MacDonald or Donald

Clan Donald is one of the largest Scottish clans. The MacDonald clan has many separate branches:



Clan Donald Clan crest

These are the Clan Donald branches with extant chiefs, including the main Clan Donald followed by their Gaelic patronymics:

      Lord Macdonald who is the High Chief of Clan Donald whose ancestor was the Lord of the Isles. The MacDhomnhaill.

      MacDonald of Sleat MacUisdean.

      MacDonald of Clanranald. Mac Mhic Ailean.

      MacDonnell of Glengarry. Mac Mhic Alasdair.

      MacDonald of Keppoch. Mac Mhic Raghnaill.

      McDonell of Antrim chiefs hold the title Earl of Antrim. Mac Somhairle Buidhe.

      Clan MacAlister. MacAlasdair.

These are the other branches of the Clan Donald without extant chiefs:

      MacDonald of Ardnamurchan or MacIain of Ardnamurchan. Mac Iain Aird nam Murachan.

      MacDonald of Lochalsh now part of the Macdonalds of Sleat.

      MacDonald of Glencoe Mac Iain Abrach.

      MacDonald of Dunnyveg or McDonnells of the Glens or Clan Donald South. Mac Iain Mhoir.






Map of Dál Riata at its height, c. 580–600. Later territory of King Somerled ancestor of the MacDonalds. Pictish regions are marked in yellow.



Origins of the Clan

The Norse-Gaelic Clan Donald traces its descent from Domhnall mac Raghnaill (d. circa 1250), whose father Reginald or Ranald was styled “King of the Isles” and “Lord of Argyll and Kintrye”. Ranald’s father, Somerled was styled “King of the Hebrides”, and was killed campaigning against Malcolm IV of Scotland at the Battle of Renfrew in 1164. Clan Donald shares a descent from Somerled with Clan MacDougall, who trace their lineage from his elder son,Blake Donald.

Gaelic tradition gave Somerled a Celtic descent in the male line, as the medieval Seanachies traced his lineage through a long line of ancestors back to Colla Uais and Conn of the Hundred Battles. Thus Clan Donald claimed to be both Clann Cholla and Siol Chuinn (Children of Colla and Seed of Conn). Possibly the oldest piece of poetry attributed to the MacDonalds is a brosnachadh (an incitement to battle) which was said to have been written in 1411, on the day of the Battle of Harlaw. The first lines of the poem begin “A Chlanna Cuinn cuimhnichibh / Cruas an am na h-iorghaile,” (Ye children of Conn remember hardihood in the time of battle). A later poem made to John of Islay (1434 – 1503), last of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, proclaims “Cennus Ghaoidheal do Chlainn Cholla, coir a fhogra,” (The Headship of the Gael to the family of Colla, it is right to proclaim it), giving MacDonald’s genealogy back to Colla Uais.

However a recent DNA study has shown that Somerled may have been of Norse descent in his male line. 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. This distinct Y-chromosome found in Scotland has been regarded as showing Norse descent in the British Isles. According to the Clan Donald DNA Project about 22% of tested participants have this signature of Somerled.



Scottish-Norwegian War

The MacDonalds had always supported Norway. However, this alliance broke when the Norwegians were defeated at the Battle of Largs in 1263 by Scottish forces. Norway’s King Haakon was defeated and his fleet was wrecked by the skilled manoeuvres of King Alexander III of Scotland and the Clan MacDougall. Three years later, the Norwegians submitted their last islands to the Scottish crown. Aonghas Mór, the son of Domhnall, then made peace with King Alexander III of Scotland.



Wars of Scottish Independence



MacDonald, Lord of the Isles

In the 14th century during the Wars of Scottish Independence the MacDonalds fought with Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. It was Donald’s great grandson, Angus Og of Islay who was the 6th Lord of the Isles who sheltered King Robert the Bruce. Angus led a small band of Islesmen at the Battle of Bannockburn. In recognition of Clan Donalds support King Robert the Bruce proclaimed that Clan Donald would always occupy the honored position on the right wing of the Scottish army.



Lord of the Isles begins

The clan takes its name ‘Donald’ from the name of the 1st Lord of the Isles who was the grandson of King Somerled who lived until 1269. Donald’s son was the original ‘Mac’ which means ’son of’. It was Donald’s great grandson, Angus Og who was the 6th Lord of the Isles who sheltered King Robert the Bruce. In recognition of Clan Donalds support King Robert the Bruce proclaimed that Clan Donald would always occupy the honored position on the right wing of the Scottish army.

In 1380 the Clan MacLean, Clan MacLeod and Clan Mackinnon were together all defeated in battle by Donald Macdonald, Lord of the Isles, who vindicated his right as Lord of the Isles.



15th century

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, Domhnall 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 Donald in preventing the Duke of Albany and his army of Scottish Lowlanders from claiming the position for himself. However by 1415 the Earldom of Ross was lost as Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany had seized Dingwall Castle and Easter Ross. Domhnall prepared for war and proclaimed himself “Lord of Ross”. Although Albany appointed his own son John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan as the new Earl of Ross. However, later the MacDonald chiefs would again 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.

Clan Conflicts

      Battle of Dingwall, 1411, The Clan MacKay are defeated by Clan Donald. They later joined forces and fought at the Battle of Harlaw.

      Battle of Split Allegiances, 1429, This conflict was between forces led by Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross, 3rd Lord of the Isles and the Royalist army of King James I of Scotland.

      Battle of Inverlochy (1431), While chief Alexander MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross was imprisoned by King James I, the Clan MacDonald were led by Donald Balloch, the nephew of Alexander. The MacDonalds were victorious in defeating the Earl of Mar’s army.

      Battle of Blar-na-Pairc, 1477, Fought between the Clan MacDonald and Clan MacKenzie.

      Battle of Bloody Bay 1480. The battle was fought between John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross, Lord of the Isles and chief of Clan Donald (Eoin MacDomhnaill) against his son Angus Og Macdonald (Aonghas Óg ). John MacDonald of Islay, chief of Clan Donald was supported by men from the Clan MacLean, Clan MacLeod, and Clan MacNeil. He was opposed by his son, Angus Og Macdonald, who was supported Allan Macruari, chief of the Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald.  and Domhnall Mac Aonghais (Donald Mac Angus) chief of the Clan MacDonald of Keppoch

      Battle of Skibo and Strathfleet, 1480, John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross invaded Sutherlandshire and fought against men of the Clan Sutherland and Clan Murray.

      Battle of Drumchatt, 1497, In 1495 King James assembled an army at Glasgow. Then on May 18 many of the Highland Chiefs made their submissions to him, including the MacKenzie and Munro chiefs. Soon after this Alexander MacDonald of Lochalsh and his clan rebelled against the King. He invaded the fertile lands of Ross-shire where he was defeated in battle by the Clan Munro and Clan MacKenzie at a place called Drumchatt where he was driven out of Ross-shire.



16th century



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



Lord of the Isles ends

The position of Lord of the Isles which the MacDonald chief had held since the 13th century had been revoked in 1495. However the MacDonalds remained a powerful clan and retained much of their lands until much violence broke out in the middle of the 16th century.

Clan Conflicts

      Battle of Flodden Field, 1513, During the Anglo-Scottish Wars the son of Alexander MacDonald of Lochalsh led the Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh against the English army. On his return he attempted to take control of the government-held Urquhart Castle.

      Battle of the Shirts, 1544, The Clan MacDonald of Clanranald fought against the Clan Fraser at the on the shores of Loch Lochy. Legend has it that only five Frasers and eight MacDonalds survived.

      Battle of the Spoiling Dyke, 1578 MacDonalds of Uist and the Clan MacLeod.

      Battle of the Western Isles, 1586, Fought on the Isle of Jura, between the Clan MacDonald of Sleat and the Clan Maclean.

      Battle of the Isle of Islay, 1598, Fought between the Clan Donald and Clan Maclean on the Isle of Islay.



17th Century & The Civil War

      Battle of Siol Tormoit, 1601, Fought between the Clan MacDonald of Sleat and the Clan MacLeod. The MacLeods were defeated.

      Battle of Morar, 1602, Fought between the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry and the Clan Mackenzie.

      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 MacColla 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 MacColla’s men ravaged the Campbell lands, the two sides met at the Battle of Inverlochy (1645). This battle was between the Scottish Argyll government forces of Clan Campbell led by Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll and the Royalist forces of the Marquess of Montrose mainly made up of Irish O’Kanes, O’Neills, Ulster Irish Clan MacDonald, Clan MacLean and other MacDonalds. Through cunning tactics the Royalist force of 1500 MacDonalds, Irish and MacLeans defeated the Argyll Campbell force of 3000.

      In 1645 during the Civil War, Kinlochaline Castle of the Clan MacInnes was attacked and burned by MacDonalds serving under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose.

      Battle of Mulroy, 1668, The Clan MacDonald of Keppoch and Clan Cameron defeat the Clan MacKintosh and Clan MacKenzie

      Massacre of Glencoe, 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 & Jacobite Uprisings

      During the Jacobite risings of 1715 the British Government forces, including some units drawn from Clan Campbell fought against the Jacobite rebels, made up, amongst others, of the men of Clan Donald who were under MacDonald of Keppoch and the Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald whose chief was killed. However there were in fact some Campbells who took the Jacobites’s side, led by the son of Campbell of Glenlyon whose father had commanded the government troops at the Massacre of Glencoe 22 years earlier. The two young men buried the hatchet and swore to be brothers in arms, fighting side by side in the Battle of Sheriffmuir. The British forces defeated the Jacobites.

      The Clan Donald fought on the side of the Jacobites during the 1745-1746 uprisings with three regiments from Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald, 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 charged the government lines before them.

      The Clan MacDonald of Sleat branch did not take part in the Jacobite Uprisings therefore the Sleat possessions remained intact.



MacDonald’s Castles

Castles that have been in possession of the MacDonalds over the centuries have included:

      Finlaggan Castle is located on an island, on Loch Finlaggan, on the Isle of Islay. It was the seat of the chief of Clan Donald, Lord of the Isles.

      Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye was built in 1825 and today houses a MacDonald Clan centre which is open to the public.

      Knock Castle (Isle of Skye) is a ruined Macdonald castle located on the Isle of Skye.

      Duntulm Castle is a ruined Macdonald castle located on the Isle of Skye.

      Aros Castle is a ruined MacDonald castle located on the Isle of Mull.

      Claig Castle is a ruined MacDonald castle located on the Isle of Jura.

      Kildonan Castle is a ruined MacDonald castle located on the Isle of Arran.

      Ardtornish Castle is a ruined MacDonald castle located on the peninsuala Morvern.

      Dunaverty Castle is a ruined MacDonald castle, off the coast of Kintyre, known as Blood Rock because of the incident known as the Dunaverty Massacre which took place there.

      Castle Tioram, Loch Moidart, Lochaber was the seat of the Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald.

      Borve Castle was another castle of the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald.

      Ormiclate Castle was another castle of the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald.

      Invergarry Castle, built on the Raven’s Rock was the seat of the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry. .

      Strome Castle on the shore of Loch Carron was an earlier castle of the MacDonnells of Glengarry.

      Dunluce Castle in Ireland was the seat of the Clan MacDonnell of Antrim, Earls of Antrim.

      Glenarm Castle in Ireland was another castle of the MacDonnells of Antrim.

      Dunyvaig Castle on the Isle of Islay was the seat of the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg. 

      Dunscaith Castle on the Isle of Skye was the seat of the Clan MacDonald of Sleat.

      Mingarry Castle in Kilchoan, Lochaber was the seat of the Clan MacDonald of Ardnamurchan.



Clan Chiefs

The current chief of Clan Donald is the Right Honourable Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, 8th Lord Macdonald, Chief of the Name and Arms of Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald and 34th hereditary Chief of Clan Donald. He descends directly from the ancient Kings and Lords of the Isles.

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




Donald Dubh


Rebelled against the king of Scotland but made an alliance with the king of England.

Aonghas Óg


‘Bastard’ son of John of Islay. Last MacDonald Lord of the Isles.

John of Islay, Earl of Ross


Fought at the Battle of Bloddy Bay against his son.

Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross


His other sons were Celestine of Lochalsh and Hugh of Sleat.

Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles


Fought at the Battle of Harlaw.

John of Islay, Lord of the Isles


His other sons were John Mor (Earls of Antrim) and Alastair Carroch of Keppoch.

Angus Og of Islay


Fought at the Battle of Bannockburn. Other son was Ian Fraoch of Glencoe.

Aonghas Mór (Angus Mor MacDonald)


His other sons were Alastair Og (deposed) and John Sprangach of Ardnamurchan.

Domhnall mac Raghnaill (Donald)


From who the Clan Donald takes its name.

Raghnall mac Somhairle (Ranald)


Other son was Ruairi of Clanranald.



Killed at the Battle of Renfrew.



Clan profile

      Gaelic Name: MacDhomhnuill.

      Motto: Per mare per terras (By sea and by land).

      Plant Badge: Heather.

      Lands: The Western Isles.

      Origin of Name: Gaelic, Domhnull (World ruler).



Septs of Clan Donald

      Septs of Clan Donald include the following. Other branches of Clan Macdonald have different septs.

Alexander, Beath, Beaton, Bethune, Bowie, Colson, Connall, Connell,Cram,Crum, Danalds, Darroch, Donald, Donaldson, Donillson, Donnelson, Drain, Galbraith, Galt, Gilbride, Gorrie, Gowan, Gowrie, Hawthorn, Hewison, Houstoun, Howison, Hughson, Hutcheonson, Hutchinson, Hutchison, Isles, Kellie, Kelly, Kinnell, Mac a’ Challies, MacBeth, MacBeath, MacBheath, MacBride, MacBryde,  MacCaishe, MacCall, MacCash, MacCeallaich, MacCodrum, MacColl, MacConnell, MacCook, MacCooish, MacCrain, MacCuag, MacCuish, MacCuitein, MacCutcheon, MacDaniell, Macdrain, MacEachern, MacElfrish, MacElheran, MacGorrie, MacGorry, MacGoun, MacGowan, MacGown, MacHugh, MacHutchen, MacHutcheon, MacIan, Macilreach, Macilriach, Macilleriach, Macilrevie, Macilvride, Macilwraith, MacKean, MacKellachie, MacKellaig, MacKelloch, MacKiggan, MacKinnell, MacLairish, MacLardie, MacLardy, MacLarty, MacLaverty, MacLeverty, MacMurchie, MacMurdo, MacMurdoch, MacO’Shannaig, MacQuistan, MacQuisten, MacRaith, MacRorie, MacRory, MacRuer, MacRurie(MacRury- Contester of the Lord of the Isles), MacShannachan, MacSorley, MacSporran, MacSwan, MacWhannell, Martin, May, McReyolds, McRuer, Murchie, Murchison, Murdoch, Murdoson, O’Drain, O’May, O’Shannachan, O’Shaig, O’Shannaig, Patton, Purcell, Revie, Reoch, Riach, Rorison, Shannon, Sorley, Sporran, Train, Whannel, Wheelans, Wheelens, Whillans, Whillens, Wilkie, Wilkinson, Wilkins, Willans, Willens

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