The Chief seat of Clan Arthur is Tiracladich meaning “The Shore Land”. This ancient site can be found at the peninsula of Inistrynich (The Isle of the Blackthorn) on the southern shore of Lochow or Loch Awe, in Argyll. The ruins of many dwellings and roadways are still distinguishable amongst the bracken and trees on the hillside above the Dark Loch, and it appears that the peninsula, which was an island, was also once substantially fortified.
In August 1308, six years before Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce (with help) defeated the MacDougalls of Lorn in the Battle of the Pass of Brander at the western exit of Lochow. The cairns over the MacDougall graves can still be seen on the southern bank of the River Awe today, and the ruins of Bruce’s Castle can be visited on Fraoch Eilean. (Incidentally - The Knight of Lochow is still known as The Black Knight - How Arthurian?)
In return for his service, MacArthur later obtained the MacDougall lands of Tirivadich (now Hayfield) on the opposite bank of the loch from Inistrynich. MacArthur presumably had many relatives by the 14th century, who possibly held other lands prior to this period, but records are scant. One ancient legend recalls that a MacArthur Knight (presumably a land holder) from Cowall went off on crusade to the Holy Lands, which would have been circa 900-1100AD. Another story tells that the MacArthurs originated earlier from around Dumbarton. This would fit with Clan Arthur being the descendants of Mervin the son of King Arthur who was born in the Red Hall at Dumbarton Rock.
The Tirivadich MacArthurs expanded south to Drishaig near Kilchrenan. Later Inistrynich and the Holy Isle of Inishail were added to the estate. A charter from the 5th Earl of Argyll in 1569, granted to Iain (or John) MacArtur of Tirivadich and his male heirs, lists the following lands:
Barbraik (Barbreck) Auchnagaun (Auchnacarron?) Larachban, Tierwidych (Tiravadich) Mowey (Bovuy) Drumurk, Capehin (Keppochan) Bocardie (Boccaird – Village in Glen Aray) Caupurruck (Accurach? – Farm in Glen Aray) and Arbrecknish
During the 16th century the MacArthurs of Tirivadich also held the hereditary position as Captains of Over Lochow. Although not recorded, it should be noted that many of the Crannogs (lake dwellings) on Scottish lochs were still occupied until the last few centuries and many in this part of Loch Awe would have been in use during this period.
On a recent field trip to find Boccaird Village, the farmer at Accurach, Donald Campbell, informed me that there was also a ruined MacArthur village about 3km to the south in Glen Aray at a place called Cairns. He further assured me that these MacArthurs made swords for Clan Campbell. Investigation of the site revealed about a dozen or so buildings hidden in the trees above the A819.
There is a misunderstanding that Bruce also appointed MacArthur as Captain of Dunstaffnage Castle after the Battle of the Pass of Brander. By this point in history there were a number of “sons of Arthur” in the region and this one was the son of Sir Arthur who is the ancestor of the MacArthur-Campbells of Strachur. This is an area of MacArthur genealogy which needs researched by a better brain than mine to see where Strachur fits with Clan Arthur origin.
As the Loch Awe MacArthurs fortunes declined in the eighteenth century, the estates were sold off till the last in 1775. When reminded that he had forgotten Inishail, Patrick MacArthur reputedly replied “Let the tail go with the head”. Clan Arthur’s Holy Isle remained unclaimed until recent years.
There were also the MacArthurs of Darleith, an estate on the Clyde to the west of Dumbarton in the Earldom of the Lennox. A History of Clan Campbell Volume 1, states that Diarmid O’Duibn had a son Arthur Armdhearg (Red Armoured) who had a son Arthur Andrainan who had a son Duncan Darleith, who was the progenitor of this branch - Further investigation is required.
References can be found that MacArthurs once held lands in Glen Falloch at the head of Loch Lomond, and in Glen Dochart at the head of Loch Tay. Again records are scant, however In Famed Breadalbane by William A. Gillies states that the name of MacArthur was well known on both sides of Loch Tay and in Glen Lyon for as long. Indeed Tir Artair (The Land of Arthur) at the north west end of the loch is an ancient land division of 8 merks with a name that predates 1460. It is thought that these MacArthurs may have moved from Loch Awe after the decapitation of John MacArthur in 1427, but it could equally have been earlier, and from somewhere else.
In 1497, after the Battle of Leachdar in which the powerful Dugald Stewart 1st of Appin was slain, a different contingent of Loch Awe MacArthurs did move north to take refuge with the MacDonells of Keppoch in Lochaber. They were given lands in Glen Roy where they remained as loyal henchmen until defeat at Culloden in 1746, being some of the last to surrender their arms.
The MacArthur’s of Skye who lived around Kilmuir are famous as the hereditary pipers to the MacDonald Lords of the Isles and as hereditary keepers of Flora MacDonald’s grave. After a major dispute some of the family were banished to the Isle of Ulva off Mull. It is not known (by the author) where the Skye MacArthurs originate from, although the name is common to many of the Western Isles. The islands of Tiree and Lewis in particular hold large contingents of the Clan’s descendents to this day.
In short Clan Arthur is a Highland and Western Island family. An ancient name found prevalent north of the Clyde in the mountains and glens of Argyll and Cowal around Loch Lomond and Loch Tay, in the hills of Perthshire and scattered throughout the Western Isles. In recent centuries, especially in the wake of Culloden and the Highland Clearances, Clan Arthur has become a truly Global Family now holding “lands” in Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, The United States, Canada and of course our native Scotland.
My thanks to Lady Mary McGrigor for the use of her articles The MacArthurs of Tirevadich on Loch Awe and Boccaird Ghost Village of Glenaray.