The Maclean name emerged amid the ancient Dalriadan Clans, during the late 12th century. It originates from the Scottish Gaelic ‘MacGillEthain’ or ‘MacGille Eoin’, meaning son of the servant of St. John. The clan is descended from the great Gillean of the BattleAxe, a 13th century warrior (we’ll save this tale for later). From the 13th century onwards, the Maclean family claimed their territory over large parts of land in Argyll and the Inner Hebrides; perhaps most notably the peninsula of Morvern, as well as the beautiful and picturesque islands of Coll, Tiree and Mull, where the renowned Duart Castle was built.
The Clan Motto
The greatest threat to stability within the clan was the relentless risk of attack. The Macleans often fought numerous battles, particularly with other members of the MacKinnon, Cameron, MacDonald and Campbell clans, becoming known for their honour, strength and courage during the skirmishes. In terms of Scottish Heritage, a motto was part of a clan’s identification; a unifying phrase for all members to show their allegiance. Thus it was the motto ‘Virtue Mine Honour’ which was attributed to the clan, translating as ‘Virtue is the mark of my honour’.
Clan MacLean Crest
The motto was first recognised as a war cry or slogan, often called out in the midst of battles, to reaffirm what the Maclean clan stood and fought for, as well as to identify gathering points. The Maclean family crest bears a tower with embattlements. In addition to the crest, it was said that clan badges consisted of plants, with the crowberry plant being used to represent the Maclean clan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not commonly recognised until the 17th century.
Slogans were often used as a second motto for clans, usually cried out during battles as rallying points. Slogans of the clan Maclean include the famous Bas no Beatha, a well known Scottish Gaelic phrase meaning ‘Death or Life’. Not only did it symbolise the boldness of the clan, it reflected their nobility and bravery – qualities which still run true about the Maclean clan today.