The Proud History of Clan Donald
Clan 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 clan 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.
Clan Donald Today
Although Clan Donald no longer controls the vast areas of Scotland that once formed the "Lordship of the Isles." At the end of the 15th century Clan Donald lands were divided among various Highland clans. Over the succeeding centuries many were sold or deeded to the government. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Lord Macdonald owned over 130,000 acres on the Sleat Peninsula on the Isle of Skye. Upon the death of the late Lord Alexander Macdonald in 1970, his son Godfrey inherited not only the peerage, but also the High Chiefship of Clan Donald and became the Right Honorable Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, Lord Macdonald.
He also inherited the Highland estate on Skye on which is situated Armadale Castle, and the punishing "death duties" that could only be met by selling off the estate. The Clan Donald Lands Trust was formed to save part of the estate for use as a clan center for Clan Donald clansmen throughout the world. Although forced to sell some of the lands, Lord Macdonald with the generous financial support from a small group of clansmen in the United States and Canada was able to save over 18,000 acres of the original estate including Armadale Castle.
The Castle which had deteriorated over the years, has been stabilized. The original wing, which dates to the early 1700's, has been renovated to house the Museum of the Isles. The museum, including the audio visual theater, presents the history of Gaeldom in the Highlands and Isles of Scotland which had at its center Clan Donald.
The interpretation depicts the Lordship of the Isles which provided a flourishing political and cultural unity to western Scotland at a time when the English and Scottish thrones were in turmoil. The library located nearby in the restored Gardener's cottage contains documents and rare manuscripts dating from the earliest times of the clan.
The stables of the estate have been completely rebuilt to house a restaurant and gift shop as well as two luxury apartments which are available for rental to visiting clansmen. Six cottages situated on the hillside above the center are also available year round for rental by visiting clan members. The once famous gardens and woodland walks of the estate have been restored and today one can enjoy flowers, shrubbery and trees, some of which were collected from around the world over a century ago.
With the dedication and opening of the stables in May, 1984 and the completion of the museum in the old section of Armadale Castle (occupied at one time by Flora MacDonald and her husband Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh) a center has been established which displays the greatness that was and is Clan Donald.
Clan Donald USA, Inc. is a family organization embracing the MacDonalds and all of the other surnames that are recognized as variants, branches or adherents of the greatest of the Highland clans. Unlike Clan Societies in Scotland and the Societies of several other clans in the US, Clan Donald USA has always considered itself an extension of the Clan across the sea.
Reginald H. Macdonald of Kingsburgh, OBE, the great, great grandson of Flora McDonald, upon being appointed High Commissioner by the late Lord Macdonald, established a United States extension of the Clan in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1956.
In 1976 Ellice McDonald, Jr, CBE of Delaware was appointed High Commissioner by Lord Godfrey Macdonald and with the assistance and cooperation of a few commissioners and clansmen, the clan began to prosper. He incorporated Clan Donald USA, Inc. in the State of Delaware, divided the country into 13 regions (since adjusted several times) and appointed regional and state commissioners. The national Clan Donald magazine, "By Sea By Land," was published and regional and state newsletters were distributed. Over the next following years, Clan Donald USA grew from a handful of members to nearly 4,000 families today.
Today Clan Donald USA is the largest Clan organization in America. By participating in the Highland games throughout the United States and by sponsoring local gatherings and events, Clan Donald members are able to meet new "family" members and share traditions and a common heritage which has extended for almost a thousand years.?
Fàilte gu Clann Dòmhnall - Welcome to Clan Donald
Clan Donald USA, Inc. is a nation-wide organization of almost 4,000 families who trace their ancestry to any of the branches of Clann Domhnaill or to the more than 156 names and affiliated families which constitute the total clan. Clan Donald USA embraces all the MacDonalds and other surnames that are recognized as branches or adherents of the greatest of the Highland clans.
Clan Donald USA is an affiliation of persons who qualify by reason of blood, kinship, marriage or legal adoption. Name alone does not count. Clanship is a family matter that transcends nationality, and we regard ourselves as an extended family.
We are led by a fine team of clans-folk -- all appointed by, or by the authority of, our High Chief, Lord Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald and the High Council of Clan Donald Chiefs composed of the Right Honorable Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, Lord Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald; the Much Honored Sir Ian Bosville Macdonald of Sleat, Baronet of Nova Scotia, Chief of Clan Uisdein; the Much Honoured Aneas Ranald Euan MacDonell of Glengarry, Chief of Glengarry; the Much Honored Ranald Alexander Macdonald of Clanranald, the Captain and Chief of Clanranald; and the Right Honorable Alexander Randal Mark MacDonnell, the Earl of Antrim, Chief of Antrim.
We call ourselves "Clan Donald" rather than "Clan MacDonald" to recognize the diversity of names within our extended family. Even the name "MacDonald" has a variety of spellings -- MacDonald, McDonald, MacDonell, McDonnell, MacDaniel, MacConnell, MacWhannell, MacKinnell - as well as the anglicized versions of Donald, Donaldson, Connell and others.
Follow this link to check the full list of the Names and Adherents who are part of Clan Donald and see if you are eligible to join us. There is more on joining us below.
- Clan 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, Clan Conn (Clann Chuinn) and Clan Cholla.
- Our Viking heritage goes back to Ingiald "Ill-Ruler" and Olaf "Tree-Hewer" in 7th Century Sweden and Norway.
- This all 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.
Clan Donald Today:
- Clan Donald's achievements did not end in the 16th Century. The recent History of Clan Donald has been well worthy of the largest and once most-powerful clan in the Highlands.
- Clansmen from around the world have established and developed our internationally acclaimed International Centre on ancestral clan lands on the Sleat peninsula on Isle of Skye in Scotland.
- In the United States since 1956 when the late Lord Alexander Macdonald of Macdonald established Clan Donald in the USA to serve as an extension of the clan in the US we have grown to our current position as the one of largest clan organizations in the country today.
What We Do:
- Clan Donald USA exists to help our members celebrate our common heritage, to preserve the customs and traditions of our ancestors, and to encourage the accomplishments of ourselves and our children.
- There are many Benefits of belonging to Clan Donald USA. This linked page outlines a few of them.
- We also have a source of unique Clan Donald-related merchandise from our Central Ordering Service .
- We seek to provide motivation and opportunity for those of Clan Donald blood in the US to actively share in this heritage through a variety of activities, communications, genealogical research and general camaraderie.
How to Join Us:
- If you find a connection in our list of Names and Adherents, you believe that you are eligible to join us, and you are interested in what we do ...
- Then, please contact our National Membership Secretary by e-mail inquiry form, or write to one of our National or Regional officers to request an enrollment application, or for further assistance.
- Our dues are $30.00 for a family Annually or $500.00 for a Life Membership.