Donegal Clans

Flight of the Earls Monument. Rathmullan. Photo Courtesy of Michael McFadden
Flight of the Earls Monument, Rathmullan - Image courtesy of Michael McFadden

A hugely important part of Donegal’s history and heritage is contained in the names of its people – families such as O’Donnell, Doherty, McGinley, Gallagher, O’Neill and Sweeney.  Have you ever wondered where these names came from?  In fact, they are a direct line to our ancestry – an ancestry which has spread across the globe and that has reached into many areas of life including politics, music, entertainment, education, sport, literature and much more. 

These family Clans are rooted back to pre Plantation days – a time when society was organised around kinship groups. The early 17th century brought great change in Ireland and most particularly for Donegal.  It marked the destruction of Ireland's ancient Gaelic aristocracy following the Tudor re-conquest and cleared the way for the Plantation of Ulster.  In 1607 the senior Gaelic Chiefs of Ulster (Ó Neill, Ó Donnell and Maguire) left Rathmullan to recruit support in Spain but they never reached their intended destination and instead remained exiled. After this so called “Flight of the Earls”, the English authorities in Dublin established real control over all of Ireland for the first time. They brought a centralised government to the entire island and successfully disarmed the native clans and their Chiefs.

In spite of the loss of their traditional lands and forced emigration into exile, the spirit of the Irish clans remains through the use of Irish surnames which are the mark of Clan membership. To this day, Irish people in Ireland and around the world can proudly tell you the name of the clan to which they belong.

In the 1940's the Chief Herald of Ireland, Edward MacLysaght , drew up a list of Irish Clans and the first modern Irish Clans were re-formed in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, these clans are organised in Ireland and in every continent around the world. The patron of Clans of Ireland is President Michael D. Higgins.  You can find out more about your clan by searching the Clans Of Ireland, link below. 

These Donegal Clans have dedicated websites which you can view by clicking the website beneath the Clan name.


Sweeney Clan

McGinley Clan

McLaughlin Clan

Doherty Clan