Peter McKay, Glenlivet 1742-1837


The relevant entry in this baptismal record 1745, same year as the Battle of Culloden to put it into historical context, reads as follows….  “February 1st, Peter son to Don.(ald) McKay in Clashnoir was baptised”.

In Buitternach Cemetery which sits on a hill close to Chapeltown of Glenlivet, Peter McKay’s gravestone records his own death along with his wife Elizabeth, his father Donald and mother Jane, as well as others in the family.  The inscription is weather-worn but some detail can be read, as follows:-

Here lie the mortal remains of

Peter McKay late farmer of Nether Clashnore who died 29th November 1837 aged 95 years
and his wife Elizabeth Tom died December 1804;

his daughter Jane who died June 1806;
his son John who died January 1812;
and his father and mother
Donald McKay and Jane Robertson

Pray for the souls of
Robert McKay, Farmer, Nether Clashnore
who died 6th November 1888 aged 97 years.
his son Robert who died 6th June 1898 aged 72
his daughter Mary who died 21st July 1906 aged 70 years.

The Robert McKay mentioned in the above headstone transcript for Donald / Peter is also memorialised on a separate headstone at Chapeltown Cemetery for his wife, Elizabeth Rattray, who died aged 47 years (1797-1844) and is buried with their son James who died at Nether Clashnore in 1862 aged 21.  Chapeltown Cemetery lies in the grounds of the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the hamlet of Chapeltown, less than a mile from the once-secret Buitternach Cemetery and less than five miles from Tomintoul as the golden eagle flies. It is accessed by a minor single track road which leaves the B9008 at Knockandhu, and runs for some three miles towards the Ladder Hills which rise steeply to over 800m or 2,600ft just a short distance to the south-east.   Buitternach was deliberately located on a remote hillside away from any access route to Chapeltown for Roman Catholic burials at a time in the highlands when it was illegal to be Roman Catholic, when Government troops would seek out and destroy Catholic dwellings and property.

Linda Smith of Peterhead, our cousin who descends from George McKay (great great granddaughter) via daughter Mary McKay of Lockers, has contributed the interesting information below about a previously unknown son of Peter McKay, James, who entered the Priesthood in Spain via a seminary near Aberdeen.  So Peter it seems had at least four children with his wife Elizabeth Tom (or Thom, or Tam depending on sources).  There is William (1788-1863) mentioned above, Robert (1791-1888), Jane (d.1806), John (d.1812), and now a fifth, James (1802-1884).  With the discovery in 2023 of a second marriage for Peter, to Elizabeth McHardy, the number of children has increased accordingly but with outstanding queries to be clarified hopefully with more research.

Peter and Elizabeth married in 1781.   As previously explained on Peter’s grandfather’s (William’s) page the McKay tenant farmers were sometimes identified under the alias Duff, and like his grandfather Peter McKay could also be called Duff.  It is likely that the McKays from this era in Glenlivet were native Gaelic speakers.  In modern Scottish Gaelic, Patrick exists in several forms: Pádruig, Páruig, Para, and Pádair or Pátair. This last Gaelic form led to confusion with Peter, the equivalent form in English for Patrick, and the two names Peter and Patrick were often treated as equivalent in the 18th and 19th centuries and used interchangeably.

Hence Peter McKay also being known as Peter or Patrick Duff as evidenced by the marriage record shown below.

The issue of inaccuracies of spelling of names throws up another anomaly just to confuse everything further.  In the Old Parish Records for Aberlour (Elizabeth Thom’s home parish) Peter is identified below as Peter McCai.   There being two recorded instances (Catholic and Old Parish records) it is quite clear that both of these records are for Peter McKay and Elizabeth Thom (Tom, Tam).

The following family chart for Peter and Elizabeth is still currently under investigation but now slightly clearer than from a year ago.  Some of this information is pulled from Alf/Blair McKay (Weston Super Mare) with grateful thanks, who are also pursuing a similar line of enquiry, and from an Ancestry tree which originates from Australia which helped identify the above marriage records.  If contact with the Australian can be established I hope that further source documentation can be obtained to support this and previous pages.

William McKay 1788-1863

William left Glenlivet around 1845 with his family to setup in the Newmill area near Keith, took the croft at Lockers and built the house where the next two generations would be brought up.  He was the father of George McKay from whom the majority branches of McKays documented in this website have spread.

Robert McKay 1791-1888

Robert was a farmer who stayed in Glenlivet (as opposed to leaving for Aultmore near Keith as older brother William had done).  In 1820 he married Elizabeth Rattary at Kennykyle, Glenlivet (mother : 1771-1859 Helen Grant, father: 1772-1839 John Rattary). They were second cousins.

    • The 1851 Census shows them at Nether Clashnoir with sons Robert (age 25), John (16), Peter (13) and James (10), and daughters Janet (18), Mary (14) & Isabella (6).
    • The 1881 Census shows him aged 84 with son Robert McKay (54), Daughters Mary McKay (44) & Isobella McKay (36) & Robert McHardy (11), son of Janet & Alexander McHardy.
    • At the 1891 census, Robert jnr. had taken over the farm with sister Mary, where they lived alone.

Robert died 6 Nov. 1888 and is buried at Buitternach Cemetery, grave #019.  Elizabeth died 1844 and is buried at Chapeltown, Inveravon in Our Lady of Succour gravestone #044

Children of Robert and Elizabeth

      1. Daughter Jean (1822-1889) was in domestic service in Glenlivet, unmarried.
      2. Robert McKay (1825-1898), unmarried, took over Nether Clashnoir by 1891.
      3. Daughter Margaret (1828-1915) in 1854 married farmer, Adam Gordon (b.1820).  Lived at Lagual & Badevochel.
          • Daughter Janet Gordon
          • Daughter Margaret Gordon
          • Daughter Mary Gordon
          • Son William Gordon
      4. Daughter Janet (1834-1919).  Married blacksmith Alexander McHardy in 1866.
          • Daughter Mary McHardy
          • Daughter Elizabeth (Betsy) McHardy
          • Son Robert McHardy
      5. Son John (1835-1906).  Farm servant then Farmer.  He married Jane Grant (1845-1915) and had 8 children.
          • Daughter Margaret 1868
          • Son James 1870
          • Daughter Elizabeth 1873
          • Daughter  Jane 1876
          • Son Robert 1879
          • Son John 1883
          • Son Peter 1885
          • Son Alexander 1890
      6. Daughter Mary (1837-19xx).  Unmarried.  Farmed Nether Clashnoir with brother Robert by 1891 and continued after Robert’s death in 1898.
      7. Son Peter (1838-18xx).  Unmarried.  Highland games competitor in Glenlivet in 1861 (organised by father Robert).
      8. Son James (1840-1862). Unmarried.  Buried at Chapeltown grave #044.
      9. Daughter Isabella (1844-after 1901). Unmarried domestic servant and ‘outdoor worker’.
      10. Son John (1869-1912?). Lagual Glenlivet.

James McKay 1802-1884

The Glenlivet area was instrumental in preserving Roman Catholicism in Scotland.  The seminary in Scanlan near Clashnore and to the SouthEast of Chapeltown was setup in secret to train students for priesthood in the 18th century, which was a time when it was illegal to be openly Catholic in faith.  It was outlawed in 1560 by the Scottish government of the time and the consequences of discovery were severe.  Priests were trained in Europe.  The Catholic Ambrosian Society has historic records of students who trained to be priests.  Not all were successful and ordained as priests.  Many failed, many succeeded, and one such who succeeded was James McKay, son of Peter McKay.  The following information came from The Ambrosian Society website records of student candidates, comments in italicised brackets are from this website author.

Born at Nether Clashnore, Glenlivet, 25th March 1802/03, the son of Peter McKay and Elizabeth Tam; arrived in Valladolid (Spain, in 1826) from Aquhorties (seminary near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire); ordained a priest in Zamora (Spain, in 1829) and left for Scotland, 11th May 1829; after nearly forty years on the Scottish mission, went, 1863, to St. Bernard’s Abbey, Leicester, where he died, 19th April 1884.

The story is not wholly straightforward however and will require some further research.  On Peter McKay’s gravestone, it shows his wife Elizabeth Tom buried with him in 1804 but no record of her age at death.  Peter lived 1742-1837 so would have been aged 60 when the above James was born, if the record is correct.  Son William was born in 1788.  Unless Elizabeth was more or less a child and very much younger than Peter when William was born, it is hard to reconcile their having a child in 1802 when Elizabeth might have been too old to do so.

Conjecture: James the priest may have been from a missing generation with coincidentally similar names of parents, or his parentage (as evidenced above) may have simply been ‘parentage of convenience’ or ‘sponsorship’ to allow him to embark on training for priesthood.  There isn’t yet a birth record to confirm parentage.

Many older historic records from Glenlivet were deliberately destroyed to avoid detection by government Hanoverian troops (the battle at Culloden and the highland clearances were significant events of that historic period).  Those which survived are likely to be in the Scottish Catholic Archives in Edinburgh and the website author intends to make an exploratory visit in 2019.

Jane McKay d.1906?

John McKay d.1912?


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August 2018