The search for Ulrick (or Ulric or Ualraig or Ulrich or Walrick) Kennedy

An ongoing research project by Iain Kennedy

version 5 (Register of Deeds records for Kennedys of Leanachan)

21st October 2007

Copyright © 2007 Iain Kennedy

According to the histories, the Highland Kennedys of Lochaber were founded by one Ulrick Kennedy who fled from Ayrshire and took shelter and protection with the Camerons under their chief Lochiel. This is not, I should point out, the only version of how the Kennedys came to Lochaber, nor the only 'Ulrich' legend. See here for another (added 12th August 2007).

Where does this story come from, and is it true?

The earliest I have traced the story back in written accounts is to 1723 in William Buchanan’s book

Historical and genealogical essay upon the family and surname of Buchanan. To which is added a brief enquiry into the genealogy and present state of ancient Scottish surnames, and more particularly of the Highland clans. By William Buchanan of Auchmar

A copy of this book is available at the National Library of Scotland (you can view it on microfilm or a bound copy from 1723 in the North Reading Room). The author's original spelling has been retained.

In his introduction, the author describes 4 types of Scottish surname, thus:

'That people known by the denomination of Scots, of which our Scotish nation is at present composed, may in respect of the origin of the same, be divided into four different distinct classes or divisions. The first of these classes consists of these surnames whose origin is purely Scotish, being the genuin progeny of the ancient Scots, which from Ireland at different junctures and occasions arrived and settled in Scotland.
[the other 3 being English, French and Scandinavian].

He then goes on to cite some examples of this first type ...

The surname of Kennedy is in like manner of great antiquity in this kingdom, being originally descended of that once potent surname of the Mackennedys of Ireland, of which surname was that brave king Brian Kennedy, tonamed Boraimh, or taxer, being contemporary with our King Malcolm II...

Thus having adduced a sufficient number of instances for the illustration of surnames of an ancient Scotish descent, being the first class of Scotish surnames, I shall next proceed to give instances of these whose descent is from England, being the second class of those surnames , now reputed Scotish ones.'

Now turning to the two Highland clans with which the Kennedy name has been linked, under MacDonald we have this:

'Besides these mentioned, there are divers other small clans, who tho' not descended from, yet of a long time have been dependents upon the McDonalds; as the McKinings of the Isle of Skye, whose Chief is the Laird of McKinney, a gentleman of a good estate in that isle, and in Mull, and depending on the family of Slate. The McWalricks also, who derive their origin from one Ulrick Kennedy, a son of the family of Dunures, who for slaughter fled divers ages ago to Lochaber, his progeny from the proper name of their ancestor deriving their surname of McWalricks, the principal person of whom is McWalrick of Linachan in Lochaber, who with his sept are dependants of the family of Kepoch; as are the McKenricks, being originally McNauchtans, dependants on the family of Glencoe. The McGillmories, and others are dependants on the family of Glengary, as are the McIlrevies on the family of Clanronald, with divers others, too numerous to be mentioned here.'

Finally under the Cameron entry, at the end we read this:

'There are also the Camerons of Glendeshery, Kinlochlyon, and a good many more gentlemen of considerable estates, and a great many of the vulgar sort of this surname in Morvern and Lochaber.'

That's right - there is no reference to either Kennedy or McWalrick/MacUalraig under the Cameron clan. So the modern account which everyone passes around from book to book and from web site to web site does not come in its entirety from Buchanan, although most likely the main part about Ulrick fleeing 'for slaughter' does.

That is not the only omission - there is no date information nor any references to the Gaelic roots of the Walrick/Ulrick names. It is always possible that these names were Anglicised back in Ayrshire and were re-Gaelified in Lochaber, although South-west Scotland held on to the Gaelic tongue longer than the rest of the lowlands.

At first glance it may make more sense that Ulrick sought protection from Lochiel who we think of as synonymous with Lochaber. However further back in time Lochaber was owned by the MacDonalds and branches persisted nearby at Keppoch. Lochiel came to control Lochaber around 1545 and we still don't have a very accurate idea of when Ulrick arrived, so it could have pre-dated this change of ownership.

Several 19th and 20th century written sources bring us this story. In chronological order they are

Loyal Lochaber – Drummond-Norie 1898
Tartans of the clans and septs of the Scottish Highlands – T&AK Johnston 1906
Surnames of Scotland – Dr. George Black 1946
Bygone Lochaber – Somerled MacMillan 1971
The Camerons a history of Clan Cameron – John Stewart 1974
Scottish Surnames - Donald Whyte – 1996, 2000 (2nd edition)

Interestingly, Leanachan although not the Kennedys, gets a mention in accounts of the passage of the Irish rebels leading up to the battle of nearby Inverlochy in 1645: 'Having reassembled, the rebels then forded the River Spean at Corriechoille, and pushed on through the Leanachan Woods around the base of Ben Nevis. ... they threw themselves down exhausted near Torlundy, overlooking Inverlochy.' On the day of battle, 2 February 1645, 'the rebels had only 1500 men; Alasdair MacColla took command of the right wing at the head of Major Thomas Laghtman's Regiment, which would appear by this time to have only been about 400 strong. In the centre was a largish body of highlanders, perhaps a little more than 500 of them, MacDonalds, MacLeans, Appin Stewarts and Athollmen, and on the left wing Colonel Manus O'Cahan's Regiment. In reserve was Colonel James McDonnell's regiment and some other highlanders. Neither O'Cahan's nor McDonnell's Irish regiments can have mustered more than 300 men and very likely a lot less'. The passage of Irish fighting men through Leanachan around the time the first written records of Kennedys at Leanachan date from is of course of great interest, although I would expect if Leanachan was 'seeded' from Ireland that they were Ulster Scots Kennedys.

None of these works gave a clear reference to their Ulrick account although fortunately Drummond-Norie does mention Buchanan without, from what I can make it, telling us what the Buchanan reference actually is. It was the Johnston book on tartans that provided the direct reference. MacMillan cites Black as a general reference. In turn Black lists Buchanan amongst his 13 page general bibliography; but his surname entries are not annotated back to the bibliography.

To date, I have not found a mention of the story in any of the Kennedy works, ancient or modern. Professor Michael Moss did not study the matter when writing his work on the Kennedys of Culzean, nor does James Fergusson mention him.

The Kennedy Society of America web site contains a slightly extended version of the story, adding the detail that Ulrick was supposed to have killed a Royal official.

An anonymous poster on the currently non-operational American web site claimed to have written a paper on the Kennedies of Leanachan though he struggled to pin Ulrick himself down. Although the site is down I have retrieved a Google cached version of the thread. We will see if we can do better!

How early can we definitely say the Kennedies came to Leanachan? Any advance on 1723 (the date of Buchanan's book)? Yes, I can now take this account back to 1659 via the somewhat surprising source of the Argyll Sasines (abstracts only, viewed in the Glasgow Archives at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow; I now have the full sasines obtained from the National Archives - IK 26.11.06).


21 and 27 April 1660
Sasine of half the 3 merk land of Lenochan beg in Lochaber , as principal, and as warrandice an annualrent of 40 merks furth of Glencoan in Argyll, given by Angus Kennedy in Lenochan mor, as baillie, to Duncan Kennedy (eldest lawful of Hew K., present occupier of the said half), on a wadset charter by Argyll, signed at Inverary, 20 feb 1659, before same witnesses as #989. Witnesses to sasine (at Lenochan beg, 21 apr): Niall Kennedy, eldest lawful son of the baillie, John K. in Lenochan mor, Finlay K. in Lenochan beg, and Dougall McArthur (lawful son of Duncan McA., notary) and (at Glencoan, 27 apr) John duy McAllen duy alias McDonald in Laerrich and his brother Alexr. McD. there, Archb. McInnes VcIllespick alias McDonald there, and said Dougall McArthur - reg. 14 May 1660 fol. 287'


21 and 27 April 1660

Sasine of half the 3 merk land of Lenochan mor and half the 4 merk land of Auchnaschiane, in Lochaber, as principal, and as warrandice an annualrent of £100 furth of Glencoan, given to Angus Kennedy, present occupier of the subjects, on a wadset charter by Argyll. The rest as in last- regd 14 may 1660: fol 289

for reference, #989 was this (for list of witnesses)

15 and 16 August 1659

Sasine of half the 8 merk land of Lindallie, Camiskie and Downie, in Inverness-shire, as principal, and as warrandice an annualrent of 140 merks furth of the lands of Glencoan in Argyll, given by Alexr. Murray, writer in Inverlochy, as baillie, to Ewin Cameron of Lindallie in liferent, and his lawful son, Allan C., and his heirs male in fee, on a wadset charter by Argyll, signed at Inverary 10 feb 1659, before Archd. Campbell of Kilmun, Duncan McArthur of Drumurk, George Campbell , sheriff depute, and his servitors, Nicoll Yuill and Hew McNeill. The principal lands are already occupied by said Ewin.

Ferquhar McGillivorie in Dunaneachan, Duncan McEan VcConnell in Belchielies, Kenneth McEan duy VcEwin VcConchie there, Charles McEan duy VcEwin in Drumfoure, Allan Cameron and John McUillen there, Duncan McPhaill and Donald McWaister in Tonvick, Alexr. McEan VcAllester in Ardstale, John Cameron alias McInsch in Camiskie, and Alexr. McPhaill, servitor to William Cunningham, notary. - reg 27 sept 1659: fol 367

Update 21.10.07 - I have now located a number of documents in the Register of Deeds at the National Archives relating to Leanachan Kennedys in the 1660s, as follows:
1666 Angus Kennedy in Lenochanes in Lochaber - granter of bond
1666 Hew Kennedy ditto, both 26 Sep 1666
1696 Alexander Kennedy of Lenachan-beg

Historical records for Lianachan go back further than this as can be seen from 'Acts of the Lords of the Isles' published by the Scottish Historical Society.

'14th Nov 1466 Charter by John, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, to Duncan Mackintosh, captain of Clan Chattan, of lands in the lordship of Lochaber viz: Keppoch, Inverory, Bohuntine, ... with the office and bailie of the said lands and the office and bailie of the Earl's lands viz: Achadrome, Glengarry, Letterfinlay and Lianachan, all lands within the lordship of Lochaber and Sheriffdom of Inverness'.

Primary sources: GD 176/8 Mackintosh of Mackintosh Muniments; RMS ii 2191.

'2 Dec 1500 Charter to Alexander, Lord Gordon of the lands of Unachan, Brackletter, Kilmonivaig, Lindalie, Lianachan, ... with their forests and woods, in the Lordship of Lochaber; in the King's hands by reason of the forfeiture of John, once Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles and of Lochaber'.


Ulrich legend version 2

Another quite different Ulrich Kennedy legend has reached my attention. It appears in the writings of the Kennedys of Tom (or Haugh) of Cluny, in the parish of Dull, whose family included the Reverend James Kennedy, Minister of Aberfeldy and later Inverness. In this version Urich Kennedy came from Lochaber on a cattle-stealing raid and, tempted by the fertile land of the straths and the charms of the daughter of the Robertson laird, decided to settle there. His sons settled at various farms throughout the parish of Dull (Kirkton of Foss, Tullypowrie, the Black Wood etc) and thus founded the Perthshire Kennedys. I am still analysing the sources of this story, some elements of which I have to say are demonstrably false. However, it throws new light on the more common version (ie the 'fleeing Ayrshire after murder' version), which now appears more like just one of several Highland Kennedy origin stories - possibly all of which are fabricated.