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Clan HayHistory and Legends

The Hays
an account by John Mackay


In researching on the Hays I found two family "trees" which, instead of the usual beginning with a name at the root or base, began in the middle at the hub of a great wheel radiating in "spokes", each holding in fine script the names of Hays of many families. In one of the diagrams - and no arrangement could have better illustrated the growth of a clan which has branched so diversely - it reads at centre: "John Hay of Smithfield, Haystoun and Kingsmeadows married Grizel Thompson March 7, 1712. John Hay was fourteenth in descent from William de la Haya cup bearer to Malcolm IV and William the Lion who died 1170". Then, underneath that inscription: "In the list of captains who came over from Normandy in 1066, the 'Famous Prince' Le Sieur de la Haya is mentioned and for some generations they settled in Scotland, the family retained De le Haya . . ."

Neither of these documents are of course in any way exhaustive of the Clan Hay now, nor are they early enough to be associated with the traditional tales of the first Hays to be noticed in the land -- at a time when history and legend interwove, as in this story ..

Around the turn of the 10th century a Danish fleet landed an army on the east coast of Scotland near where Montrose now stands and the invaders went roaring and ravaging along under the Sidlaw hills on the way to Perth.

Kenneth III of Scotland, warned in Stirrling, came with opposition to check the advance and battle was joined by the river Tay near Luncarty House some four miles north of Perth.

A counrtyman named Hay watched the battleground from some distance in a field he was ploughing; and when the Scot ranks wavered and many began running from the fight over the speed hindering soil of the ploughed up field, Hay a man of breadth and strength took the yoke from his oxen's neck and calling his two equally powerful sons to his side, fronted the fugitives, halting their flight, arguing with them; and when that was unavailing, wielding the heavy timber yoke to such effect that those coming from behind paused at the sight of the three heroic figures athwart the narrow strip of land.

The tide of runaways stopped -- then, ever stronger flowing, turned again to the field of battle with the three Hays running with them. Like a new small army they came, or so it must have appeared to the Danes, for the sight of this influx of revitalised fighters was the signal for the weary invaders to, in their turn, begin a retreat, ending with their route inspired by the example set by ploughman Hay.

King Kenneth brought Hay and his two sons with much ceremony to his castle at Perth; and after the victory celebrations, the question of reward was discussed. A gift of land was settled on, to be dermined by a falcon's flight. The father asked for land "betwixt Tay and Arole" (Errol).

The falcon's journey is described: "The falcon flew to ane toun IV miles from Dundee called Rosse and alighted on ane stane which is called The Falcon Stane and so he got all the lands betwixt Tay and Arole six miles of length and four of breadth which lands are still inhabited by his posteritie".

Whether the wielded yoke that turned the tide for Scotland's warriors and the falcon that flew to shape the boundaries of the first estate of the clan chief are truth o legend, the fact is that supporters of the Arms of the Earls of Erroll are men shouldering oxen yokes and all is surmounted by a falcon.

From legendary history to recorded fact: The wide ranging Hays even before the year 1200 were established at Yester in East Lothian and the Marquess of Tweeddale who is patron of the Hay Society, owns the same land today. And in the Records of Scotland the Hays appear in the 12th century when King William the Lion granted William de Hay a charter of the lands of the barony of Erroll. Today, the village of Errol is at the heart of that land now calld the Carse of Gowrie.

No clan country presents a more complete picture of itself than the Erroll lands as viewed form Kinnoull or Moncrieffe hills above the Tay east of Perth.

From Kinnoull, one looks down on the parish of Kinfauns, on the wooded policies of Kinfauns castle grounds; and beyond the buttress of Glencarse Hill, to the whole green landscape lying by the river as it begins to widen to the Firth and on past Dundee's city haze to the long shining line of the North Sea.

In the old days, farmers in the "stubborn fields" of the Grampian glens talked of Carse with reverence -- tinged with an envy of its fertility. There are arguments for the theory that the Carse of Gowrie was once the bed of the river Tay here, and also that the river has shifted and Errol village now half a mile back or so form the north bank, was, long ago, just south of the river. Sand banks and stretches of rushes (which rehatched Stevenson's hamlet of Swanston near Edinburgh) suggest a shifting river; and why, well back from the north bank, are there such names as Inchmichael, Inchmartine, Inchture? Were they small islet places once, when we remember that the word "inch" in Scots means an island?

A less convincing but romantic theory used to be demonstrated by the farmworkers of the district who would point out rocks in fields with marks they alleged showed where ships' cables had been tied.

If the road to Errol between Perth and Dundee (south of the A85) is taken, one can wander there and have one's own opinions on these geological posers.

Back in time again to the beginning the 14th century, when Sir Gilbert Hay had succeded to the lands of Errol: This worthy knight is the first of the titled chiefs to fire the imagination in the story of the Hays. He became a faithful companion-in-arms to Robert the Bruce not only in the triumphant culmination of the Wars of Independence at Bannockburn, but through all the privations beforehand when the Bruce "took to the heather" and following that, in the commando-type exploits of the winning back of the castles one by one, until Stirling confronted them and the climax had come.

When Robert the Bruce was established on the throne, he gifted the lands of Slains in Aberdeenshire to Sir Gilbert Hay together with the office of High Consatble in recognition of his services. And Sir Gilbert was one of the barons who signed the famous Declaration of Independence at Arbroath in 1320.

Thereafter the Hays of Erroll and of Slains, flourished; and in 1437, William, on the death of his father, became the fifth Hereditary High Constable; and in 1452, was created the 1st Earl of Erroll.

In these earlier times, the duties of the High Constable included that of Lieutenant-General of the army; and as a judge presiding at his own Court in all instances of conviction for riot, bloodshed or murder committed within four miles of the Royal person. Also as guard and attendant at the Monarch's right hand during sittings of the Scottish Parliament when the Honours of Scotland - the Crown, Sceptre, and Sword of State were placed before them. (The Honours now on view in Edinburgh Castle). And at Coronation, was the bearer of that Sword before the monarch.

In 1594 however, religious differences between King and Constable caused James VI to send an army into Slains to destroy the Earl's castle. Twenty-odd years later and all was well again with the High Constable and his King, for account is given of a feud between the Marquis of Huntly and the Earl of Erroll and of James ordering the two enemies to come to Edinburgh and of causing -- "ye nobleman that had feud, to agree together and after they had shaken hands and drunken ane to the other . . . his Majesty caused them to come to ye cross at Edinburgh where the city made them a very sumptious banquet".

When Slains had been attacked so also was Delgatie Castle of the Hays laid siege to. (A Hay of Delgatie is buried within St. Giles' the High Kirk of Edinburgh as is the Marquis of Montrose with whom that particular Hay was allied in the 17th century wars). Today, Delgatie Castle is restored as a residential Clan Centre near Turriff 35 miles north west from Aberdeen on the A 947.

From Delgatie, south-east across 25 miles of farming country to reach the coast and consider the parishes of Slains and Cruden. No greater contrast with the Carse of Gowrie than this coastline above Aberdeen where the seas make eternal war with th cliffs marking th eastern border of the land of the Chief of the Hays -- with the Dun Buy, the Skares, the Twa E'en, Hell's Lum and that great roofless cavern the Bullers of Buchan. Their "chief celebrity", these rock-scarred heights, "having afforded excellent places of concealment for contraband goods in the high and palmy state of smuggling which was carried on here to an almost incredible extent".

Inland, the wide farm country has been won from the moorland over the centuries -- a well tended countryside with fields defying the strong sea winds and often scorning the shelter of trees. And where the coastal cliff gives way to dunes and smooth shore, the soft blaze of light reflecting from the sands on a day of heat-hazed sun makes a land and seascape of a strange fascination.

Other lands of the Hay families are east and west of the Carse of Gowrie and north of Peterhead; and in the Lothians, centered on Yester House near Gifford where the red fields and woods sweep up to the Lammermuir hills and into the Borderland where Neidpath Castle set high above the Tweed looks south to a Peeblesshire hill domain of the Hays.

In 1950 the Chief in Clan Council, at that time the 23rd Countess of Erroll and Great Constable of Scotland (who three years later led the State procession -- following Queen Elizabeth's Coronation -- at a solemn service held in St Giles') founded a Clan Hay Society to "promote a spirit of kin and fellowship between all the various branches of the Clan all over the globe".

There are said to be around 15,000 descendants of emigrants named Hay, Hayes, and de la Haya in the USA. A president, three ambassadors to Britain and a Secretary of State, were of the Hays clan.

Septs and allied families have many spelling variations including MacHay, O'Hea, Hayson, MacGarad, MacGarra, McArra, MacGarrow, Garra, Garad, Garrow, O'Garra, Arroll, Beagrie, Du Plessis, Erroll, Gifford, Kinnoull, Leask, and Leith.

A noted member of the Hay family in the Scottish aristocracy, is Edward Douglas John Hay, 13th Marquess of Tweeddale, of Yester near, Gifford.

Today, (at the time of this writing), the Chief of the Clan is Merlin Sereld Victor Gilbert Hay, 24th Earl of Erroll, Hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland. He is a lieutenant in the Atholl Highlanders -- the Duke of Atholl's private army -- and a member of the Queen's Bodyguard of Scotland (the Royal Company of Archers). As Lord High Constable, the Earl has precedence in Scotland before Dukes and every other hereditary honour. He is the first citizen of Scotland -- the first citizen, preceding all except those members of the Blood Royal.

- Reprinted from The Highlander


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