All In The Family

Clan Macneil Association of America

With over 1,000 members across the United States, the Clan Macneil Association of America is one of the largest Celtic communities of its kind in the world. Quartermaster Gwen Macneill opens up about the association’s strong and proud past, present and future.

How long have you been involved in the Clan and in what capacity?
I first was acquainted with Clan Macneil Assoc. of America in late 2005 after my twin brother sent me their website link. I immediately joined the Clan and then within the first year, I took on the Georgia Commissioner role. With the next two years, I then became the Clan Quartermaster, handling all our merchandise. I have shipped throughout the US but as far as to our Australia Association as well. In April 2008, my mother gave me the gift of my Lifetime membership to our Clan in honor of my Father who passed in March that year. In 2009, I assisted our late Chief, Ian Roderick Macneil, with correspondence with McNeills from all over the world that were going to the Clan Gathering in Edinburgh. I had the pleasure of meeting many Macneils at the Gathering and led our Clan on the Parade of Tartans on the Royal Mile.  With two roles under my kilt skirt, we could say, I then became our Clan Webmaster and created our current website. My last achievement within our Clan was to receive the Medal of Merit (MOM) at our Annual meeting at Grandfather Mountain in 2010. I look forward to the next role I may take on with my current one in the future!

What inspired you to get involved, and stay involved?
For many years, I had always had the yearning to go to Scotland but never knew why! I even started preliminary plans to go to Scotland in 1998 but it did not happen. Then once I opened the link to our Clan website in 2005, I was on a plane 6 months later to the 2006 Macneil Clan Gathering on our Isle of Barra in Outer Hebrides. Once my feet touched the ground, I lost my breath and knew I had come home. From that day forward, I have never looked back but to the future for our Clan. It has inspired me to get all people with Scottish heritage, even if not a Macneil, to be enthused with their ancestry and search deep into their roots.

What is the Clan‘s origins and history?
MacNeil of Barra
The Chiefs of the Clan MacNeil claim decent from Eoghan of Aileach, one of the sons of “Neil of the Nine Hostages,” King of Ireland, and the tradition states that Niall, a grandson of the last King of Aileach, and 21st in decent from that Oir-Righ-Eireann, settled in Barra about 1040, and thus founded the clan MacNeil in Scotland. The chiefs are also designated “of that Ilk” as chiefs of the whole name of MacNeil. Among the notable chiefs was Rory the Turbulent, the 15th Chief, who was summoned to appear before King James VI to explain his piratical activities against the English, from whom he had ammassed a large fortune. He successfully excused himself by explaining that he considered it a good service to harrass the subjects of the woman who had killed his sovereign’s mother. In the 18th century it was the custom to sound the trumpet on the ramparts of Kisimul Castle, followed by the call, “Hear ye hear ye, the great MacNeil having eaten, the princes of the earth may now dine”. The present Chief, 47th, of the Clan Macneil is Roderick Wilson Macneil, born on 22 Oct, He is married to Sau Ming, the daughter of Chun Kwan of Hong Kong and they live in Edinburgh, Scotland.

McNeill of Colonsay
The McNeills of Taynish and Giga have been said to represent the “eldest cadet” of clan Macneil, and as such rank next the chief and take place at his right hand, and derived from Neil, brother of Murchaid Macneil of Barra, and held Gigha from a very early period. Neil’s son, Torquil McNeill of Taynish, was keeper of Castle Swein in 1449, and from him sprang several branches, and the early decent is complicated. Neil McNeill and John Og McNeill, two brothers and decendants of the above Torquil, re-established the fortunes of the house after Gigha had been sold in 1554. Hector, of the Taynish line, repurchased Gigha from Campbell of Cawdor in 1590, but early in the nineteenth century the estates were sold by Roger Hamilton McNeill of Taynish (Gigha having been sold to McNeill of Colonsay in 1780). He married Elizabeth Price, eventual heiress of the Hamiltons of Raploch. Their Grandson, Daniel McNeill-Hamilton, became Laird of Raploch, and his decendants continue to bear that designation-their lands being situated in Lanarkshire. Donald McNeill of Crear, a decendant of the above mentioned John Og McNeill, acquired Colonsay and Oronsay from the Duke of Argyll in 1700 in exchange for Crear, etc. Alexander McNeill, 6th of Colonsay, acquired Gigha from his kinsman and sold Colonsay to his brother Duncan, the celebrated Lord Justice-General, created Lord Colonsay, in 1887. After his death without issue, his estates were eventually re-united in his nephew, Major-General Sir John Carstairs McNeill of Colonsay and Oronsay, V.C., G.C.V.O., Bath King of Arms, whose brother and successor, Alexander McNeill of Colonsay, became representative of the family, but the island was sold to Lord Strathcona. Alexander died in 1915 and was succeeded in the representation of the family by his son, Alexander Carstairs McNeill, who resides in New Zealand.

How has it evolved over the years?
As with any Clan, we also have our ups and downs. We have had long-standing members pass over the past few years. Just this year, we lost two lifetime members who had been active for over 25 years, Nellie McNeill-Sanders, Editor of our Galley magazine and Royce McNeill, Emeritus President. Our VP Genealogy, Cora Beggs, retired this past December but Linda Millerick has taken on this new role with our Clan as well.

How many members are actively involved?
Currently, we have just approximately 1,000 members in our US Association. Some members are dual members as they choose to belong to their country such as Canada or Australia as well as our country and visa versa.

Where are Clan members from and how do they find you?
Our clan membership is spread throughout the United States. We have Commissioners as well as Deputy Commissioners in quite a few States. We meet new members through the Highland Games, our DNA Project, our Clan website, the Isle of Barra website as well other websites (Electric Scotland, Clan Scots and The Capital Scots) and now the Celtic Life International. We also have a Clan Macneil Facebook page with over 700 participants.

What kinds of Clan-related events do members participate in?
Many of our members join their Commissioners at their State Highland Games but some go to nearby states as well. They also come to our AGM each year at the Games.   We have quite a few members that are actual competitors in the Games from the caber toss to Highland dance.  Some have come in 1st to 3rd place overall. Our Galley magazine published (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter issues) have wonderful articles written by our members.

What does the Clan have planned for 2012 and in the years to come?
We have multiple Highland Games still thru the end of the year as well as our Clan Gathering on our Isle of Barra called by our 47th Chief Rory Macneil, August 13-16. Isle of Barra has reached out to Clan Members for the Barra Bunting Project ( We also hope representatives again at the next Gathering in Scotland which is during the 2014 Homecoming.