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A Closer Look at West Highland Heraldry
by Alastair Campbell of Airds Unicorn Pursuivant of Arms

It is often claimed that the Scottish form of heraldry is the purest in the world both in form and in regulation Well, so it is, up to a point - that is, until it meets the West Highlands which, as so often, have their own ways of doing things. In this case a pretty odd way of doing things as will appear.
Academic historians tend to disdain both heraldry and genealogy. In my view this is a mistake. Few people would claim that Heraldry is conclusive historical evidence - but if it doesn't always prove who people actually are, it may well show who they thought they were or, at least, who they would like to be!


And whatever critics may say, heraldry is intensely symbolic and allows its users to make statements which can be clearly recognisable and which can offer a valuable sidelight on history

At an early stage I must pay tribute to Mr Roger Pye, author of a notable series of articles in The Coat of Arms and the first, I believe, to draw attention to this particular form of heraldic usage.
Sadly, in what follows, evidence is spasmodic although a reasonably clear progression is visible. The use of heraldry in the West Highlands was for long scantily recorded - which is not to say that it was not in constant use - and Heralds' Rolls often show what had been in use or what their compilers thought should have been in use, while tombstone carvers, while contemporary, often show a considerable degree of independence. What, for instance, are we to make of the tombstone of Campbell of Achaworran on Lismore, a cadet of the Campbells of Inverawe, who, instead of the six salmon on the border of that coat, is given only two? Is this a genuine difference or was there a squabble over the stonemason's fee or was it a particularly filthy day when the lure of the pub proved irresistible ?
Probably seals are the best evidence - they are contemporary and there is no doubt of their being used. But there are all too few of them.

The Definition of West Highland Heraldry

West Highland Heraldry is characterised by the use of quartered arms and by the repetitive use of one or more of a number of highly symbolic charges.
These are:

The Lion Rampant
The Galley
The Hand

The Salmon

The use of quartering is of course usual practice to denote dynastic marriage but this is not the case here: it is a more general connection and the term coined for it is "totemic".
There is also frequent use of rocks and castles but these can be traced in nearly every case to the actual ownership or keepership of identifiable sites.
So it is that in the West Highlands and Islands we find this kind of coat in use today for a wide range of families, among them the Clan Dougall, the Clan Donald, the Macleans of Duart and the Maclaines of Lochbuie, the MacNeils of Barra and the McNeills of Gigha, the MacLachlans and of course their various cadets.

Maclean of Duart
MacAlister of Tarbert
MacNeill of Gigha
MacNeil of Barra

Nor is this all since the practice is also adopted by the Clan Chattan where, apart from Mackintosh himself, it has long been used by the Farquharsons, the MacGillivrays, the Macphersons and others.

Shaw of Tordarroch
Maclean of Dochgarroch
(cadet) MacGillivray

But its adoption was by no means general in the area; it does not appear in the arms of such potentates as Macleod of Macleod or Macleod of the Lewes, Matheson, Mackenzie, or Cameron of Locheil while the use of the galley as a quartering in the arms of the Campbell Duke of Argyll and Earl of Breadalbane is the normal commemoration of marriage with heraldic heiresses. (The transfer of the actual Lordship of Lorne was a commercial transaction but this does not alter the above fact).


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