52,661 MACDONALD members around the world
Stay informed about MACDONALD Family online & offline events!
See one of our recent Ireland101 Tribe Gatherings
MACDONALD Family HistoryMac Domhnaill- or in litriú nua, Mac Donaill, is anglicised MacDonnell, MacDonald, Macdonald, MacConnell, or those forms with the abbreviated 'Mc', as well as Donald, Donaldson, earlier McDaniell & c.The root of this surname is the personal name Domhnall- 'world mighty', Domnuill in Scots Gaelic, which is an ancient and frequent Gaelic first name.
The first statement must be that there are three distinct origins for this name in Ireland: 1) a branch of the Scottish clan MacDonnell/MacDonald; 2) MacDonnell of Thomond, a branch of the O'Briens; 3) MacDonnell of Clan-Kelly in present Co Fermanagh.Of course, lexically, the names are cognate, from the Gaelic name, but there is no genealogical connection between these three families.
Incidentally, the Scottish clan is of remote Irish origin, having come to Scotland with the 'Scoti' (latin word for the Dark Age Irish colonists of Caledonia, such as the tribe of the Dál Riada et. al.)
To take the Scottish clan MacDonnell/MacDonald first, their name would have been pronounced 'mac-hoonul' in Scottish Gaelic: it is likely that many Ulster McConnells have this origin.
As stated, they were by remote origin Irish Gaels, and their main branches were spread through the Islands and western highlands. The MacDonalds of Glencoe, infamously massacred by their guests, a Campbell regiment of the British Army, on 13th February, 1692, were conscious bearers of an Irish heritage they claimed to reach back to Conn of the Hundred Battles.
The clan Donald descend from Domnuill or Domhnall, grandson of Somhairle or Somerled, the lord of Argyll. (This first name was later used by the MacDonnells of Antrim, in the form 'Sorley'). As Lords of the Isles they became extremely powerful, from the 12th century onwards,vying with the lowland royal Stuarts for the control of most of Scotland.
Members of this Highland clan came to Ireland in the 14th and 15th centuries as 'galloglaigh' or gallowglass. These were heavily armed mercenaries used by the Irish chiefs and lords; in fact they were the elite soldiers of their time. According to Woulfe ('Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall', 1923) they formed a military clan of their own and settled in parts of Leinster, notably in Cos Leix and Wicklow.
At the beginning of the 15th century Iain Mór, a son of the Lord of the Isles,came into possession of the Glens of Antrim, but it is likely that MacDonnells/MacDonalds had already been established in numbers there before this date.
The second family would be the MacDonnells of Thomond, descended, in all probability, from one Domhnall, a son of Muirchertach ua Briain who was king of Ireland in the 12th century. This surname, in the form MacDonnell, is well established in Co Clare and adjacent areas in Co Limerick etc.
The third family mentioned, that of Clan-Kelly in western Ulster, which I have read stated to be 'almost extinct' (MacLysaght, 'Irish Families' series, 1980, 1982). However, there is plenty of evidence for this name in Fermanagh in the 1659 'Census' figures below.
In Petty's 1659 'Census' of Ireland, the name is listed as a 'Principal Irish Name' in counties: (all figures are for families)
Ossory Barony, McDaniell, 7; Maryborough, (Mc)Daniell 8; Cullenagh, Daniell 6; Portnyhinch, McDaniell, 10; Stradbally, Donnell & McDonnell, 9; Tynahinch, (Mc)Daniell, 6.
Glencarne Barony, McDonald, 9 (+ John Donaldson is listed as a proprietor & gentleman of Glenarme); Masareene, McConnell, 9; Belfast, (Mc)Donnell, 10; Dunluce/Carey, McConnell 16, McDonnell 10.
Bunratty Barony, McDaniell, 31; Tulla, McDaniell, 26; Inchiquine, McDaniell, 13; Island, McDaniell, 16; Clandirala, McDaniell, 10; Corcomroe, McDaniell 7.
Clownish & c. parishes, McDonnell, 10; Bohue Rossory, McDonnell, 4; Aghaharcher & c., McDonnell, 8; Dunmurry & c., McDonnell, 23.
The returns for Co Wicklow are missing from the 1659 'Census'.
By the time of Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' of property in the mid 19th century, the name is listed as McDonnell and McDonald, and the top counties for each are as follows:
McDonnell: Mayo 389, Antrim 180 + Belfast 68, Dublin 125 + Dublin City 101, Louth 184, Cavan 180, Kilkenny 165, Monaghan 163, Roscommon 151, Tyrone 144, Cork 138.
McDonald: Leix 73, Carlow 44, Louth 35, Kilkenny 31, Tyrone & Cavan each 30.
(In respect of the above figures, quite a number of families of 'Donnell' are to be found in Co Kilkenny in the 1659 'Census', as are McDonnell/McDaniell families in Co Cork. Figures for Louth are negligible. The returns for Mayo, Cavan and Tyrone are missing.)
In the 1890 births records, McDonnell was listed most in counties Dublin, Cork, Antrim, Mayo and Galway (247 entries); and McDonald in Dublin, Carlow, Antrim, Cavan and Wexford (191 entries).
Four famous MacDonnells/MacDonalds:
Sorley Boy MacDonnell (1505-1590) chief of the Antrim clan, who resisted English incursions into his territory, successfully, during their Elizabethan heyday.
Sean Ciarach MacDonnell (1691-1754) great Munster poet.
Richard James (1909-98) and Maurice James (1902-71) McDonald, 'Dick' and 'Mac'', were the fast food pioneers who revolutionised the eating habits of millions.
Who have we missed?
Tell us about any famous MACDONALD (or surname variant) you think we should add here. We will get our genealogists to check them out and add them to the list. Thanks!
Join the conversation with the MACDONALD tribe
- Find your MACDONALD ancestor
- Tell us about your MACDONALD Family
- Tell us about your MACDONALD ancestors
- Ask a question about the MACDONALD history
- Leave a message for MACDONALD family members
Invite more MACDONALD family members!
Write an email address and click 'Invite' to share this page with more members of the MACDONALD tribe.
Family Coat of Arms Generator
Why not see what your family crest could look like based on your own family characteristics?Create Crest