Scotland – On the Trail of Clan Mackenzie

Eilean Donan CastleEver since I found out that my paternal lineage goes back to the 12th century Clan Mackenzie, I dreamed of following their trail from Eilean Donan Castle on the west coast across the Scottish Highlands and the Kintail mountains to Castle Leod on the eastern shores.

The tale of the rise and fall of Clan Mackenzie, filled with the supernatural, cunning power, and vicious clan battles, makes a great story. Diane Gabaldon’s historical time travel book series, inspiring the popular Outlander TV series set in the Scottish Highlands, includes a part of the Mackenzie history and the Jacobite Rebellion.

The Loch Duich, Scottish HighlandsMackenzie’s, once the strongest clan in the north of Scotland, reigned for centuries. From rich, warlords to cash strapped landlords, their story portrays the end of the clan system as fortunes changed hands after the Highland Clearances. Their lives were as rugged as the lands they ruled. Filled with craggy inlets, mist-covered mountains, and broody glens, their land lends way to legends.

The name of Clan Mackenzie dates back to the 13th century when Coinneach MacCoinneach (Kenneth son of Kenneth) gave his name to the Mackenzie’s at Eilean Donan Castle at the junction of Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. The surname Mackenzie, MacCoinneach in Scottish Gaelic, means ‘son of the fair bright one’.

Clan MacKenzie's territory, Scottish Highlands

Clan Mackenzie’s territory, Scottish Highlands

The Mackenzie chiefs’ clever battle tactics and manipulative relations with royalty helped them obtain land. Scottish Kings, considering the Highland Clans unruly, used clans’ chiefs to gain control. The Mackenzie’s served as royal agents and strongmen for the King.

To further their profits, the Mackenzie’s once took on the royal enemy Satan. In the late 16th century when Scotland’s King James VI obsession with the supernatural reached a fevered pitch, the Clan used witch-hunting as a way to ensure the King’s favor.

The Mackenzie’s power often came at expense of other clans especially MacLeod’s. In the early 17th century they took advantage of MacLeod’s feuds to acquire the Isle of Lewis. As Earls of Seaforth, they earned rights to valuable fishing grounds.

In the end according to legends, one of their own mystics, the Brahan Seer, in his final prophecy, predicted the doom of House of Seaforth and Brahan Castle.

Factor or fable?

Either way the clan system fell apart after the defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.Battle of Culloden

How much of any history is biased by hearsay, rumor and boasts of conquests to perpetuate power and control?

This I do know. I hail from shrewd leaders, mighty warriors, and strong survivors. I too am a storyteller, truth seeker, adventuresome traveler filled with mysticism.

How about you? Where do you come from?

Even without Scottish ancestry, you will enjoy upcoming articles about my time travel tale back to the bewitching Clan Mackenzie of the Scottish Highlands.




Posted in family, travel.


  1. Very interesting Pat. Loved the history and I am impressed at how much you have uncovered. Keep it coming!

    • It was so nice to hear from you Dave. You would love the history. Everywhere we went was filled with so many historical artifacts, sites, and stories.

    • I know you have delved into your Italian history, but maybe when you finish your book, you can go back to the archives to find out more about the stories that shaped you and your ties to Italy.

  2. Pat, perhaps we can look forward to a book about this?? I for one would find it interesting reading. You hail from sturdy stock, my friend — good on you! I haven’t had my lineage checked by DNA, but I’m Irish-Scotch-English on my dad’s side and full-blown Italian on my mom’s. Makes for a clever wit and a quick temper, so I’m told, ha!

    • Oh dear Debbie, I think it would take another lifetime to complete a book about all this history. You are certainly an interesting mix. When you retire maybe you will have time to delve into your ancestry. Until then I will fill you in as much as I can find out about that Scottish link.

  3. My Ancestry DNA revealed I’m mostly Irish, Scottish and English… Not what I expected. My family never talked about their heritage. I’m not sure where to go next to check it out but love that you have a handle on your ancestry. Brenda

    • Oh, it looks like we have more in common than just love of a good story. If you ever catch up with your projects and have time you might want to delve into your ancestry. Ancestry. com offers a free trial. I signed on for 6 months (for a small fee, of course) to give me access to all their data bases worldwide, but it was also valuable for the information I could access from other people’s research in our family name.

    • Rach, don’t tell me you speak Gaelic as well as your other talents. So glad we’ve remained connected through our love of writing, even though you are so far away in Australia.

      • Haha, no I can’t claim to be a Gaelic speaker. I just know a few phrases from living in the UK for so long. I’m a different ‘tribe’ though ???? Great to keep in touch. I talk of you to my girls, and Safiya has commandeered my Chicago Bulls T-shirt, that you gave me, as a nightshirt. You live on with us down under ???? xxx

  4. How fun to look all the way back into your lineage. I always knew you were a strong and determined woman. Now we can see where that came from. Thanks for sharing.

    • With the combo of the rugged Scottish Highlander and hardy Norwegian bloodlines, I have to be tough. But what surprises is me most is how anyone could’ve survived such severe conditions in such remote areas. I am lucky to be here. Maybe one day when you can physically no longer run around, you could delve into your own fascinating family history.

I would love to hear from you

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