Brief History

MacDougalls of Lorn

Mac means “son of” while the term “clan” comes from the Gaelic word for children. Thus, Clan MacDougall signifies the children of the son(s) of Dougall.
Dougal or Dugall or Dougall derived from the Gaelic word Dubh meaning Black or Dark, the Gaelic word Gall meaning Stranger or Foreigner.  Hence Dougal would translate as “Black Foreigner” or “Black Stranger” which was the early Gaelic term or nickname for a Dane, later extended to Norsemen and to persons of Norse descent.
By the mid 12th century the name implied that the bearer likely had Norse connections in his ancestry. Dougall’s mother and great grandmother were both of Norse descent.
Dougall’s heritage from the Gael and the Norse is shown in the present arms of the MacDougall Chiefs which quarter the lion of the ancient Scottish Kingdom of Dalriada and the black royal galley of the Norse.
The MacDougalls of Lorn are the senior branch of the royal house of Somerled, King of the Hebrides and Regulus of Argyll. As a Highland clan, the MacDougalls are one of the three oldest in existence dating from 1164. In that year Dougall, Somerled’s oldest living son and the clan’s patronymic forebear, inherited the central portion of his father’s kingdom upon the death of his father and step brother in the Battle of Renfrew with the forces of the King of Scots. This inheritance included the mainland kingdom of Lorn from Morvern to Knapdale along with the islands of Jura, Coll, Mull, Tiree, Kerrera, Lismore, and the surrounding smaller isles.
Dougall’s son Duncan and grandson, Ewan, defended their vast territories through the construction of various castles including Dunstaffnage, Dunollie and Duntrune on the mainland and their islands, Aros, Cairnburgh, Dunchonnel and Coeffin. From their principal seats of Dunstaffnage and Dunollie Castles, the MacDougall Lords of Lorn and Chiefs of the clan exerted a major influence in what is now Argyll and in the islands to the west and were a strong sea power. This era of widespread power ended during the first years of the 14th century when the MacDougalls chose the losing side in the struggle for the Scottish throne.
Sir John the “Red” Comyn of Badenoch was the nephew-in-law of the Alexander the Fourth MacDougall Chief and a contender for the crown of Scotland. In the complex political forces at play during the time, the murder of the Red Comyn, by Robert the Bruce during a meeting in the Greyfriars Kirk at Dumfries in February 1306 started blood feuds and civil war.
In the warring which followed, the forces of the MacDougall Chief under the direction of his son Sir John of Lorn (Iain Bacach) nearly captured Bruce at Dalrigh in Strathfillan in June 1306. He was forced to leave his brooch in the hand of his dead attacker in order to escape. Thus the famous Brooch of Lorn along with his cloak came into in the hands of the MacDougalls. Less than two years later, Bruce, having consolidated his power, brought it to bear on the MacDougalls, whom he defeated in the Pass of Brander in the late summer of 1308. This resulted in the permanent loss of all the clan’s island possessions except for part of the island of Kerrera.
The Lordship of Lorn was temporarily lost until it was restored to Ewan the seventh Chief of the clan some time after 1330. At the time of Ewan’s death the Lordship of Lorn was a great Lordship extending from Ballachulish and Loch Leven in the north at least down to Kilmartin in the south. However the naval power of our seagoing clan had been drastically reduced by the loss of our island possessions, and their galleys and fighting men.
Ewan was the last MacDougall Chief to use Dunstaffnage castle as his main seat. After it and the Lordship of Lorn passed to the Stewarts through Ewan’s daughters’ inheritance, Dunstaffnage remained as the main seat of the Stewart Lordship of Lorn.
Around 1386 both of Ewan’s children, daughters Janet and Isabella, married brothers who were Stewarts of Innermeath from Perthshire. Janet and Isabella inherited Lorn equally as females under the laws of primogeniture. Then Janet and her husband Sir Robert Stewart traded their half of Lorn to her younger sister Isabella and her husband Sir John Stewart in exchange for Sir John Stewart’s inherited estate of Durrisdeer in Perthshire. Through Isabella the Lordship of Lorn then passed to her Stewart husband. These Stewarts of Innermeath became the Lords of Lorn and retained the Lordship until around 1468 when the Lordship of Lorn transferred to the Chief of the Campbells. Ewan died around 1375. Upon Ewan’s death the Chiefship of Clan MacDougall permanently separated from the Lordship of Lorn. Iain of Dunollie became the next and Eighth Chief with his clan duthus at Dunollie castle.
Despite the loss of the Lordship of Lorn, the Clan continued to play an important role in Argyll. Clan MacDougall was a consistent supporter of the Royal House of Stewart.
The Clan suffered a large loss at Dunaverty castle in Kintyre in 1647. It is estimated that one hundred men or one third of the clan’s fighting strength was killed in the massacre of MacDougalls and MacDonalds and their followers, after their surrender to the Covenanter forces. There was only one survivor amongst those who had been defending at Dunaverty castle.
The Clan fought for the Royal House of Stewart under Viscount Dundee “Bonnie Dundee” at Killiecrankie in 1688, and again under its fighting 22nd Chief Iain Ciar at Sherrifmuir in the Jacobite Rising of 1715, and at Glenshiel in the Jacobite Rising of 1719.
Our 23rd Chief Alexander of Dunollie did not join the Jacobite Rising of 1745 in support of Charles Edward Stuart “Bonnie Prince Charlie” but his brother Duncan fought at Prestonpans and Culloden. Twenty MacDougalls were listed as prisoners of the Government forces after the ’45 including three from the lowlands. After the 45′ was over Alexander moved from Dunollie castle and built the manor house below the castle by adding to the original “laigh bigging” which stood there. The building is now known as Dunollie House. There he raised a large family and it became the home of our Chiefs ever since.
Through the following years the proud history of the clan has been reflected in the distinguished service of the MacDougall Chiefs to their country and in the pride they have taken in their stewardship of the old clan lands. Equal distinction has been shown by the clanspeople, many of whom left their homes to be pioneers in far off places and to bring their spirit, faith, and abilities to the building of new nations. But the link with Lorn and the tie to Clan and Chief have not severed. The heritage prospers and the old belonging takes on new dimensions in the Clan MacDougall Society of North America and our sister society in UK/Europe, and in Australia.
Our present Chief is Morag MacDougall of MacDougall, thirty-first Chief of the Clan, whose official residence is Dunollie House, close by the castle on its high cliffs.
For more information about individual clan Chiefs in Argyll or events during their time see The Chiefs of Clan MacDougall in Argyll).
During the centuries that Clan MacDougall was a powerful influence along the West Highland Coast, a number of families became associated with this clan. Those of these surnames whose ancestors shared in this connection are welcomed members of our Society (see The Clan Names and Families Associated with Clan MacDougall in Argyll).

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