Origins and Early Years
The name MacBain and variants has its origins in the Gaelic "betha" or "beatha" meaning "life" (similar to "uisge-beatha" the water of life, or whisky). It may have been, however, that it was from the Gaelic "bheathain" meaning "lively one". An early version of the name was Mac'ic'Beatha or Macbeth - who was later to gain fame when William Shakespeare wrote about him. Like Macbeth, many of those with this name came from Moray and the northern Grampian mountains.
When the powerful families of Moray were eventually made to acknowledge the authority of the Scottish monarch in the reign of Malcolm IV, many of them moved to other areas in the north. Legend has it that a MacBean settled in Petty, near Inverness in the 14th century and established his family under the protection of the clan Macintosh. The MacBeans also joined the Chattan confederation of clans, of which Macintosh was a major part.
To survive, the Highland clans had to be able to fight both to defend their land and property and, in time of need, to raid the territory of other clans. But some gained a reputation for being doughty fighters and this certainly applied to the MacBeans. They were supporters of Robert the Bruce but although many of their specific fighting exploits would go unrecorded, the MacBeans (and Macintoshes) are said to have supported Donald, Lord of the Isles in the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 against the Earl of Mar - and lost many men.
The Macbeans supported the Jacobite rising of 1715 and many were transported to the plantations of Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina as a result. Despite this, Gilleis Mor Macbean, a grandson of the 12th chief, who was at least 6 feet 4 inches in height, became a major in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. At Culloden, he tried to plug a gap created by government dragoons and with his back to a wall, cut down thirteen or fourteen of them. A chivalrous Hanoverian officer was so impressed by his bravery that he tried to pull back his men, but they pressed forward, mortally wounding him.
Later MacBeans who earned military honours were Lieutenant General Forbes MacBean who was commander of artillery in Canada in 1778 and William MacBean who rose from private to major general in the Sutherland highlanders and earned Britain's highest military medal, the Victoria Cross, during the Indian Mutiny of 1858. A MacBain commanded the Gordon Highlanders against the Boers in South Africa in 1881.
Away from the battlefields, Alexander MacBean was one of the compilers of Dr Samuel Johnson's dictionary.
Loss of Clan Lands
Paul MacBean, the 12th chief, fell into debt and was forced to sell clan lands around 1685. His younger brother is the ancestor of the present chief as Paul McBean's line ended in a daughter. After Culloden, the chief tried to retain the remaining clan lands but they were finally sold in 1760
The chief of the clan moved to Canada and the present chief lives in Tucson, Arizona. The MacBean clan association is based in Denver, Colorado. But the recent clan chiefs have retrieved some of the ancient clan lands and there is a Macbain Memorial Park on the hills above Loch Ness.
The MacBean clan motto is "Touch not a catt bot a targe" which means "Don't touch a cat without a shield".
Surnames regarded as septs (sub-branch) of the MacBain/MacBean clan include Bain, Bean, Beattie, Binnie, Macbeath, Macbeth, Macbheath, Macilvain and MacVean.
Clan Web Sites
There is a MacBean/MacBain clan Web sites here>.
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