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Response - The Barons of Bachuil

NIALL D. CAMPBELL.

The Celtic Review January 15 1910 pp190-192

Having read with great interest the article (Celtic Review, vol. V.) by Dr. Alexander Carmichael on the 'Barons of Bachuill,' in the Isle of Lismore, the writer offers the following observations upon it, and for the reasons given below he thinks it impossible that the Livingstones in any manner descended from the Beatons, who wore the hereditary leeches or physicians to the Lords of the Isles, which position they undoubtedly occupied during a long number of ages.

If Dr. Carmichael will refer to the Thanes of Cawdor, p. 129, he will find a curious bond of manrent, by the terms of which Sir John Campbell of Cawdor received the fealty and homage of the clan McDonleavis (wrongly written McDowleanis). It is dated 16 August 1518, and it is stated that the oaths were taken upon 'Mess buik' (missal), and the relic callit Arwachyll (this was the bachuill of St Moluag) ‘at the Isle of Kilmolrue.'

Until a writer, Rev. Arch. B. Scott, in the Scottish Historical Review for April 1909, p. 264, in the course of an article of high merit on the famous St. Maelrubha, drew attention to the subject, and identified the site of this small island, I had never been able to decide where it lay. It is the island of Eilean-an-t-sagairt in the Locharian Dubh, near the modern farmhouse of Kilvarie, next the large possessions in Muckairn of the Campbells of Calder, Kilvarie being of course a dedication to the aforesaid S. Maelrubha. To this small island repaired the representatives of this clan McDonleavis in order to sign the deed. The signatories are Duncan Brek Mcdunlave on behalf of his kin, viz. Duncan Mcdu[n]lave Mcdonchy Iain m’donlave m’donche his brother, Donald dow m’douil m'conche and Neyll his brother and Lachlan McEwin McLachlen. The other signatory is a certain Ewin McNeill on behalf of his kin, viz. Dunslave McNeill, Iain dow McNeyll, Duncan M,Neyll roy, Niall his brother. All these McNeills seem to The related to the McDunslaves ; vide the use of Dunslave as a Christian name by one of them.

Now whilst Livingstone is said to be the English form of son of the physician, the name ‘Mac-an-Leigh’ appears itself to be merely a corruption of the name McDunsleibhe. For in the vassals and tenants names in the old Argyll Rentals there is evidence of not only the D but also the S dropping out by euphonistic elision, the name becoming- Mconlave and McDunlave and Mcinlay, etc. In one document I have found the name 'Dunslave McDunslave', clearly showing that the origin of the surname lay in a Christian name. The clan name being thus derived from it and having nothing to do with any physician.

Of the use of the name Dunsleibhe, etc., in various forms, both as a Christian and a surname, I append a few examples, and would like to point out that it is quite possible that the eponymic progenitor of all the McDunslaves, Livingstones. etc., may be the one who is known to have been the common ancestor of the Lamonts, the McEwens, the McLachlans, and the McSweens, which latter clan are identical with the supposed lost clan of McEwan of Otter, a fact wholly unnoticed in a brief monograph on the Clan Ewen which appeared four or five years ago.

  • James the son of Dunslaphe had a grant of many lands in Kintyre from Robert the Bruce (Robertson's Index, p. 26, No. 15).
  • On 1 March 1628 Arthur Dunslea ‘in Inverary' was warned to flit and remove by Archibald, Lord Lorne (Argyll MSS.).
  • Circa 1640. Dounslaife odiman held 6s. 8d. worth of the one mark. land of Gleinmoull in South Kintyre, (Argyll Rentals).
  • 28 Aug. 1693. Dunslea McQueny in Eollasarie in Isle of Uiva is named in a Baron Court held by Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinglass at Aros as Bailie for Archibald 10th Earl of Argyll.(MSS.)
  • In 1557 John McDunslaif in Auchnacre appears on record in the Taymouth ‘Register,' and the writer in Origines Parochiales notes that it appears ' to be a rare surname.'
  • Lastly, on 28 April 1511 a sasine was given to Sir Donald Makfadzen, precentor of Lismoir Cathedral, of the lands of ‘Killendryst’ in that island by a certain (Gilbert rewich 'signifer' (the swarthy or brindled standard- bearer), who acted as deputy for Archibald 2nd Earl of Argyll, so clearly he was the Livingstone or McDuinslebhe of the period, and was in all probability the brother of the Iver who appears as grandfather of 'Iain son of Marlmore son of Iver,' to whom the 1544 charter of the custody of the Great Bachuill of S. Moluag was re-granted by Archibald, 4th Earl of Argyll.

Now the Barons of Bachuill may in recent years have had some tradition that their predecessors exercised medical powers, but if so I would contend that it was not the leechcraft such as the Beatons exercised for the Lords of the Isles, or the O'conochers of Ardeoran (in Lorne) for the MacDougalls of Dunolly and the Campbells of Lochow. But

  1. That their chief occupation appears to have 'been that of signifer or standard-bearer to the Earls of Argyll and their predecessors.
  2. That with this privilege went the yet more ancient one of keeping and guarding the pastoral staff, which originally was in all likelihood itself carried into battle as a holy charm against defeat. (Compare the accounts of the Battle of the Standard and the frequency with which relics were used for this purpose in the Irish Annals.)
  3. That any existing tradition about the exercise of medical powers might be due to a late and corrupt rendering of their surname into Gaelic, and to a further corruption by its English translation into Livingstone.
  4. Or else to the fact that the Bachuill was itself carried about as a curative relic by its hereditary keepers, who, in performing cures with it, would naturally receive some small fee from sick people, who were at that time blissfully ignorant of how to best poison themselves by 'patent medicines.'


An old transcript of the 1544 charter was found at Inveraray at Easter 1909 by the writer, and he notices one or two small mistakes in the Latin as given to Mr. Carmichael. Amongst the witnesses, for instance, the McDougall chiefs should be John McCoul of Dunolly and John McCoul of Raray, not Baray; the latter were a very ancient branch from Dunolly, and the second of the land names should be Peynachallan, which probably means Colins's 'Penny Land.
An examination of the Lismore Parish Registers might show holy recently the name Dunsleve or Danslaif was in use in the Livingstone or other families. In Ireland a similarly named clan have long Anglicised their name to Donlevy.

Last updated 22 May, 2008