Somerled MacMillan was the author of a very extensive book on the Families of Knapdale. He is particularly specific as to the MacMillans. If you click on the link to the left, you can access this book. For the MacMillans go to page 11.


The Palm Sunday Massacre in 1429, at Lochaber, involved a Cameron versus Mackintosh battle. There were MacMillans present, who were allied to the Camerons. The latter gathered in a church. The MacKintosh set fire to said church and almost totally exterminated the whole clan. Events such as these, even unto the 15th century, are probably why rumours of Highland savagery abounded in England. Perhaps it was using a church as a corral that made this battle worthy of historical notice.

For our purposes, this event led to Alexander MacMillan's return to Knapdale, where he succeeded his father Lachlan, and became the "5th of Knap." Even better for Alexander and his clan was that he married Erca, sole heir of Hector MacTorquil McNeill, 1st of Taynish and Constable of Castle Sween. Thus, Clan MacMillan entered into sword service to John, Lord of the Isles, probably as a bulwark against the rising Clan Campbell power. His bride brought him the income of ten farms lying between the Castle and Kinlochkillisport.

Castle Sween was in this time an important fort, as it overlooks Loch Sween, and Knapdale's interior and the southern approaches to southern Argyll. It was known as "The Key to Knapdale". It is a quadrangle, with projecting buttresses, an unusual feature in a western highland fortification. The gateway is on the south side, in a ten foot thick section of masonry. There is a well in the north east angle. The round tower at the north west angle at one time contained a prison. Its situation would have made it convenient to beach galleys, there being no natural anchorage nearby. The early history and siting of this castle have much to do with the emphasis upon sea power which dominated western Argyll until Scotland looked to Edinburgh and London for its law and order. Notice that the grave slab shown here features a galley in a prominent position.

MacMillan's Tower, of later, 15th century date, is outside the north east angle. It was probably Alexander, 5th of Knap, who ordered that this tower be built. Further, this part of the castle has always been known as "MacMillan's Tower."

Alexander MacMillan was obviously a hearty and boastful extrovert. It was not enough to have a sheepskin charter outlining his powers in Knap: he caused a rock at the point of Knap engraved with the following: "COIR MHIC MHAOLAIN AIR A CHNAP", or, "MacMillan's right to Knap."

However, time was not on Clan MacMillan's side: by the end of the 1400s, the Lord of the Isles had lost his battles with the King of Scotland. In 1494, the MacDonald Lordship of the Isles was forfeited by Scotland's king, and Campbell of Argyll received the Constableship of Castle Sween.

The MacMillans in Knap did not take kindly to this demotion in power and status. The 1500s saw the gradual and violent ending of MacMillan's lordship in Knapdale. In 1539, "certain families which had changed their allegiance from the MacDonald Camp to that the Campbells came in for brutal treatment .... Two MacMillans are included in the list of the disturbers of the peace." (page 14, in Somerled MacMillan.)

In 1615, Campbell of Calder, a son of the Earl of Argyll, came into possession of Islay and also Knap. When some Campbells landed on the point of Knap, they erased Alexander MacMillan's boast, removing forever the MacMillan right to Knapdale lordship. That year, John Gair, a grandson of Donald, 10th MacMillan of Knap, was hanged in Edinburgh for his part in an abortive uprising against the Campbells at Castle Sween.


Not all MacMillans backed the MacDonalds. 'The Dunmore Line' concentrated in lands along the north shore of West Loch Tarbert, allied itself with the Campbells. If Alexander's descendents lost status, the McMillans of Dunmore gained status, and if you check this Link of Proprietors you will find them, in a list of 248 Argyll landowners, at Number 7. It is from this line that the present Chief of the MacMillan clan is descended.

To go back to McMillan wanderings before Knapdale go here

Next, Alexander McMillan's Cross at Kilmory Knap go here

To go back to the MacMillan introductory page: go here

For a list of sources used for Clan McMillan, go here