Ancient Gaelic Origins: Intolmycht, Tolmach, Clann Talvaich,
Na Tilmaoch, and Tolmaigh.
The origins and etymology of words and language is noticed when exploring the origins of a name, made easier in part by an uncommon name like Tolmie. The origins of these early Tolmies also requires exploration of the Gaelic language. In the search for early Tolmies it is interesting to see over time the changes in the surname of Tolmie from the Gaelic to anglicized iterations.
Credit: Many thanks for the kind support of Hamish Taylor, a native Gaelic speaker, from the Isle of Harris for his helpful support
The Progenitor of Tolmie Sept: John Tolmach MacRory MacLeod*
(*Scottish Gaelic: Iain Tolmach MacRuadihri MacLeòid)
The Tolmies are a sept, a branch of Clan MacLeod – specifically the MacLeods of Lewis. Clan MacLeod of The Lewes, commonly known as Clan MacLeod of Lewis, is a Highland Scottish clan, which at its height held extensive lands in the Western Isles and west coast of Scotland. From the 14th century up until the beginning of the 17th century there were two branches of MacLeods, the MacLeods of Dunvegan and Harris, and the MacLeods of Lewis. In Gaelic the MacLeods of Lewis were known as Sìol Thorcaill ('Seed of Torquil') and the MacLeods of Dunvegan and Harris were known as Sìol Thormoid ('Seed of Tormod'). Clan MacLeod itself is descended from Nordic and Icelandic lineage to Leod Olafson (c.1200-1280). Leod's two sons, Tormod - progenitor of the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan (Sìol Thormoid) and Torquil - progenitor of the MacLeods of Lewis (Sìol Thorcaill).
Fast forward nine generations and we have the progenitor of the Tolmies, John (Iain) Tolmach MacRory (MacRuadihri) MacLeod. The grandson of Allan MacLeod (4th of Gairloch and last head of the MacLeods of Gairloch, oldest cadet family of the MacLeod of Lewis) and son of Roderick MacLeod who in 1568 was part of a plot to assassinate both MacLeod and MacKenzie cousins in order to regain ancestral family land in Gairloch, on the west coast of Scotland. He became known by many as Roderick Nimhneach, meaning Roderick the Venomous, Spiteful, or Treacherous.
As was the nature of this time, clans fought each other over land or reprisals for the death of kin. It was the Mackenzies who took up against Roderick and the MacLeods of Gairloch who had instigated the Isay massacre and the death of their Mackenzie kin. Ongoing reprisals and skirmishes between the Mackenzies and the MacLeods resulted in the eventual death of Roderick and the MacLeod lands of Gairloch being taken up by MacKenzie clansman. Up until this point Gairloch had been held by the MacLeods for 200 years under Royal Charter. This changed with the land being given by King James VI to the Mackenzies.
John Tolmach MacRory MacLeod is also chronicled in the works of the MacKenzie Family by Alexander MacKenzie (1894) as engaging in ongoing skirmishes and reprisals over land at Gairloch, with John evading capture and death by Clan MacKenzie every time, eventually fleeing to the Isle of Skye. After many skirmishes and with the loss of his nephew John MacAllan McLeod who had been a prisoner of the MacKenzies, John Tolmach MacRory MacLeod was the only surviving male heir of Roderick Ruairidh (Rory) Nimhneach MacLeod and the ancient MacLeods of Gairloch. Recorded as John Tolmach, his son and later generations took the anglicized names like Tolme and Tolmie. He and his kin appear to have made their way east towards Inverness where his son and grandson are mentioned in the history texts. The 17th century feuding marked the ending of the Chiefly line of the MacLeods of Lewis and the loss of their lands to Clan MacKenzie, but the beginning of the Tolmie sept. His progeny populated Scotland and beyond, where the Tolmie name and its many variants are spread throughout the globe.
"John MacLeod, grandson of Allan MacLeod (4th and last) of Gairloch was know as Iain (or John) Tolmach or Talmach. This man is known to have settled in Skye after leaving Gairloch, his descendants seem to have gone their separate ways, some settling in the east of Ross-shire and consequently may be the ancestors of those (Tolmie) lines in Fodderty parish... and Petty Parish in Inverness-shire." (MacLeod, Highland Council, 1993)
Geneaology of John Tolmach MacRory MacLeod
Below is the senior cadet line of the Tolmie sept, with the current head of Clan Tolmie residing in New Zealand;
Senior Cadet Line: Tolmie Sept
Historical References: John Tolmach
- MacKenzie, A. (1894). History of the MacKenzie’s with Genealogies of the Principle Families of the Name.
- MacKenzie, H.H. (1941). The Mackenzie’s of Ballone.
- MacLeod, A. (1993). Report Commissioned by Highland Regional Council. Highland Regional Council.
- McKay, J.G.H (2011). Four Sons of Skye: The history of a Tolmie family from Skye
- Morrison, A. (1976). The MacLeod’s: The Genealogy of the Clan. Associated Clan MacLeod Societies.
- Morrison, A. (1986). The Chiefs of Clan MacLeod. Associated Clan MacLeod Societies.
- Morrison, A. (1990). The MacLeod’s: The Genealogy of the Clan. Associated Clan MacLeod Societies
Historical References: John Tolmach
- Adam, Frank. (F.R.G.S.) (F.S.A. Scot.) (1908). The Clans, Septs, Regiments of the Highland Clans. (Clan MacLeod of Lewis Septs) p.166.
- Bassin, Ethel. (1977). The Old Songs of Skye: Frances Tolmie and her Circle. p.1
- Black, George Fraser. (1962). The Surnames of Scotland; their origin, meaning, and history. p.774.
- Dixon, John H. (F.S.A. Scot). (1886). Gairloch In North-West Ross-Shire Its Records, Traditions, Inhabitants, and Natural History With A Guide to Gairloch and Loch Maree And a Map and Illustrations p. 48.
- MacBain, Alexander. (M.A.) (F.S.A Scot.). (1888). The Celtic Magazine; A monthly periodical dedicated to the literature, history, antiquities, folklore, traditions, and the social and material interests of the celt at home and abroad. Volume XIII. Inverness. pp. 196-199.
- MacGregor, Rev. Alexander (M.A.) (1907). The Feuds of the Clans: Together with the History of the Feuds and Conflicts among the Clans in the Northern parts of Scotland and in the Western Isles, from the year MXXXI (1031) to MDCXIX (1619). pp.142-143.
- MacKenzie, Alexander. (1879). History of the Clan MacKenzie with Genealogies of the Principal Families. pp. 145-146, 318-319.
- MacKenzie, Alexander. (F.S.A. Scot.) (1881). A History of the MacDonalds and Lord of the Isles; with genealogies of the principle families of the name. pp 317-318.
- MacKenzie, Alexander. (F.S.A. Scot.) (1881). The Macdonalds of Glengarry. pp. 33-34.
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