The Clan McEwen


Our Origins:

Our McEwen family is part of the Highland Scottish Clan MacEwen. We are armigerous clan, which means that although the family is registered with the Court of Lord Lyon there is no chief currently recognised as such. A clan is considered a "noble incorporation" as clan chief is a title of honour and the chief confers his or her noble status onto the clan. Because armigerous clans do not have chiefs, they are not recognised as noble communities and have no legal standing under Scots Law.

The principle clan with the name MacEwen was Clan MacEwen of Otter. The MacEwens of Otter ancestry is entwined with Clan Lamont, Clan Maclachlan, Clan MacNeil of Barra and the MacSweens, who all claim to be descended from Anrothan O'Neill, who left Ireland for Kintyre in the 11th century.

All of the above-mentioned clans can claim further descendency from the legendary Niall Noigiallach, High King of Ireland. In the 15th century the MacEwens of Otter lost their land to the Campbells, displacing the clan members and the poor old MacEwens became known as a broken clan (landless). The only genealogy of the Clan MacEwen of Otter, is the 1467 MS which is held in the National Library of Scotland. This is a Gaelic manuscript written in 1467 and contains the genealogies of many Scottish clans. Unfortunately for those of us who today are tracing our ancestors, the MacEwen of Otter genealogy in the manuscript is all but unreadable in places. This pictures shows the genealogy of the clans mentioned, with MacEwen of Otter in red and the others in blue. It is taken from a translation of the 1467 ms by W.D.H. Sellar; "FAMILY ORIGINS IN COWAL AND KNAPDALE". Scottish Studies, Volume 15, Edinburgh, 1971, pp. 21-37.

Our History:

The chiefs of our clan lived at Otter, on Loch Fyne, the location of which is shown in this map (right). The castle was situated on the rocky shore of the loch, near Kilfinan. Swene MacEwen resigned the destination of the Barony of Otter to the heir of the Clan Campbell around 1431-2, during the reign of James I of Scotland. This meant that on his death the barony passed into the hands of the Campbells, which combined with the loss of their lands, made them dependants on Clan Campbell. It was from Sween's death that the line of chiefs of the MacEwens of Otter have been untraced. For all intents and purposes Clan MacEwen was absorbed by Clan Campbell. In 1602 an Act of Parliament was passed, listing the MacEwens as vassals of the Earl of Argyll alongside the Maclachlans and McNeils, making them all answerable to him for their behaviour.

The Massacre:

The Legend of the MacEwen Massacre has been embellished over time, and while the historical facts may not agree with the legend, it has become a popular tale and certainly one worth telling.

Apparently Swene MacEwen had a weakness for the the 3 W's - whiskey, wine and wagering. As a result of his insatiable appetite for these vices, he quickly lost his Clan's riches, forcing him to borrow money. The only Clan willing to loan it to him were the infamous Campbells. The Duke of Argyll, realised that he was dealing with a weak willed individual and placed very harsh conditions on the loan. These included Swene using his land and title as collateral and a repayment schedule that was basically impossible to meet. Desperate to keep up his lifestyle, Swene accepted the conditions, hoping that his fortunes would soon turn around for the better.

Swene soon realised that he was still sinking into financial ruin and rather than continue to meet the outlandish repayments, he withheld them, hoping to negotiate better terms with the Duke. Rather than force the Duke into a renegotiation of the terms of the loan, this angered the Duke and eventually he decided on a plan to meet Swene personally and "convince" him it was time to pay up.

The Duke proposed that Swene and his MacEwen entourage should travel to the Campbell stronghold, and silly Swene was so thankful to have a chance to renegotiate the loan terms, he quickly agreed to the meeting. The Duke held a Ceilidh (feast) to honour his guests, the night after their arrival. He made sure there was ample whiskey and wine available for his guests and after the MacEwen group had become well and truely intoxicated, the Campbells proceeded to murder them all. Having taken out most of the MacEwen Clan, the Campbells were now free to march into Otter and take possession of their lands with very little resistance from those that were left. The remaining MacEwen's fled their homes and sought protection from their neighbours, the MacLachlans.

There is, of course, a valuable lesson to be learned from this story ...................

If you are ever invited to the home of a Campbell for dinner..........BEWARE!


Members of Clan MacEwen may wear the crest badge (shown at the top of the page) which shows their allegiance to the clan. Crest badges as such, are a relatively new concept. Most clan's crests consist of a strap and buckle surrounding the clan chief's heraldic crest and motto. Clan MacEwen crest badge does contain the strap and buckle but there it differs. Rather than showing the arms of a previous clan chief, it instead contains the Latin motto: REVIRESCO, which means "I'll grow strong again" (quite appropriate given our history). The crest is the trunk of an oak tree sprouting proper.


In March 2001 Alison and Ian McEwen organised a McEwen - Paterson reunion at Granite Flat near Charlton and a book titled "Tamoshanter to Akubra - Tartan Kilt to Drizabone" The McEwen-Paterson Story was compiled. Special thanks to Alison and Ian for their help with my research on this part of the family. Ian and Alison have their own website McEwen Farming, where you can see photos of the current generation of the McEwen family and read some of Ian's Poetry.

To date I have traced our McEwen ancestry back to my Great Great Great Great Grandparents: Donald McEwen (born in Colmonell, Ayrshire, 1767 and died on 24 December 1836) and Margaret McGill (born in Colmonell Ayrshire, 1770). The information you will find in the McEwen family history has been uploaded directly from my genealogy software and over time the individual biographies will be edited and updated.

Leanne Grogan
Donald, Victoria, Australia

Created 13 July 2009 by Leanne Grogan.

Sources: "Tamoshanter to Akubra - Tartan Kilt to Drizabone" The McEwen-Paterson Story, compiled by Alison McEwen.
W.D.H. Sellar; "Family Origins In Cowal and Knapdale". Scottish Studies, Volume 15, Edinburgh, 1971, pp. 21-37.
Clan MacEwen - Both A Clan and A Protectorate,