The MacFadyens of Mull

We are looking for men with variants of the McFadden/MacFadyen surname who have documented, assumed, or rumored connections to the Isle of Mull or surrounding areas in order to attempt to determine the genetic signature(s) of this branch of Mac Pháidíns.  Click here for details.

The Isle of Mull, one of Scotland’s larger islands, is situated roughly halfway up the western coast.  It is assumed to have been inhabited for at least several thousand years.  In the 14th century, the Lord of the Isles granted portions of Mull to two brothers of the Clan MacLean, Hector and Lachlan.  Lachlan settled at the easternmost point, home of Duart Castle, while Hector took lands by Loch Buie, just to the southwest. They became the founders of Clan Maclean of Duart and Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie.

Legend has it that when Hector arrived to claim his new territory, he found the land already inhabited by MacFadyens.  The following is an excerpt from A History of the Clan MacLean by J.P. MacLean:

It is related that when Hector went to Lochbuie he found the lands possessed by the chief of MacFadyean, and obtained permission to build a fortalice or keep at the head of Lochbuie. When it was completed Hector ascended to the top, and, taking a bow and arrow, took aim at a bone MacFadyean was then eating from, and pierced it with the arrow. MacFadyean simply remarked, “It is time I was leaving;” took his departure, and gave Hector no trouble.

Despite the alleged confrontational start to the relationship, the two families would eventually become allies.  The MacFadyens are now a known sept of Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie.

It is possible that the MacFadyens of Mull are related to a MacPhaden chief who joined forces with the legendary warlord Somerled as he conquered the Hebrides centuries earlier.  MacPhaden is only mentioned in passing in a 17th-century history of the MacDonalds and all that can be assumed is that he was from the Argyll region, of which the Isle of Mull is a part.

This same MacDonald history mentions a MacPhaden who sided with MacDougall and the Comyns against William Wallace. The MacDougalls claim descent from a son of Somerled who held land on Mull, so a MacPhaden-MacDougall alliance certainly fits the broader narrative. Promised lands and wealth, MacPhaden is said to have gone to Ireland and returned with 1500 fighting men.  The text implies that MacPhaden was able to recruit his force due to his Irish heritage.  MacPhaden and his men were “cut off at place called Brarich near Lochow,” which supposedly is the Pass of Brander.

That conflict, which would have taken place between 1297 and 1303, is immortalized as one of the tales of 15th-century poet Blind Harry.  Blind Harry’s prose is of dubious historical accuracy, but entertainingly detailed.  His version of events casts a decidedly disparaging view of “Makfadyan,” who is presented as a low-born Irish mercenary hired by Edward I to bring Argyll and Lorn to heel. After wreaking havoc with 15,000 men and  driving out the local Campbells of Lorn, Makfadyan’s force was cornered and slaughtered by Wallace’s much smaller army.  Makfadyan was beheaded.

And it is here that the legends come full circle: Following the defeat of Edward I, Robert the Bruce awarded lands previously owned by the MacDougalls to the Lord of the Isles. This would have included at least portions of the Isle of Mull. Mull was in turn given to the MacLeans, who established dominance over the native, recently-defeated MacFadyens.

It’s unlikely these stories can ever be established as undisputed facts, but it is of interest to this project that the MacFadyens of Argyll were thought to be of Irish stock (as were many clans in that area).  It will be fascinating to see if we can link the MacFadyens to the Irish McFaddens of Co. Donegal.  The McFaddens of Donegal are thought to be at least partially of Scottish Galloglass (mercenary) stock and some MacLeans were known to have come to Ireland as Galloglass. Additionally, many of the Galloglass came to Ireland after being dispossessed of their lands following their defeat in the first Scottish War of Independence, as the Macfadyens were.

Rob McFadden


- MacLean, J.P.. 1889. A History of the Clan MacLean.
- “The MacFadyens.” The Celtic Monthly, Vol. XX, 1912.
- Paterson, James. 1877. Wallace, the Hero of Scotland.
- “Fragment of a Manuscript History of the Macdonalds.” Collectanea de Rebus Albanicus.

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