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Where is Mackay Country

Mackay Country is the area in North West Sutherland comprising the land formerly known as the Province of Strathnaver, homeland of the Clan Mackay. The unique communities that inhabit Mackay Country today share a pride in their heritage, a determination to build on the strengths of local culture, society and economy, and a desire to develop any and all opportunities for sustainable community development.

In recent years there have been Both British government and European funded demonstration projects, with the aim of piloting an affordable, transferable process and framework for addressing sustainable development and integrated land management in peripheral rural areas. We are following many of the conclusions and results of these schemes in community regeneration.


MacKay Country encompasses some of the most fragile communities in the Highlands. We are attempting to involve all quarters of each community within the area of Mackay Country by listening and emphasising that as part of the bigger picture we can all, as small groups and individuals, make a difference. Local action and involvement is fundamental with the ability to take a long-term view especially with the use of natural resources. A proper managed process for all the schemes and projects involved directly and indirectly is essential.

Kyle of Tongue
Loch Eriboll

Mackay Country is one of the most sparsely populated districts in Europe, greater in area than the city of London but home to fewer than 2000 people. The district anciently occupied by the Clan MacKay, and known from the name of its chief as the Lord Reay’s country, extended along some two-thirds of the broken north coast of Scotland, from Reay itself on Sandside Bay, some ten miles west of Thurso, along the wild loch indented coast to Cape Wrath, and as far southward as Eddrachillis Bay on the West Coast. The MacKay’s at one time possessed the stretch of land known as “Lord Reay’s Country” from Drimholisten to Kylescue. It is what is recognised as the true Highlands of Scotland.


The Medieval province of Strathnaver, comprising present-day northern Sutherland, was a focus for settlement from the early medieval period through the centuries of Viking activity and Norse colonisation, into the medieval period.  Our understanding of the changing nature of that settlement from A.D. 500-1500 is poor over much of Scotland, and this area is particularly understudied.  Documentary and place name evidence for medieval settlement is strong throughout the province.  Exploratory work in the valley of Strathnaver and around Durness has also shown the potential for good archaeological evidence.


Mackay Country or, Dùthaich Mhic Aoidh, comprises the communities in the north west corner of Sutherland, Scotland.  The parishes of Eddrachilles, Durness, Tongue and Farr make up Mackay Country today.  Historically the actual boundaries have varied and at times reached as far south as Lairg.  Other old names for roughly the same area include The Province of Strathnaver.


In the seventeenth century Sutherland was just a little triangular area in the south east of the area now known as the Country of Sutherland.  Sutherland was created as an earldom originally.  A sheriffdom or shire was declared by Charles I in 1631 and included a much larger area.  In 1747 a new shire system did away with hereditary rights and in 1889 a county council system was created by act of parliament.  All of these forms are political and administrative units.  Sutherland’s boundaries were gradually expanded until Assynt (previously in Ross) and Strath Naverne became incorporated into the far larger County of Sutherland with the boundaries with which we are familiar today.


In 1828 the last of the Reay Estate, comprising the last of the lands owned by the Mackay Clan Chief, Lord Reay, were sold to the George Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquis of Stafford (1st Duke of Sutherland on his death in 1833) and Elizabeth, Duchess of Sutherland, proprietors of The Sutherland Estates.  By 1834 almost all of the County’s 1,297,803 acres were owned by Sutherland Estates.  That pattern held throughout the nineteenth century.  In the past one hundred years that dominance has fragmented very significantly.

Loch Laxford
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