Latha math dhuibh, a chàrdan.

Before David’s first diary begins, we look again at the account he gives of his ancestry, this time at his mother’s people. David’s paternal line comes originally from mostly outside of Latheron Parish, either from Hacraig (Halkirk Parish), Cataibh (Sutherland proper, i.e. SE Sutherland) or from Dùthaich MhicAoidh (The MacKay Country i.e. NW Sutherland). His mother’s people however hail very much from Sgìr Latharn (Latheron Parish) and are traceable there all the way back to the mid 18th century at least.

FULL TEXT WITH COMMENTARY (in brackets and italics)

By my mother’s side

My great-great-grandfather (David does not seem to have completed this section, it having no name. I have a tentative name in there, another David, but wouldn’t go out on a limb for it! ÀM)

My great-grandfather David Sutherland was born in Houstry, Dunbeath.  Married there to Isabella Mackay.  Went south to Aberdeen.  Came north to Smeral, Latheronwheel.  Had £20 in gold with which he took a small farm.  Gave it up and took another in Houstry.  Gave up and took the Leodibest farm.  His wife was born at Houstry. (I can only assume that Dàibhidh Sùrlan earned the £20 when south in Obar Dheathain [Aberdeen] and that gold was the most convenient manner in which to carry it north. There is no detail given on what his employment was while south. The fact that he and his wife Iseabail NicAoidh were Gaelic speakers scotches the nonsense about all Caithness Gaels having descended from Clearance Refugees out of Sutherland. Hobhastraigh [Houstry] was in fact one of the last vantage points of the Gaelic language in Latheron Parish; fluent, habitual speakers remaining there into the mid 1950s. I have only made a guess at the correct Gaelic form of this placename as it strikes me as being entirely Norse, perhaps made up of the elements hougr [hill] and tré [tree] although I will happily stand corrected, ÀM)

My grandfather Adam Sutherland was born in Leodibest, Latheronwheel, October 1792.  Married February 1812 in the Latheronwheel Church manse to Margaret Barnie, daughter of John Barnie, Smeral.  Died at Leodibest, 3rd February 1879.  His wife was born in 1790.  Died in April 1861. (The original Àdhamh! After his father had taken up residence in the township of Leodabost [Leodibest], Adam’s family continued to work the land there, an association that would lead down almost 200 years through relations of the family until the mid 20th century. The last relation who was born at what became the croft passed away only recently [Peter MacKay, 2022]. Leodabost appears to be made up of the Gaelic element leothad [a slope or hillside] and the ubiquitous bost which comes originally from the Old Norse bolstadr [homestead]. And so my family croft could be thought of as the “steading on the slope”)

(The above picture is a still from a collection of family videos posted to YouTube by Richard M. Marshall and shows the house in which my Sutherlands resided until the turn of the 20th century on the right and still thatched c1970, ÀM)

Their family: (We can see here that family naming tradition is more or less adhered to, albeit with slight variations, ÀM)

John, born 6th April 1812, died February 1879 at Burntisland (First son named for his maternal rather than paternal grandfather Eathan Bàrnaidh [John Barnie])

Isabella, born 10th March 1813, died 1897 (First daughter named Iseabail for her paternal grandmother)

David, born 15th February 1816, died September 1842 (Second son named Dàibhidh for his paternal grandfather)

George, born 12th August 1818 (Tradition would dictate that the second-born son would be named for George’s eldest paternal uncle, although there does not appear to have been an uncle called Seóras, meaning perhaps that he was named for his mother’s brother, despite that uncle not being the eldest, ÀM)

Elizabeth, born 3rd October 1820 (There does not appear to be an Ealasaid in the generations before on either side)*

Margaret, born 28th September 1828 (Named perhaps for her father’s eldest sister Maighread but equally possible that she was named for her own mother)

Helen, born 22nd March 1824 (Perhaps named for her maternal aunt Eilidh)

Christina, born 2nd August 1826 (There does not appear to be a Cairistìona in the generations before on either side)

Janet, born 12th May 1830. (Seónaid is mother to David MacLeod, the diary author, and my g-g-grandmother, ÀM)

*Neil Mackay, Elizabeth’s son was born in Leodibest 14th November 1844 (My grandmother’s friend and Latheron native Uilleam Rothach [Willie Munro] believed that this Niall MacAoidh was an antecedent of Caithness author Niall Guinne [Neil M. Gunn] but I cannot find any evidence of this being the case, ÀM)

In the next blog, we look at David’s parents and siblings.

Beannachd leibh,



  1. Very interesting, thank you.

    I have ancestors from Latheron and Latheronwheel: Sutherland, Gunn etc. I didn’t realise they were more than likely Gaelic speakers. Do you know was Guinne a common usage for that surname?



    • Eathain a charaid,

      “Gunnach” is what you will see in the stadard tongue, but “Guinne” would be the Caithness usage, most likely clipped to simply “Guinn” pron: /gooyn/. I recall seeing this as an alias used by Neil M. Gunn whose father was a native Caithness Gaelic speaker. There were odd monolingual Gaels right up until the late 19th century – certainly people who could speak far better Gaelic than English. Latheron, Halkirk and Reay parishes were solidly Gaelic-speaking until only a century and a half ago.

      Gach beannachd, Àdhamh

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