Alice Claire MacDonnell, Chieftainess of Keppoch?

Alice Clare Macdonell, of Keppoch, Bardess to the Clan Donald Society

I’ve written about my great great great aunt Alice Claire Macdonell, of Keppoch, before, and have even included eamples of her poems and an extract from MacDonald Bards: from Mediaeval Times written by Keith Norman MacDonald, M.D. in 1900 (see my Ailis Sorcha Ni’ Mhic ‘ic Raonuill na Ceapaich post). I’ve just found the above photo of her from The Celtic Monthly, vol.1 1893. Page 92 & 93 on the Am Baile highland history and culture site. She was descended from Alexander, the Keppoch Chief who fell at Culloden, through not only his natural son Angus Ban, but also his daughters Barbara and Charlotte (see my More Angus McDonnell and Christina MacNab connections post about her parent’s common ancestry).

PROBATE Monday, 23 Jan 1939
MACDONELLAlice Claire, of 20 Pembroke-crescent, Hove, Sussex, spinster, died 12 October 1938, at 9 Rutland Gardens, Hove. Administration (with will), Exeter, 23 January, to Angus Charles Majoribanks Maitland, of no occupation. Effects £126 3s 7d.

She died unmarried in 1938, and I found the uncited  tribute to Alice below on Rita Macdonald’s Genealogy pages. I enjoyed discovering that Alice caused controversy by claiming to be Chieftainess of the MacDonells of Keppoch, and would love to read her contribution to this ‘debate’ in The Oban Times. I had to admire her given that she would have been in her 80s at the time, living in Hove, East Sussex, and the only surviving member of this branch of the Keppoch clan (also referred to as the ‘Macdonells of Inch’, depending on which genealogical account you read). I think she would have given short shift to the current Clan Donald historian Norman H. MacDonald’s remark that her family’s use ‘of Keppoch’ was self-styling on their behalf after having installed themselves as tenants at Keppoch House (see my MacDonnell of Keppoch Ancestors – Historical Revisionism Revisited post). Having read more about Alice and her family I can’t help smile because it’s hard to imagine them believing that their legitimacy required recourse to The Court of the Lord Lyon, or historians for that matter.


She was a true daughter of the Highlands. She graced her land with her poetry. She held fast to that pride of ancestry which is a distinguishing inherent of the Celtic race. Such may be said of Miss Alice Claire MacDonnell who died at the age of 83 years in her home in Hove, Surrey, on Wednesday of last week. No more will appear verses and communications with “Alice C. MacDonnell of Keppoch” Bardess to the Clan MacDonald, missives in her light, nervous handwriting, the style prevalent in the Victorian age.

Ails Sorcha Ni ‘Mhic ‘ic Ranonuill na Ceapaich – Alice Claire MacDonnell claimed to be chieftan of the MacDonnells of Keppoch. In referring to the death of Mr. John de Lotbiniere MacDonnell of MacDonald in 1935 she wrote to the Oban Times that his brother Major de Lery MacDonnell, in Canada, her cousin “would be Chief of Keppoch after me”. A controversy regarding the Chieftanship had taken place in the Oban Times some months previously, in which she took a leading part.

She was the 8th youngest daughter of Angus XXII of Keppoch – the founder of the Clan being Alistair Carrach (curly headed and fair), 3rd and youngest son of John, first Lord of the Isles, by his second wife Lady Margaret, daughter of Robert, High Steward of Scotland. Her great-great grandfather was the Keppoch who led the MacDonalds at Culloden and who fell in the Battle. Her great-grandmother was Barbara, who was the third daughter of this Keppoch the XVI, and wife of the Rev. Patrick MacDonald Minister of Kilmore. She, Barbara, remained a Catholic which was the religion of the family. Rev. Patrick MacDonald, as is well-known, was a noted composer of vocal and instrumental music.

Miss MacDonnell was educated by private tuition, and at the Convent of French Nuns in Northampton, and at St. Margaret’s Convent, Edinburgh. She gave early signs of the poetic gift, stringing couplets together on incidents she heard while running about the Braes of Lochaber. Martial ardour permeated her verse, and tales of battle and chivalry in the main, formed her favourite theme. She was steeped in Jacobite sentiment, lending her poetic pen to the heroics of the Rising, but she did not pass unnoticed modern examples. “The Highland Brigade at the Battle of Alma”, “The Rush on Coomassie”, and the “Dargai Heights”, proved her Highland pride, in that the old courage had not waned. As the Bardess of the Clan, Miss Alice had the genius to bring the fervent Highland spirit into her verse:-

To give the Highland arms their strength,
Their hearts a kindly glow,
So weave well the bright threads,
Woof well and strong threads,
That hind their hearts to thine”.

There is a pleasing poetic combination of perceptions in these lines.

Miss MacDonnell published a volume of her last work in 1912, entitled “Songs of the Mountain and the Burn”, and from it we may quote a verse which unrolls the wistful longing of her mind for freedom from the anxieties of modern life:

” Cridhe-Acain ”

I want to be at peace now, with the robe of care laid by,
In its soiled and tear-stained creases, in its squalor let it lie,
‘Tis an old and earthworn garment, I shall cast it evermore,
And the wonder to my gazing is, that I set by it such store,
Oh! I want to be at peace there, where I need not count the hours,
And the wild bee wanders freely in and out the honied flowers.

In parting from this gifted Highland lady we may adopt the sentiment which she expressed in concluding an appreciation in the Oban Times of the late Dr. Keigh N. MacDonald:-

Soraidh leat a bhancharaid, cha n’fhaic sinn do leithid a chaoibh tuilleadh

“Farewell my friend, we’ll never see the like of you again”

3 thoughts on “Alice Claire MacDonnell, Chieftainess of Keppoch?

  1. Justin,whilst researching the origins of the MacDonnell of Keppoch tartan I come across reference to a Miss Julia MacDonell (sic) of Keppoch in a 1924 book. She was supposedly the source of the design shown in the book and am trying to work out who she was. Have you come across the name?

  2. Here’s what MacKay (The Romantic Story of the Highland Garb) says

    ‘We are indebted for the pattern of tartan to Miss Julia MacDonell of Keppoch. The pattern is very old, and was worn by a remote ancestor of Miss MacDonell’s’.

    Unfortunately MacKay gives no further detail and to date it has proved impossible to identify Miss Julia MacDonell of Keppoch.

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