Friday, November 25, 2011

Donnchadh Mór Mac Eáin

burial stone of Donnchadh Mór Mac Eáin of Kilmichael Glassary Argyll

Y Chromosome DNA testing is providing a way to research Redshank families.  One such case is that of Donnchadh Mór Mac Eáin, who was a local lord in the parish of Kilmichael Glassry in mid Argyll circa 1460s through 1515 AD.   He was the head of the House of Dunamuck and was a son of Ailean Mac Eáin Mhic Lachlainn, the taoiseach and seneschal of extensive lands in the parish.   The House of Donnchadh Mór Mac Eáin, was one of four houses of the Mac Lachlainn clan of Kilmichael Glassary established by the sons Ailean Mac Eáin. The four houses in the aggregate were called the Mac Lachlainns of Dunadd.

The Mac Lachlinns of Dunadds, while part of the greate Clann Mhic Lachlainn structure, increasingly became allied to the Caimbeul clan in the late 1400s and throughout the 1500s.  Donnchadh Mór Mac Eáin served as an official for the Giolla Easpuig Caimbuel, the 4th Earl of Argyll.  His descendants also served as tacsmen, baliffs, and captains for the 5th and 6th Earls of Argyll.  

The movement of Redshanks to Ulster were controlled by the Earls of Argyll.  In Donegal Redshanks became to settle, rather than return after the campaign season, by the mid 1500s.  DNA results located the descendants of the Mac Lachlainns of Dunadd that had moved to Taughboyne Parish, Donegal.

Argyll Redshanks in the thousands relocated there beginning in the late summer of 1569 as part of Caimbeul plans and ambitions in west Ulster.  Notably the marriage of Fionnuala Nic Dhónaill, popularly called Iníon Dhubh, to Aodh Mac Manus Ó Dónaill in August of 1569.  She was the cousin of the 5th Earl of Argyll and many Caimbeul Redshank accompanied her to Donegal.  Iníon Dhubh had her main house at Mongalvin, just south of St Johnston.  Her Redshanks settled in the six or so miles between Porthall and  Carrigans.  This allowed them to control the two ports on the Foyle River at St Johnston and Carrigans.  

The Redshank community thrived and their descendants are still very numerous in the area.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Redshank circa 1570s

Dave Swift is in the photograph above dressed in authentic attire based off of the illustration by Dutch artist Lucas de Heere circa 1577.  Photo courtesy of the lovely and very talented Irish photographer Niamh O Rourke.  The helmet is a German made morion comb type which was very typical to Gaelic warriors of the era.  The sword in the photo is a two handed Claoímh Mór, which was the preferred weapon of the Redshanks.

(above) A copy of the original de Heere drawing from the 1570s.  The original was lost in a fire in the 1700s.  The illustration interesting for several reasons, the use of short trews being one.  There has been speculation that the bottom helm line of the short trews on the copy of the original illustration was added in Victorian times for modesty sake and that the original illustration was of the Redshank naked from the waste down.  However, a close examination of the copy does show material and shading of the the short trews.  The illustration is what it appears to be, a type of short pants, or trews, that were in fashion among Gaels at this time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Redshank Ethnicity

A watershed moment has taken place in the field of early Western European history. It is a paradigm shift that has totally changed forever how early European history will be taught. It is the concept that Celtic languages and the people that spoke them originated in the Atlantic Zone during the Bronze Age. Dr Barry Cunliffe and Dr John Koch have co-edited Cetlic From the West which has an excellent presentation of exactly where the the field of Celtic studies stands in the first part of the 21st Century.

The Celtic from the West theory is a major departure from the long-established, but increasingly problematic paradigm from late Victorian times in which the story of the Ancient Celtic languages and people were linked to the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures of Iron Age west-central Europe.

Celtic From the West also brings to an English-language readership some of the rapidly unfolding and too often neglected evidence of the pre-Roman peoples and languages of the western Iberian Peninsula.

Celtic from the West
is a multidisciplinary project and multi-year research initiative undertaken by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. It represents the current state of Celtic studies and the thoughts of the leading researchers. Contributors are: (Archaeology) Barry Cunliffe; Raimund Karl; Amilcar Guerra; (Genetics) Brian McEvoy & Daniel Bradley; Stephen Oppenheimer; Ellen Rrvik; (Language) Graham Isaac; David Parsons; John T. Koch; Philip Freeman; Dagmar S. Wodtko.

Celtic From the West is available from the Ulster Heritage Amazon Associate Book Shop under the 'Ancient History' section: Link... Ulster Heritage Book Shop and from McCain's Book Shop.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Laggan Redshanks

Upcoming will be posts on the research on the Redshank settlements along the Foyle River. These were located along the west bank of the Foyle in present day Taughboyne parish and to a lessor extent on the east bank in northwest Tyrone.

The largest influx of Redshank came with Fionnuala Ní Dhónaill, or as she is often called in popular history, Iníon Dubh. She was the formidable wife of Aodh Mac Manus Ó Dónaill; she was also the cousin of Giolla Easpuig Caimbeul, who was the 5th Earl of Argyll. It was he that orchestrated Iníon Dubh's marriage to the Ó Dónaill and also supplied the Redshanks that settled around St Johnston.

Most of these men were recruited from the Earl's lands in mid Argyll, in what was then the heart of the Scottish Gaeltacht. These Redshanks all had Clann Chaimbeul associations and most were drawn from families that had Man Rent contracts with Clann Caimbeul. Many of the surnames of these families are well known even today in Donegal; surnames such as Crawford, MacAllen, Campbell, McKean, McClay, etc. These Redshanks moved to east Donegal beginning in the late summer of 1569, but during Iníon Dubh's tenure as de facto leader of Clann Úí Dhónaill she made many trips to both the 5th and 6th Earls of Argyll to procure additional warriors from the Caimbeul lands in Argyll.

Many of the descendants of this group of Redshanks are participants in the Ulster Heritage DNA Project. Their DNA results often reveal their actual point of origin in mid Argyll. The DNA results reveal also that most of them have the typical Atlantic Zone Celtic haplogroup, though as expected some also carry Norse paternal ancestry.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Duart Castle on the Island of Mull

Ferguson is the anglicised form of Mac Fearghusa; from the root name Fearghus meaning super-choice. Like most Gaelic surnames there are more than one origin for the name and there are separate and non related Mac Fearghusa families in both Scotland and Ireland. In Ulster there is one Mac Fearghusa family that originated on the island of Mull in the Hebrides and some of these settled initially in the Laggan district of Donegal circa 1570s through the early 1600s. Other anglicised forms of Mac Fearghusa include, Farguson, Fergus, and Vargus.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Belted Plaid and Trews from the 1630s

Here is another illustration of Redshank dress, this one from Blaeu's map of 'Scotia Antiqua' from the year 1634. The two forms of dress here are the belted plaid, or filleadh mór on the left and the tartan trews and short jacket on the right. Both styles were common in Redshank communities from the mid 1500s onward and by that time were replacing the leine and short jacket common to both Irish and Scottish Gaels.

Gallóglaigh, Ulster 1500s

Three Gallóglaigh (said Gall-og-glee) from the 1500s. The photo above courtesy of the Claíomh group that provide Museum-quality Medieval & Early Modern Gaelic-Irish and Scots Military Interpretations. Their link: Claíomh

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


above, RR McIan's 19th Century print of a Mac Grioghair

Grier is an anglicised for of the Gaelic surname Mac Grioghair, which itself is a variant form of the more common Mac Greagair; both forms means son of Gregory. Grier, also spelled Greer, is a phonetic rendering of how one says Grioghair in Gaelic. The second G in the surname is not said as it is softened by the adding of the H. The softening is called a seimhiú (said Shay-voo).

In Ireland, Grier families arrived in east Donegal with the Redshanks that settled in the Portlough precinct, in what is today, Taughboyne Parish. Many are found living on the lands of Ludovic Stewart who was the Duke of Lennox in the early 1600s around the St Johnston area. The Griers were Highland Gaels, yet many found a home within the Ulster Scots Planters in east Donegal.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Scottish DNA Project Blog

DNA testing is proving to be a very effective tool for the historian and more universities and independent scholars are taking advantage of the increasing flow of DNA results on Scottish and Irish families. The link to the Scottish DNA Project blog is below, there you will find news and updates on current research projects:

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Kilt In Ireland

Is the kilt Irish…. was the kilt ever worn in Ireland? The answer to this question is a very simple yes, of course, but even simple answers need some explanation. The kilt comes in two forms, the filleadh beag and the filleadh mór. The wearing of kilts came into fashion in the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland sometime during the late 1500s. Prior to the popularsation of the kilt most Hebrideans and Highlanders dressed identical to the native Irish in a léine and short jacket.

Liam Neeson portraying Rob Roy wearing the large kilt, of filleadh mór

Why the kilt came into fashion can only be speculated on, perhaps it was the changing climate, which was growing colder in the late 1500s and the full kilt offered warmth, or perhaps it was improved small looms that could produce more woolen cloth, or perhaps just a fashion trend indigenous to the Gaels of Scotland. For whatever reason, the kilt became popular and fashionable among Gaels in certain parts of Scotland and would be brought to Ireland by Scottish Gaels that settled there in the late 1500s.

The filleadh mór is comprised of a very long piece of material called a plaid, which is belted in the middle. The upper part could be arranged in various ways depending upon the temperature of the day. The part below the belt was folded in the back to make pleats and came down to the knees.

There is a pseudo history about the creation of the smaller kilt, the filleadh beag, which is the form of kilt still very much in use today. At some point prior to 1690s, Gaelic tailors began to cut the filleadh mór in half. It was an organic fashion development within the Scottish Gaelic community. The upper part became a separate plaid and the lower part had the folds sown into it. This way the lower half, the kilt, could be worn separately from the plaid.

Sean Connery wearing the small kilt, or filleadh beag

A false story has long circulated about the creation of the small kilt that maintained two English tailors invented this form in 1727. However, in Gaelic oral history it was known that the small kilt predates this time. The English creation myth persisted in some circles until writer Clifford Smyth produced an illustration of the small kilt in use in 1690 and put an end to the pseudo history of the small kilt.

18th Century illustration on how to wear the kilt

In Ireland the full kilt and small kilt were worn in those areas settled by Highland and Hebridean Gaels. There are eyewitness descriptions of the kilt being worn as early as the 1590s in Ulster. Originally it was worn in the Redshank communities in east Donegal, northwest Tyrone, and north Antrim. Its popularity has waxed and waned over the years, but more and more the small kilt can be seen in Ireland worn at weddings and parties, by hill walkers, and sportsmen. This growing popularity of this very old Gaelic garment is natural and part of the heritage of Ulster.