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The Mackenzie takeover of Lewis in the early 17th Century was the subject of this year’s Colm Cille Lecture, organised by Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe and sponsored by Point and Sandwick Trust, by Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich, University of Glasgow. 

His original advertised topic was “Their longed-for wish and expected prey, the Clan Mackenzie and their plantation of Lewis, 1610-1700”, a subject that Dr MacCoinnich has researched in considerable depth, but this was cut back to 1610-1630 from the start of the talk and abbreviated still further, as Dr MacCoinnich explained, because of the amount of material to be covered.

Aonghas MacCoinnich is a Niseach whose parents still live in Ness.  He now lives in Glasgow where he is a lecturer in Celtic History at the University of Glasgow.  He graduated MA in History and Gaelic at the University of Aberdeen in 1999 and did his PhD there (in Gaelic) in 2005 on the emergence of the Mackenzie Clan, from 1466-1637. 

He is interested in all aspects of the history and culture of the Highlands and Islands with a specific focus on the period between the end of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century.  Dr MacCoinnich has researched, lectured and written extensively on Celtic history, culture and language and in 2015 he wrote a book on “Plantation and Civility in the North Atlantic World; the Case of the Northern Hebrides, 1570-1639”.

Dr MacCoinnich started the lecture by setting the Mackenzies in the context of the last years of the Macleod lordship and emphasised how it was the internecine divisions in the Macleod lordship that allowed the Mackenzies to triumph, while this process involved conquest, application of the law and the skilful use of dynastic marriages to ensure compliance and loyalty.

He also sketched in the disastrous fate of the Fife Adventurers – who could not grasp the complexity of the society around them – or perhaps disdained to believe it could have any complexity.

Dr MacCoinnich also emphasised the way the Mackenzies, anxious to develop the wealth of their expanded realm, called on expertise from outside the region – from the Netherlands, for example, in relation to fishing – and made Stornoway even more part of a trading network around the costs of Scotland.  Just as the Macleod realm had included lands on both sides of the Minch – also including the isle of Raasay – so the Mackenzies linked their possessions by sea.

The free lecture was held on Friday 20th September in Ionad Stoodie, Garrabost.