Balquhidder MacLarens mermaid legend, a comedy of errors

In 1781 John MacLaurin acquired chiefly arms with Supporters depicted by a pair of ‘Britons’. John was the first recognized chief by the Lyon Court. His family was from Argyll so this is the Argyll Clan MacLaurin, with relatives in Lorn, Benderloch, Cowal, Glassary and on the Isles of Tiree and Lismore.

John MacLaurin coat of arms, 1781

The Argyll Clan MacLaurin

At some point in the early 1800's, an heraldic artist depicted John MacLaurin's coat of arms with two 'Tritons' instead of 'Britons", as you can see below.

Unknown Heraldic Artist

The very first account of the legend that the MacLarens came from a race of Mermaids is from 'McIan's Costumes of the Clans of Scotland' by James Logan and Robert McIan, 1846.
James Logan’s invention of ‘Clan MacLaurin in Balquhidder’ in McIan’s Costumes for his client Daniel MacLaurin, included clan heraldry. In the process Logan mistook the ‘Tritons Error' for ‘Mermaids', they are similar in appearance and apparently he did not bother to double check John MacLaurin's Coat of Arms's 1781 written description.

"There is a traditional origin given of the Mac Laurins, with reference to a mermaid, which is among the most puerile of the many similar legends; but it was sufficient to induce the heralds to assign armorial bearings, allusive to the fancied occurrence, when the eminent Lord Dreghorn, who claimed the chief ship, applied, in 1781, for matriculation of these family honours in the Lyon College of Arms." James Logan, 'McIan's Costumes of the Clans of Scotland' by James Logan and Robert McIan, 1846.

So in 1958 when the first depiction of a Clan MacLaren in Balquhidder chiefly arms was rendered for Donald MacLaren of MacLaren and Auchleskine by the Court of the Lord Lyon’s heraldic artist it depicted Mermaid Supporters.

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