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Clan MacKay: With A Strong Hand

Large citrine intaglio with deep facet back

Imagery of an heraldic crest with three muzzled bears and two hands holding daggers pointing towards a roebuck’s head – crest is topped with a hand holding a dagger pointing skywards

Latin motto reads manu forte (strong hand)

Why we love it

We learned a thing or two about Scottish heraldic law and clan crests when researching this cracker of an intaglio. Every day’s a school day here at BMHQ!

First things first, the hand holding the dagger indicates the crest of the Scottish clan MacKay, which is accompanied by the clan motto: manu forte*, meaning ‘strong hand’.

The clan occupied vast swathes of Scotland’s north east Moray coast and supported Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence (although they later swapped sides during the Jacobite uprisings, instead taking the side of the British government).

There’s more …

In Scottish heraldic law, as with unicorns (and calorie-free chocolate), a ‘family coat of arms’ does not exist. Aye, it took us by surprise too. It seems coats of arms were awarded only to individuals.

Sooo, further burrowing down heraldic rabbit holes revealed the rendering on this intaglio to be that of the heid bummer himself, clan chief Lord Reay MacKay. Who is the only person with the bestowed right to use this particular coat of arms. Though of course that was in days of old, when clan chieftans were bold …

A man who led the clan with an iron fist; who took no prisoners. And, if local folklore is to be believed (and why not?), was a legendary magician who communed with fairies.

As for the symbolism, bears were associated with ferocity and the protection of family, making it clear why this was adopted by the clan chief of one of the most powerful clans in Scotland (skipping over their side swapping … oh and their alleged disgraced exile from Ireland).

MacKay heritage or no, wear this to remind you to pursue your dreams, relentlessly. Single-mindedly. Especially if those pursuits also happen to coincide with a desire to be the next David Blaine or Fay Presto!

* The MacKay motto is ‘manu forti, with an ‘i’ rather than an ‘e’. All other details of the crest are consistent with the MacKays, so we can only conclude a simple, and understandable, typo.

1 in stock

Additional information

Piece of jewellery

Three arm ring



Seal material


Seal shape

North south faceted oval

Seal colour



18.9 x 22.3 x 8.1mm


Excellent antique condition with minimal surface wear

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