The McCaffers of Islay

The family tree below represents the seven generations of our section of the McCaffers from my son Andrew (Malcolm Andrew) to my Great Great Great Grandfather and Mother, Neil and Betsy.

I'm grateful to two researchers in constructing this; one is Miriam Stefansson (nee McCaffer) from Winnipeg, Canada and my cousin Gordon from Moodiesburn near Glasgow.I am also very grateful for the enthusiasic help and support from Effie Clark of The Islay family History Society who sourced the data relating to the children of my Great Great grandfather.

It would seem that all McCaffers are originally from Islay. In our family line it was my Great Grandfather Neil that left the island between 1850 and 1860. He moved to Milton of Campsie just outside Glasgow. He was probably the last in this line to speak Gaelic. His marriage certificate and registration certificates of his children are signed with a cross. This may not mean that he was illiterate as the likelyhood was that he could write and read Gaelic but was uncomfortable in doing so in the foreign language of English. He was a farm labourer and his marriage certificate dated 1868 gives his place of residence as Alton Farm in Milton of Campsie. He was not the first to move there but followed a cousin. From there our family line moved to Leckethill, then Moodiseburn and some, including my father, moved to Glasgow. In effect my father's generation was the first to move away from working on the farms to working in a city. Later generations have spread even further.

The epi-centre of our family line in Islay was the now deserted and derelict hamlet of Olista in the parish of Kilchoman. Olista translates as Olaf's Stead hinting at least the settlement had a Viking past. Olista was probably evacuated as part of the clearances that took place in the mid 1800s as the demands of farming were rated more highly that the occupants.

The Gaelic version of McCaffer is, I believe, MacCathbhar and various sources give an interpretation as Son of the Helmet or Helmeted Warrior and according to Domhnull Gruamach in his book 'The House of Islay' the MacCathbhars were the arms bearers to the Lord of the Isles. Islay was the administrative headquarters of the Lord of the Isles at Loch Finlaggan and apparently Kilchoman was the summer residence. Olista is in the parish of Kilchomen.

The frustration of genealogy is the lack of data just when it gets interesting. It seems there are no records we can access of Neil or Betsy or earlier generations. We do not have any details of Neil and Betsy nor of their parents and grand parents. The death certificate of Archibald, Neil's son, gives the occupation of his father, Neil, as Sheriff's Officer but this information has not produced any further information.

There is data on a Neil McCaffer , Tacksman of Olista (ie rent collector), who died in 1802 aged 44 and whose gravestone is in the churchyard at Kilchomen Church. This would give Neil the Tacksman's birth as 1758. Neil our Great Great Great Grandfather's oldest child known to us was born 1799. If our Neil was say 20 at the time of birth of his first son then this dates his birth around 1779 and thus its possible that Neil the Tacksman was his father. But this is speculation.

If anyone has information that could extend the family tree further back we would be most grateful to receive the information.

Great Great Great Grandfather Neil was probably born circa 1779, his father circa 1758, his grandfather circa 1735 and his Great Grandfather 1715 all these dates being approximate. If this is so then our Neil's Great Grandfather would be of an age to do military service at the time of the '45. So the question that we would like an answer too is did the McCaffers ( MacCathbhars) take part in the '45 and on which side?

Any information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


On 18th June 2011 we added to our family tree as we welcomed Clare to our family on her marriage to our son Andrew.

 andrew clare church web

 Andrew Mum Dad web

 Andrew and Clare leaving the Church after their wedding.

A picture of anticipation, Andrew waiting on the wedding starting, Margaret and I in attendance behind.


A cart horse parade at a 'Life Boat Saturday' possibly at Strathkelvin around 1901. The cart horses on show were from the Kirkintilloch Cleansing Department. Our Grand Father Ronald McCaffer (whom I'm named after) is leading the second horse.Quite why he was leading a horse for the Cleansing Department is a mystery as far as any living relative knows today he had no connection with the cleansing department. Perhaps the horse just liked him.

Grandpa McC-horseComp

Grand Father Ronald McCaffer

Below is the gravestone of Great Great Grandfather Archibald 1805-1865. This is in the Church Yard at Port Charlotte.

The Church is now the 'Museum of Islay Life'. If you walk up the path to the Museum entrance keeping on going and the grave is on the right. Adjacent to Archibald's grave is his brother Ronald's.

If the Church is a Museum then so is the Church Yard. Hey our Great Great Grandfather is in a Museum. How is that for fame.

100 0024

 Below is the view from the Church Yard at Port Charlotte looking over the delightful Loch Indaal, that is me on the foreshore.

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 Below are photographs( taken by my cousin Gordon) of the abandoned and derelict hamlet of Olista. Olista was the home of the McCaffers. We know that Great Great. Grandfather Archibald lived there and where his children were born, we think he left Olista between 1838 and 1841 and moved to  Kelsay and by the time of the 1851 census was in Port Charlotte. We know that his brother John lived in Olista and where he had his children. We have no firm information, as yet, on his other brother Ronald  but think he was at Coulabus at the time of the 1841 census. We have no information on the brothers and sisters we have yet to identify. We suspect that Great Great Great Grandfather Neil and his wife Betsy lived there but can't prove it. There is a Neil McCaffer identified in the Museum of Islay Life as a tacksman of Olista who died in 1802, the grave appears to be in the Church yard at the Parish Church Kilchomen. It is just possible that this was Great Great Great Grand Father Neil's Father but we have no information to confirm this. We don't have exact dates when our line of McCaffers left Olista. We have evidence, given to a Royal Commission, that tenants were given notice to quit Olista in 1852 as part of the clearances.

We believe that Olista translates as Olaf's stead which indicates a viking origin, so it may well have existed for a very long time

More on this to follow as our information becomes clearer.

                                                                                                               Olista1    Olista2


Bellas wedding 1

The wedding picture of my Aunt Bella ( Isobella)( Father's sister) to Dan Hunter 14th Agust 1929 the witnesses were my father and Elizabeth ( Lizzie) Mitchell


This appears to be a four generations photo we think in 1930 with Bella the new Mum together with, on the left, her Mum our Paternal Grandmother Agnes McCaffer ( nee Gegg)(1878-1955) and, we believe, our Great Grandmother Janet Gegg (nee McAllister) died 16th August 1935 aged 83, she was married on 25th August 1871. The baby, we believe is Bella's eldest son Wiiliam.


The wedding of my father's brother Archibald ( Archie) to his first wife Christina Frame in 1944. The bestman is another brother Ronald.


The wedding of my father's brother Duncan to Ina on XXXXX. The best man is Archie.

More photos will follow when we find them.