The Clan System

July 11, 2009

At heart the Scottish clan system is a tribal system.

Clann is the gaelicword for childrenclann; children, offspring, descendants; A clan; a chlann nan sonn, Ye descendants of heroes; clann an Toisich, the Mackintoshes; clann Domhnaill, the MacDonalds; clann an cloinne, their children’s children
Chief; ceann-feadhna; ceann-cinnidh

From the Gaelic Dictionary, Gaelic-English English-Gaelic by Malcolm MacLennan
Sept is a term borrowed from Irish culture in the nineteenth century to explain the use of a variety of surnames by members of a single clan. For example an Irish historian might say “O’Riley and his sept” where Scots would say “MacDonald and his clan”.
A Sept is a family not having the name of the clan, but associated with it and entitled to wear the clan tartan.

Clan was the name given to a group of Kinsmen who were united under a chief. They claimed a common ancestry and lived as one great family under the protection of the chief on the lands he possessed. The clansmen and Sept members were remarkably loyal and defended their chief to the death.

The 13th century saw the clan system rise to prominence. Records of their separate history have been kept enabling Highlanders to trace their ancestors back to that time. In some cases, Highlanders can trace their ancestors back to a much earlier date.

Chief – Patriarchal figure

As leader of a clann, the Chief was responsible for the safety of all members of his clann, for settling disagreaments and for leading his clann into battle. The clann members in return were at the Chief’s beck and call. Clan members lived on the Chief’s land and were always at the ready to follow him into battle.

The clann offered protection to smaller clans, and individuals who were not members of any particular clan. It is for that reason you will find a variety of names belonging to one clann. The bonds created were stronger than blood-ties.

In 843 the Picts and Scots united under Kenneth MacAlpine. Both groups were already operating under the clan system as they were both Celts.

Within the clan the rearing of children by likable clan members was considered an honor. Handfasting, a form of marriage which could end by mutual concent if they failed to produce offspring. Manrent, a payment for protection was also procticed.

Family members often remembered their founding father who was usually a man of some importance using his name in the name of the clan

Along with the feudal system came development of the clan system.


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