The MacArthurs of Islay

The name of MacArthur is and was prevalent on the southern Hebridean island of Islay from ancient times. The MacArthurs were based around Proaig, the bay just to the south of MacArthur Head Lighthouse, which takes its name from the ancient MacArthur presence. The MacArthurs of Proaig were hereditary armourers to the McDonalds of the Isles, which suggests a presence on the island from well before the end of the Lordship in 1493, and an ancestral presence which could predate the founding of the Lordship which ruled from Finlaggan on northern Islay from the 12th century. To the north of MacArthur Head Lighthouse, a sea rock called Carraig Artair (Arthur’s Rock)  sits in the bay at Caol Ila Distillery, but nothing is known as to the origin of this place name.

Kildarton Cross
Kildarton Cross - photo by Hugh McArthur

A prestigious MacArthur grave stone lies in Kildalton church yard. Dating from 1690, Charles MacArthur’s tomb is carved with a musket and a hunting horn. The MacArthurs of Proaig were blacksmiths, a trait found throughout the Clan. The MacArthurs at Carness in Glen Aray were armourers to Clan Campbell, the MacArthurs on Skye were known pipers and blacksmiths, and the MacArthurs of Lochaber forged the legendary battle axe.

The MacArthurs of Islay had a reputation for innovation and they were the first ‘smiths to commercially manufacture golf clubs for a flourishing market. First made in the 18th century, the clubs now have an immeasurable value. The Islay MacArthur ‘smiths are also known to have forged the old wrought iron gates for Kildalton church yard.

The name of Dewar (Gaelic: Deoir) is listed as a sept of Clan Arthur and is found in Loch Tay. Whereas, on Islay we find the name MacIndeor, which is directly connected to Dewar. It would appear that the MacArthurs and MacIndeors of Islay may well be connected to the MacArthur Chiefship of Loch Awe, and the MacArthurs and Dewars of Loch Tay, although no details can be found yet to strengthen this postulation.


MacArthur of Islay Headstones - Photos by Iain Bowden

Charles MacArthur 1690
Donald McArthur Merchant in Lagavulin 1790
James McArthur Blacksmith of Port Ellen and Family