Origins of the clan
There could be several possible Gaelic origins for this name, with bheathain (lively one) being the most likely. One suggestion[according to whom?] is that it originated from beinn which means ‘hill’ an oblique form of Beann, which means ‘peak’, as in mountain peak.[original research?] Another is Bàn, the pl. of bean and appears in the name of Scottish King Donald Bàn (i.e. Donald the fairheared).
MAC-BEAN, G (i.e. Gaelic). McBheathain, from Beathan, Englished as Bean (1490, Beane, 1481) or Benjamin: *Bitâtagno-s, life’s son, from beatha, life, with the termination -agno-s, meaning “descendant of,” Eng. -ing, now used like the Eng. to form diminutives. Also Mac-bain, Mac-vean. If one pronounces the name McBeathain without use of the usual English “th”, but lightly skip over it, as one would do in Gaelic, one can easily see how the name was then written as MacBean, McBain etc.
History and tradition ascribes the MacBeans as being among the descendants of Gillichattan Mor more commonly known as Clan Chattan. The earliest certain record of the name in its more modern form appeared in an old Kinrara manuscript, which names both Bean Macmilmhor and his son, Milmor MacBean.
Charles Fraser-Mackintosh provides some helpful information about the clan’s origins:
The Macbean territory lay chiefly in the parish of Dores, as may be seen from the preponderance of the name on the tombstones in the churchyard, represented by Kinchyle and Drummond as heritors.
They were represented in Strathnairn by Macbean of Faillie, and in Strathdearn by Macbean of Tomatin. Kinchyle was undoubted head, and signs the Bond of Union among the Clan Chattan in 1609; the Bond of Maintenance of 1664; and finally, in 1756, the Letter of Authority from the Clan to Mackintosh, to redeem the Loch Laggan estate.
According to the Rev. Lachlan Shaw, the first Macbean came out of Lochaber, in the suit of Eva, heiress of Clan Chattan, and settled near Inverness. The MS. history of the Mackintoshes says in corroboration, that “Bean vic Coil Mor (of whom the Clan Vean had their denomination) lived in Lochaber, and was a faithful servant to Mackintosh against the Red Comyn, who possessed Inverlochie, who was a professed enemy of Mackintosh.”
Again the manuscript records that Myles Mac-Bean vic-Coil-Mor and his four sons, Paul, Gillies, Myles and Farquhar, after they had slain the Red Comyn’s steward and his two servcants Patten and Kissen, came to William Mackintosh, seventh of Mackintosh (son of Eva), in Connage, in Pettie, where he then dwelt, and for themselves and their posterity took protection and dependence of him and his, as their chief. This occurring about 1334, establishes the Macbeans as one of the oldest tribes of historic Clan Chattan.
The Mackintosh history, referring to the battle of Harlaw (1411), narrates that “Mackintosh lost in this battle many of his friends and people, especially of the Clan Vean.” This loss so greatly depressed the Macbeans that I am unable to trace the succession from this period until the time of Gillies, about 1500.
15th, 16th and 17th centuries
The Clan MacBean fought for Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles, along with the rest of the Chattan Confederation at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, where they suffered heavy losses. In the history of the Mackintoshes, chiefs of Clan Chattan, it is recorded that “Mackintosh mourned the loss of so many of his friends and people, especially of Clan Vean”.
In 1597 the Bain family of Tulloch Castle fought in the Battle of Logiebride against the Mackenzies, however the Bain of Tulloch family were not part of the Clan MacBean (MacBain) and were in fact a branch of the Clan Mackay, who had changed their surname to Bain.
The 12th chief of Clan MacBean was Paul MacBean who due to heavy debts was forced to give up his lands in about 1685. The present chiefs descend from a younger son of Paul’s as the elder line ended in a daughter.
18th century and Jacobite risings
The monument to Clan MacBean inside the McBain Memorial Park, created by Hughston McBain of McBain, 21st Chief
, above Kinchyle near Dores on the south shore of Loch Ness. The site was opened in 1961.
Many of Clan MacBean supported the Jacobite rising of 1715 and as a result many of them were transported to the plantations in Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina. However this did not deter Gillies MacBean (sometimes known as Gillies Mor MacBean), 2nd grandson of the 12th chief William MacBean of Kinchyle (his older brother was Aeneas MacBean of Kinchyle) from fighting in the Jacobite rising of 1745. Gillies MacBean took up a commission as a major and fought at the Battle of Culloden. He is said to have been at least 6 feet four inches tall, and the story goes that during the battle he saw government dragoons breaking through to assault highlanders on their flank. Gillies threw himself into the gap and cut down thirteen or fourteen of his assailants, fighting with his back to the wall. A government officer tried to call back his men to save a fellow brave soldier but MacBean was killed. Also at the Battle of Culloden, another MacBain is credited with assisting the chief of Clan Cameron (Lochiel), who was wounded and unable to walk to escape. Another MacBean, Aeneas MacBean (of Faillie) managed to escape after the battle by repeatedly leaping from one side of a stream to another until his pursuers were forced to give up.
Forbes Macbean, another of the well known military family descended from Reverend Alexander MacBean of Inverness (mentioned above), won a DSO (Distinguished Service Cross) in 1897 when serving as a Major in the Gordon Highlanders, for the gallant and courageous action in taking the heights of Dargai near the border of Afghanistan, in India’s old north west province, which is now part of Pakistan. Various accounts of this action have been written. Forbes Macbean later commanded the Gordon Highlanders regiment against the Boers of South Africa in 1881 during the Boer Wars. He is mentioned in an account of the bravery of the Gordon Highlanders at Doornkop (or Florida), south-west of Johannesburg. John Stirling recorded in his book ‘Our Regiments in South Africa 1899-1902’ that The Gordons were led by Lieut.-Colonel Burney and by Colonel Forbes Macbean, who has perhaps seen more hard fighting than any officer now alive and with his regiment.