NOT from the Isle of the Lewes
My dad went to the local highland games, wandered the clan tents. Looked at the names of the septs. Aah, MacLeod has a whole Lewis side to it. Dad’s middle name is Lewis, it’s a family name that comes from his mother’s side of the family. Lewis, yep. That’s it. So I’m a MacLeod, my dad says. From Lewis part of the clan, from the Isle of Lewis, or from MacLeod of the Lewes. My dad joins the clan society. Even takes the whole family along to Scotland back in 1982 to something called the Clan MacLeod Parliament, to meet Chief John MacLeod of MacLeod. Nice, fun story. But it misses an essential thing or two.
It does not miss tartans or kilts. Nope, Dad loves to wear the yellow MacLeod of Lewis tartan. Also known as The Bumblebee tartan, or the “Loud MacLeod” as you can see here at left (good shot of shirts, parents’ faces, not so much. Hence pixellation.)
It does not miss the trip itself, which made quite the impression on them and on us. We went to Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, seat of the Clan MacLeod. (And yes, he wore the other tartan, the MacLeod of Harris tartan.)
I’ve danced on the gunyard. Climbed both of MacLeod’s tables (mountains with flat mesa-like surfaces). I even created a certificate—on paper plates (we do what we can with what we’ve got)—for those few of us who went on from the group hike up the first of Mac Leod’s tables to the second one, too. We showed “muckle brash” (that’d be chutzpah, only in Gaelic), and Chief John signed and presented them to us in the evening gathering.
It does not miss the cannon—Dad made a carbide cannon from plastic PVC plumber’s pipe. It was fueled by gas created when carbide pellets dropped into some water in the cannon. (Yep, he flew it on a plane, in his luggage. Long before current Homeland Security air travel standards). It makes one heckuva bang; he shot it off at Dunvegan (on the gunyard, natch), and then presented the cannon and carbide pellets to Norman MacLeod of Suardal, the hereditary armorer to the chief of the clan.
It doesn’t miss the many trips to Scottish Games, nor my stint as newsletter editor for the local Clan MacLeod society. Nor my learning to do Scottish Country Dancing, nor my return trip to the next parliament in 1986, where I really danced on the castle gunyard.
But sometime during my era of high involvement in all these activities, I wrote my dad’s cousin Lainey, the family genealogist, who shared the Lewis connection. What could she tell me about the Lewis line of the family?
Her letter came back, bubbling with enthusiasm at my interest. Her vibrant tone broke the news. We’re Welsh, not Scottish. With two Lewis lines, and names like Lewis ap Richard Gwyn, Llewllyn Anwyd, Rees V wya, and Madoc. (Thank goodness that the trip in 82 also took us to Wales.) I went from that point to saying, Well, okay, we’re honorary MacLeods.
In time since that 1987 letter, my mother has chased down, through her side of the family, a trace of Scots heritage. Who knew?! It is not as important to me now in that “I’ve got Scots heritage” way, even if it’s Clan Lindsay, the tartan whose colors rock my world. We’re honorary MacLeods. And as I look on it now, there’s certainly a MacLeod story to pass on. And some current-day tradition. And stories, songs, and skills. My niece has been dancing highland dance since age 5, even competing at the US Nationals level.
I don’t have the MacLeod blood or the heritage, but I still have muckle brash.
Trivia post script. Why is the main character in “Highlander” named MacLeod?
The screenwriter knew a certain Beverly Hills dentist, an enthusiastic man of Scots heritage, named Neil McLeod . Inspired by McLeod’s stories of his clan, the writer named his protagonist MacLeod. No lie.
When he sold his script, he got a nice Hollywood-style smile from that dentist. Dr. McLeod was very involved in the local Clan MacLeod society. He, too, climbed both of MacLeod’s tables and received one of the other certificates declaring that he, too, has muckle brash.
My dear Susan,
What a delight to hear from you and to see those precious pictures. Yes I am he the dentist on Sunset Boulevard, and the tale is true. as we write, I am updating my talk on “The Literature of the MacLeods” so that it is in a PowerPoint presentation. Please stay in touch.
I enjoyed your delightful story… laughing in places. I love your use of muckle brash. It appears the term muckle has been used throughout the British Isles in the Scottish, Irish and English societies, but I had never heard of it being combined with the word brash. What an apt description.
Hm. the thought occurs to me just now that muckle is opposite, or complement, of ickle. (the first example that comes to mind is some big brother teasing that’s in one of the Harry Potter books, where ickle serves to belittle. “Awww, ickle prefect”).
Muckle big. Ickle little.
Susan, What a fun read! I imagine that many others have also “welshed” on their adoption of Scottish tartans. And from this point on, when I hear the word “welch/welsh” I shall think of the famous “Scottish” MacLeods.
What strikes me here is a family, spending time together and celebrating being a family! So what if the heritage was mistaken!
Hmmm, so please, someone tell me, HOW do we find out which Lewis’s we came from? The Scots or the Welsh??? I am a Lewis born that made the HUGE decision to change my last name “back” to the “original” name of our clan which I thought was MacLeod! Now maybe I am just a bit confused but does this mean I may NOT be a MacLeod indeed? Oh HORROR!