Domhnall mac Raghnaill

Domhnall mac Raghnaill
Domhnall mac Raghnaill
Born c. Late 1100s
Died c. mid-1200s
Other names Donald, son of Ranald
Title Unclear, perhaps Lord of Islay
Spouse Unknown
Children Aonghas Mór

Domhnall mac Raghnaill was a Hebridean noble in the late 12th- and early 13th-century. He is the eponymous progenitor of Clan Donald (Clann Dhòmhnaill, "Children of Donald"). For this reason some traditions accumulated around him in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern period. Despite his role as the historical figurehead of one of the world's most famous kindreds and surnames, there is almost no contemporary evidence yielding certain information about his life.

His place in the genealogical tradition of the MacDonalds is the only reason for believing in his existence, a genealogical tradition that not all historians have accepted. Beyond his actual existence, there is little that is certain. Three entries in Irish annals may discuss him, though he is never named; a praise poem surviving from the Early Modern period may be descended from a poem originally written for him; a miracle in a Manx chronicle may or may not have Domhnall as its subject; and a doubtful charter surviving from a similarly late era was allegedly issued by him.



Domhnall was, reputedly, the son of Raghnall (fl. 1192) son of Somhairle (died 1164). The 17th-century History of the Macdonalds by Hugh MacDonald of Sleat claimed that Domhnall's father Raghnall had married a daughter or sister of the early 14th-century hero Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. Sellar suggested that this tradition may have derived from a garbled version of reality. Perhaps, Sellar argued, his mother was a daughter of William fitz Duncan. The latter was another famous Earl of Moray, but one who lived in the 12th- rather than the 14th-century.[1]

In a charter to Paisley Abbey Domhnall's father Raghnall is given a wife named Fonia (Fionnghuala?),[2] though there is no direct proof that this was the name of Domhnall's mother. Domhnall's father Raghnall, carrying the legacy of his own father Somhairle, was a powerful Argyll and Hebridean magnate who, depending on context, bore the titles "King of the Isles", "Lord of Argyll and Kintyre", and "lord of the Hebrides (Inchegal).[3] His father's legacy was such that he became the ancestor figure of both Clan Ruaidhri and Clan Donald.[3]

Possible evidence of life

Annals of Ulster

There are no certain contemporary notices of Domhnall, and Domhnall's existence is not explicitly attested in any reliable contemporary source datable to any particular year. However, in 1212, Domhnall may have been one of the "sons of Raghnall" who suffered some kind of military defeat at the hands of the men of the Isle of Skye. The Annals of Ulster, reporting for the year 1209, recorded that:

A battle was fought by the sons of Raghnall, son of Somhairle, against the men of Skye, wherein slaughter was inflicted upon them.[4]

A similar report from the same source has the "sons of Raghnaill" join in a raid on the Irish city of Derry led by Tomás Mac Uchtraigh, brother of Alan, Lord of Galloway. Under the year 1212 it related that:

Tomás Mac Uchtraigh, with the sons of Raghnall, son of Somhairle, came to Derry of St. Colum-Cille with six and seventy ships and the town was greatly destroyed by them and Inis-Eogain was completely destroyed by them and by the Cenél Conaill.[5]

Two years later, a similar raid by Tomás is mentioned by the same source, though the only "son of Raghnall" reported as present that time was Domhnall's older brother, Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill.[6]

Domhnall mac Raghnaill, Rosg Mall

A recently rediscovered poem — though from a 17th century manuscript written by Niall MacMhuirich — was addressed to one Domhnall mac Raghnaill, Rosg Mall ("Domhnall mac Raghnaill, of the Stately Gaze"). It is possible that this may refer to the same Domhnall mac Raghnaill, a claim made by its recent editor.[7] The poem gives little information. Besides associating him with Lennox, a quatrain addressed him as:

Ó Ghothfruigh ó hÁmhlaibh Fhinn,   Descendant of Gofraidh, descendant of Amhlaibh Fionn;,  
a ghallmhaoir ó thuinn go tuinn,   his Gall stewards from sea to sea;  
fleasga donna a ndiaidh an Ghoill,   following the Gall are stout youths;  
do chloinn Bhriain is Cholla is Chuinn.   of the progeny of Brian and Colla and Conn.[8]

Gall is a word that originally meant "Foreigner" or "Norseman" (later "Lowlander"), and might be meant to refer to someone from the region of Innse Gall, i.e. from the Hebrides. It is not clear who Gofraidh or Amhlaibh Fionn are, but they may refer to some of the Norse-Gaelic rulers of Mann and Dublin, possibly Amhlaibh Conung and Gofraidh Crobhán.[9]

Miracle from the Manx chronicle

The Chronicle of the Kings of Man related a story that may have involved Domhnall. In 1249, according to the text, following the death of Haraldr Óláfsson King of Mann, the new ruler Haraldr Guðrøðarson persecuted one of the old king's favourite vassals. This persecuted vassal, described as an "aged man", was named as Dofnaldus, i.e. Domhnall. Domhnall and his young son were subsequently imprisoned. Owing to the intervention of St Mary, Domhnall and his son managed to escape, and brought their thanks and story to the Abbey of St Mary of Rushen, the monastic house at which the Chronicle was kept.[10]

Possible charter

There is a charter allegedly issued by Domhnall to Paisley Abbey, found in the cartulary of that abbey.[11] In this charter Domhnall is given no title, instead merely described by his genealogy: Douenaldus filius Reginaldi filii Sumerledi, "Domhnall, son of Raghnall, son of Somhairle".[12] This charter is thought by some historians to be spurious, mainly because the witness list and wording of the charter are, in the words of Alex Woolf, "suspiciously similar" to those in a genuine charter of Domhnall's son Aonghas Mór. Presumably, the explanation is that the monks of Paisley Abbey at some later stage may have thought it in their interest to replicate Aonghas' charter in order to add the authority of the founder of Clan Donald to their land rights.[13]


In 1247 Maurice fitz Gerald, Justiciar of Ireland, invaded the territory of Maoilsheachlainn Ó Domhnaill, King of Tír Chonaill, defeating and killing this Irish king at the Battle of Ballyshannon.[14] According to the Annals of Loch Cé, one of Maoilsheachlainn's allies who died at Ballyshannon was a Mac Somhairle, a "Descendant of Somhairle":

Mac Somhairle, king of Argyll, and the nobles of the Cenel-Conaill besides, were slain.[15]

The Irish historian Seán Duffy suggested that this "Mac Somhairle" was Domhnall mac Raghnall. Duffy's main argument is that the 17th-century Book of Clanranald relayed a tradition that Domhnall had been invited by the Irish at Tara to come "to take the headship of the Western Isles and the greater part of the Gaels".[16]

McDonald believed that this "Mac Somhairle" referred to Donnchadh mac Dubhghaill, while Sellar thought that the clear favourite for this "Mac Somhairle" should be Domhnall's older brother Ruaidhri.[17] Alex Woolf more recently offered an extended case for the latter view, arguing on a number of grounds that Ruaidhri is by far the best candidate.[18]

Assuming that Domhnall is not the "dead man at Ballyshannon", the date of Domhnall's death cannot be fixed. MacDonald tradition placed it in 1289, a tradition usually rejected by modern historians as falling far too late.[19] R. Andrew McDonald suggested that Domhnall's death must have taken place before 1263, when King Haakon collected the allegiance of Aonghas Mór in the Hebrides.[20] Alex Woolf argued that it very likely must have occurred before February 1256, when Domhnall's son Aonghas made a grant to Paisley Abbey is his own name as "Lord of Islay", suggesting at the very least that Domhnall had retired.[21]


Domhnall's main legacy is being the eponymous founding figure of the famous MacDonald kindred of Islay.[22] Early modern MacDonald tradition thought of Domhnall as a "Lord of the Isles", like his descendants. One such tradition related that King Alexander II of Scotland sent a messenger to Domhnall, requesting that he hold the Isles from Alexander rather than the "King of Denmark"; Domhnall was said to have responded that his predecessors

Had their rights of the Isles from the crown of Denmark, which were renewed by the present king thereof.[23]

This anachronistic portrayal of the struggle between King Haakon IV of Norway and the Scottish crown for overlordship of the western seaboard of Scotland, giving Domhnall such a senior role, does not fit with the contemporary evidence. When it was written down, Denmark ruled Norway and the MacDonalds were well established as the rulers the Isles. However, during most of his life Domhnall was probably subordinate to his older brother, Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill, and as Alex Woolf has said "there is little or no explicit contemporary evidence that Domhnall was a significant figure during his lifetime".[24]

Nevertheless, Domhnall appears to have left his son Aonghas a lordship of respectable size centred on Islay, while his reputedly younger son Alasdair Mòr appears to been left lands in Kintyre. According to a praise-poem written for this son, the realm the latter inherited from Domhnall included "every house from Mull to Kintyre" (gach teach ó Mhuile go Maoil).[25]


  1. ^ Sellar, "Hebridean Sea-Kings", p. 200.
  2. ^ Sellar, "Hebridean Sea-Kings", p. 195; McLeod & Bateman, Duanaire na Sracaire, p. 503 states, without citing evidence, that this woman was a grand-daughter of Fergus, King of Galloway.
  3. ^ a b Sellar, "Hebridean Sea-Kings", p. 194, table ii.
  4. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 1209.2 (trans.).
  5. ^ s.a. 1212.4 (trans).
  6. ^ Annals of Ulster, s.a. 1214.2 (trans).
  7. ^ McLeod & Bateman, Duanaire na Sracaire, p. 75.
  8. ^ McLeod & Bateman, Duanaire na Sracaire, p. 79.
  9. ^ McLeod & Bateman, Duanaire na Sracaire, pp. 502-3.
  10. ^ Woolf, Dead Man", p. 78.
  11. ^ Mcdonald, Kingdom of the Isles, pp. 148-9.
  12. ^ Sellar, "Hebridean Sea-Kings", p. 200, n. 57; the charter is Paisley Registrum, 126.
  13. ^ Woolf, "Dead Man", p. 78; Sellar, "Hebridean Sea-Kings", p. 200; see also Duncan & Brown, "Argyll and the Isles", p. 198, n. 8.
  14. ^ Woolf, "Dead Man", p. 77.
  15. ^ Annals of Loch Cé, s.a. 1247.7, available here.
  16. ^ Duffy, "Bruce Brothers", p. 56.
  17. ^ McDonald, Kingdom of the Isles, p. 94.
  18. ^ Woolf, "Dead Man", pp. 77-85; see also Woolf, "Age of Sea Kings", p. 108.
  19. ^ McDonald, Kingdom of the Isles, pp. 95-6.
  20. ^ McDonald, Kingdom of the Isles, p. 96.
  21. ^ Munro & Munro, Acts, p. 280; Woolf, "Dead Man", p. 79.
  22. ^ McDonald, Kingdom of the Isles, p. 96; Sellar, "Hebridean Sea-Kings", p. 194, table ii.
  23. ^ Quoted in McDonald, Kingdom of the Isles, p. 95.
  24. ^ Woolf, "Dead Man", p. 78.
  25. ^ McLeod & Bateman, Duanaire na Sracaire, p. 83.


  • Anderson, Alan Orr (1922), Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286, ii, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd 
  • Duffy, Seán (2002), "The Bruce Brothers and the Irish Sea World, 1306-29", in Duffy, Seán, Robert the Bruce's Irish Wars: The Invasions of Ireland, 1306-1329, Stroud: Tempus, pp. 45–70, ISBN 0-7524-1974-9 
  • Duncan, A. A. M.; Brown, A. L. (1956–7), Argyll and the Isles in the Earlier Middle Ages, (PDF), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Edinburgh) 90: 192–220, 
  • McDonald, R. Andrew (1997), The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard, c. 1100-c.1336, Scottish Historical Review Monograph Series, No. 4, East Linton: Tuckwell Press, ISBN 1-898410-85-2 
  • McLeod, Wilson; Bateman, Meg, eds. (2007), Duanaire na Sracaire: The Songbook of the Pillagers: Anthology of Scotland's Gaelic Poetry to 1600, Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-181-X 
  • Munro, R. W.; Munro (2004), "MacDonald family [MacDhomnaill, MacDonald de Ile (per. c.1300–c.1500), magnates"], Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, retrieved 2010-12-18 
  • Munro, Jean, & Munro, R. W. (eds.), Acts of the Lords of the Isles, 1336-1493, (Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1986)
  • Sellar, W. D. H. (2000), "Hebridean Sea-Kings: The Successors of Somerled, 1164–1316", in Cowan, E. J.; McDonald, R. Andrew, Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Medieval Era, Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press, pp. 187–218, ISBN 0-85976-608-X 
  • Woolf, Alex (2004), "The Age of Sea-Kings: 900-1300", in Omand, Donald, The Argyll Book, Edinburgh: Birlinn, pp. 94–109 
  • Woolf, Alex (2007), "A Dead Man at Ballyshannon", in Duffy, Seán, The World of the Galloglass: War and Society in the North Sea Region, 1150–1600, Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp. 77–85, ISBN 1-85182-946-6 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mac Raghnaill — in a Gaelic type, note the lenited g in the name (gh) once appeared in Irish orthography with a dot above it, as pictured. Gender …   Wikipedia

  • Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill — Infobox Person name = Ruaidhri mac Raghnaill other names = Ruairi, son of Ranald caption = birth date = c. Late 1100s birth place = death date = 1247 (?) death place = Ballyshannon (?) death cause = Battle (?) known = occupation = title = Lord of …   Wikipedia

  • Raghnall mac Somhairle — (Anglicisation: Ranald son of Somerled ) (sometimes referred to as Reginald ) (d.1207) was a son of Somerled and Ragnhildis, daughter of Olaf I of Man. Raghnall succeeded his father, inheriting lands in Kintyre and Islay.Balfour, p. 30 32.] He… …   Wikipedia

  • Donnchadh of Argyll — (Duncan of Argyll) Born before 1175 Died Between 1244 and 1248 Other names Donnchad mac Dubgaill Donnchadh of Lorne Title Lord of Argyll, Lord of Lorne …   Wikipedia

  • Aonghas Mór — Infobox Person name = Aonghas Mór a Íle ( Angus Mór of Islay ) other names = Angus de Hyle Angus Mor MacDonald caption = birth date = birth place = death date = 1294 x1295 death place = death cause = known = occupation = title = Lord of Islay… …   Wikipedia

  • Donald MacRagnald — Donald Mac Ragnald (gaëlique:Domhnall mac Raghnaill) (mort entre 1247 et 1269). Seigneur d Islay et prétendant au titre de Roi des Îles vers 1210 1230. Sommaire 1 Biographie 2 Postérité 3 Not …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Christina of Garmoran — Born late 13th century Died mid 14th century Nationality Scottish Spouse Duncan Children None Paren …   Wikipedia

  • Clan Macdonald of Sleat — Clann Ùisdein Crest badge …   Wikipedia

  • Crom Ua Donnubáin — An Crom Ua Donnubáin or Crom O Donovan (slain 1254) is the dynast recognized in all sources as the ancestor of all O Donovans later found in Carbery in County Cork, and later still in distant County Wexford in Leinster. Nothing is known for sure… …   Wikipedia

  • Clan Donald — Armes du grand chef (high chief) du clan Donald Le Clan Donald est l un des plus grands clans écossais. Le chef du clan, Lord MacDonald, porte le titre de Seigneur des Îles. Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.