan Maclean and all are descendants of Gillean of the Battle Axe. It is irrelevant how the name is spelt and indeed there was no regularisation of the spelling of the name until the late 1700’s and it was some time later that each family “fixed” the spelling of their particular line, thus Maclean and Maclaine are the same clan. Indeed, the Lochbuie family did not start spelling their name “Maclaine” until 1745 following the failed Jacobite rebellion. There is a strong likelihood that this was to differentiate the Lochbuie family (who did not come “out” for the Jacobites) from the Duart line (who were “out”) in this way Lochbuie may have been able to defend the clan lands from the Campbells and thus ensure the survival of the clan.”

However the Maclaines of Lochbuie maintain that:

“Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie is a highland Scottish clan. This clan is NOT a branch of the Clan MacLean of Duart.

The Maclaine of Lochbuie branch of the family are descended from Hector, the brother of Lachlan. Lachlan founded the Duart branch of the MacLeans.

Lorne Maclaine of Lochbuie, 26th (and current) Chief is recognised by the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and Lord Lyon.”

We might find some answers (and certainly more questions!) through historical and genealogical research. As more Macleans are joining the Clan Maclean/Maclaine DNA Project, different DNA signatures are beginning to emerge, leading to the addition of some lowland Scottish and Irish Macleans that are likely NOT descended from Gille eoin:

“Both Clan MacLean and Clan MacLaine websites make reference to ‘One Family – Two Clans’ which is a nice concept but misleading in genealogical terms in that everyone with the surname MacLean, MacLaine, McLean or any of the other variants can consider themselves to be a member of one of the clans but they are not necessarily actually related to other clan members. 

If you look at our Y-DNA Results page you’ll see quite a wide variation but with a strong concentration on haplotype R1b1a2.  So, if we’re all ‘one family’ why don’t we all have the same DNA?  Three reasons come to mind – firstly, the clan system whereby membership of the clan was extended to supporters and those seeking protection of the powerful clan. Many of these people would have taken the clan surname to identify their loyalty and protector. Then there could have been non-parental events (NPEs) including illegitimacy, informal adoption and rape such as that by raiders such as the Vikings and members of other clans. Finally, although the Y-chromosome is passed from father to son it can mutate in the process with perhaps one or two of the markers changing value.  If this did not happen everyone on earth would have exactly the same Y-chromosome!

Furthermore, in addition to descent from one of these highland Scottish clans there is growing evidence for variants of our surname developing independently, for example in lowland southwest Scotland and in Ireland.”