History of the Mackenzies in Scotland and Elsewhere

The exact origin of the Clan Mackenzie is somewhat shrouded. In the seventeenth century it was believed that Colin/Cailean, the first Chief of the Mackenzies, came from Ireland in 1262 and may have been the son of the Norman family of Fitzgerald, Earls of Desmond and Dukes of Leinster, or possibly a soldier of fortune descended from the ancient Italian family of Gherardini. Later studies however direct the descendancy with more surety to descent from Gilleon na Aird, with a close connection to the Clans Anrias (Ross), Matheson, Macmahon and McIntyre.

Clan Mackenzie came to power with the rise of Colin as Governor of Eilean Donan. The records held at Iona state that he distinguished himself at the Battle of Largs, and saved the life of his King by killing a stag as it charged him whilst hunting. He was rewarded with the post of Governor of Eilean Donan Castle in 1265.

His wife was the daughter of Kenneth MacMahon (MacMathion or Matheson) of Lochalsh, who was connected to the O'Beolan Earls of Ross and Gilleon Og. For descent from Colin/Cailean view the UK site

Reasons for Emigration

For the Scottish people of the nineteenth century, emigration must have been a hard road to take — and deportations worse. There were many reasons for choosing to emigrate. In every generation there those who seek adventure and will not be held back. However religion, politics and economic necessity were behind the migrations for most.

Controversy within the churches led some to seek new lands in which to establish their faith. The Church was a popular career and many 'men of the cloth' were Mackenzies and MacRaes. When reading it is difficult to tell who followed which branch of belief. The walls of the Manse at Gairloch had cupboards reputed to be used for holding captured recruits for the press-gangs. Were they from the congregation or the opposition!


Hard economic times meant that the paid option of joining the armed forces was tempting and many young men volunteered to assure them a secure income — if not lifestyle. Following the clearances and decades of marginalisation, the crofters were politically decimated and were considered of little use to the emerging industrial capitalistic society. Few in high places concerned themselves with their plight.

The effect of the clearances on the land, as well as the people was dramatic. After centuries of crofting, where the people lived from and with the land and sea without dramatically changing the ecological balance, the land was rapidly transformed to pasture. Today, forests are once again beginning to clothe the hills, but with modern methods of farming and the lure of city life, the sons and daughters of the rural people continue to drift away, the land remaining as empty as it was after the clearances.


The Mackenzies were great fighting men. It is written that in 1427, Great Kenneth could raise 2,000 men. They were involved in the battles of Bannockburn, Otterburn, Flodden, Pinkie, Langside, Culloden and Braemar. In the 1770s, almost the entire 78th Regiment of 1130 men were Mackenzie followers. Later, the Ross-shire Buffs who fought in India, had many Mackenzie names on their roles.

After Culloden there were Mackenzies among those sent chained in galley holds to the West Indies. It is worth noting here that there was a total absence of the name in the lists of convicts sent to Australia.Records from the Men of Loch Broom, published in 1922, shows that from all over the world young Scots went out to fight in 1914-18. Again in 1939-45, young men and women followed their forefathers into war.


The legacy of the Highland way of life continues within Scotland and around the world where young Scots travelled and settled. In New Zealand over 400 Scottish orientated groups exist i.e. Clan Societies Caledonian Societies, Pipe Bands, all types of Highland Dancing clubs. It is a proud heritage.

Mackenzie was the only clan whose territory stretched from coast to coast, at one time extending from Applecross to the Firth of Moray. In c.1600 Mackenzie Kintail gained a Royal Charter for the whole of the Long Island (the Lews), now known as Lewis. In 1607 all the land from Strathnaver to Ardnamurchan was Mackenzie owned.

The Mackenzies have always been a family interested in learning and even in early days made sure that there was education available. Music, poetry and literature were high in the list of achievements.

History Book

A book is available from the Canadian Chapter of the Clan MacKenzie Society in the Americas at http://www.electricscotland.com/mackenzie/historybook.htm. Written by Alan McKenzie, who founded the Canadian Clan MacKenzie Society, it covers much of the history of the MacKenzies both in Scotland and world-wide.

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