Clan MacThomas

The following text is reprinted by kind permission of the Clan MacThomas website. Also see in galleries.


Thomas, a Gaelic speaking Highlander, known as Tomaidh Mor (‘Great Tommy’), from whom the clan takes its name, was a descendant of the Clan Chattan Mackintoshes, his grandfather having been a son of William, 8th Chief of Clan Chattan.


Thomas lived in the 15th century, at a time when the Clan Chattan Confederation had become large and unmanageable and so he took his kinsmen and followers across the Grampians, from Badenoch to Glenshee where they settled and flourished, being known as McComie (phonetic form of the Gaelic MacThomaidh), McColm and McComas (from MacThom and MacThomas).


To the Government in Edinburgh, they were known as MacThomas and are so described in the Roll of the Clans in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament of 1587 and 1595 and MacThomas remains the official name of the Clan to this day.


The early chiefs of the Clan MacThomas were seated at the Thom, on the east bank of the Shee Water opposite the Spittal of Glenshee, the site thought to be that of the tomb of the legendary Diarmid of the Fingalian saga, with which Glenshee has so many associations.


In about 1600, when the 4th Chief, Robert MacThomaidh of the Thom was murdered, the chiefship passed to his brother, John McComie of Finegand, about three miles down the Glen, which became the seat of the chiefs.


Finegand is a corruption of the Gaelic ‘Feith nen Ceann’ meaning ‘burn of the heads’ and refers to the time when some tax collectors were attacked by some clansmen, who cut off their heads and threw them in a nearby burn. By now, the MacThomases had acquired a lot of property in the glen and houses were well established at Kerrow and Benzian with shielings up Glen Beag.


The time was spent breeding cattle and fighting off those seeking to rustle them, one such skirmish, in 1606, being remembered as the Battle of the Cairnwell.


The 7th Chief was John McComie (Iain Mor) and his deeds have passed into the folklore of Perthshire and Angus, wherein he is generally known as ‘McComie Mor’ (illustrated). The legends surrounding this Highland hero abound: he puts to flight some tax collectors in defence of a poor widow single handed; he kills the Earl of Atholl’s champion swordsman; he slays the man who insulted his wife; he fights his son in disguise to test his courage: he overcomes a ferocious bull with his bare hands: and he is even familiar with the supernatural.


Today, a large stone at the head of Glen Prosen is known as McComie Mor’s Putting Stone, a nearby spring as McComie Mor’s well, while at the top of Glen Beannie, a rock shaped like a seat is called McComie Mor’s Chair.


Iain Mor joined Montrose at Dundee in 1644, and fought for the King’s cause throughout the campaign, personally capturing Sir William Forbes of Craigivar, but after the defeat at Philiphaugh, he withdrew from the struggle and devoted his energies to cattle raising. During this time the clan extended its lands and influence into Glen Prosen and Strathardle and Iain Mor purchased the Barony of Forter in Glenisla from Lord Airlie. Forter Castle had been burnt eleven years earlier, as recounted in the ballad, ‘The Bonnie House of Airlie’ and so Iain Mor made his home at Crandart, two miles north of the castle.


The Government of Cromwell won Iain Mor’s admiration for the prosperity it brought Scotland but this soured his relationship with Airlie. On the restoration of Charles II in 1660, he found himself in trouble with parliament, who fined him heavily and at Airlie’s instigation a law suit decreed that the Canlochan Forest, part of the Forter estate, belonged to the latter. This Iain Mor refused to recognise, continuing to pasture his cattle on the disputed land which Airlie had leased to Robert Farquharson of Broughdearg.


Broughdearg was Iain Mor’s cousin but the dispute over the forest led to a bitter feud culminating in a skirmish at Drumgley, just west of Forfar, where at a spot, now known as McComie’s Field, Broughdearg was slain on 28th January 1673, along with two of Iain Mor’s sons. The fine, feud and the crippling law suit that followed ruined the MacThomases, and following Iain Mor’s death, his remaining sons were forced to sell their lands.


The MacThomas chief is mentioned in Government proclamations in 1678 and 1681 but the clan was by now drifting apart with some going south into the Tay valley changing their name to Thomson or into Angus and Fife where they became Thomas, Thom or Thoms. The 10th Chief, Angus, who took the surname Thomas and later Thoms, settled in Northern Fife where his family thrived as successful farmers until they moved to Dundee and became prosperous merchants, at the end of the 18th century, finally buying the estate of Aberlemno near Forfar.


Others moved north into Aberdeenshire, where the name became corrupted to McCombie as well as the anglicised forms Thom and Thomson. In Aberdeenshire, the principal MacThomas family were the McCombie’s of Easterskene, and it is one of their party, William McCombie of Tillyfour, M.P. for South Aberdeenshire at the end of the 19th century, who is today regarded as the father of the world famous Aberdeen-Angus breed of cattle.


Patrick Hunter MacThomas Thoms of Aberlemno, 15th Chief, was Provost of Dundee from 1847 to 1853, while his heir, the eccentric George Hunter MacThomas Thoms, advocate, bon vivant and philanthropist, became Sheriff of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland in 1870, donating during his lifetime large sums to St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh and, upon his death in 1903, his vast fortune to St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, together with the Aberlemno estate. Having lost the Aberlemno estate, the chiefly family assumed the name MacThomas.


In 1954, the Clan MacThomas Society was formed and 13 years later, George’s great nephew, Patrick Watt MacThomas, was once again officially recognised by the Lyon Court by the historic designation ‘The MacThomas of Finegand’.


He died in 1970, being succeeded as 19th Chief, by his only son, Andrew MacThomas of Finegand. It was during his lifetime that the Clan’s ancient gathering ground (The Cockstane) was purchased, the new bridge over Shee Water named after the family and the Clan’s historic links with Glenshee firmly re-established. Thomas, his only son, was born in the late 1980’s.

This page was added by Sally Gingell on 23/02/2014.

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