Taken from
Issue Number 11 Spring 1982


The Shannons of Lephenstrath
Hew Shannon Stevenson

On Saturday, 17th May, 1975, about 80 MacShannons met in the Argyll Arms Hotel, Campbeltown, Kintyre, for a family ceilidh, MacShannons from Kansas, Nebraska and Oregon came to visit the land of their forefathers to sing songs and tell stories with their Kintyre kinsmen, including Mr. Dugald MacShannon, a Campbeltown builder, who as Fear-an-tighe, organised the affair.

The MacShannons of today are descended from the ancient family of McShenoig, the hereditary harpers to the Clan Donald, who held the important castle at Dunaverty Point on the south coast of Kintyre from the 13th to the 16th century. A rocky headland close to the ruins of Dunaverty Castle on the east side of Brunerican Bay is still called Hubba McShannuich, or MacShannon's Point. On a fine day you can see the coast of Ulster quite clearly from here.

In 1505 the McShennoigs held the 4 merkland estates of Brunerican, Amod, Drumhereanoch, Dalsmeryl, Lagnadaf and Innynkew Callache, all in the Southend parish, rent free for their services as harpers, by 1541 a branch appears in Lyel and Lephenstrath which lie within two or three miles of the original harpers' lands. In 1596 at least two branches of the family were flourishing in Kintyre: Duncan Macohennach in Brunerican, Amod etc. and Murdoch MacOShennoig in Lyel and Lephenstrath.

The name has undergone many variations from its original Gaelic. The Southend parish registers which begin in 1769, invariably give the name as McShenoig to start with, but towards the close of the 18th century and afterwards the older name gives place time and again to the more anglicised Shennan, Shannon and MacShannon. As well as in Kintyre, the name is found in Antrim, north east Ulster, all old Macdonald country. One of the earliest instances of the name must be the reference in the Annals of Ulster to "Amlaim MacShenaigh, accomplished emperor of melody" who died of the plague in Tuaim-da-ghulann in 1371.

The first name on the connected Kintyre Pedigree, however, is Malcolm McOshenog, recorded as tenant in Lephenstrath in 1678 and 1684, and as proprietor there in 1701. His son, Hew McOshenog of Lephenstrath, is mentioned in the estate journal of the Kintyre laird, MacNeill of Carskey, in 1720. He was succeeded by his son Archibald McShenoig, 3rd of Lephenstrath, who was alive in 1788.

Thanks to the exertions of 74-year-old Captain Hugh MacShannon, a retired harbour master of Campbeltown, who as a boy used to cycle down to the little churchyard of Keil on the south coast of Kintyre within a stone's throw of the sea, to record the gravestone inscriptions of his forebears, we have the following inscription of a headstone now completely obliterated and indecipherable:

Erected by
of Lephenstrath in
Memory of his child
ren, Malcolm
who died 19th Aug
1774 agd.31 yr also
John he died 28Feb
1763 agd 19yr
Alexr died 14 Apr
1771 agd 17 years.

Archibald was succeeded by his son Neil Shannan, 4th of Lephenstrath, who is described in a bond dated 1788 as Captain of the ship "Speedwell." Neil is probably the last of his line to have lived in the old house of Lephenstrath. His wife Mary was the daughter of Hector McAllister of Springbank, Isle of Arran, and, although we find the Southend parish register recording on 13th May 1786 the baptism of "John, lawful son of Neil Shannon of Lephenstraw.Esq," the baptism of his three subsequent children are all recorded in the parish of Kilbride, Arran.

The first of these, Charles McAllister Shannon, was baptised on 7th December 1786, only seven months after John. His father is here described as "Capt. Neil Shannon, Springbank." It is odd that the designation of "of Lephenstrath" appears to have been dropped, and this and the closeness in the baptisms of John and Charles made me think at first there were two separate Neil Shannons, the one in Arran being quite another line. However, when I visited Arran in the summer of 1975, I was lucky enough to find in the Kilbride cemetery, just outside Larnlash, an inscription to "Neil Shannon Esqr. of Lephenstrath, died 1795 aged 45 years and His spouse Mary Macalester died 1818 aged 72 years." Both are interred in "The burying tomb of Hector Macalester Esq. Springbank" along with various other McAlister relations.

From his testament dative (Argyll Commissariat 1799) it appears that Captain Neil owed £600 to one James Wright, writer in Stirling, and that this debt had been taken over by Neil's executor and creditor, Hector MacNeal of Ugadill. Neil was owed £10 by Nobles Shannan and Co., merchants in Greenock, "being part of a greater sum due to him."

I have not established the identity of Nobles Shannan and Co., but I think it must have been a firm of Alexander Shannan, a merchant in Greenock who together with one James; Noble, shipmaster in Port Glasgow and William Noble of Taims was seized of a tenement in Greenock on 1785. This Alexander Shannan and his wife wrote many letters to their eldest son (also Neil) in Newfoundland between 1806 and 1812, and these letters, which are now in my own possession, contain many references to the children of Captain Neil notably Charles, the 5th and last laird of Lephenstrath, and his brothers Archibald and Hector.

I do not know whether Alexander Shannan was related to Captain Neil of Lephenstrath, but the two families were certainly well acquainted with one another for at least fifty years spanning three generations. Alexander was born on 25th November 1749, the son of another Alexander Shannan, sailor in Greenock, by his wife Jean Gay. Alexander the father had a brother Dugald, a shipmaster in Greenock, but the baptism of the two brothers are not recorded at Greenock. Alexander, the son, is known to have been distantly related to a Mr. McNachtane in Campbeltown, a fact which hints at a Kintyre origin.

Captain Neil's eldest surviving son, Charles McAllister Shannon led an unsettled life, and his financial troubles evidently caused him to sell Lephenstrath in 1819. Margaret Shannan, wife of Alexander, the merchant, writes to her son on 30th July 1806, "Poor Charles Shannan is still in Arran disappointed of a place on evry hand. I saw a leter to his mother. He says he does not know in the face of the earth what to turn his hand too. He now feels the effects of not paying more attention to business."

Charles's younger brother, Archibald, evidently met with more approval. Alexander wrote to his son Neil on 12th August 1806, "Archy Shannan sailed lately from Sheilds for Newfoundland, he is a fine boy and deserving of attention which I wish you to show him as far as in your power - a son of Mr. McNachtanes at Campbeltown I understand goes out as a sailor in the Vessel which carries this, the Jean Capt. Omay, but as he never would take Education and I suppose is little worth do not pay any attention to him, as you can have no Credit by such acquaintences, but the reverse."

By May 1807 Charles Shannon was "still going about at Arran can here of no situation to answer him. He had hopes of getting a Cadetship for India but is disappointed even of that. I really pity him and also his mother as it is very hard on her to have him passing his time in idleness at his time of life …. anything that he has will not aford to keep him idle yet I am sure if he had had nothing he woud have paid more attention to his business and studies more to gain the favor of his employers." (Mrs. Margaret Shannan to Neil).

A friend, Daniel Belches, writing to Neil on 4th October 1807 says Charles Shannon continues roving about betwixt Ayr, Erran and Cantyre doing nothing like another fool. I doubt he will lose himself in the end. His brother Archy poor fellow was taken by a French privateer on his way home from Jamaica after a severe action and carried prisoner into Cuba from whence I am happy to say he and the Capt. found means to make their escape. to Jamaica oooo I suppose he will be home with the first fleet which are now reported to be in the Channel."

In March 1808 there is another reference to Archy who had "gone second mate of Mr. Richie's ship Neptune for the South Seas," and to the youngest brother Hector who "is gone into the navy as midshipman. Charles is still at Arran." Poor Hector was still in the Navy when he died on board H.M.S. Minstrel in the Mediterranean in 1815 affectionately esteemed by his Capt., Brother officers and crew, and regretted by all who knew him." (Greenock Advertiser, 6th November 1815). He was only 22.

In later life Charles was a tenant farmer at Bennicarrigan in the south of Arran. In 1810 he was appointed a captain in the Argyll & Bute Militia. He died some time after 1831 leaving descendants. His son, Captain Neil Shannon (b.1814 d.1865) became a distinguished commander of Cunard's fast transatlantic steamships in the forties and fifties.

Archibald fulfilled his early promise and became a captain and later Collector of Harbour Dues in Greenock. He died honoured and respected in 1860 leaving many descendants, including several branches now in Australia.

The present Kintyre Mac Shannons deduce their descent from one Malcolm Shannan in Kilblaan East, whose wife Florence McMath died in 1765 aged 40 and is buried in Keil Churchyard. Malcolm is said to have been a younger son of Hew McOshenog, 2nd of Lephenstrath, and father of Donald McShenoig, herdsman in Keil. I believe that most of the present day McShannons in Kintyre descend from two of Donald's sons, Duncan McShenoig (born 1799) and his wife Flora Campbell, and Malcolm MacShannon, grocer and spirit dealer at Lephenstrath Bridge (born ca. 1810, died 1874) and his wife Ann McKendrick, alias Henderson.

Interesting, there is still a strong musical tradition in this family of old time harpers. Dugald MacShannon, the Campbeltown builder became Pipe Major of the Campbeltown Pipe Band, and his 18 year old son, Ronald, won the Piobaireachd Contest at Lochaber in 1975. Two of Dugald's sisters, Mary and Rhona, have won gold medals and achieved distinction as singers. The present head of the MacShannon branch, Captain Hugh, the retired harbourmaster, is himself a skilful player of the fiddle. He said his "grandfather and grand uncle were always singing and ranting about the old times and great times that the family had known."

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

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