Clan MacLeod ruled the wild, mountainous and very beautiful islands in the north western edge of Scotland - Skye, Lewis and Harris and Raasay. The clan descend from seafaring Norse Kings and its rich history stretches back over 800 years.
Clan MacLeod History
Clan MacLeod is one of Scotland’s most celebrated Highland clans with close historical links with the Isle of Skye. There are two main branches of the clan: the Macleods of Dunvegan, Harris and Glenelg whose chief is MacLeod of MacLeod (known in Gaelic as Siol Tormoid); the MacLeods of Lewis, Assynt and Raasay whose chief is Macleod of The Lewes (known in Gaelic as Siol Torquil). Both branches of the clan descend from Leod, the progenitor of the Clan MacLeod.
Leod was the younger son of Olaf the Black, one of the last Norse Kings of Man who died in 1265 when the Hebrides was finally ceded to Scotland. Living through this difficult period of transition in Scotland’s history, Leod inherited the islands of Lewis and Harris as well as Sleat, Trotternish, Waternish and Snizort on Skye. By his marriage to the daughter of the Norse Seneschal of Skye (MacRald Armuial) he was granted the lands of Glenelg, Duirinish, Minginish, Bracadale, Lyndale and Dunvegan Castle which has been the home of the clan chief ever since. When Leod died in 1290, his lands were divided up between his two sons Siol Tormod and Siol Torquil who formed the two branches of the family.
The Clan MacLeod has endured over the centuries, surviving the extremes of feast and famine, periods of warring with neighbouring clans and the colossal social, political and economic changes through which the Highlands and Islands have passed. However it was only during the last century that the clan diaspora began to regroup around their Chief Dame Flora who encouraged her clansfolk to reconnect with their ancestral homelands. This culminated in the first Clan MacLeod Parliament held in the presence of HRH Her Majesty the Queen in 1956. These clan gatherings have been held at Dunvegan Castle ever since and clansfolk return from all over the world every four years to celebrate their shared ancestry. If you would like to find out more about the global branches of the Associated Clan MacLeod Societies, please visit: www.clanmacleod.org
Inverness and Culloden
A good place to start your tour of clan MacLeod sights is Inverness, the beautiful capital of the Highlands. In the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery you’ll enjoy an excellent introduction to the history of the area. From there it’s a short journey to the Culloden battleground where you’ll dive back in time to the year 1746 to see the story of this bloody battle vividly brought to life. It was on the fields around you in April 1746 that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite rebellion, which was supported by the Macleods of Raasay, was crushed by government forces. That branch of the clan suffered severe retribution by the Hanoverian government forces as a consequence of lending their support to the Jacobite rebellion.
The Bloody Stone
On Skye, your first stop should be the Bloody Stone in Glen Sligachan, at the foot of the magnificent Cuillins, which marks the site of the last clan battle between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods in 1601. Further north lies the picturesque harbour village of Portree where, in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie bade his final farewell to Flora MacDonald. She helped him to escape capture following his defeat at Culloden.
Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, Isle of Skye.
In the west of Skye is the one MacLeod sites you cannot miss: Dunvegan Castle. This has been the ancestral stronghold of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years and it is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. It sits in a spectacular location on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. Remember to pay your respects to the Fairy Flag, whose magical powers are said to have offered the MacLeods protection in times of greatest need.
There’s something mystical about the flat top mountains of Healaval More and Healaval Bheag on Skye, which are known as MacLeod's Tables. The story goes that Alasdair Crotach, 8th Chief of clan MacLeod, set out a feast on the top of one of these flat hills to win a wager with King James V. James was then attempting to suppress the power of the Hebridean chiefs and it was Alasdair's talent for diplomacy that saved him and the MacLeod clan. You can see a stunning view of MacLeod’s Tables from Dunvegan Castle & Gardens.
At Trumpan just to the north of Dunvegan, stop by the ruined church which was the site of another battle between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods in 1579. All but one of the MacLeods worshipping in the church were killed. The survivor escaped and fetched help and all the MacDonalds were slain in revenge and an old stone wall was piled over the corpses. It was know as the Battle of the Spoilt Dike.
Isle of Raasay
Take the short ferry from Skye to the small but characterful island of Raasay. Torquil MacLeod occupied this island and his descendants lived here for several hundred years.The village of Northton (Taobh Tuath) on Harris is treasure trove for family historians. Seallam Visitor Centre is the only genealogy centre of its type in Scotland, with records on every Western Isles family, some of which go back more than 200 years.
Isle of Lewis
This is the northern part of Lewis and Harris, the largest Scottish island and the ancestral realm of the Torquil MacLeods. Stornoway is the capital of the Western Isles, and a castle was established here almost 1,000 years ago. It was later captured by the Viking ancestor of the MacLeods. Soak up some local culture while you’re here - stop for a drink and a meal, or join in the fun of a ceilidh. You’ll certainly hear some of locals talking Gaelic.
In the movie and more recent TV series Highlander, the main character was an immortal swordsman called Connor MacLeod. View our trip planner featuring some of the main clan MacLeod heritage sites.