In the western Highlands and the Hebrides, Clan MhicNeacail (MacNicol) has a long and proud history. The Nicolsons have been a Hebridean clan for over 700 years, the Chief taking his designation from Scorrybreac, near Portree, in Skye. The islands of Lewis and Skye remained part of the Scandinavian kingdom of Mann (the Isle of Man) and the Isles, under the suzerainty of Norway, until 1266. It seems likely that, like the MacLeods of Dunvegan, the Nicolsons are of high Norse descent.
The name-father of the Nicolsons, Nicail or Nicholas, a name popular in Scandinavia, must have flourished in the mid-13th century. The MacLeods of Lewis appear to have inherited their considerable possessions through marriage with a Nicolson heiress in the 14th century. The ancestral Nicail, therefore, probably lived in Lewis, where he and his ancestors would have served the kings of Mann and the Isles in a mixed Norse and Gaelic environment.
The first Nicolson on record, early in the 14th century, is John, son of Nicail. He appears in the company of leading Hebridean Chiefs, the MacDonald, MacDougall and MacRuairi descendants of Somerled (k. 1164), who had wrested control of the southern Hebrides from the king of Mann. John was perhaps the leading man on Lewis. In the next generation most of the Nicolson lands passed to the Lewis MacLeods, but the male line of the Nicolsons continued finding a home in the Trotternish peninsula of Skye.
Later in the Middle Ages the Nicolsons followed the MacDonald Lords of the Isles and sat on their council. In 1540, James V, King of Scots landed at Portree during a naval expedition, and tradition maintains he was entertained at Scorrybreac. Another tradition is that Bonnie Prince Charlie, fleeing after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, was hidden overnight in a cow-shed by the then Chief.
In the 19th century the Nicolsons were badly affected by the Highland Clearances. The Chief was forced to abandon Scorrybreac, and his family settled in Tasmania, where the present Chief was born. Clansmen were evicted from their crofts and also sought refuge in emigration, Prince Edward Island being a favored destination.
Over the centuries, Clan MacNicol has given the world numerous poets and preachers, writers and warriors, historians and heraldists. The greatest Gaelic poet of modern times, Sorley MacLean, is a Nicolson on his mother's side. Oral tradition in his family has preserved some Nicolson songs of considerable antiquity and great beauty.
Please look at The Clan MacNicol Page for more information about The Clan as it exists today.
The progenitor of the MacLeod's was Leod, younger son of Olaf the Black one of the last Norse Kings of Man and the Isles. Leod inherited Lewis and Harris along with parts of Skye on his father's death in 1237. Through marriage to the Norse seneschal of Skye the family acquired Dunvegan Castle, which remains in the family to this day. The Clan consists of two main branches: the MacLeods of Lewis descend from Leod's son Torquil while the MacLeods of Harris and Skye descend from another son, Tormod.
The MacLeods followed the MacDonald Lord of the Isles in the Battle of Harlaw of 1411 but were able to steer a hazardous political path when James IV sought to break the power of the Lords of the Isles. The success of the Clan can also be traced to the political talent of the 8th Chief Alistair Crotach. He not only managed to avoid the wrath of James V at a time when most Highland chiefs were imprisoned or driven from their lands, but also succeeded in securing the title to Trotternish in 1542. Trotternish had long been in dispute with the MacDonalds of Sleat.
The MacKenzies occupied Lewis and to this day the MacKenzie chief calls his seat Castle Leod.
In the 18th century, the MacLeod chief led his Clan to England to fight for the Royal cause at the Battle of Worcester of 1651. Over 500 MacLeods were killed by Cromwell's forces, forcing the Clan to sit out of the Jacobite rising of 1715. They thought the '45 to be ill-conceived and did not join Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden. The Macleods of Raasay joined the prince, taking many of their clansmen with them.
The most treasured relic of the Clan MacLeod is the "am Bratach Sith" or the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan. It is said to have been woven by fairies to be used by the chief of the MacLeods in dire times. Belief in its power is strong and its magic has been called upon to turn defeat in victory on at least two occasions.
Dunvegan Castle has been renovated and is still the home of the Chief. An active Clan society exists with branches around the globe.
Source: The Clan MacLeod Web Page