Septs of Clan Donnachaidh

by Jean Munro, Clan Donnachaidh Genealogist

The Clan Donnachaidh includes many families bearing names other than that of the Chief, some known to be related to him and others less certainly so. In the 16th century a Chief’s following or clan was often described as his ‘kin, friends, servants, assisters and partakers’ – in other words those who took his part whether related to him or not. These were known as Septs.

Many of the Septs came into being soon after 1600 when among the clansmen the old gaelic patronymic form of name such as Alasdair MacLain vic Dhonnachidh (Alexander son of John son Duncan) which of course changed in each generation, gave way to a more settled surname. This was sometimes based on the old patronymic. Duncan and Duncanson are examples of this, Donachie is a further variation while MacConachie, and its other spellings, is derived from the gaelic pronunciation of MacDhonnachaidh. MacRobert and MacRobie are, of course, forms of Robertson.

This far it is easy to follow the logic of he Septs but there are also families bearing names not so obviously derived from the clan. The Reid connection comes through the Robertsons of Straloch who probably descended from an grandson of Duncan of Atholl. For many years they used Reid as an extra name or alias along with Robertson but in the 18th century adopted it alone. Reid or Roy both means red or red haired and as a descriptive or bye name may well have been adopted by people attached to other clans also. The Macinroys trace their descent from the Reid Robertsons of Straloch.

There remain several Septs whose names bear no resemblance to the clan. The Colliers or Colyears, later Earls of Portmore, descended form the Robertsons of Dalcabon and used the name in addition to Robertson for some part of the 17th century while they served in the Dutch army. The first earl had dropped the name Robertson by the time he returned to Britain with William III and obtained his peerage in 1699. Tradition says that a member of he family, when on the run, took refuge in a coal pit, but the story is not attached to ay historical person. Inches of Inshes is said to have been assumed by a Jacobite on the run and may derive from the estate of that name near Inverness owned by a family descended from Struan. Starks have long claimed to be descended from a younger son of a Robertson of Struan and while there is apparently no hard evidence to support this strongly held tradition, they are included among the septs of Clan Donnachaidh.

There are families in Atholl who were known to follow Struan in peace and war such as the MacLagans and MacIvors. The latter are examples of the difficulty of allocating names to clans, as MacIvors, or sons of Ivors, are also found in Argyll as descendants of Campbells and in Wester Ross where they followed the Mackenzies. Thus it is possible for Sept names to be associated with more than one clan. Descriptive names such as Black, White or Bain (fair), occupational ones such as Smith or Gow, Miller or Clerk could be found in many if not all clans. The only way to trace the allegiance of ap particular family is to discover, if possible, in what part of the country they lived.

Thus it is impossible to give an exhaustive list of the Septs of Clan Donnachaidh (or of any other clan) and the main ones are freely acknowledged. Recently clan societies have occasionally indulged in what might be called ‘Sept-bagging’ which is not to be encouraged on a wholesale basis, but descendants of genuine followers of Struan are always welcome within the Clan Donnachaidh society.

Collier Colyear Connachie Donachie Donnachie
Duncan Duncanson Dunnachie Inches MacConachie
MacConnichie MacDonachie MacInroy MacIver MacIvor
MacLagan MacRob MacRobb MacRobbie MacRobert
MacRobie MacWilliam Reed Reid Robb
Robb Roberson Roberts Robertson Robson
Roy Stark Tonnoch Tonnochy … and many others