Clan Donald history in Ireland is similar to Clan Donald history in Scotland. There are times Clan Donald allied with the English and times Clan Donald joined with the Old Irish to fight English invasion. Six generations and almost 250 years after Somhairlidh (Somerled) was born in Ireland, his descendant John (or Iain) Mhoir established his own kingdom back in Northern Ireland (1386 AD). His brother, Donald, was Lord of the Isles who granted Iain Mhoir lands including the southern isles and Amtrim Ireland. Iain Mhoir took as his wife Margery Bisset of the Glens of Antrim, Ireland. The Antrim branch of Clan Donald actually maintained the largest land holdings of any of the Clan Donald branches. Sorley Buy (from Somhairle Buidhe) Gaelic meaning Somhairlidh, the golden haired) was born in 1510, the son of Alexander 5th of Dunnyveg. He lived in Ireland during the turbulent time following the forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles. The English were expanding their influence in Ireland and the O’Neills were regaining their prominent role in Ulster leadership. Sorley Buy had to muster Clan Donald troops from Islayand Kintyre to take The Route from the McQuillans in which venture he was successful. But Sorley Buy’s brother-in-law, Shane O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone felt it was his role to rid Ireland of the McDonnells forever. In 1567 “The O’Neill” attacked the McDonnells. Sorley Buy and his father Sir James of Dunneyveg were taken prisoner by O’Neill. Sir James died in O’Neill’s dungeon. Then The O’Neill announced his intention to wed Sir James’ widow (the sister of Campbell, Earl of Argyll). The McDonnell’s responded to the wedding announcement by attacking The O’Neill’s forces, defeating them, and parading O’Neill’s severed head on a pike! Sorley Buy was released and he immediately established himself as the leader of the eclectic alliance of Scot and Irish against the English invaders. In 1567 Sorley again appealed to his kinsmen in Islay and Kintyre for his defense of Antrim. He originally had 800 Clan Donald men and then another 4,000 in 32 nyvaigs sailed for Ireland. Most of his support came from his brother, Donald Gorm of Sleat, but he also had many men from (talk about eclectic!) Campbell of Argyll to support the Earl of Argyll’s nephew. The appearance of well over 5,000 Scots and Irish had the English running for their lives. Sorley Buy had regained his position of Lord of the Routeand the Glens of Antrim. Several attempts by the English to invade Antrim were repulsed by the combination of Scots, Scots/Irish and native Irish troops under Sorley Buy.
In 1575 the English Earl of Essex was pronounced President of Ulster, Ireland by Queen Elizabeth with the charge he was to bring the McDonnells and the Irish into submission. Sorley Buy anticipated the more dangerous enemy so he had the women and children take refuge on the island of Rathlin with a few posted guards. Essex learned of the attempt to protect the women of the clan and sent Captain Norris with a contingent of 300 soldiers to the island. The English soldiers slaughtered the 600 women and children as Sorley Buy and his army were forced to witness from the Irish shore. When Queen Elizabeth first heard of the “victory” she wrote a letter commending Essex. She later withdrew her commendation when she learned the English victory was a slaughter of women and children. If Essex intended to deflate the Celtic spirit in this way he totally underestimated the Celtic war rage. The Celts had no mercy as they slaughtered the very troops from Rathlin and drove the English from Antrim entirely, totally destroying any ability to challenge Irish rule of Antrim. Sorley Buy was recognized by Queen Elizabeth as the rightful Lord of the Glens and custodian of The Route. Sorley died in 1589 a legendary warrior and leader just as the ancient warrior Fionn mac Cumhal united warring Irish clans to form the Fennians, Sorley Buy brought Scots, Scots/Irish, and Irish together to defeat the English. He even had Campbells & McDonnells fighting side by side against a common foe! Imagine what a different outcome Culloden would have had with such an alliance!
Sorley Buy’s son, Randal Arranoch, was so named because he was raised on the isle of Arran among the Stewarts (Celtic custom of fostering or hostages). He befriended James who noticed a young diplomat in Randal. In 1603 when James I ascended to the throne of the combined Scotland and England, he granted Randal all of Antrim Ireland, 333,907 acres including four baronies and the title Earl of Antrim. Randall continued the reputation as a negotiator and civility. He was accused of harboring Catholics from Covenanters intent on revenge for heresy trials of the original Protestants (a serious crime in the eyes of Covenanters). In 1630 the ancestral home of the Lordship of the Isles, Islay (pronounced eye’la) was turned over to Campbell of Cawdor by Angus of Dunnyveg. But Randall managed to get the contract nullified and negotiated a seven year lease of the birthplace of the Lordship. Randall then negotiated a purchase of Islay and much of Kintyre for 5,000 pound sterling, but Lord Lorne, later to become the Earl of Argyll persuaded the Scottish Council “not to restore MacDonalds to their old stomping ground” or they would again gain power in the Highlands.
From that time forward Clan Donald has been divided into Clan Donald North and Clan Donald South. They came together only twice. In the rising of 1715 and 1745 Clan Donald North and South joined to fight as Jacobites and restore the Lordship of the Isles. The years following Culloden were difficult on Antrim as Clan Donald Highlanders and Islanders inundated Antrim with displaced Scots. Clan Donald has been right in the middle of the stormy history of Northern Ireland. Irish McDonnells rallied to support the Lords of the Isles including Angus Og’s call to support Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, Sorley Buie’s recovery of Antrim with troops from Islay andKintyre, support of Lord John of Dunnyveg’s bid to regain the Lordship of the Isles, and joining their Highland kin in support of exiled Scottish Kings. Antrim felt the devastation of the Covenanters and became a temporary haven for many Highlanders during the clearances.