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The MacVay McVeigh McVey Family

Celtic cross, photo by Ann Stanger

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The McVey Scot-Irish

For all spellings of the Sept McVey

Macabee, MacAveigh, MacAvey, MacAvoy, MacBeath, MacBheath, MacBeth, MacEvoy, MacIveagh, MacVeagh, MacVeigh, MacVey, MacVay, MacVea, Mahy, McAvoy, McEabouy, McEvaghe, McEveighe, McEvoy, McIvagh, McVaga, McVay, McVeagh, McVeigh, McVey, Ui Mac Uais, Ui MacVais, Vais, Veigh, and Vesy

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The McVeys (of any spelling) were, of course, septs of Clan Maclean. The name was originally Macbheath (the same as Macbeth, although pronounced Mac-veh or Mac-vay) and is traditionally translated as "Son of Life." It is probable that the earliest users of the surname were connected to the Beatons (the anglicised version of MacVay, also spelled Bethune), who were hereditary physicians to the Macleans of Duart.

  Chevalier Patrick Maclean, KTJ Herald and Historian for Clan Gillean USA


CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts
Electric Scotland
Regimen Sanitatis - The Rule of Health A Gaelic Medical Manuscript of the Early Sixteenth Century By H. Cameron Gillies, M.D. 1911

Digital images of a late 15th century or early 16th century vellum manuscript containing the same text, National Library of Ireland G 12, are available on the ISOS Project website: Pull down Collections to National Library of Ireland, Click on MS G 12 and then any of the 5 sections of pages.


Excerpts From the Introduction: This tract, Regimen Sanitatis or the Rule of Health, is from a Gaelic Medical Manuscript which I found at the British Museum... Without doubt this book belonged to John MacBeath, one of the very remarkable family of that name who were hereditary physicians to the Lords of the Isles and to the Kings of Scotland for several centuries. The volume remained in the MacBeath family for many generations...

The only methodical attempts as yet made to endeavour to get the long history of this family into anything like order have been (1) by Professor Mackinnon in two valuable articles written to the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1896, (2) by myself in an essay written for the Caledonian Medical Society in 1902, published in the Society's Journal for April of that year, and (3) by Professor Mackinnon again upon 'The Genealogy of the MacBeths or Beatons of Islay and Mull', which was published in the same Journal (C.M.J.) in July of the same year. I here summarise these efforts, and try to get them into such order as I may be able to—with any additional facts I may have lately culled.

The name MacBeath (as I here prefer it) is very variously written in the old manuscripts and in books. It is Mac-bead, Book of Deer 11th cent., M'Betha 1408, Beatone 1511, Meg Beth 1563, Micbhethadh 1587, MacBeath 1609, Beatoun 1638, M'Bethadh 1657, Betonus 1674, Bettounus 1677, Beda 1680—but older far—Maigbheta 1701, Maig Bhetha 1708. In the MSS. of the Advocates' Library the dates of which are not yet fixed, it occurs as Betune II, Meigbetadh IV, Maigbheta V, Magbeta XX, Makbetathe, M'Veagh Beattoun and Beattounne XXI. It has become Peudan (Peden) in Skye and Biotun in Mull. Bethune also occurs associated with the MacBeaths, but as this family is said to have come from Fife it is doubtful if they were at all related in name or blood. There may have been an overlapping or an intermixture of the names, but the basic name is that given.

The true forms of the family name, such as Bead, Beda, Macbheatha and Macbheathadh, mean 'Son of life', following a very old form of Gaelic naming.

1386. Ferchard Leiche, 'Farquhar the physician', got in heritage from King Robert II. the islands of Jura, Calwa, Sanda, Ellangawne, Ellanwillighe, Ellanrone, Ellanehoga, Ellanequochra, Ellanegelye, Ellaneyefe, and all the islands between Rowestorenastynghe and Rowearmadale—Rudh' a' Stóir an Assaint and Rudh' Armadail.

1408. Fercos Macbetha witnesses, and almost certainly draws, a deed of land-grant in Islay to Brian Vicaire Mhag-aodh from McDomhnaill—the Macdonald of the Isles who led the Highlanders at the battle of Harlaw, 24th July, 1411. His father, John, Lord of the Isles, was married to Lady Margaret Stuart, daughter of Robert II. This deed is reproduced in Nat. MSS. Scot. Vol. ii. No. lix., and in The Book of Islay, and in the C.M.J. for April, 1902. The lands here granted are situated in the Oa extending across from Kilneachtoin to Laggan Bay.

Regimen Sanitatis: Author: Based in part on the Rosa Anglica by John of Gaddesden. Translated from Latin by Cormac Mac Duinnshleibhe (fl. c. 1459)

1563. Another Tract of this same MS., mostly surgical, was written for John MacBeath by David O'Kearny. It was published, C.M.J. April, 1902.

1587. Under this date there is a Gaelic entry in the Laing MS. (Adv. xxi.) that the book then belonged to Gilcolum son of Gilanders son of Donald MacBeath.

1598. The MS. was in possession of James MacBeath at Tain. It was evidently lent him by John, the real owner, whose mother had in that year made a journey to Islay.—C.M.J.

1609. James VI. confirms to Fergus M'Beath by charter certain lands in the Oa of Islay which his family had held from the Lords of the Isles in virtue of their office as hereditary physicians ‘ab omni hominum memoria’. The full text of the charter is given in the C.M.J.

1629. These lands were sold by John the son of Fergus to the Lord Lorne of the time and the charter found its way to Inveraray, where it is preserved.

1638. A James Betoun, ‘doctor of physicke’, made a ‘voyage’ from Edinburgh to Islay professionally twice, as would seem, in this year. In the Accounts of Colin and George Campbell—brothers and curators successively of John Campbell Fiar of Calder (1638-1653)—there appears an item of payment to the said James of £266 13s. 4d. for his first journey ‘as his ticket of reseate bearis’, and of £178 8s. for the second, and a further sum of £101 6s. 8d. paid to Patrick Hepburn ‘for drogis that went in Doctour Beatoune his companie to Illa’.

1657. The Laing MS. then belonged to a Donald MacBeath as an entry shows.

1657. John, a distinguished member of the Mull branch—the famous Ollamh Muileach, died. He was buried in Iona, where Donald Beaton in 1674 placed a slab to his memory bearing the inscription Joannes Betonus, Maclenorum familie medicus qui mortuus est 19 Novembris 1657.

1671. ‘Ioannus Bettonnus’ possessed the MS. Adv. iii., for he says ‘egrape to cheir autón’, 1671, evidently intended to mean 'written with his own hand', and E M'B appears in a small circular mended patch on the inside of the cover.

1700. Martin wrote his Travels, where he makes interesting references to the Beatons. He states among other things that ‘Dr. Beaton the famous physician of Mull’ was sitting on the upper deck of the Florida, one of the vessels of the Spanish Armada, when it was blown up in the bay of Tobermory in 1588, but that he escaped unhurt.

1701. A John MacBeath possessed the MS. Adv. v.

1708. This MS. (15582) was in the possession of John MacBeath. His name is written under 25th May of that year.

1710. The same name is written under ‘20 die Junn’. Although the writing of this name and that of 1708 are very different, it is almost certainly that of the same John.

1778. The Rev. Thomas White of Liberton who married a Miss Bethune of Skye wrote a pamphlet giving a genealogy of the Skye branch from a manuscript to which he had access. This was reprinted by Mackenzie of Glasgow in 1887 for a Mr. Kenneth Maclennan.

1784. The Rev. Donald Macqueen gave a Gaelic copy of the Lilium Medicinae, which belonged to the Beatons ‘for five generations before’, to the Society of Antiquaries.

John MacBeath (and I here use his name as representative of the whole family, others of them doubtless contributing also) kept a Note Book, a Vade Mecum, in which he stored the sum and essence of his reading, compiled and translated from the many ancient authors which we know he had in his possession.

He gave his manuscripts over to a professional Irish scribe in order that the substance might be written in the best and most compact form, and that is how we have them now. This Tract was written by Aodh O'Cendainn, as is shown in the last line of column xiv. of the text.

John might have sat for his portrait to Chaucer of his ‘Doctour of Phisik’ in the fourteenth century.


Excerpt from a Translation of the Salernitan: Regimen of Health
Should you need physicians, these three doctors will suffice: A joyful mind, rest and a moderate diet.
In the morning, upon rising, wash your hands and face with cold water;
Move around awhile and stretch your limbs;
Comb your hair and brush your teeth. These things
Relax your brain and other parts of your body.
After your bath keep warm; stand or walk around after a meal;
go slowly if you are of cool temperament.





email: Vern Taylor
Created 23 July 2002
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