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The early history of Clan Macnab is bound up with Saint Fillan, the later of two so named. He was a Scot, the son of Feradach or Feriach, who succeeded St. Mundus as Abbot of Kilmun, then moved to Glendochart. The ruins of his chapel are at Kirkton in Strathfillan; his "pool" and "stone bed," supposed to cure the insane, are still there. Other relics of St. Fillan, important to the Clan, still exist. His pastoral staff, or crozier, (the Quigrich), which was carried before the Clan in battle, and his bell are in the National Museum in Edinburgh. His "healing stones" are at the Tweed Mill, Dochart Bridge, Killin. He died on 9 January, 703 A.D.
Macnab country stretched from Tyndrum west into Argyll, and east down Glendochart to Killin, where the seat of the Clan was Macnab Castle on Eilan Ran, an island on the north bank of the River Lochay. This was at the western end of Loch Tay, a point of great importance when there were no roads and water was the quickest means of transport.
The surname "Macnab" was first found in a document dated 1124 AD in the reign of David I. Angus Macnab, incensed by the murder of his brother-in-law, The Red Comyn, by Robert the Bruce, joined the Red Comyn's son-in-law, MacDougall of Lorn, and defeated the Bruce at the Battle of Dalrigh in Strathfillan. The Bruce then defeated MacDougall and Macnab at the Pass of Brander, 1308, and Bannockburn, 1314. The Macnab lands were forfeited, but in 1336, Gilbert of Bovain received a charter from King David II, and is regarded by the Lord Lyon as the first chief.
The Macnabs moved slowly down the River Dochart. Before Bannockburn, the Chief probably lived at Innishewan; Gilbert, the first Chief, lived at Bovain. About 1400, Macnab lands included Ardchyle, Invermonichele, Bovain, and Downich. The eighth Chief, Finlay, who died in 1525 at Eilan Ran and is buried at Killin, granted lands of Ewer and Leiragan to his wife, Mariat Campbell, for her lifetime. His eldest son was probably killed at Flodden in 1513.
Finlay's second son, John, succeeded him and died in 1558. He and his wife rest in the burial enclosure on the Isle of Inchbuie at Killin. Owing to the death of his son before him, Finlay was succeeded by his brother, Alexander, whose extravagances depleted the family fortunes.
Alexander had two sons, Finlay and Patrick Mor of Acharn. Finlay was the father of "Smooth John," famous warrior, and Duncan, by his first wife, Katherine, daughter of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy. By a second wife, Alexander had ten more sons; from the eldest of these, John Roy or Baine, the present Chief is descended.
Trouble with the Clan Neish produced the Chief's crest, "a savage's head erased," and the motto, "Dread nought," or in Latin, Timor Omnis Abesto. Smooth John led his brothers in a raid against the Neishes in reprisal for the latter's raids, in particular taking a pack train of provisions at Christmas 1612. The brothers carried a boat through snow over a 2,000 foot pass from the head of Loch Tay to the head of Glen Achern, and down the glen to the shore of Loch Earn. They rowed to the Neishes' lair and despatched them. Back at Eilan Ran Smooth John answered the lookout's challenge with "Fear Nought" (in Gaelic). From a sack on his shoulder he rolled out the heads of some of the Neishes, including the old Chief. There was no more trouble from the Neishes.
Smooth John led the fighting men of Macnab in support of the Duke of Montrose in the Civil War. They played a notable part in the victory of Kilsyth, but John was captured after unsuccessfully defending Montrose's own Castle Kincardine. He escaped under a sentence of death in Edinburgh and led 300 clansmen to crushing defeat at Worcester on 3 September 1651. John survived the battle but died not long afterwards, killed by marauding members of the Commonwealth army.
The castle of Eilan Ran was burnt by the English in 1654. Smooth John's widow married Malcolm MacGregor and took the lands of Ewer in exchange for Kinnell, which became the seat of the family. Robert, 14th Chief, refused to rise for the Stewarts in 1715, but many of the Clan did.
John, 15th Chief, was a major in the English army and was taken prisoner at Prestonpans on 21 September 1745. Some of the Clan supported the Rising, but most felt that after Worcester they had done enough for the Stewarts and had received little thanks for their efforts. John's brother-in-law, Francis Buchanan, accompanied Prince Charlie to the last, and received his ruby ring and a sword. The ring was subsequently presented to the National Museum in Edinburgh by Miss Sarah Anne Macnab of Macnab, 18th Chief. The sword went with her father, Archibald, 17th Chief, to Canada, was bought by Donald, brother of James William, the 19th Chief, and is in family hands.
Francis, 16th Chief (1734-1814) is the best known Macnab because of the famous portrait of him by Raeburn. He was a man large of body and of appetites. He lived to the end like an old-fashioned chief at Kinnell House, and died 35,000 pounds in debt.
Francis left the Macnab lands to his nephew, Archibald (17th Chief), but the lands were hopelessly encumbered and Archibald could do nothing to save them. Some of the land was sold off but no buyer could be found for the remainder. In 1823 a writ of foreclosure was issued. Archibald fled to Canada, where he obtained a grant of 81,000 acres in the Ottawa River Valley. He was followed in 1825 by 500 men, women, and children of the Clan. By 1838 he was unsuccessful in his dream of reestablishing the family fortune and repurchasing ancestral lands. He finally left Canada in 1853, moved about, and died in 1860 at Lanion, Cotes du Nord, in France. His daughter, Sarah Anne (b 1803), maintained the old line as 18th Chief until her death in Florence in 1894 extinguished it.
The succession to the chiefship was left in doubt after Sarah Anne's death. The Lord Lyon finally recognized James William Macnabb, of the Macnabbs of Arthurstone, as 19th Chief. He was succeeded on his death in 1915 by his son, the Rev. James Frederick, 20th Chief, for many years rector of Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire.
James Alexander Macnabb, OBE, TD, 21st Chief, was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was famous in rowing circles, winning a Blue at Cambridge and a Gold Medal at the Paris Olympic Games. He served in WW II in the Royal Artillery in West Africa and Burma, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
In 1949, Archibald Corrie Macnabb, son of James Frederick, 20th Chief, bought back Kinnell House and 7,000 acres from the Breadalbane Estate. In 1954 James Alexander surrendered his claim to the succession in favor of his uncle, and Archibald Corrie was recognized by the Lord Lyon as 22nd Chief.
Archibald Corrie was born in London in 1886, educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. He served in the Indian Civil Service, mostly in the Punjab, from 1911 until 1950. He died in 1970 and is buried in the old Macnab Burial Ground on the Island of Inchbuie.
James Charles, the present (23rd) Chief, is the son of James Alexander, 21st Chief. He was born in 1926, educated at Radley College and at Ashbury College, Ottawa, Canada. He served in the RAF and Scots Guards 1944-45. In 1945 he was commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders and served in India, Java, and Singapore. In 1948 he joined the Colonial Service and served in the Federation of Malaya Police Force as Assistant and Deputy Superintendant. He retired in 1957 and farmed at Kinnell until he had to sell it and move to West Kilmany. He now works with an international financial conglomerate, the Hill Samuel Group.
The Island of Inchbuie, containing the ancient Macnab Burial Ground, is the only remaining Clan land in Clan hands. The Chief retained it when he sold Kinnell, and recently conveyed it to Clan Macnab. To that end a Clan trust has been set up to assure its possession to the Clan in perpetuity, and as a burial place for Chiefs and their families.
Information on the Clan MacNab is courtesy of the Clan MacNab Society Inc. Home Page for more information on the clan or to join the Society please visit thier page.