MacNeil of Barra

Motto: Buaidh no bas (Victory or death)

The origins of the Mac Neil/Neill name are split between a branch of MacNeil - the Argyll MacNeills – and MacNeill of Barra.  There is some speculation that historically the Argyll branch was superior to the current chiefs of the Clan MacNeill of Barra, but there is also a school of thought that believes there is no relation at all between the MacNeils of Argyll and those of Barra.  There is one MacNeill recorded as the keeper of Castle Sween. 

In the mid-16th century, a certain Torquil MacNeill was known as the 'chief and principal of the clan and surname of Maknelis'; Torquil may have been the last of the hereditary MacNeill keepers of the castle and this may have passed to the MacMillans.  During the time of Torquil, there are records of separate clans on Barra and Gigha.  This Torquil line founded the branch-clan of Gigha, Taynish and Colonsay.  However, according to a 1962 decree by the Lord Lyon, the chiefs of MacNeill of Barra are chiefs of the whole name of MacNeil by Scots Law.  

The name MacNeill comes from the Gaelic ‘MacNiall’, ‘son of Neill’ (Irish for champion).  Common dialectic forms give us MacReill and MacGreal.  Clan Neill derive their descent through forty-five generations from Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland.

Niall, 21st in line of descent is claimed to have come to Barra in 1049 and founded Clan Niall in Scotland.  Neil MacNeill, fifth of Barra, was described as a prince at a Council of Isles in 1252.  He was chief when King Haakon’s army was defeated at Largs in 1263.

His son Neil Og MacNeil, is thought to have fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, for which he received land in north Kintyre.  A further charter of Barra and Boisdale was granted by the Lord of the Isles to the ninth Chief Gilleonan in 1427.  The MacNeills were Jacobites and fought for James VII at Killiecrankie in 1689.  They also rallied for the ‘Old Pretender’ in 1715.  Despite this, and years of exile and imprisonment, they did not forfeit their lands.  The clan prospered until the 19th century when Barra was sold.