The Proud History of Clan DonaldClan Donald is one of the oldest, and probably the largest and most famous of all the Highland clans. Its Celtic heritage goes back into antiquity, beyond the 6th Century AD, to the great clans in what today is Ireland, Conn of the 100 Battles, Cairfre Raida, founder of Dal Raida in Antrim, Eire, and Colla Uathais. Our Viking heritage goes back to Ingiald "Ill-Ruler" and Olaf "Tree-Hewer" in 7th Century Sweden and Norway. All of these traditional blood lines came together in the 12th Century Somerled MacGillebride MacGilladamnan, the historic founder of Clann Domhnaill. Our ancestors were regarded as the heads of the ancient race of Conn, and the lineal heirs of the kings of the Dalriadic Scots.
The clann increased in numbers and territory, forming a number of branches who are, by seniority:
- Clan Ruari, now part of Clanranald and Glengarry
- Clan Alasdair
- Clan Godfrey, now part of Clanranald and Sleat
- Clan Donald South, also known as Dunnyveg and The Glens, or Clann Iain Mhor
- Lochalsh, now part of Sleat
- Clan Donald North or Clan Uisdean, now Sleat
Clan Donald, greatest and largest of the Highland Clans, begins it's recorded history with Somerled, a descendant of Conn of the Hundred Battles and Clan Colla. Somerled's defeat of the Norse King of Man in 1156 gained independence for southwestern Scotland that survived for over four centuries.
The clan takes it's name from Donald, the 3rd Lord of the Isles and grandson of Somerled who lived until 1269. Donald's son was the original "Mac" (meaning "son of"). It was Donald's great-grandson, Angus Og, the 6th Lord of the Isles who sheltered Robert the Bruce at the lowest ebb of his career. Later, leading a small band of Islemen, Angus Og was instrumental in Bruce's defeat of the English at Bannockburn. This battle won independence for Scotland. In recognition of Clan Donald's part in the victory Robert the Bruce proclaimed that Clan Donald would forever occupy the honored position on the right wing of the Scottish Army.
Angus Og's grandson, Donald, the 8th Lord of the Isles, married the heiress of the Earldom of Ross and in 1411 fought the Battle of Harlaw to keep his wife's inheritance from being usurped by the Regent Duke of Albany. His army of 10,000 men included the forces of almost every clan of the Highlands and Isles. All these clans were willing vassals of the Lord of the Isles. They regarded the MacDonald Chiefs as the heads of the ancient "Race of Conn," and lineal heirs of the ancient Kings of the Dalriadic Scots, going back to the 6th century and beyond.
Donald of Harlaw's son and grandson were both Earls of Ross and Lords of the Isles, controlling not only the Hebrides from Islay and Kintyre to the Butt of Lewis, but most of Argyll and the modern County of Inverness, along with the County of Antrim in northern Ireland. The Earldom was lost in 1471, but the Lordship of the Isles was not absorbed by Scotland until the middle of the 16th century. A MacDonnell (a variation of the surname MacDonald) is still Earl of Antrim.
The power of the clan survived and formed the backbone of the army of the Marquis of Montrose, fighting for the survival of the Stewarts in the 17th century, and, though divided, it was an important factor in the Jacobite Rebellions of the 1700's.