Ellenburg McCoys visit the real MacKay stronghold in Scotland

Mar. 9—ELLENBURG — Ellenburg residents Sam and Mischell McCoy made a pilgrimage to the stronghold of the real MacKay in Scotland.

"We went to Scotland last September," she said.

"I just felt like we needed to go to Scotland. Between his family history and everything, I just felt like we needed to go. So, we went."

"We went everywhere," he said.

"We left at 10 o'clock in the morning and got back 10 o'clock at night."

They stayed at a B & B near Fort William in Scotland.

"We went to go see the Clan MacKay House, the castle that's called Varrich," she said.

MacKay translates from the Gaelic "Macaoidh" or "son of Hugh," according to

The second syllable, Kay, is pronounced like sky without the s.

"We found that out there when we got there," Mischell said.

"That was his family before they left Scotland."

"And came across the water," Sam said.

"And came to the U.S. We did some more in-depth research on his family and found his family all the way back to 1400, to actually being related to this chief at the time," she said.


John Alexander McCoy (MacKay), known as The Immigrant, was a Jacobite, a supporter of exiled Stuart King James II of England.

Born circa 1692 in Squire, Southerland, Scotland, he died 1762 in Colonial America in Baltimore, Maryland.

"He came to the U.S. in 1720," Mischell said.

"I want to say he came into Maryland. A lot of his family were around the Maryland area. His family was from the northern part of Scotland. It is the Highlands. The whole area is called Southerland, Scotland."

The MacKay tartan varies. There's an ancient blue and a modern one similar to the Black Watch tartan of Clan Campbell, Clan Fraser of Lovat, Clan Grant and Clan Munro.

"That's the more common one," she said.

"It's really hard to find for some weird reason for one of the biggest clans," she said.

The clan motto is Manu Forti, "With A Strong Hand."

"To hold the sword," he said.


Sam is an 8th generation descendant from John the Immigrant, but they felt at home in the land of the Scots, who were of Celtic origins from Ireland.

"It was like you felt at home," Mischell said.

"Everywhere you turned around, people were nice. People would welcome you into their home whether they knew you or not. They said come on in. They invited you to their homes. They shared their drink with you."

In Edinburgh, Sam and Mischell sat at a bar and met people from England, Australia, all over the place.

"All different kinds of walks of life," she said.

"They were so nice and so polite. It's definitely not like here."

"They were just so peaceful and nice and friendly," Sam said.

"Everybody we met, there were no confrontations. Even big guys who looked like they were rough and tough were just so giving. It's just a different world over there. Oh my gosh, we fell in love with it. We didn't want to come home."

The MacKay ancestral church was closed on the off day that they visited.

"Everything was closed," she said.

"But, we did do a two-mile hike."

For Sam, the highlights included seeing family, seeing the lifestyle, seeing the place that maybe they will land someday.

"Before we went, I was going through Stage-4 prostate cancer," he said.

"She decided I want my husband to see his family. My family always talks about it. They could never afford it. It was never done. I'm the first one to actually go over there and do it, and it was huge. It was rejuvenating. I felt like I was a new person. I couldn't ask for a better present."


The McCoys plan to return in two years.

"Between my radiation and the treatments I'm getting, I had surgery too, so in two years they said if my recovery goes well," he said.

"I'm working hard and doing everything the doctors are asking me to do. Our plan is to move back there and live, you know. That's my dream I'm holding onto. That makes me want to fight so much harder, and that's what I'm doing."

In Scotland, the food was so good.

"Yes, we did try haggis," Mischell said.

"Not the greatest."

"I had trouble getting it down, but I had to eat it to say we did," he said.

"We had so much fun."

Castle Varrich is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Kyle of Tongue, a sea loch, and the village of Tongue.

"It's in total, total ruins, but the current lord (laird) of the clan has put stairs in there so you can actually go to the top of what's left," she said.

"He has secured it a little bit more. That was the two-mile hike that we did. It's a hike to get up there. It's worth the trip to go up there and see. It's great."

The McCoys left for their Scottish sojourn right after their daughters, Caitlin and Brianna, got married a week apart.

"They wanted to make sure I got to walk them up the aisle because they knew I was going through the cancer," he said.

"It meant a lot, you know."

They arrived on Sept. 8, 2023, and found themselves on winding roads with sheep everywhere and Mischell at the wheel.

"It was confusing at first, but you have to calm down and think about how things are here in the U.S. and just think the opposite," she said.

"It's pretty much the way it goes, it's the opposite."

"If somebody is coming sometimes, you have to go in the ditch almost so they can pass you," Sam said.

"Totally," she said.

"It's that bad. The roads are tiny, but they do have four-lane highways. It's just where we ended up going because we knew where we wanted to go and visit."


Castle MacKay. Check. Haggis. Check. Stags? Check.

"We saw a huge stag," she said.

"They walk around, and they are not afraid of people because people don't shoot them over there," Sam said.

"You have to watch when you're driving at night."

"Because they will pop out," she said.

"And they're big," he said.

"They're huge."

From an economic standpoint, gas and food were cheaper in Scotland.

"There is a lot of fishing there, and there's just so much to do," she said.

"We went to the Eilean Donan Castle."

"There are a lot of castles," he said.

"A lot of castles," she said.

"My wife wanted to see all the castles," he said.

"We were everywhere, and it was awesome."


Mischell researched their visit in advance, which included exploring holes-in-the-wall off the mainstream tourist sites.

"What is funny, while we were there, our girls here, they called and said, 'We just booked tickets,'" Mischell said.

"So, the two of them just got back. They wanted to see what we were talking about."

"They loved it," Sam said.

The McCoy family tree is posted on

"We are doing a lot of research right now," she said.

"Before even Ancestry came out, I researched that he did come from Scotland."

Their progeny will have all of this genealogical information coupled with DNA data.

"It's important to them that before I pass they have all this information," he said.

"We're kind of excited we are able to pass it down."

Sam and Mischell regularly attend the Hatfield and McCoy Reunion in Pikeville, Kentucky. (

"My family is the original clan from the feud," he said.

"We would actually, a few times, head up the reunion. It's in June. We're going to try to make it a point to go up there this year."