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Clan MacDonnell


McDonnells are to be found widely distributed at the present day all over Ireland and, without including the cognate surname McDonald in the count, the McDonnells in Ireland number nearly ten thousand persons. These have three distinct origins. The most numerous are descendants of a Scottish clan from Argyle whose chief was known as Lord of the Isles. They came to Ireland in the thirteenth century as a military body and having established themselves as gallowglasses to the most powerful chiefs in the north of Ireland, they gradually acquired territory of their own both as grants for military service and by marriage, and by the middle of the fifteenth century were firmly established in the Glens of Antrim, having largely displaced the MacQuillans. Randal MacSorley MacDonnell, the head of this family, was created Earl of Antrim in 1620. The christian name Randal is of frequent occurrence on their pedigree. Curtis says that the Burkes brought the McDonnells to Mayo in 1399; by 1500 there were six McDonnell septs in Leinster. Some MacDonnells of Ulster are, however, a distinct Gaelic Irish sept, belonging to Co. Fermanagh, but these would appear to be almost extinct now. Another quite distinct sept of MacDonnells are those of Thomond, who were, before the Gaelic way of life was disrupted by English invasion, bards to the O'Briens. MacDonnells are still found there in Co. Clare. These descend from Domhall (anglice Donal). In the seventeenth century the anglicized form MacDaniell was more usual than MacDonnell. Mr. O Raifeartaigh reminds me that the Antrim surname MacDonnell is a pitfall for the unwary. Up to our own time the local Irish pronunciation of the name was in accordance with the spelling 'Ac Dhomhniall, with the aspirated D silent, and so was sometimes anglicized McConnell and even O'Connell. Hence a MacConnell, from, say, Ballymena, is quite likely to be a descendant of the lords of the Isles rather than of a less famous sept. There have been many distinguished bearers of the name. In was the most famous were Sorley Boy MacDonnell (1505-1590), a lifelong foe of the English and often successful in his engagement with them, Alastar "Colkitto" MacDonnell, intrepid foe of the Cromwellians killed in action in 1647, and Francis MacDonnell (1656-1702), of the Wild Geese in Austria; in politics Eneas MacDonnell (1783-1858), of the Catholic Association and Sir Anthony (later Lord) MacDonnell (1844-1915), the devolutionist; in literature Enas (q.v. supra), Sean Clarach MacDonnell (1691-1754), who was acknowledged by his contemporaries as the supreme poet of Munster, and John de Courcy MacDonnell (1859-1915), notable in Celtic Studies. Alexander MacDonnell (1798-1835), was world chess champion in 1833.
  • Scottish Clan MacDonnell
  • Clan MacDonald

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