Traditionally, all McEwans have looked to an origin in Clan Ewen of Otter which dispersed in 1493, but there are other possible origins for the McEwan name. Clan Dougall recognises a sept named McEwan, and intriguingly, the heraldry of the earliest MacEwan arms appears to be derived from the arms of MacDougall.
When I began to investigate this sept, the word was that it was descended from Ewen MacDougall, King of the Isles. I was told that the first armiger, MacEwan of Muckley, was really MacEwan of Muck, and that this McEwan family still owned the Isle of Muck today. It seemed not improbable that an eighteenth-century MacEwan laird in search of a genealogy had alighted on the romantic figure of Ewen, King of the Isles, as his distant progenitor. Since this MacEwan was apparently an islander himself, this explanation seemed altogether appropriate even if historically dubious.
Earlier this year, I duly contacted the McEwans of Muck, but they flatly denied any connection with the Muckley family. Indeed at the time of the grant of arms to MacEwan of Muckley in 1743, their ancestors had never even been to Muck!
I was back to square one. Why was MacEwen a sept of Clan Dougall? And why did MacEwan of Muckley blatantly reference MacDougall in his arms? The solution came from the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. Lyon Court keeps records of every grant of arms made in Scotland, and many include details of ancestry to validate the right to arms. The grant of arms to MacEwan of Muckley is found in Lyon Register 1, 376, where he is described as “Great grandson to Ewan More Mcdougal of Ballinreoch, brother to Mcdowal or Mcdugal of Lorn . . .”
Ballinreoch in Perthshire seems at first glance, an unlikely location for the brother of the MacDougall of Lorne. However, there is corroborating evidence linking the Perthshire MacEwans with the MacDougall clan, and identifying MacEwan of Muckley himself.A document entitled List of the different Clans and Tribes descended from the Family of Lorne, and of those depending on that most ancient family, as kept in the Records thereof, viz. - includes among others “The Mac Ewens of Achomer, Perth, and Dungarthill.” The document ends with the note: “N.B. - The whole of the above tribes joined under MacDougall of Lorn’s Banner or Double Colours, when he would have occasion to bring it to the field of strife and of honour.”
The text of the List of the different Clans comes from a handwritten copy dated 1808, signed with the words, “A true copy. Ewen MacDougall.” It is cited by Robert Craig Maclagan in The Perth Incident of 1396; Maclagan considers it to be copied from a document of no great antiquity. He describes Ewen MacDougall (the copyist) as “one of the Macewans or MacDougalls of Achomer, Lochtayside, who still occupy Achomer, Claggan, and Milton Ardtalnaig.” So, even as late as the early nineteenth century, it was clearly possible for the names MacDougall and MacEwan to be used interchangeably.
Several McEwans are recorded in the ‘Register of Testaments 1682-1800’ from The Commissariot Record of Dunkeld. The most significant for us is James McEwan of Muckly, dated 21 Dec. 1759. His entry in the Commissariot Records, where he is identified as “Commissary Clerk of Dunkeld,” clearly confirms MacEwan of Muckley’s association with Perthshire.
The Commissariot Records of Dunkeld also mention one Dougall McEwan, “alias McDonal, sometime in Tullichglass, in Artaling, thereafter in Achmore.” The ‘Artaling’ and ‘Achmore’ of the Commissariot Records correspond with Ardtalnaig and Achomer mentioned in the List of different Clans.
Like their MacDougall cousins, many of these MacEwans had Jacobite sympathies. Also listed among the McEwans of the Dunkeld Records is “Donald, mason in Dunkeld”, who is probably the same as the Dunkeld mason Donald McEwan who “Carried Arms in the Rebel Army”, according to the List of Persons Concerned in the Rebellion of 1745. More significantly, this list of Jacobites includes a John McEwan, son of the Laird of Dungarthill; the McEwans of Dungarthill are among those “descended from the Family of Lorne” in the List of different Clans.
Dungarthill is near the village of Caputh, east of Dunkeld (OS Grid Ref: NO 0541). Those who know Perthshire well might already have guessed that Muckley or Muckly is to be found at nearby Mill of Muckly (OS Grid Ref: NO 0641). There must once have been more to Muckly than just the mill, and it is so close to Dungarthill (just 1½ miles away) that it seems quite possible that they once formed part of the same estate.
Perhaps then, the Muckley of the original MacEwan armiger is actually identical with Dungarthill, which appears in the List of the different Clans dependent on MacDougall. If so, we must add a tragic footnote to the story of the laird’s son, John McEwan of Dungarthill, who took part in the ’45. In another list of Jacobites, the Muster Roll of the Jacobite army, we meet “John McEwan [the] y[oun]g[e]r of Muchlie” who fought in John Roy Stuart’s Regiment. This John McEwan died at Culloden.
It would appear then that the McEwans once formed a notable MacDougall sept based in Perthshire and into eastern Stirlingshire around Loch Tay (a separate origin is likely for McEwans in western Stirlingshire). The leading families of this sept were descended from the MacDougall chiefs, through Ewan Mor MacDougall of Ballinreoch (it might be of interest that Ballinreoch Cottage, near Strathtay, is available as a holiday let; OS Grid Ref: NN 91676).
There are still very many McEwans in this area today. It’s reasonable to assume that they are largely descended from this sept of Clan Dougall, and that it is from Ewan Mor MacDougall that they take their name. As the leading descendant of MacDougall of Lorne, MacEwan of Muckley would probably have been regarded as the chieftain of this sept. Would it be possible, one wonders, to trace his heirs today?
Aikman, Christian et al. 2001, No Quarter Given: The Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46, Glasgow (Neil Wilson)
Ewing, Thor, 2009, New Notes on Clan Ewen, (Historical Arts)
Grant, Francis J. (ed.), 1903, The Commissariot Record of Dunkeld. Register of Testaments 1682-1800, Edinburgh (Skinner)
Maclagan, Robert Craig, 1905, The Perth Incident of 1396, Edinburgh & London (Blackwood)
MacLeod, Walter (ed.), 1890, A List of Persons Concerned in the Rebellion, Scottish History Society Publications, First Series v.8, Edinburgh (EUP)