Clan Donald Today
After the battle of Culloden (1746) many of Clan Donald were driven from their homelands and scattered all over the world. Instead of this being the end of this great family it was the beginning of its world wide influence. Clan Donald organizations can be found all over the world. The slogan of Clan Donald fits the lifestyle of our seafaring ancestors. In Latin it is “Per Mare Per Terras” or in Gaelic “Air Muir s’Air Tir” meaning By Sea By Land. They ruled the seas, islands, & peninsulas of Scotland’s Western coast because of their ability to quickly move armies with what they called birlinn naibhigs (or nyvaigs Gaelic for small ship or galley). The slogan is said to recall the mighty Somhairlidh (commonly rendered Somerled) who conveyed his armies in 160 nyvaigs “by sea” to assault “by land”. The ancient arms of “the Macdonald” have a black nyvaig in heraldry called a lymphad, and a red eagle. The earliest arms bearing the eagle were of Donald of Harlaw in 1411. One historian attributed the addition of the eagle to Donald of Harlaw’s claim to the Earldom of Ross.
The Coats of Arms, What They Are & What They Are NOT
Members of Clan Donald who proudly display Donald of Harlaw’s Coat of Arms should realize it is very much like proudly displaying the college diploma of a distant relative (very distant). You didn’t earn the diploma and it doesn’t reflect any knowledge or education of anyone other than the one to whom it was issued. Coats of Arms do not belong to a clan or individual members of a clan. Beware of peddlers of “clan histories” that attach the chief’s Coat of Arms” to decorate and give an air of authenticity to their research. Coats of Arms identified as “clan or family Coats of Arms” actually convey a lack of research on the part of both the buyer & the seller. Coats of Arms are literally the legal property of one individual with legal jurisdiction held by the Scottish Court of the Lord Lyons. For a significant sum of money you may matriculate your own Coat of Arms, but the Lord Lyons will not allow you to copy a distant ancestor’s Coat of Arms any more than you may copyright someone else’s copyrighted work. Case in point being the current Chief of the Keppoch branch of Clan Donald who persisted for 32 years before he was recognized the legitimate heir to the title. Clan Donald, USA’s official newsletter “By Sea By Land”recently featured an excellent article explaining the specific changes allowed by the Lord Lyons to matriculated arms by their heirs. But most of us (83% according to the Clan Donald DNA Project) do not have a proven direct line of descent from a matriculated Lord so we should not include their arms in our design. Displaying a chief’s coat of arms is not illegal outside of Scotland, but it is “a curious thing” to honor your ancestors by disregarding a significant part of their culture!
Clan Donald’s battle cry, “Fraoch Eilean” is Gaelic for Heathered Isle. The Macdonald full coat of arms are the property of “The Macdonald” who is currently Lord Godfrey Macdonald, Chief of Clan Donald. His coat of arms, or the modern coats of arms for each chief of each branch of Clan Donald should not be displayed without their permission under heraldic law as enforced by the Lord Lyons of Scotland. Lord Godfrey Macdonald has allowed the galley & eagle of the ancient Donald Macdonald of Harlaw coat of arms (shown here) to be displayed on flags wherever Clan Donald gathers, but this is not the Clan Donald Coat of Arms.
The Clan Crest
The clan crest evolved from antlers, horns, or a carving of an animal on the top (or crest) of the chief’s helmet. The cross, crosslet fitchee, gules is the Scottish Heraldry description of the unique cross that is exactly like St. Julian’s Cross held by a Right Hand, usually wearing a gauntlet. The belt encircling the crest takes the place of the Gaelic phrase “an cirean ceann cinneadh” (crest of the clan chief). The “belt” indicates the wearer is a member of the clan symbolized by the chief’s crest within the “belt”. The “belted” crest emblem became the pin used to hold a sprig of the plant badge in the clansman’s hat. Wearing the crest is the most appropriate way to show your pride in being of Clan Donald, as your ancestors have done for centuries.
The Clan Plant Badge
The plant badge for Clan Donald is heather. The emblem on the pin used to attach the plant badge became increasingly ornate. Eventually the pin itself became known as the badge or crest worn pinned to the cap. It is not appropriate for anyone, other than a clan chief, to wear eagle feathers pinned to their cap so it is best you just place a sprig of heather in your cap using your appropriate clan crest. One variation you may see is a white cockade or ribbon folded behind the clan crest to show your ancestors’ support of the Jacobite cause. Most, but not all branches of Clan Donald were Jacobites.
Modern members of Clan Donald are found in almost every nation of the world. Wearing a kilt made of your family tartan adorned with your clan crest, attending Scottish festivals and Highland Games, and teaching your children & grandchildren about their heritage are the most important things you can do to preserve our Clan Donald Heritage. Go through this web site to learn more about your ancestors. And we encourage you to join your local Clan Donald Association and participate in their activities with your children & grandchildren.