Scottish clans in Caithness

Lots of people with Scottish ancestry have ties to the great clans. These are the historic groups that once occupied specific areas of Scottish land. Usually, they were led by a Clan Chief. The clan members worked for the chief and were loyal to him. Many of them took the clan surname as their own. In return, he would offer his protection. There was an intense rivalry between the many Scottish clans, which feuded and battled with each other for centuries. Although the clan system broke down by the 18th century, clans still exist today as kinship groups with a shared sense of identity, and many still have a chief.

A guide to the Caithness clans

We sometimes welcome guests to Mackays Hotel who are researching their family history in Scotland. Often they have ties to the Caithness area and wish to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. In fact, we’ve had quite a few Mackays staying with us over the years. The Mackays were one of the prominent clans in the far north of Scotland. So let’s take a look at the Caithness clans in more detail…

Ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe near Wick
Castle Sinclair-Girnigoe in Caithness was one of the the earliest seats of Clan Sinclair

Clan Mackay (pronounced Mac-Kye, rhymes with eye) was a powerful clan here in the far north Highlands. Strathnaver Museum in Bettyhill has a room dedicated to the Clan Mackay. Of course, with a name like Mackays Hotel, you can clearly see our connection to this clan. But we also have a connection to the Sinclair name, through our founder, Alexander Sinclair, who built Mackays Hotel in 1883. Clan Sinclair held Caithness along with the Orkneys and Lothians. Notable sites in Caithness include Sinclair Bay and the ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. Other Caithness clans include Clan Gunn, one of the oldest Scottish Clans, associated mainly with Caithness and Sutherland. The Clan Gunn Centre in Latheron tells the story of the clan. Clan Oliphant laid claim to several sites in Caithness, including the Castle of Old Wick. Clan Sutherland‘s main territory was the neighbouring region of Sutherland, however they also held parts of Caithness.

The remains of the Castle of Old Wick on a cliff top in Caithness
The Castle of Old Wick has a history with several clans including the Sinclairs, Sutherlands and Oliphants

Researching your own clan and family history

Here, we have just scratched the surface. There are hundreds of Scottish clans, and many with connections to Caithness. If you have a Scottish surname or links to one, take a look at this family finder to see if you are part of a clan. Every clan has its own tartan too.

If you’re keen to explore your family history during your stay with us at Mackays Hotel, we have a wide collection of books and maps, which you are welcome to use. We can also put you in contact with a fantastic local independent researcher. Find out more in our guide to tracing your ancestors in Caithness.

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