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MacDonnell of the Glens

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Title: MacDonnell of the Glens  
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MacDonnell of the Glens

The MacDonnells of Antrim (Gaelic: Mac Domhnaill; Ulster-Scots: M'Donnals),[1] also known as the MacDonnells of the Glens, are a branch of the primarily Scottish-based Clan Donald in Ireland. Initially part of Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg (Clan Donald South), the MacDonnells of Antrim became their own branch in 1558 when Somhairle Buidhe MacDonnell obtained the lordship of the territory in Ireland from James MacDonald, 6th chief of the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg.[2]



The MacDonnells of Antrim are descended from John Mor MacDonald, chief of the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg. John Mor MacDonald was the second son of Good John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, 6th chief of Clan Donald, through John of Islays second marriage to Princess Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert II of Scotland.

John Mor MacDonald married Margery Byset, daughter of the Mac Eoin Bissett, Lord of the Glens of Antrim. Although the MacDonnells would a century and a half later claim that her dowry included the lordship itself, this is false because the Mac Eoin Bissetts remained in possession of it into the early or mid 16th century.[3] However following the death in battle, in support of his friends and kinsmen the O'Neills against the O'Donnells, of the last known Mac Eoin Bissett in 1522,[4] the recently arrived MacDonnells appear to have started making their own gains in the region and eventually used the earlier marriage to claim they had rights to the Bissett lordship. The MacDonnells already possessed Dunnyvaig Castle on the Isle of Islay and lands in Kintyre, Scotland.

The MacDonnells of Antrim did not become a separate branch of Clan Donald until 1558, when they were part of Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg, when Somhairle Buidhe MacDonnell obtained the lordship of the territory in Ireland from James MacDonald, 6th of Dunnyveg.[2]

15th century

John Mor was assassinated by James Campbell in 1427. John's son Donald Balloch MacDonald, the second chief, led the clan when they fought and won at the first Battle of Inverlochy (1431). This was in support of their cousin Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross, 3rd Lord of the Isles and 8th chief of Clan Donald. The MacDonalds were supported by the Clan Cameron. They fought against the Royal forces of the Earl of Mar who was supported by the Clan MacKintosh.

The third Chief, Sir John Mor, with his heir John Cathanach and three grandsons, were apprehended through the treachery of the Macdonald of Ardnamurchan and were executed in Edinburgh for treason. One of his sons, Alexander, fled to Ireland. MacIian of Ardnamurchan, who had also betrayed Alexander MacDonald of Lochalsh, was himself killed in 1518 by those who he had betrayed.

16th century

On the death of James MacDonald, the sixth chief of the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg and Antrim, the Antrim Glens were seized by one of his younger brothers, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Somhairle Buidh:Somhairle of the yellow hair).

In 1565 under Sorley Boy MacDonnell the Clan MacDonnell of Antrim and Dunnyveg fought the Battle of Glentasie against Shane O'Neill in Ireland.

Alaster, the eldest son of Sorley Boy was killed in 1585, his head was placed on a spike at Baile-atha-cliath (Dublin).[5]

17th century


A peculiar situation exists in the case of the modern chief of MacDonnell of Antrim. In Gaelic Ireland he is known as the MacDonnell of the Glens, and the currently recognized Chief of the Name in Ireland is Randal MacDonnell of the Glens.[6] His style he takes after his ancestors the former Bissett lords of the Glens.

However, the chiefship is now also claimed by the current Earl of Antrim, but with no legal basis, as he is not a male line descendant of a MacDonnell and is originally surnamed Kerr, being a male line descendant of the 3rd son, Lord Mark Robert Kerr, of William Kerr, 5th Marquess of Lothian. Yet he has been recognized, in spite of the Irish decision and Gaelic law, by the current High Council of Clan Donald, which is based in Scotland and has no authority over the Irish sept.


See also



  • Chambers, Anne, At Arm's Length: Aristocrats in the Republic of Ireland. New Island Books. 2nd revised edition, 2005.
  • Curley, Walter J.P., Vanishing Kingdoms: The Irish Chiefs and their Families. Dublin: Lilliput Press. 2004.
  • Ellis, Peter Berresford, Erin's Blood Royal: The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland. Palgrave. Revised edition, 2002.
  • Irish Pedigrees. Dublin: James Duffy and Co. 5th edition, 1892.


  • MacDonald Family Tree

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