Unlike most Scots, who are of Celtic origin, the original McFarlanes were Saxons.The earliest known ancestor of the family was the Saxon Arkil (son of Egfrith), a Northumbrian chief who fled to Scotland to escape the devastations of William the Conqueror in the late 11th century.

MacFarlane hunting tartan
MacFarlane hunting tartan

Arkil received from King Malcolm 111 Canmore the custody of the Lennox district. (Malcolm Canmore had become King of Scotland in 1057 when he overthrew Macbeth, as described in Shakespeare’s play.) Malcolm 111 gave Arkil’s son, Alwyn, the title of Earl of Lennox. Along with Clan Donnachaidh, the McFarlanes were the earliest of the clans to hold their lands by feudal charter. The McFarlanes are descended from Alwyn, Earl of Lennox.

In about 1286, Alwyn’s younger son, Gilchrist, received lands at Arrochar on the shores of Loch Long and along the north west of Loch Lomond and surrounding Loch Sloy, in the West Highlands which became the Clan’s homeland for 500 years.

Gilchrist’s son, Malduin, Earl of Lennox, was a friend and ally of Robert the Bruce, then the Earl of Carrick, during his fight for independence from the English. The McFarlanes fought at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 in which Bruce defeated the English. Bruce became King Robert 1 of Scotland. The McFarlane Clan takes its name from Malduin’s son Parlan. The name, Parlan, is the Gaelic equivalent of Bartholomew.

Modern MacFarlane tartan
Modern MacFarlane tartan

The McFarlanes were involved in many conflicts with the English in the following centuries.

The 11th Chief and many of his clansmen fell at Flodden in 1513 when King James IV of Scotland was defeated and killed by the English.

The McFarlanes later opposed the English at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547 where Duncan, the 13th Chief, and his brother were both killed.

In 1565 the McFarlane Chief, the Earl of Lennox, Henry Darnley, married Mary Queen of Scots. They had one son, James. Darnley quickly became extremely unpopular with the Queen and her court principally because he took the view that, as the husband of the Queen, he was entitled to become King and because, like the McFarlanes and many Highlanders, he remained a Catholic when most Scots had become Protestants. The following year (1566), Darnley was assassinated, probably with Mary’s involvement. This turned the McFarlanes and most of the Scottish nobility against Mary. The McFarlanes were noted for their gallantry at the battle of Langside in 1568 when Mary was defeated and forced to abdicate in favour of Darnley’s infant son James, who became King James V1 of Scotland. James later also became King James 1 of England.

The McFarlane’s valour at Langside was rewarded with the granting of a crest and motto (“This I’ll defend.”) which symbolises defence of the Crown, although, in fact, it was awarded as a result of a rebellion against the Crown.

Modern MacFarlane hunting tartan
Modern MacFarlane hunting tartan

The McFarlanes were renowned for “lifting” cattle from their richer neighbours. The clan march is “Thogail nam Bo theid sinn” (To Lift the Cows We Shall Go).

To Lift the Cows We Shall Go

To lift the cows – to lift the cows
To lift the cows we shall go:
To lift the cows into the rain and into the mist
Up the moor of Glenn Cro we shall go.

To lift the spoil, like the sting of a wasp
To lift the spoil we shall go;
To lift the spoil, to lift the spoil
To lift the spoil we shall go;

We are bound to drive the bullocks
All by hollows, hirsts and hillocks,
Through the sleet and through the rain,
When the moon is beaming low,
On frozen lakes and hills of snow,
Bold and heartily we go.
And all for little gain.

To lift the cows – to lift the cows
To lift the cows we shall go:
To lift the cows into the rain and into the mist
Up the moor of Glenn Cro we shall go

To lift the spoil, like the sting of a wasp
To lift the spoil we shall go;
To lift the cows into the rain and into the mist
Up the moor of Glenn Cro we shall go.

They became so famous for this activity that, throughout the Highlands, the full moon became known as “McFarlanes’ lantern”. These activities, and the slaying of the Chief of the Colquhouns of Luss in 1608, led to the Clan being outlawed.

The Highlanders continued to war with the English. In 1639, they rebelled against Charles 1 when he tried to impose the Church of England on Scotland and then against Cromwell when he deposed Charles 1. During the Cromwellian war, McFarlane homes at Island I Vow were twice burned. They were involved in the two Jacobite risings in support of James Edward Stuart when he was excluded from the English throne because he was a Catholic. In the second, the Scots, under James Edward’s son Bonnie Prince Charlie, suffered a dreadful defeat at Culloden in 1747. 1,200 Scots were killed; the wounded were put to death and 1,150 survivors were transported to Barbados as slaves. It became illegal for Highlanders to gather, to wear tartan, play the bagpipes, teach the Gaelic language or bear arms. Any clan which did not accept English rule would forfeit its land.

Under these conditions, on the death of Walter, the 20th Chief, in 1767, the McFarlane lands at Arrochar were sold. The Clan seat at Arrochar is now the Cobbler Hotel. Many McFarlanes chose to migrate to Ireland – most settled in Ulster but a number also went to Leitrim County. Our ancestors were among those who went to Leitim. About a hundred years later, their descendants returned to Scotland, finally settling in Stirling, on the edge of the Highlands.

The Cobbler Hotel
The Cobbler Hotel

In the first half of the 19th century, the Highlands were “cleared”. Highlanders’ homes, some of which had been occupied for 500 years were burned, at a rate of up to 2,000 a day; their cattle slaughtered and their lands were used for sheep farming or stocked with deer for hunting. The people were left to die of starvation or cold.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle

Documents:

 The Clan MacFarlane by Mary Wilson MacNair