A Brief History of Clan MacKay

  1. The Irish Kings of Dalriada (to 501 A.D.)
  2. The Tribe of Loarn (501 to 736)
  3. The Royal House of Moray (736 to 1215)
  4. The MacKays of Strathnaver (1215 to 1614)
  5. The Lords Reay (1614 - )
  6. Appendix A: Kings of Scots (844 to 1290)
  7. Bibliography

Return to MacKay Family & Connections in the Maritimes.

The Irish Kings of Dalriada

(to 501 A.D.)

The earliest beginnings of the Scottish people are also those of the MacKays. Around the time the Romans were in Britain (55 B.C. to 409 A.D.), there were two races occupying what is today Scotland: the Picts and the Britons. These Celtic peoples had successfully resisted the Roman legions, and what the Romans called Caledonia was never incorporated into the Empire. As a result, very little is known about these early inhabitants, apart from brief descriptions by Roman writers. As the Romans withdrew from Britain, these north islanders were faced with new invaders. These were the Scots from Ireland, and the Angles from Germany. It is with the Scots that we are concerned, for it is they who finally succeeded in conquering Scotland, uniting its peoples and giving them their line of kings. From these Scots we can also trace the descent of what became the Clan MacKay.

The Scots came from a kingdom in Ireland which was known as Dalriada. This kingdom corresponded roughly with the modern County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Very little is known about the kings of Dalriada apart from their names. These are found in two mediæval sources, the Book of Ballymote and the Pedigree of the Scottish Kings. It should be noted that these sources were not written contemporaneously with the events which they describe. Often, they are copies of original material which is now lost to us, and they were written centuries after the fact. It is difficult to verify the information they give with supporting evidence, which makes the accuracy of that information doubtful. The list of the kings of Dalriada should therefore be regarded as legendary.

The Book of Ballymote gives 38 names in its genealogy, all presented as the direct line of kings. It begins with the name Angus Turbech of Tara. Tara, incidentally, is the ancient hall of the High Kings of Ireland. It is on a hill in County Meath, Éire, and its mention in a list of Kings of Dalriada implies that the Dalriada, or "race of Riada," are descended from the High Kings. Angus was High King from 384 to 325 B.C., according to the Annals of the Four Masters. The genealogy ends with the name of Fergus, the son of Erc. With Erc we are on firmer ground: he was a king of Dalriada who died around 501 A.D.. The Pedigree of the Scottish Kings contains 25 names, and differs somewhat from the Book of Ballymote. The last eight names, though, from Sen-chormac to Fergus, are the same. The two lists of the kings of Dalriada will be found in Table 1.

The Dalriada crossed the North Channel from Ireland to Kintyre in Scotland, eventually establishing a kingdom around Argyll. The first record of this migration is in 258 A.D., when the Romans noted that Scots from the north attacked south as far as London. In time, the Dalriadan kingdom in Scotland overshadowed that in Ireland, and the kings made their home in Argyll, in its ancient capital of Dunadd. Around the year 500 A.D., the two sons of Erc, Fergus and Loarn, were kings of Dalriada in Scotland. It is from Loarn that the MacKays claim descent.

Table 1
The Irish Kings of Dalriada
Book of Ballymote 1    Pedigree of the Scottish Kings 2 
Angus Turbech of Tara   
Fiachu Fer-mara   
Ailill Erand   
Ailill    Eogan
Eogan    Eterscel
Eterscel    Conaire Mor
Conaire Mor    Admor
Daire Dornmor    Coirpre
Coirpre Crom-chend    Daire Dorn-mor
Mug-lama    Coirpre Crom-chend
Conaire Coem    Ellatig
Coirpre Riata    Lugaid
Cindtai    Mug-lama
Guaire    Conaire
Cince    Eochaid Riata
Fedlimid Lamdoit    Fiachra Cathmail
Fiachu Tathmael    Eochaid Antoit
Eochaid Antoit    Achircir
Aithir    Findfece
Laithluaithi    Cruitlinde
Sen-chormac    Sen-chormac
Fedlimid    Fedlimid Ruamnach
Angus Buaidnech    Angus Buidnech
Fedlimid Aislingthe    Fedlimid Aislingech
Angus    Angus Fir
Eochaid Muin-remor    Eochaid Muin-remor
Erc    Erc
Fergus    Fergus

1  Genealogies from the Book of Ballymote, pp. 148-149, as quoted in Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History: A.D. 500 to 1286, v. I, (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1922). p. 153.

2   Pedigree of the Scottish Kings, appended to version E of the Chronicle of the Kings of Scotland in Skene's Picts and Scots, pp. 133-134, as quoted in Ibid, p. 157.

Continue to The Tribe of Loarn

These pages written and maintained by Michael MacKay.

Last updated: July 3, 2003.

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