Although there is some doubt about the exact beginnings of this name, it is generally accepted that they were originally a branch of the Clan Donald in that they descend from Alasdair Mor, younger son of Donald of the Isles, grandson of Somerled. However, there has been confusion as to who really was the clan's founder because within a generation there lived two prominent Alasdairs (an uncle and nephew). Both of these men left many sons and their immediate descendants are not clearly connected with a definite clan area. The lack of charter evidence also clouds the true history of the clan; as does the fact that for about two hundred years, their descendants did not form a recognised organised clan of their own However, a Charles Macalister was made constable of Castle of Tarbert and was granted land in Kintyre, a peninsula on the extreme west of mainland Scotland. Charles' son John succeeded him as chief and was the first to be referred to as "of the Lowp" (an area of land originally granted in 1481 by James III to John, Lord of the Isles). The MacAlisters later had an influential position when James IV used Castle of Tarbert in Kintyre during his campaign to suppress the Lordship of the Isles. In 1591 Godfrey Macalister of Loup was granted a charter from the Earl of Argyll in relation to lands at Tarbert which they held until after the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.
The graphic on the right is a Victorian romantic depiction of a MacAlister clansman illustrated by R. R. McIan, from James Logan's The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, 1845.
MacAlisters in Clackmannanshire
The clan was not particularly numerous and so made alliances with other clans and supported Clan Donald in their feud with the MacLeans and Alasdair MacAlister married Jane, the daughter of Sir James Campbell of Auchinbreck.
Some MacAlisters moved to Clackmannan, near Stirling, some time in the 14th century, but their name was anglicised over time to Alexander. By the 16th century they had become established in Menstrie. William Alexander of Menstrie became a courtier under the Earl of Argyll and promoted the colonisation of Scottish territories in Nova Scotia in Canada. Those investing in the colony received an honour known as a Baronetcy of Nova Scotia - and added to the royal finances at the same time. There is a room in Menstrie Castle (pictured here) to this day that displays the arms of the Baronets of Nova Scotia. William Alexander himself became a viscount and then was granted the earldom of Stirling.
MacAlisters in Kintyre
By 1706, the lands near Tarbert had ceased to be a part of the family of the MacAlisters of Tarbert, with the estate passing instead into the possession of a Maclean. Alexander MacAlister of Loup was succeeded by his son, Godfrey, who was in turn succeeded by his son. During this period, the chiefly line of the clan severed all ties with Kintyre; the family mansion of Ardpatrick House was sold to Walter Campbell of Islay, after which Loup also passed out of the hands of the chiefly family.
Glenbarr Abbey on the Kintyre peninsula (pictured here, copyright Paul Farmer) was placed into the ownership of Clan MacAlister through the Scottish National Trust in 1984 and is a MacAlister clan heritage centre. Its operation is overseen be a Board of Trustees which is made up of MacAlister Clansmen from Scotland, America and Australia.
MacAlisters in Ayrshire
However, Charles, 12th of Loup married the daughter and heiress of William Somerville of Kennox in 1792. In consequence, he assumed the name and arms of Somerville (seen here, copyright Celtus) along with his own and the seat of the family has since then been located in the Scottish Lowlands at Kennox, in Ayrshire. Charles died in 1847 and was succeeded by his son, Charles. This Charles was in turn succeeded by his son, yet another Charles. Charles Somerville McAlester of Loup and Kennox died in 1903 and was succeeded by his son, Charles Godfrey Somerville McAlester of Loup and Kennox. The current chief of the clan is William St John Somerville McAlester of Loup and Kennox who lives in England.
The MacAlister clan motto is "Fortiter" which means "Boldly".
Surnames regarded as septs (sub-branch) of the MacAlister clan and alternative spellings of the name include: MacAlaster, MacAlester, MacAlister, MacAllaster, MacAllester, MacAllister, MacCalaster, MacCalester, MacCalister, MacCallaster, MacCallester, MacCallister, McAlaster, McAlester, McAlister, McAllaster, McAllester, McAllister, McCalaster, McCalester, McCalister, McCallaster, McCallester, McCallister, MacColaster, MacColester, MacColister, MacCollaster, MacCollester, MacCollister, McColaster, McColester, McColister, McCollaster, McCollester, McCollister, MacAlasdair, MacAllasdair, MacCalasdair, MacCallasdair, McAlasdair, McAllasdair, McCalasdair, McCallasdair, MacLaster, MacLester, MacLister, McLaster, McLester, McLister.
There are MacAlister clan Web sites here> and here>.
Clan chief and members of the clan at the Gathering in Edinburgh in 2009.
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