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Code of
Title: Clan Donleavis and the relic callit Arwachyll
Posted by: Rob Livingston
Date: 29 March 2005

I have long struggled to accept the notion that a "1518 Bond of Manrent" between "Sir John Campbell of Cawdor" and "Clan Donleavis" was definitive proof of the derivation of "MacOnlea" and "MacLea" from the personal name, "Donnsleibhe".  My problem stemmed from the apparent misspellings in the document and assumption that the "relic callit Arwachyll" was accepted as being the Bachuil of Saint Moluag.  This was compounded by the absence of anyone at the ceremony who could be identifed as an ancestor of "Joanni M'Milmore Vc Kevir" - the known keeper of the Bachuil in the year 1544. I struggle no more!

The apparent misspellings or transcription errors were numerous, as pointed out by Neil Campbell in his article about the document for "Celtic Review" in January 1910.  As copied from another page on this website (with no additional punctuation or parenthesis on my part), Campbell wrote,

"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 Mcdulave 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."

My first problem was Campbell's assertion that "Clan McDowleanis" was a scribal error for "Clan McDonleauis" (where the "u" is pronounced as a "v").  This just seemed like too many errors, especially the "w" in place of the "n".  But as I've been able read more and more original hand-written documents, the errors in transcription (not in spelling) are becoming easier to understand.  Up-strokes and down-strokes and curves can all conspire to mislead the eye.  Even my own hand-written "u's" can be mistaken for an "n" at times.

A bigger problem for me was accepting that the "relic callit Arwachyll" was in fact the Bachuil of Saint Moluag.  The "-achyll" part of it was perfectly acceptable, but where the heck did "Arw" come from?  And if the Bachuil was present at the scene, where was its keeper - the father of grandfather of "Johanni M'Milmore Vc Kevir"? In answer to the second question, I now reason that "Johanni" was still an infant in 1518. And his father "Maelmore" must have been deceased.  The Bachuil might have been temporarily entrusted to "Duncan McDunlave", most probably a close relative.

The exciting part of my enlightenment was discovering the true meaning of "Arwachyll".  I recently was made aware that up until the 18th Century, the letters "u", "v", and "w" were interchangeable, each able to represent the three modern English sounds we associate them with today.  So, substituting a "v" sound for the "w", we are left with "ar-vachyll".  Or more properly "ar bhachaill", where the "bh" is a fricative (a mutation of "b") pronounced as a "v".  In this form, "bhachaill" literally means "of Bachuil".  So, "ar" has to be a noun - something that belongs to the staff or to the staff's keeper.  

McBain's Dictionary gives three definitions for the noun "ąr" - "plough", "battle", and "slaughter". 

I think it's easy enough to eliminate "plough of Bachuil", unless Bachuil had a holy plough venerated by the MacOnleas.  Taking a closer look at "battle of Bachuil" or "slaughter of Bachuil", we are instructed to "See ągh".  "ągh" translates as "luck" or "happiness".  Then we are instucted to "See ąghach", which means "warlike". 

"Battle-luck of Bachuil" seems like a very good description of what storytellers have told us about the use of the staff of Saint Moluag.  If I'm not mistaken, it was traditionally taken into battle as a talisman to insure victory.  Well, judging by the state of the clan today, we have not had all that much luck at battle in the last few hundred years.  But maybe it is due to come our way again someday.  If you believe it will, clap your hands.  Come on! Clap!  Clap!

** This Thread has ended - Please do NOT attempt to resurrect it! **


Title:Date:Posted By:
Clan Donleavis and the relic callit Arwachyll29 March 2005Rob Livingston
   Clan Donleavis and the relic callit Arwachyll29 March 2005Grant South
      Pagan Rituals29 March 2005Young Bachuil
   Clan Donleavis and the relic callit Arwachyll29 March 2005Andrew Lancaster
   Clan Donleavis and the relic callit Arwachyll30 March 2005Donald Livingstone Clink

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