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The First Mac an t-Saoir in the Annals

MacAteer of Donegal

Annals of Ulster

512 A.D. 

Natiuitas sancti Ciarani filii artificis

"The birth of Saint Cairan son of the artificer."

517 A.D. 

Uel secundum alium librum: Natiuitas Ciarani hoc anno.

"According to another book: This is the year Cairan was born." 

549 A.D.

Dormitacio filii artificis, .i. Ciaraini, anno .xxx.iiii. etatis sue, uel anno .7. postquam Cluain Mc. Nois construere cepit.

"The son of the artificer fell asleep [i.e., died]. that is, Cairan, 34 years old it is said, or 7 months after the construction of the monastery of Clanmacnoise was begun."

Vita S. Ciarani Cluanensis
("The Life of St. Cairan of Clonmacnoise")

Beatus et venerablilis abbas Queranus, nobili ac religiosa Scotorum stirpe editus, patre Beoid, id est Boeus, nomine, qui artifex curruum erat, matre vero Darerca, ex quibus multi sancti nati sunt.

Blessed and venerable Abbot Cairan, of noble and religious Irish stock, his father was named Beoid, that is Boeus, who was a maker of chariots, his mother was Dar Erca, from whom many saints were born.

The above entries from the Annals of Ulster, in the original Latin, describe St. Cairan as "filii artificis," or the "son of the artificer." The Latin Life of St. Cairan of Clonmacnoise states that his father, Beoid, was a maker of chariots, of noble and religious Irish stock. In both sources, the Latin word "artifex" is used, which means worker, craftsman, maker, creator, or expert, depending on the context of the sentence. Here "maker" is probably intended; or perhaps even craftsman. These early Latin entries for St. Ciaran clearly describe his father Beoid as a maker of chariots - and the term "filii artificis" was the basis for the later "Mac an t-saoir" designation of the Irish scribes, meaning "son of the carpenter or wright."

The later Irish Annalists and scribes dropped this earlier Latin identification of Beoid as an "artificer" and replaced it with the Irish "Mac an t-Saoir," or "son of the carpenter or wright," giving the phrase a slightly different connotation, which in the original form, simply signified a skilled craftsman or maker of chariots. The following pedigree for St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise calls his father Beoit saor, or Beoit the carpenter or wright.

Betha Ciarain Clúana Mac Nois

IS e so didiu genelach Ciarain: CIARAN mac Beoit meic Olchain
meic Dichon meic Cuirc meic Cuindenn meic Cuinneadha meic Feic 
meic Maeil Cathrach meic Lairi meic Lairne, meic Cuiltri meic 
Gluinig meic Coirpri meic Logai meic Meidle meic Duibh meic Lugna 
meic Feidlimid meic Echach, meic Bresail meic Deghadh meic Reo 
Soirche meic Reo Doirche meic Tighernmhais meic Follaigh meic 
Eithreoil meic Ireoil Fáidh meic Eirimhoin meic Mhiled Esb aine.

Beoid dano mac Olchain do Latharnaibh Maighi Molt do Ulltaib a 
athair talm anda inti Ciarain. Dar Erca ingen Ercain meic Buachalla 
a mathair-sium, ut dixit Ciarán: 

Dar Erca mu máthair-si, 
nírbo bannscal olcc, 
Beoit soer mo athair-si, 
do Latharnaibh Molt. 
Betha Ciarain Clúana Mac Nois 

Dar Erca was my mother,


Beoit the carpenter was my father
of Latharnaibh Molt,
The Life of Ciaran of Clonmacnoise.

This early identification of St. Cairan as the son of an artificer or maker of chariots evolved into "son of the carpenter" in later annalistic entries. The monastery he founded at Clonmacnoise was called "Ciaran mac an t-Saoir" after its founder.

548 A.D. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland

S. Ciaran mac an t-saoir, ab Cluana Mic Nóis, d écc an naomhadh
lá do September. Tri bliadhna triocha fot a shaoghail.

St. Ciaran, son of the artificer, Abbot of Cluain Mic Nois, died
on the ninth day of September. Thirty three years was the length 
of his life. 

Note that although the Irish word used here is "saoir," now commonly rendered "carpenter," the editor of the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland translated the word as "artificer."

549 A.D. Annals of Tigernach

Ciaran mac an t-Shair obit. xxxi. anno etatis sue, septimo
autem postquam Cluain Maic Noís construere coepit.

Ciaran, son of the carpenter ..... 

515 A.D. Annals of Clonmacnoise

The nativity of Querainn the carpenters sonn in Anno 515.

Some doubt the authenticity of the legends making St. Cairan's father Beoid a maker of chariots, stating that chariots did not exist in Ireland during this period in history. But there are references to chariots thoughout the early literature of Ireland and St. Patrick, a contemporary of St. Cairan's, is said to have traveled about Ireland in a chariot in the "Triparte Life of Patrick." The following refernces should suffice to show that there were chariots of some sort in Ireland during the time of St. Cairan mac an t-saoir - and that his father Beoit could therefore have been a maker of chariots.

The Triparte Life of Patrick

"When the King [Laoguire s. Nial 'of the Nine Hostages'] heard that, he was mightily disturbed. Then said the King," This shall not be. But we will go," saith he, "and slay the man who kindled the fire." Then his chariots and his horses were yoked for the King, and they went at the end of the night to the Graves of Fiacc's Men.

"So Patrick's charioteer died and was buried between the Rich and the Sea."

"It was a custom of Patrick's to make the sign of the cross of Christ over himself a hundred times every day and every night. And whether he were in a chariot or on a horse..."

"And they met at Cluain Fiachnae in the north on the road... "Drive the chariot over him!" saith Patrick. "I dare not," saith the charioteer, "make it go over a bishop."

There is also an interesting description of St. Cairan as a craftsman in the "Life of St. Columb cille:

"Once of a time there arose some contention, in which there was not much harm, between Columb cille and Ciaran mac an tsaeir. Thereupon an angel came to them bringing an axe, an adze and an auger, and told Ciaran not to compare or contend with Columb Cille, for whereas Ciaran had forsaken for God only that suit of serge which his father used to have, Columb cille had abandoned the kingship of Ireland for him."

The Second Mac an t-Saoir in the Annals

767 A.D. Annals of Ulster

M. ind Shaer, abbas Enaich Duibh.

Mac an tSair, Abbot of Eanach Dubh, died.

This Mac an tSair is unidentified in the Annals. The Triparte life of Patrick states that St. Cairan had a son, but his name is not mentioned in the text. Nor are any later descendants mentioned in the annals of Ireland. This could not have been a surname at this date - it's much too early. Did this reference to "son of a carpenter" indicate that his father was a carpenter or wright? It's possible. It is also possible that this phrase was instead being used as a title of some kind since every man described as such in the Annals was either a Bishop or an Abbot of a monastery in Ireland. The title may have indicated extreme piety or a devotion to Christ, who was also a "son of a carpenter." Or it may be a reference to the original St. Ciaran, the son of a maker of chariots, in the same way in which saints names were often taken as personal names in Ireland (i.e, Giolla Ciarain, a follower of St. Ciarain).

The Third Mac an t-Saoir in the Annals

773 A.D. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland

Conall, mac an t-saoir, egnaidh, & abb Bennchuir, d ég.

Conall, son of the artificer, a wise man and Abbot of Beannchair, died.

Nothing is known of this Conall, also described as the son of the artificer. In this entry the phrase "mac an t-saoir" clearly appears to be a title held by this Abbot. He is named as "Conor," and then three titles appear behind his name in the text: mac an t-saoir, egnaidh (a wise man), and Abbot of Beannchair. If he were intended to be a "son of a carpenter," the text should have read "Conor mac an t-saoir." Instead we have "Conor," then the following "mac an t-saoir." What this phrase was intended to signify is anyone's guess at this point.

The following entry appears in the Annals of Ulster a year after the death of Conall:

744 A.D. Annals of Ulster

Lex Ciarani filii artificis & lex Brendani simul la Forggus m. Ceallaigh

The rules of Cairan son of the Artifex.....

This is not a reference to any specific mac an t-saoir - it refers to a set of rules or laws for monastic life proposed by the earlier St. Cairan mac an t-soir of Clonmacnoise.

The fourth Mac an t-Saoir in the Annals

1029 A.D. Annals of Ulster

Mael Brigde H. Brolchan prim-shaer Erenn, mortui sunt.

Maelbrigte Ua Brolchain, chief artificer of Ireland, died.

1097 A.D. Annals of of the Kingdom of Ireland

Maol Brighde mac An t-Saoir Uí Brolcháin saoi & epscop Chille Dara, & chóiccidh Laighen, d écc.

Mael Brighte, son of the wright Ua Brolcain, eminent bishop of Cell-dara and of the Fifth of Leinster, rested after most excellent penance.

These men were probably the same person, but the earlier entry may be misplaced in the Annals of Ulster. Here O'Donovan, editor of the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland, translated saoir as "wright," while the editor of the Annals of Ulster continues with the earlier "artificer" translation. Was this Mael Brighte Ua Brolchain [O'Brillaghan], like St. Cairan, Conall, and the unnamed Abbot of Beannchair in truth a son of an artificer or craftsman? Or was this again the use of a title reserved for churchmen?

In the first entry, he is described not as a son of a carpenter but as the "prime artificer" of Ireland, indicating that he himself was the craftsman. The second entry follows the more familiar "son of the artificer" pattern.

These two entries probably indicate that Mael Brighte Ua Brolchain was a craftsmen of some kind, but almost certainly not a carpenter or wright. As a religous man and the Bishop of Cille-dara in Leinster, it's highly unlikely he ever practiced a traditional craft. Instead this may be a reference to some kind of highly-skilled, artistic type craft in which Mael Brighte excelled, perhaps the illumination of manuscripts or pottery or even metalwork of some kind. Or more likely, the term was applied to Mael Brighte because he was known as a builder of religous edifaces.

The Ua Brolchains were a royal family in Ireland descended from Suibhne Meann, the High King of Ireland, who died in 623 A.D. His son Crunmhaeil is mentioned in the Annals in 650 as a "chief of Cenel Eoghainn" and his great-grandson, Flann find, is also named a "chief of Cenel Eoghainn" at his death in 698. A later descendant, Doiligein, is named a "royal priest of Armagh" in the Annals in 1053. This Doiligein was the great-great grandfather of Mael Brighte Ua Brolchan mac an t-saoir, the Bishop of Kildare, who died in 1097. His son was Maoil Iosa, a well-known poet, who died in 1098.

The O'Brolchans were a sept of the Cenel Feredaigh, of which the MacCathmaills of Tyrone were the chief family, a sept of the Cenel Eoghainn in descent from Eoghan, the son of Niall 'of the Nine Hostages.' In later historical times we encounter the surname in Donegal, as chieftains under the O'Dougherties, and some of the name were Bishops of Derry. MacLysaght gives Donegal and Derry as the counties in which the name is most plentiful.

Mailcoluim O Brolchain was the Bishop of Armagh (died in 1122). A Mail brighte O Brolchain was the Bishop of Ardstraw in 1139 (i.e., Derry). Mailcoluim's son Flaithbertach O Brolchain was also Bishop of Armagh. Flaithbertach made the door of the church of Derry in 1155, and is also named as the Bishop of Derry.

In 1162 he built a stone wall around the city of Derry and in 1163 built a lime kiln in Derry. In 1164 Somerled, the king of Argyle in Scotland, tried to persuade him to take on the Abbacy of Iona in Scotland, but Flaithbertach was dissuaded from doing so by Domnall MacLochlainn, the King of Ireland. In the same year he and Domnall MacLochlainn built the great church of Derry.

Although he is not described as a 'prime-saoir' of Ireland, as was his ancestor, Mael Brighte, he could well have been. Flaithbertach O Brolchain died in 1175. A later O Brolchain, Flann, was proposed for the succession of the bishopric of Derry by the Cenel Eoghainn but was deposed in favor of another candidate.


There is a Ballybrollaghan in Donegal, Banagh Barony, Parish of Inver. Bally means "homeland," so this is a reference to the "homeland of the O Brolchains." All of the MacAteers except one in the 1665 Hearth Money Rolls were to be found in Banagh Barony (Barrony of Boylagh & Banagh), where they also appear in the Census of 1659. The surname O Brolchain is anglicised in various ways, O Brollaghan, O Brillaghan, etc. This can only be a reference to the O Brolchains of Donegal, of whom Mael Brighte mac an t-saoir Ua Brolchain was an ancestor.

MacLysaght (Irish Families map) places their homeland further north, just south of Derry and the Inishowen Peninsula; so this may have been their original homeland (Ballybrollaghan).

Census of 1659 - Donegal Inishowen Barony

Principal Irish Names

O Barr (7), O Brillaghan (23), O Boyle (8), O Cally (22), McCallin (15), O Callane & O Cullane (12,27), O Conagill (9), O Carran (16), O Currin (3, 19), O Carny (10), McCollgan (30), McConway (6), O Callaghan (8), O Doghertye (203), O Doy (6), O Deuer (8), McDevet (27), O Donell (20), O Dermond (35), O Deveny (9), O Farran (14), McGlaghlin (76), O Granny (6), McGillneske (8), O Gollogher (12), O Herrall (8), O Hegerty (23), O Harkan (21), O Knawsie (9), O Kelly (11), McKay (6), O Lunshaghan (22), McLaughlin (63), O Luog (9), O Mrisane (7), O Moran (6), O Mulloy (7), McMurray (8), O Muncy (8), Porter (11), O Quigley (25), O Rodan (13), O Sheale (8), O Towlan (14), McVagh (6).

Totals: Barrony of Enishowen: Eng. & Scots 453; Irish, 2678; 3131 total.

Kill McCrenan Barrony

Principall Irish Names

McAward (6), O Boyle (15), O Brillaghan (8), O Canan (9), O Cullan (6) & O Cullin (8)(14), O Colhoune (7), O Donnell (27), O Diver (7), O Divet (10), O Dowy (6), O Dogherty (34), O Fary (8), O Ferry (5), O Friell (7), O Ferill (9), McFaden (7), O Gollogher (52), McGinnelly (21), McGee (11), O Harkan (5), McIlbreedy (13), McIlchole (11), McIlbreed (5), McKerran (7), O Mulvog (5), McPadin (13), McSwyne (39), O Sheall (6), Wiltagh (6)

Barrony of KillMcCrennan: Eng & Scotss, 605; Rish, 1551; 2156 total.

Pedigree of the Ua Brolchains

Neill 'of the Nine Hostages'
Eoghain (Cenel Eoghainn)
Feradaigh (Cenel Feradaigh)
Suibhne mend
King of Ireland
d. 623
Chief of Cenel Eoghainn 650
Maili Tuile
Flann find
Chief of Cenel Eoghainn 
d. 698
Brolchain (O Brolchainn)
Doiligein 1053
Royal priest of Armagh
Mael patraicc
Duibh insi
Maoil Brigdhe Mac an t-Saoir Ua Brolchain 
Bishop of Kildare 
d. 1097 
Diermada | Aedha | Muiregein | Maoil Iosa an cleiricc O Brolchain d. 1086

O'Clery's Book of Genealogies

(col. d) Genelach Cheneil Feradaigh Beus .i. Muinter Brolchain

609. Maoil iosa m Mael brighde m Duib insi m Mael patraicc m Doiligein m brolchain (o ttat muinter Brolchain) m Elgine m Diochon m Floinn find m Maili tuile m Crunnmhaeil m Suibne mend m Fiachna m Feradaigh m Muiredaigh m Eoghain m Neill.

607. Maol brighde, dino, athair Diermada ocus Aedha et Muiregein et Maoil isa an cleiricc.


609. Maoil Iosa son of Mael brighde son of Duff of the island son of Mael Patrick son of Doiligein son of Brochain (from whom the people of Brolchan) son of Elgin son of Diochon son of Flann find son of Maile Tuile son of Crunmael son of Suibhne mend son of Fiachna son of Feradaigh son of Muirdaigh son of Owen son of Neill.

607. Maol Brighde, above, was the father of Dermot and Hugh and Muiregein and Maoil Iosa the cleric.

The Last Mac an t-Saoir in the Annals

1268 A.D. Annals of Ulster

Michael Mac-an-tshair, Official of Ard-Macha, was consecrated bishop in Clochar by the archbishop of Ard-Macha on the morrow of the Nativity of Blessed Mary [Sept 8).

1288 A.D. Annals of Ulster

Michael Mac-in-tshair, bishop of Clochar, died.

This is the last Mac an t-saoir to be named in the Annals; and in this case it is clearly a surname and not a title or designation. This Michael, bishop of Clogher, is the only MacAteer to be named in the Annals. Clogher was the head of a diocese located in the Barony of Clogher in Tyrone. There is a brief mention of this Michael Mac an t-saoir in Joyce's Encyclopedia of Ireland: "Bishop Michael Mac Antsair, in 1279, exchanged with the abbot the the episcopal residence that had been built near the abbey by Bishop Donat O'Fidabra, between 1218 and 1227, for a piece of land outside the town, called Disert-na-cusiac, on which he erected another episcopal palace."

MacAteer (Mac an t-saoir)

The entry in the Annals describing Michael Mac an t-saoir, Bishop of Clogher, is the first historical appearance of the surname 'MacAteer' in the annals. According to MacLysaght, the MacAteer surname is an Ulster name, which appears as "Wright" in Fermanagh. He also mentions a townland named Ballymacateer in county Armagh, and states that this is the homeland of the MacAteers. Wolfe (Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall" mentions only that there are probably several distinct families of the same name.

Could at least one of these Mac an t-saoir septs be a branch of the Ua Brolchainn family, based on the entry in the Annals naming Mael Brighte Ua Brolchainn as "mac an t-saoir?" It's possible. The territory of the O Brolchainns was also in Donegal, just south of the Inishowen Peninsula near Derry. The MacAteer name also appears in Donegal, primarily in the Barony of Bonagh and Boylagh, in both the Census of 1659 and in the Hearth Money Rolls of 1665 (where a MacTyre family also is named). This is also the only place in the Census of 1659 in which the MacAteer surname is listed as a principle Irish name. In addition, there is a townland in the parishof Enver in the same Barony named Ballybrollaghan, meaning the 'homestead of theO'Brollaghans." The fact that the O'Brollaghans had an ancestor named MaelBrighte Mac an t-saoir Ua Brolchain and their original territory was probablyin Ballybrollaghan in the Barony of Boylagh and Bonagh and the fact that the Mac an t-saoir sept of Donegal also appear in the same Barony is probably not a conincidence.

O'Hart (Irish Pedigrees) quotes a "Topographical and Historical Map of Ancient Ireland," compiled by Philip MacDermott, M.D. which listed the principal families in Ireland from the eleventh to the end of the sixteenth century. In this list are references to a MacIntire of Donegal and a Mac-Intyre, chief, of County Tyrone.

Census of 1659

Barrony of Boylagh & Banagh
Principall Irish Names

McAtire (6), McAnulty (8), McAward (11), O Brislane (8), O Boyle (41), O Birne (9), O Cannan (8), O Conaghan & O Conighan (11), O Carney (10), McCollin (13), O Casady (9), O Connally (6), O Cuningham (5), Cuningham (4)(9), O Donell (20), O Dooghertye (14), McDeve (6), McGillaspick (8), O Gallogher (51), McGlaghlin (14), O Kenady (6), McKillker (7), O Kelly (9), McKee (8), O Kenny (6), O Mullghill (6), O Mullmoghery (6), O Murrey (11), McNelus & McNellus (9), Scott (10), O Shearing (11), McSwyne (7)

Barrony of Boylagh & Banagh: Eng & Scots, 285; Irish, 1556; 1841 totall.

1665 Hearth Money Rolls - Donegal

Glencollumkill & Kilcarr Parish

Thomas m'Atrye [no townlands listed]
Owen m'Atyre [no townlands listed]
Hugh oige m'Atyre [no townlands listed]

Kilbegs Parish

Manus m'Tier of Tanisligoe

Kilbarren Parish

James m'Atyer of Kilcarbry 
Connor m'Atyer of Kilcarbry 
Edmund m'Atyre of Cashel
Donnagh m'Atyer of Forecossy

Clondevaddoge Parish

Owen m'Tyre of Duaghbegg

Most of the MacAteers in the Pardon Lists of King James I (ca. 1609) were from Donegal. The name did appear in both Dublin and County Down as well (Patent Rolls of King James I).

p. 151 Manus McAttye [Donegal list]
p. 151 Owen McAdire [Donegal list]
p. 151 Brian McAttire [Donegal list]

p. 152 Ed. McEtier [Donegal list]

p. 175 Patrick McAtyre, gent. [Dublin]
p. 175 Pat McAtty, Jr. and John, [Louth] his brother

p. 320 Donald McEntire [Down]
p. 320 Neice McEntire [Down]

Two Scottish MacIntyres appear in the Muster Rolls of 1630 for Inishowen Barony, Donegal:

Muster Rolls 1630 Donegal
Inishowen Barony 

Robert mcKintire
James Kintire

A MacIntire (probably Scottish) appears as a tenant in the province of Portlough in Donegal (Prenders's Survey):

Hill's "Plantation of Ulster"
10 June 1614

Qr. of Drumalls, to Michael McLoghery and Owen Macintire

One McIntire is named in the Catholic Voter Qualification Rolls

Qualification Rolls 1778-1790 Donegal

John McIntire, farmer, Ballyshannon, 14-4-1781

The MacIntyres of Scotland

The following history of the MacDonalds by Hugh MacDonald is the basis for most of the clan histories of the MacIntyres of Scotland. Hugh mentions a Maurice MacNeill, a foster brother of Olav, the King of Mann and a near friend of Somerled, who sabatoged Olav's boat by drilling holes in it and plugging the holes with pins coated with tallow and butter. As intended the pins worked loose from their holes and Olav's boat began to sink. Maurice MacNeill in return for certain concessions to Somerled repaired the sinking boat and his posterity were afterwards called the wright's sons, or Mac an t-Saoir.

Later in Hugh MacDonald's narrative a second Maurice MacNeill appears, this time described as a nephew of Somerled, his sister's son. This Maurice MacNeill was bribed by the King of Scotland to betray Somerled, and slew him in his tent, receiving from the King thereafter the lands which had been promised to him for his betrayal.

Most MacIntyre clan historians regard these as two separate Maurice MacNeills - which is an error - the two men are undoubtedly one and the same Maurice MacNeill.

Other versions of the legend vary in minor details from that supplied by Hugh MacDonald. In one, a MacDonald at sea finds a leak in his boat, and cutting off his thumb, seals the hole with the severed thumb, thus earning for his posterity the surname mac an t-Saoir or son of the wright.

In still other versions Maurice MacNeill is called Macarill MacNeill. Macarill is probably derived from Mac Torquill, a common Norse name and one found frequently among the MacNeills of Barra and Gigha. The modern anglicised form of the name is MacCorkell. So the tale of Hugh MacDonald may actually be describing a Torquill MacNeill, who married Somerled's sister and was foster brother to Olav, the King of Mann, in all probability the ancestor of the MacNeills.

The History of the MacDonalds
Hugh MacDonald (17th Cent.)
The Highland Papers, Vol. 1
Scottish History Society
J.R.N. MacPhail, K.C., editor

Sommerled, the son of Gilbert, began to muse on the low condition and misfortune to which he and his father were reduced, and kept at first very retired. In the meantime, Allin MacVich Allin, coming with some forces to the land of Morverin for pillage and herships, intending to retire forthwith to Lochaber, from whence he came. From this Allan descended the family of Lochiel. Sommerled thought now it was high time to make himself known for the defense of his country, if he could, or at least see the same, having no company for the time. There was a young sprout out of a tree near the cave which grew in his age of infancy. He plucked it up by the root, and putting it on his shoulder, came near the people of Morverin, desired them to be of good courage and do as he did, and so by his persuasion, all of them having pulled a branch, and putting the same on their shoulder, went on encouraging each other.

Godfrey Du had possession of the Isles of the north side of Ardnamurchan from the King of Denmark. Olay compelled the inhabitants of some of these Isles to infest Morverin by landing some forces there. The principal surnames in the country were MacInnes's and MacGilvrays, who are the same as the MacInnes's. They being in sight of the enemy could act nothing without one to command them. At length they agreed to make the first person that should appear to them their general. Who came in the meantime but Sommerled, with his bow, quiver, and sword? Upon his appearance they raised a great shout of laughter. Sommerled inquiring their reason, they answered they were rejoiced at his appearance. They told him that they had agreed to make the first that would appear their general. Sommerlid said he would undertake to head them, or serve as a man otherwise. But if they pitched upon him as their commander, they should swear to be obedient to his commands; so, without any delay, they gave him an oath of obedience. There was a great hill betwixt them and the enemy, and Sommerled ordered his men to put off their coats, and put their shirts and full armour above their coats. So, making them go three times in a disguised manner about the hill, that they might seem more in number than they really were, at last he ordered them to engage the Danes, saying that some of them were on shore and the rest in their ships; that those on shore would fight but faintly so near their ships. Withal he exhorted his soldiers to be of good courage, and to do as they would see him do, so they led on the charge. The first whom Summerlid slew he ript up and took out his heart, desiring the rest to do the same, because that the Danes were no Christians. So the Danes were put to the flight; many of them were lost in the sea endeavouring to gain their ships; the lands of Mull and Morverin being freed at that time from their yoke and slavery.

After this defeat given to the Danes, Sommerlid thought to recover Argyle from those who, contrary to right, had possessed it, being wrung out of the hands of his father unjustly by MacBeath, Donald Bain, and the Danes. It is strange that some of our writers should, through malice or want of information, make him ignobly born, and yet call him Thane of Argyle, which title was not given him by the then present king, but they understood he had it by right from his predecessors. Some of the Argathelians made resistance, but were defeated. Macphadin, by joining with Sommerlid, was reconciled to him. In a short time he mastered Lorn, Argyle, Kintyre, and Knapdale; most of the inhabitants, knowing these lands were his by right, as formerly belonging to and possessed by his predecessors. After this, Olay, surnamed the Red, King of Man, Isla, Mull and Isles southward of the point of Ardnamurchan, came with his fleet to Loch Stornua in order to subdue all the Isles south and north, pretending his right from the King of Denmark, to whom the ancient Danes north of Ardnamurchan refused allegiance; and, as Olay encamped at Loch Stornua, Sommerled came to the other side of the loch, and cried out, if Olay was there, and how he fared? Olay replied, that he was well. Then said Sommerled, I come from Sommerled, Thane of Argyle, who promises to assist you conditionally in your expedition, provided you bestow your daughter on him. Olay answered, that he would not give him his daughter, and that he knew that he himself was the man; but that he and his men should follow him in his expedition. So Sommerled resolved to follow Olay. There was at that time a foster brother of Olay's, one Maurice MacNeill, in Olay's company, who was a near friend of Sommerled; and when Sommerled brought his two galleys near the place where Olay's ship lay, this Maurice aforesaid came where he was, and said that he would find means by which he might come to get Olay's daughter. So, in the night time, he bored Olay's ship under water with many hoes, and made a pin for each hole, overlaying them with tallow and butter. When they were up in the morning and set to sea, after passing the point of Ardnamurchan, Olay's ship sprung a leak, casting the tallow and butter out of the holes by the ship tossing on the waves, and beginning to sink, Olay and his men cried for help to Sommerled. Maurice replied, that Sommerled would not save him unless he bestowed his daughter upon him. At last, Olay being in danger of his life, confirmed by an oath that he would give his daughter to Sommerled, who received him immediately into his galley. Maurice went into Olay's galley, and fixed the pins in the holes, which he had formerly prepared for them, and by these means they landed in safety. From that time the posterity of Maurice are called MacIntyres (or wright's sons) to this day.

On this expedition Olay and Sommerled killed MacLier, who possessed Strath within the Isle Sky. They killed Godfrey Du, or the Black, by putting out his eyes, which was done by the hermit MacPoke, because Godrey Du had killed his father formerly. Olay, surnamed the Red, killed MacNicoll in North Uist likewise. Now Sommerled marrying Olay's daughter, and becoming great after Olay's death, which death, with the relation and circumstances thereof, if you be curious to know, you may get a long account of it in Camden. Now, Sommerled being envied by the rest of the nobility of Scotland for his fortune and valour, King Malcolm being young, thought by all means his kingdom would suffer by the faction, ambition, and envy of his leading men, if Sommerled's increasing power would not be crushed. Therefore, they convened and sent an army to Argyle under the command of Gilchrist, Thane of Angus, who, harassing and ravaging the country wherever he came, desired Sommerled to give up his right of Argyle or abandon the Isles. But Sommerled, making all the speed he could in raising his vassals and followers, went after them; and joining battle, they fought fiercely on both sides with great slaughter, till night parted them. Two thousand on Sommerled's side, and seven thousand on Gilchrist's side, were slain in the field. Being wearied, they parted and marched off at the dawn of day, turning their backs to one another. After this, when the king came to manhood, the nobles were still in his ears, desiring him to suppress the pride of Sommerled, hoping, if he should be crushed, they should or might get his estate to be divided among themselves, and at least get him expelled the country. Sommerled being informed hereof, resolved to lose all, or possess all, he had in the Highlands; therefore, gathering together all his forces from the Isles and Continent, and shipping them for Clyde, he landed in Greenock. 

The king came with his army to Glasgow in order to give battle to Sommerled, who marched up the south side of the Clyde, leaving his galleys at Greenock. The king's party quartered at Renfew, Those about him thought proper to send a message to Sommerled, the contents of which were, that the king would not molest Sommerled for the Isles, which were properly his wife's right; but, as for the lands of Argyle and Kintyre, he would have them restored to himself. Sommerled replied, that he had as good a right to the lands upon the continent as he had to the Isles; yet these lands were unjustly possessed by the King MacBeath and Donald Bain, and that he thought that it did not become his majesty to hinder him from the recovery of his own rights, of which his predecessors were deprived by MacBeath, out of revenge for standing in opposition to him after the murder of king Duncan. As to the Isles, he had an undoubted right to them, his predecessors being possessed of them by the good will and consent of Eugenius the First, for obligations conferred upon him: That, when his forefathers were dispossessed of them by the invasion of the Danes, they had no assistance to defend or recover them from the Scotish king, and that he had his right of them from the Danes; but, however, he would be assisting to the king in any other affairs, and would prove as loyal as any of his nearest friends, but, as long as he breathed, he would not condescend to resign any of his rights which he possessed to any; that he was resolved to lose all or keep all, and that he thought himself as worthy of his own as any about the king's court.

The messenger returned with this answer to the king, whose party was not altogether bent upon joining battle with Sommerled, neither did the king look much after his ruin, but, as the most of kings are commonly led by their councillors, the king himself being young, they contrived Sommerled's death in another manner. There was a nephew of Sommerled's, Maurice MacNeill, his sister's son, who was bribed to destroy him. Sommerled lay encampted at the confluence of the river Pasley into Clyde. His nephew taking a little boat, went over the river and having got private audience of him, being suspected by none, stabbed him, and made his escape. The rest of Sommerled's men hearing the death and tragedy of their leader and master, betook themselves to their galleys. The king coming to view the corpse, one of his followers, with his foot, did hit it. Maurice being present said that though he had done the first thing most villainously and against his conscience, that he was unworthy and base so to do; and withal drew his long scian, stabbed him, and escaped by swimming over to the other side of the river, receiving his remission from the king thereafter, with the lands which were formerly promised him. The king sent a boat with the corpse of Sommerled to Icollumkill at his own charges.

This is the report of twenty writers in Icollumkill, before Hector Boetius and Buchanan were born.

The MacIntyre Clan Society

But all these legends of holes in boats and thumbs in holes are simply attempts to explain the surname MacIntyre, which appears to be derived (as is the Irish MacAteer) from the phrase "Mac an t-Saoir" or son of the wright.

The Clan MacIntyre published a small history of the MacIntyres of Scotland, written by Leslie Donald MacIntyre in 1977. Under "Origins of the Name" he offers three possiblities:

1. Ecclesiastical
2. Territorial
3. Mythical

Under Ecclesiastical, he mentions the legend of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, the original Mac an t-Saoir in the Irish Annals, and the Mac an t-Saoir listed under the year 767 in the Annals. He says "clan tradition does not support this origin," meaning ecclesiastical.

Under Territorial, is the following:

"The MacIntyres are said to be descended from MacDonalds of Kintyre and a MacDonald called Cean-Tire (pronounced Kintyre and meaning 'headland'.) who possessed land there. His son, John, upon acquiring the lands of Deghnish in Lorn was then known as John Mac-Cein-Teire-Dhegnish. While this derivation has an air of plausibility, it is in contradiction to all the others, so it is not generally accepted by the clan."

Under Mythical, he recounts first a version of the chopped off thumb legend involving a McDonald, saying that from this act the man was known as the 'thumb carpenter' or 'Saoir-na-ordaig.' His son was then called MacIntyre.

A similar story is told of the illegitimate son of King Fingal of Islay. From this MacDonald, son of Fingal, came the family of 'thumb carpenters' who are now called MacInytres.

Then he refers to an 'earlier account' taken from an issue of Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis, which is indentical to the Hugh MacDonald story of Somerled and Olav the King of Mann and Maurice MacNeill. Except in this version the name is Macarill MacNeill rather than Maurice.

He then quotes a version of the MacDonald legend involving the two brothers, who raced each other to shore, and one cut off his hand and threw it to shore, thereby claiming he had arrived first. But in this version (told by James, fifth Chief of Clan MacIntyre) the two participants were an ancestor of the MacDonalds and an ancestor of the MacIntyres. The MacDonald ancestor's boat began to sink near shore, so he cut off his thumb and stuck it in the hole. The other brother, the Saor or wright, cut off his hand and threw it to shore, thereby claiming first possession.

Of all these versions of MacIntyre origins, the most plausible is the territorial argument, which has the family descend from a branch of the MacDonalds of Kintire, from which location they derived their name, Mac Cean-Tire. On a Gaelic tongue, the second "c" in Cean would tend to disappear into the first "c" in Mac, resulting in the name being pronounced MacAn-Tire or MacIn-tire, indistinguishable from the Irish family of Mac an t-Saoirs.

There is no indication in any of the clan history of the MacIntyres of Scotland that their name was derived from the eccesiastical phrase mac an t-Saoir, so common in Ireland, and derived from the legends of St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, the son of a builder of chariots for the King of Ireland.

And the mythical origin of the name in tales of thumbs in holes and holes in boats is to put it mildly, ridiculous. If there is any truth at all to Hugh MacDonald's story, then both the MacNeills of Barra and Gigha and the MacIntyres were probably branches of the same stock as Somerled, the ancestor of the MacDonalds.

This account was kindly provided by John D. McLaughlin

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