This important family was one of the earliest branches to assert its independence from the great Clan Donald. Some doubt exists as to the exact progenitor of this clan, but it is now accepted they are the descendants of Alastair Mor, son of Donald of the Isles. Alastair first appears as a witness to a charter granted by his brother Angus, Lord of the Isles, to the Abbey of Paisley around 1253. The lands of Lowb, later to be the chiefly designation of Loup, are mentioned in a charter by James III confirming lands in Kintyre to the Lord of the Isles. In 1481, Charles Macalister was made constable of the Castle of Tarbert, and received a grant of lands in Kintyre. Charles was succeeded as chief by his son, John, who is the first to be styled ‘of the Lowb’. The Castle of Tarbert was used by James IV as a naval supply base during his campaign to suppress the Lordship of the Isles. Clan Alastair occupied an influential position, although they were by no means a numerous clan, and therefore sought to secure their position by alliances with other houses. In 1591, Godfrey Macalister of Loup received a charter from the Earl of Argyll in relation to lands at Tarbert which they held until after 1745.
The Macalisters were not immune from family quarrels, and in 1598 Godfrey Macalister killed his tutor and guardian, Charles Macalister, and thereafter besieged his sons at their house at Askomull. In 1600 the island of Arran was invaded by the Macalisters, who seized the house and estates of John Montgomery of Skelmorlie, plundering possessions valued at £12,000 Scots. Two years later, Archibald Macalister, the heir of Tarbert, led his men, along with other clans of north Kintyre, to raid the prosperous island of Bute. It is said that a force of over twelve hundred men ravaged the Stewart possessions on the island, for which act Archibald Macalister was denounced as a rebel. In 1605 Archibald and his kinsman, John Macalister, tutor of Loup, were ordered to appear before the Privy Council and fined surety on pain of being denounced as rebels. Alexander Macalister, along with Angus Og, leader of the Mac-
donalds of Islay were found guilty of treason and after incarceration in the prison of the Tolbooth in Edinburgh, they were hanged. However, by 1623 Macalister of Loup was one of the justices of the peace for Argyllshire.
The Macalisters came to Stirlingshire some time in the fourteenth century, and during generations that followed their Celtic name was anglicised into its more familiar lowland version, Alexander. By the sixteenth century they settled on the estates of Menstrie only a few miles north-east of the mighty royal Castle of Stirling. William Alexander of Menstrie became a courtier under the patronage of the Earl of Argyll. He was instrumental in promoting the colonisation of the Scottish territories in Canada, known as Nova Scotia, and devised the scheme whereby those investing in the colony would receive the honour known as a Baronetcy of Nova Scotia. The scheme was a roaring success, although it did more to bolster the flagging royal finances than secure the development of the far-distant colony. There is a splendid room displaying the arms of the Baronets of Nova Scotia still preserved at Menstrie. He was rewarded by his grateful royal master first with a viscountcy, and then the earldom of Stirling. In 1631 Archibald Macalister of Tarbert visited his kinsman, William Alexander, now Earl of Stirling, at his Castle of Menstrie, and the earl procured for his guest election as a burgess of the royal burgh of Stirling in August of that year. It was during his kinsman of Tarbert’s visit that the earl obtained an acknowledgment that he was chief of the Macalisters. This was, of course, entirely a product of the earl’s vanity, and had no genealogical basis whatsoever.
By 1706 Tarbert had passed from the Macalisters into the possession of the Macleans. The chiefs continued to flourish on their lands of Loup and a younger son, Duncan, settled in Holland in 1717, where he rose to high rank in the army; his descendants can still be traced to this day. The chiefly family eventually sold off their estates in Kintyre, and the present chief lives in England. Glenbarr Abbey is the modern clan centre, displaying many interesting artifacts and mementoes of the name.