Clan Maclean is an ancient family of the Hebrides. From the spectacular Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, they commanded a large and loyal fighting force that played its part in may historical dramas.
The clan Maclean owes its name to a fearsome Scottish Chieftain named Gillean of the Battle Axe, who fought his way into the history books in the 13th century. His name comes from the Scottish Gaelic Gilleathain, meaning ‘son of the servant of St John’. Clan Maclean came to hold power over large areas of the Highlands and Hebrides. It was the two sons of Gillean's great-great-grandson, Iain Dhu Maclean, who first settled the clan on the Isle of Mull, which has been the families spiritual home ever since.
There are six distinct branches of the clan, each of whom has, or had, its own chieftain, but the Chief of the name is Maclean of Duart and Morvern. After the fall of the Lordship of the Isles at the end of the 15th century, the clan rose to prominence, and gained further lands at the Reformation, but the clan fell foul first of the Macdonalds, who resisted the Maclean influence and expansion, especially in Islay; and then to the predatory nature of the Campbells of Argyll, who eventually took over the Duart family’s lands on Mull.
Loyalty to the Stuart family, from the Battle of Inverkeithing in 1651 to the Battle of Culloden in 1746, did not help the clan’s fortunes. Clan Maclean threw its muscle behind the Jacobite rising of 1715. When this failed, their chief, Sir Hector Maclean, was exiled to France. There he founded, and was the first Grand Master of, the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Paris.
Sorley MacLean was one of the most significant Scottish poets of the 20th century. He wrote poems in Gaelic at a time when very few notable writers were doing so. This led to his being viewed as the father of the Scottish Gaelic renaissance.
Maclean clan gatherings
There are regular clan gatherings at Duart Castle and events elsewhere on Mull. In 2012 over 1000 clans people attended the Centenary Gathering.
Fascinating Maclean places to visit
Duart Castle, Isle of Mull
Few clans have such a dramatic seat as Maclean does - Duart Castle is a spectacular fortification on the Isle of Mull. It clings to a precipitous rock and dominates the waters of the Sound of Mull. The Castle was eventually lost to the clan. It gradually fell into ruin, but was restored by the then Chief, Sir Fitzory MacLean, to it's full awesome splendour in 1912 and its rugged beauty has been inspiring visitors ever since. It is open during the summer months and you certainly won’t forget a visit to this picturesque and fascinating building.
The castle featured in the movie Entrapment, which starred Catherine Zeta Jones and Sir Sean Connery. This was particularly fitting for Sir Sean, as he is a Maclean on his mother’s side and has often been seen sporting the Maclean hunting tartan.
Moy Castle, Lochbuie, Isle of Mull
At the end of a long narrow road in south east Mull is this remarkably well preserved tower house of the Maclaines of Lochbuie, which sits on the sea shore and dates from the 14th century. Below it one can see where the clan galleys were brought ashore. The ruin was consolidated in 2015. [Not open to the public]
For a castle experience that very few visitors know about, make a detour to the remote village of Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan, Scotland. Here you can explore the ruined but still proud stronghold of Mingarry Castle, which nestles on a ridge of rock overlooking the sea. It is roughly hexagonal in shape and its walls are at least 9 feet thick - thicker on the seaward side. In 1588 the chief of the Clan Maclean of Duart stayed here after capturing it from Clan MacDonald. That same year, one of the ships of the Spanish Armada, while fleeing from the English, landed on Mull. The enterprising chief then persuaded troops from the Spanish ship to aid him in his on-going feud with the MacDonalds.
For a true Hebridean experience, take the ferry over to the stunningly beautiful Isle of Coll, where there are not one but two Maclean strongholds - the Old and New Breacachadh Castles.