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Clan Donald

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Title: Clan Donald  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Clan Maclean, Clan Macdonald of Sleat, Clan Campbell, Scottish clan, Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh
Collection: Clan Donald, Clann Somhairle, Gaelic Families of Norse Descent, Scottish Clans
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Clan Donald

Clan Donald
Crest: Quarterly, 1st, argent, a lion rampant gules, armed and langued azure; 2nd; Or, a hand in armour fessways holding a cross-crosslet fitchee gules; 3rd, Or, a lymphad sails furled and oars in action sable, Flagged gules; 4th, vert, a salmon naiant in fess proper, over all on an escutcheon en surtout, Or, an eagle displayed gules surmounted of a lymphad sails furled, oars in action sable (as Chief of the Name and Arms of Macdonald).
Motto per mare per terras (by sea and by land")[1]
fraoch eilean (the heathery isle)
Region Highland and Islands
District Inner Hebrides
Plant badge Common heath[2]
Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald
The 8th Baron Macdonald, Chief of the Name and Arms of Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald and 34th hereditary Chief of Clan Donald.
Historic seat Finlaggan Castle

Clan Donald, also known as Clan MacDonald (Scottish Gaelic: MacDhòmhnaill), is a Highland Scottish clan and one of the largest Scottish clans. The chiefs of the Clan Donald held the title of Lord of the Isles until 1495 and two of the chiefs also held the title of Earl of Ross until 1476. There are also numerous branches to the Clan Donald and several of these have chiefs recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms; these are: Clan Macdonald of Sleat, Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, Clan MacDonell of Glengarry, Clan MacDonald of Keppoch, and Clan MacAlister.

Notable branches without chiefs so-recognised are: the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg, Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and the MacDonalds of Ardnamurchan. The MacDonnells of Antrim are a cadet branch of the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg but do not belong to the Scottish associations and have a chief officially recognised in Ireland.


  • History 1
    • Origins 1.1
    • Scottish-Norwegian War 1.2
    • Wars of Scottish Independence 1.3
    • 15th century and the Earldom of Ross 1.4
    • 16th century and the rebellion of Domhnall Dubh 1.5
    • 17th century and Civil War 1.6
    • 18th century and Jacobite risings 1.7
  • Chief 2
    • Historic chiefs 2.1
  • Castles 3
    • Clan Donald castles 3.1
    • Clan Donald branch castles 3.2
  • Tartan 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8



The Norse-Gaelic Clan Donald traces its descent from Haakon Paulsson, Earl of Orkney. It remains uncertain if the Clann Somhairle are also descendants in some manner, through one or another of the above dynasts, of the House of Ivar, but this is commonly argued.[7]

Gaelic tradition gave Somerled a Celtic descent in the male line,[5][8] as the medieval Ye children of Conn remember hardihood in the time of battle).[10] A later poem made to John of Islay (1434–1503), last of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, proclaims "Ceannas Ghàidheal do Chlainn Cholla, còir fhògradh," (The Headship of the Gael to the family of Colla, it is right to proclaim it), giving MacDonald's genealogy back to Colla Uais.[10]

However a recent DNA study has shown that Somerled may have been of Norse descent in his male line.[11] By testing the Y-DNA of males bearing the surnames MacDonald, MacDougall, MacAlister, and their variants it was found that a substantial proportion of men tested shared the same Y-DNA and a direct paternal ancestor.[12] This distinct Y-chromosome R1a1 haplotype found in Scotland has been regarded as often showing Norse descent in the British Isles.[11] According to the Clan Donald USA DNA Project about 22% of tested participants have this signature, most importantly including the chiefs,[13] but despite the sensational claims it remains unclear whether Somerled himself was of paternal Norse ancestry. A non-paternity event remains a possible cause.[14]

Scottish-Norwegian War

In 1263 Alexander III of Scotland defeated Haakon IV of Norway at the Battle of Largs.[15] The Clan Donald chief, Aonghas Mor and his clan had technically been vassals of Haakon and so the king of Scots became their new overlord, as confirmed in the Treaty of Perth.[15]

Wars of Scottish Independence

Aongus Mor's son was Angus Og of Islay who supported Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.[15] In recognition of Clan Donald's support King Robert the Bruce proclaimed that Clan Donald would always occupy the honoured position on the right wing of the Scottish army.

15th century and the Earldom of Ross

The title and territory of the Earl of Ross had originally been held by the Chief of Clan Ross. However Angus Og's grandson, Dòmhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles married the first female heiress of the Earl of Ross. He later successfully claimed the position of Earl of Ross through marriage. This was secured by the Battle of Harlaw on 24 July 1411 where most of the highland clans supported Dòmhnall in preventing Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and his army of Scottish Lowlanders from claiming the position for himself. Prior to the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 the Battle of Dingwall took place where the Clan Donald defeated the powerful Clan Mackay who were supporters of the Stewart confederacy.[16] By 1415 the Earldom of Ross was lost to Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany who had seized Dingwall Castle and Easter Ross. Dòmhnall prepared for war and proclaimed himself "Lord of Ross". However the Duke of Albany appointed his own son John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan as the new Earl of Ross. Later in the 15th century the MacDonald chiefs would become the Earls of Ross, firstly Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross and then his son John of Islay, Earl of Ross who surrendered the earldom in 1476 to James Stewart, Duke of Ross.

In 1429 the Battle of Lochaber took place where forces led by Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross and 3rd and Lord of the Isles fought against the royalist army of James I of Scotland.[17] Two years later the Battle of Inverlochy (1431) took place; While chief Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross was imprisoned by King James I, the Clan MacDonald were led by his nephew, Donald Balloch, who defeated the Earl of Mar's army.[18]

In 1480 John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross, Lord of the Isles and chief of Clan Donald (Eoin Mac Dòmhnuill) fought against his son Angus Og Macdonald (Aonghas Òg ) at the Battle of Bloody Bay.[19] John MacDonald of Islay was supported by men from the Clan MacLean, Clan MacLeod, and Clan MacNeil.[19] His son, Angus Og Macdonald, was supported Allan Macruari, chief of the Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald and Dòmhnall Mac Aonghais (Donald Mac Angus) chief of the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch.[19]

The Battle of Skibo and Strathfleet took place in 1480, John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross invaded Sutherland and fought against men of the Clan Sutherland.[20]

16th century and the rebellion of Domhnall Dubh

The title of Earl of Ross had been surrendered by the Clan Donald chief in 1476 and the title of Lord of the Isles, which the MacDonald chiefs had held since the 13th century was revoked in 1495. At the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century the chief of Clan Donald, Domhnall Dubh, rebelled against James IV of Scotland and made an alliance with Edward VI of England in an attempt to regain the Lordship of the Isles. Various attempts were made to restore the Lordship of the Isles but by 1545 all had failed.[15] The various branches of the Clan Donald began accepting charters from the Crown in recognition of their separate holdings.[15] This was part of a royal policy that successfully kept the Clan Donald divided, and in doing so they were less of a threat to the central authority.[15]

The Battle of the Spoiling Dyke took place in 1578 where the MacDonalds of Uist fought against the Clan MacLeod.[20]

17th century and Civil War

In 1642 on Rathlin Island, during the Irish Rebellion, Covenanter soldiers of the Clan Campbell who formed Argyll's Foot were encouraged by their commanding officer Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck to kill the local Catholic MacDonalds. This they did with ruthless efficiency throwing scores of MacDonald women over cliffs to their deaths on rocks below.[21][22] The number of victims of this massacre has been put as low as 100 and as high as 3,000.

Scotland in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms of 1644–47, was in large part a clan war between the MacDonalds and Clan Campbell. The MacDonalds sided with the Royalists in the English Civil War and the Irish Confederate Catholics in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The Campbells sided with the Scottish Covenanters. A MacDonald clansman, Alasdair Mac Colla raised an Irish force in 1644 and landed in Scotland, with the aim of linking up with the Scottish Royalists and taking back the lands that Clan Donald had lost to the Campbells. After a year of campaigning around Scotland, in which Mac Colla's men ravaged the Campbell lands, the two sides met at the Battle of Inverlochy (1645). Through cunning tactics the Royalist force of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, which included the MacDonalds under Alasdair Mac Colla, defeated the Scottish Covenanter forces led by Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll.

The Massacre of Glencoe took place in 1692, 38 unarmed MacDonalds from the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were murdered in the Massacre of Glencoe when an initiative to suppress Jacobitism was entangled in the long running feud between Clan MacDonald and Clan Campbell. The slaughter of the host MacDonalds at the hands of their Campbell guests was a major affront to Scottish Law and Highland tradition.

18th century and Jacobite risings

Clan Donald grave marker at the site of the Battle of Culloden

During the Jacobite rising of 1715 the MacDonalds supported the Jacobite cause of the House of Stuart. Made up amongst others, men of Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, whose chief was killed at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

During the Jacobite rising of 1745 the majority of Clan Donald fought on the side of the Jacobites with three regiments from Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry, Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe fighting at the Battle of Prestonpans, Battle of Falkirk (1746) and the Battle of Culloden. A number of MacDonalds were killed at Culloden although many of them left the field after seeing the slaughter of other clans who had charged the government lines before them.

The Clan MacDonald of Sleat branch had fought for the Jacobites in the 1715 rebellion, however they actually formed two battalions (Independent Highland Companies) in support of the British Government during the 1745 rebellion and as a result the Sleat possessions remained intact.[23]


In 1947, the Lord Lyon King of Arms granted the [24] In 1972, the Macdonald estates were sold off to pay death duties.[25] Lord Macdonald lives at Kinloch Lodge on Skye with his wife, the food writer Claire Macdonald (m. 1969).[26]

Historic chiefs

The following is a list of some of the early chiefs of Clan Donald.[27]

Name Died Notes
Dòmhnall Dubh 1545 Rebelled against the king of Scotland but made an alliance with the king of England.
Aonghas Òg 1490 'Bastard' son of John of Islay. Last MacDonald Lord of the Isles.
John of Islay, Earl of Ross 1503 Fought at the Battle of Bloody Bay against his son.
Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross 1449 His second son was Celestine of Lochalsh, 1st of the Macdonald of Lochalsh branch and third son was Hugh of Sleat, 1st of the Macdonalds of Sleat branch.
Dòmhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles 1422/3 Fought at the Battle of Harlaw.
John of Islay, Lord of the Isles 1380 His second son was John Mòr, 1st of the MacDonells of Antrim branch and third son was Alastair Carroch of Keppoch, 1st of the Macdonald of Keppoch branch.
Aonghas Òg of Islay 1329/16 Fought at the Battle of Bannockburn. His second son was Ian Fraoch of Glencoe, 1st of the Macdonald of Glencoe branch.
Alexander Og MacDonald, Lord of Islay 1299 Killed in battle by the MacDougalls and was succeeded by his younger brother.
Aonghas Mór (Angus Mor MacDonald) 1292 His second son was Alastair Og (deposed) and third son was John Sprangach of Ardnamurchan, 1st of the Macdonalds of Ardnamurchan branch.
Dòmhnall Mac Raghnuill (Donald) 1250 From whom the Clan Donald takes its name.
Raghnall Mac Somhairle (Ranald) 1207 His second son was Ruairidh, 1st of Clanranald.
Somerled 1164 Killed at the Battle of Renfrew.


Ruins of Finlaggan Castle, historic seat of the Lords of the Isles who were chiefs of Clan Donald
Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye that houses the Clan Donald Centre and the Museum of the Isles

Over the centuries MacDonald castles have included:

Clan Donald castles

Clan Donald branch castles


Tartan image Notes
MacDonald of the Isles (MakDonnald of ye Ylis) tartan, as published in the Vestiarium Scoticum in 1842.

See also


  1. ^ George Way of Plean; Squire 2000: p. 170.
  2. ^ Adam, Frank;  
  3. ^ Clan Donald – List of Family Names, Branches and Septs
  4. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "Donald, Lord of the Isles". The Peerage.  Retrieved on 2007-10-09
  5. ^ a b Moncreiffe, pp. 127–131.
  6. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "Dougal". The Peerage.  Retrieved on 2007-10-04
  7. ^ Most recently by Alex Woolf, The origins and ancestry of Somerled: Gofraid mac Fergusa and 'The Annals of the Four Masters', Medieval Scandinavia 15 (2005)
  8. ^ MacDonald, Donald J. Clan Donald.
  9. ^ Gregory, p. 10.
  10. ^ a b c d The Macdonald Bardic Poetry Part 1 by Professor W. J. Watson Retrieved on 9 October 2007
  11. ^ a b Johnston, Ian. "DNA shows Celtic hero Somerled's Viking roots". The Scotsman, 26 April 2005. Retrieved on 9 October 2007
  12. ^ Sykes, p.214.
  13. ^ Other Ancestry: The 'Mostly Celtic' Clan Donald Retrieved on 9 October 2007
  14. ^ Clan Donald DNA Project: Before Somerled, citing Don Schlegel (2000), "The Ancestors of McDonalds of Somerset"
  15. ^ a b c d e f Way, George and Squire, Romily. (1994). Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). pp. 208 – 209.
  16. ^ Mackay, Robert. (1829). History of the House and Clan of MacKay. pp. 53 – 54. Quoting: Gordon, Sir Robert. (1580 to 1656). A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland.
  17. ^ Henry, Robert; Laing, Malcolm. (1814). The history of Great Britain: from the first invasion by the Romans under Julius Caesar. Written on a new plan (5 ed.), Cadell and Davies, pp. 312–6.
  18. ^ MacDonald, Hugh. (1914). History of the MacDonalds, in Highland Papers, vol. I.
  19. ^ a b c Macdonald, Angus; Macdonald, Archibald (1900). The Clan Donald. Volume 1. Inverness: The Northern Counties Publishing Company, Ltd. pp. 266–268.
  20. ^ a b Gordon, Sir Robert, A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland. Written in about 1625, published in 1813.
  21. ^ Royle, Trevor (2004). Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638–1660. London: Abacus.   p.143
  22. ^ The Carolingian Era, Retrieved 28 August 2008
  23. ^ Macdonald, Angus; Macdonald, Archibald (1900). The Clan Donald. 3. Inverness: The Northern Counties Publishing Company, Ltd. pp. 84–92.
  24. ^ "Lord Macdonald of Macdonald". Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  25. ^ "Lady Claire Macdonald". Coutts. 
  26. ^ Lady Claire Macdonald: the red rose of Kinloch
  27. ^ The Family Tree of the Lords of the Isles Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Coventry, Martin. (2008). Castles of the Clans: The Strongholds and Seats of 750 Scottish Families and Clans. pp. 359 - 364. ISBN 978-1-899874-36-1.
  29. ^ Finlaggan - The Centre of the Lordship of the Isles Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  30. ^ "Ormiclate, Ormaclett House, NMRS Number: NF73SW 1".  
  31. ^ Invergarry Castle Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  32. ^ Coventry, Martin. (2008). Castles of the Clans: The Strongholds and Seats of 750 Scottish Families and Clans. p. 374. ISBN 978-1-899874-36-1.


  • Gregory, Donald. History of the Western Highlands And Isles of Scotland, From A.D. 1493 To A.D. 1625. Edinburgh: William Tait, 1836.
  • MacDonald, Donald J. Clan Donald. 1978.
  • Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Sir Ian. The Highland Clans. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1982. ISBN 0-517-54659-0.
  • Sykes, Bryan. Saxons, Vikings, and Celts : the genetic roots of Britain and Ireland. New York : W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. ISBN 978-0-393-06268-7.
  • Thomson, Oliver, The Great Feud. The Campbells and the Macdonalds. Revisited edition 2005. Sutton Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7509-4315-7.

External links

  • High Council of Clan Donald – the official website of the clan
  • Clan Donald Skye – the official Clan Donald museum
  • Clan Donald USA
  • Clan Donald USA – DNA Project
  • Clan Donald Canada
  • Clandonald Heritage
  • Clan Donald – The Highland Connection
  • Donald Tartans
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