The Maclaines of Lochbuie formed an important part of the clan structure of the Hebrides. They are descended from Gillean of the Battleaxe, a fierce warrior who lived in the mid thirteenth century and held lands in Mull and Morvern. Gillean and his three sons fought valiantly at the Battle of Largs, and they were well received by Alexander II. He was succeeded by Gille-Iosa, whose son, Malcolm, fought at the head of his clan at Bannockburn. Iain Dubh, Malcolm’s son, was the father of Eachainn Reaganach, Hector the Stern, founder of the Macleans of Lochbuie, and Lachlan Lubanach, Lachlan the wily, who founded the Macleans of Duart. These are the two main independent branches of the family, each with their various cadets, and the spellings of the names of both remained identical until the late sixteenth century.
Hector was granted lands in Mull by the Lords of the Isles around 1350 and he sat on the Council of the Isles, as did subsequent Lochbuie chiefs until the forfeiture of the lordship in 1493. Hector chose a site for his castle on Mull at the head of Loch Buie on the lands formerly held by the Macfadzeans. Moy Castle, a typical Scottish tower house, was built in the late fourteenth century and was the chief’s residence until 1752, when Lochbuie House was built. Lochbuie held land on Mull, Scarba, Jura, Morvern, Locheil, and the bailliary of the south part of Tiree and of Morvern. Lands were also granted in Duror and Glencoe but they were never taken into possession. In 1542 the lands held by the sixth Lochbuie chief were united into the barony of Moy.
One of the most famous legends associated with the clan is that of the headless horseman. Prior to 1538 the fifth chief, Iain Og, had a son, Ewan, who lived on a crannog, or artificial island, in Loch Sghubhain just north of Lochbuie. Ewan’s wife, who earned the nickname, ‘the black swan’, pressed Ewan continuously to ask his father for more land. Ewan at last consented, but when he confronted his father a heated argument ensued which resulted in their setting a time and place for battle. They met at Glen Cannir, with Iain Og supported by the Macleans of Duart. In the heat of battle, Ewan left himself open to the swing of a claymore, which completely severed his head from his body. His horse kept galloping with the headless body held in place by the stirrups. The horse eventually stopped and Ewan’s body was buried on that spot which is still marked by a cairn. His body was later taken to Iona, where his gravestone can still be seen. It is said that whenever a member of the family is about to die, hoofbeats of Ewan’s horse will be heard and his headless ghost may be seen in his green cloak galloping through the night on his black charger.
John Mor, seventh chief, was renowned as an excellent swordsman. When an Italian master-at-arms challenged Scottish nobles to meet him in duel John Mor accepted the challenge, and fought and killed him in the presence, and to the delight, of the king and the court. His son, Hector, eighth of Lochbuie, initiated the spelling of the surname ‘Maclaine’, which became the accepted spelling by subsequent chiefs. Murdoch Mor, tenth chief, fought alongside the Marquess of Montrose in 1645 and thereby forfeited his lands, which were not restored until 1661. The twelfth chief, Hector, was the victor in the first battle of the Jacobite campaign of James VII when, in 1689, at Knockbreck in Badenoch, he overcame five troops of horse sent by Mackay’s army to intercept him. He also participated in the Battle of Killiecrankie later that year in which the Highlanders almost annihilated Mackay’s forces.
John, seventeenth chief, was host to Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell on the last stop of their famous tour of the Hebrides in 1773. Boswell said of John, ‘Lochbuie proved to be a bluff, comely, noisy old gentleman, proud of his hereditary consequence and a very hearty and hospitable landlord’. John had a plaque placed above the door of Lochbuie House to commemorate the visit.
One of the more colourful Lochbuie chiefs was Murdoch, twenty-third of Lochbuie, born in 1814. It is reported that, after his late arrival to a formal dinner in Oban, the Duke of Argyll sent a butler to ask him to come and sit at the head of the table. Murdoch retorted, ‘Where Lochbuie sits is the head of the table’. Murdoch, along with the Duke of Argyll, founded the Argyllshire Gathering and Ball in 1871. He had a distinguished military career, and while serving as military correspondent of The Times during the Franco–Prussian War in 1871, was awarded the Iron Cross by the Kaiser. Murdoch’s son and heir, Kenneth Maclaine, the twenty-fourth chief, made a mark for himself by going on the stage as a singer to try to forestall the closure of the Lochbuie estates. Unfortunately, the onset of the First World War made it impossible for him to avoid the inevitable, and the entire estates of some thirty thousand acres were lost. Kenneth served with distinction throughout the war, being awarded the Military Cross twice and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.