Clan MacDonald of Glengarry: A Legacy of Highland Spirit
History - Story

Clan MacDonald of Glengarry: A Legacy of Highland Spirit

by Teresa Finn on Jun 12, 2024

The rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands cradles a rich tapestry of clans, each with a story etched in history and tradition. Among these, the Clan MacDonald of Glengarry stands out for its fierce loyalty, enduring legacy, and captivating history. This article delves into the origins, territory, notable figures, and lasting impact of this remarkable clan.

Origins of Clan Macdonald of Glengarry

The Clan MacDonald of Glengarry or MacDonell of Glengarry traces its lineage back to the formidable figure of Somerled, a Norse warrior who rose to prominence in 12th-century Scotland. Somerled's strategic brilliance and unwavering spirit were not only evident in his conquests of the Hebrides and parts of mainland Scotland but also continued to define his descendants. Among them were the MacDonalds, who emerged as a powerful branch of the House of Somerled, inheriting vast swathes of land and a fierce determination to protect their legacy.

Territory of Clan Macdonald of Glengarry

Clan map of MacDonald of Glengarry
Clan map of MacDonald of Glengarry

Following Somerled's death, his possessions were divided among his sons. The MacDonalds, descendants of his eldest son Dugall, became a prominent branch, controlling vast territories in western and northern Scotland, including the islands of Islay, Mull, and Skye.

In the early 15th century, a younger son of a Lord of the Isles was granted the extensive lands of Glengarry, solidifying the clan's presence in the region. Nestled amidst the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, Glengarry was a land of breathtaking scenery, fertile valleys, and imposing mountains. The clan's stronghold, Glengarry Castle, perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking Loch Oich, served as a symbol of their power and unwavering connection to this land they called home.

Clan Macdonald of Glengarry History

MacDonald of Glengarry Clan History Timeline
MacDonald of Glengarry Clan History Timeline

Nestled amidst the breathtaking peaks and rugged valleys of the Scottish Highlands lies Clan MacDonald of Glengarry, a lineage steeped in centuries of triumphs, tragedies, and unwavering loyalty. Their story, intricately woven into the fabric of Highland history, echoes with tales of fierce warriors, passionate leaders, and a tenacious spirit that has endured through generations.

15th Century: Ancestral Roots and Forging a Path

The MacDonalds of Glengarry trace their ancestry back to the prominent Clan Donald, with their distinct branch emerging in the early 15th century. Donald, son of Ranald, a descendant of Somerled, King of the Isles, is considered the founding father of the Glengarry line. They established their seat at Strome Castle, a formidable stronghold overlooking the majestic Loch Carron.

However, the Lordship of the Isles faced forfeiture by the Scottish crown in 1493. This event significantly impacted the MacDonalds of Glengarry, forcing them to adapt and forge their path within the ever-shifting political landscape of the Highlands. Alexander MacDonald, 1st of Glengarry, rose to the challenge, fiercely defending his clan's lands and influence, laying the foundation for their future resilience.

16th Century: Internal Strife and External Conflicts

The 16th century presented a period of both internal strife and external conflicts for the MacDonalds of Glengarry. Succession disputes and clashes with neighbouring clans, particularly the Clan Mackenzie, threatened internal stability. The Battle of Morar in 1602 resulted in a decisive defeat for the MacDonalds, forcing them to relinquish Strome Castle.

Despite these internal challenges, the MacDonalds of Glengarry continued to demonstrate their prowess on the battlefield. Chief Donald Gruamach MacDonald (Donald the Grim) earned a reputation for his formidable leadership and unwavering loyalty to the Crown.

17th Century: Shifting Alliances and the Rise of Invergarry Castle

The 17th century they witnessed a shift in allegiances for Clan MacDonald of Glengarry. They initially supported the Royalist cause during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. However, following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, they aligned themselves with the Jacobite movement, advocating for the return of the Stuart monarchy.

This period also saw the construction of Invergarry Castle, a strategic stronghold situated on the shores of Loch Oich. This imposing structure became the new seat of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry, serving as a powerful symbol of their enduring presence in the Highlands.

18th Century: Jacobite Uprisings and Enduring Legacy

The 18th century proved to be a pivotal and tumultuous period for Clan MacDonald of Glengarry. They actively participated in the Jacobite Uprisings of 1715 and 1746, fighting valiantly for the Jacobite cause. Chief Alexander MacDonald tragically lost his life at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, marking a devastating blow to the clan.

The aftermath of Culloden brought immense hardship to Clan MacDonald of Glengarry. Many faced brutal consequences, including executions, land confiscations, and forced exile. Despite these challenges, their spirit remained unbroken, and the clan continued to preserve their heritage and traditions.

19th Century to Present: A Renewed Chapter

The 19th century saw a period of relative peace and rebuilding for Clan MacDonald of Glengarry. The clan lands were gradually restored, and their cultural identity continued to flourish. In the 20th century, a renewed interest in Highland history and clan traditions led to a resurgence of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry.

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Clan Macdonald of Glengarry Castle

High in the Scottish Highlands, overlooking Loch Oich, stand the imposing ruins of Invergarry Castle. This was the seat of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry for centuries, witnessing battles, alliances, and the enduring spirit of the clan.

Clan Macdonald of Glengarry Castle - Invergarry Castle
Clan Macdonald of Glengarry Castle - Invergarry Castle

From Tower to Stronghold

Initially, the MacDonalds occupied a more straightforward structure. In the late 16th century, they built the imposing Invergarry Castle strategically positioned to control trade routes. Its history reflects the region's turbulence. The castle endured sieges during the English Civil War and Jacobite Risings, even hosting Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Resilience Through the Ages

Despite repeated damage, Invergarry Castle remained a symbol of the clan's resilience. After the failed Jacobite uprisings, the MacDonalds built a new residence nearby, but the castle ruins continued to hold significance. In the 20th century, efforts began to preserve this historical treasure.

A Legacy for Future Generations

Today, the ruins stand as a testament to Clan MacDonald of Glengarry's rich history. Visitors can explore the remnants, imagining the echoes of a proud clan's past. Conservation work ensures these ruins remain a reminder of Scotland's heritage.

Clan Macdonald of Glengarry Coat Of Arms

Coat of arms of  MacDonald of Glengarry
Coat of arms of MacDonald of Glengarry

The Clan MacDonald of Glengarry has a unique coat of arms that reflects their rich history. This heraldic emblem, a vibrant tapestry of symbolic elements, serves as a badge of honour for the clan. Let's delve into the symbolism behind each component:

The Shield: A robust and armoured hand pointing upwards dominates the shield. This could symbolize the clan's aspiration for greatness, loyalty to the Crown, or unwavering faith.

The Clan MacDonald of Glengarry's coat of arms is more than just a decorative emblem. It's a powerful symbol that speaks volumes about their history and identity. From the authoritative hand to the watchful raven on its rocky perch, each element carries a distinct meaning, weaving a narrative of unwavering loyalty, strategic prowess, and a deep connection to their Highland heritage. This timeless emblem serves as a reminder of the clan's enduring spirit and legacy, which continues to inspire generations.

Clan Macdonald of Glengarry Crest

 Gaelic Name: MacDhomhnuill

 Crest: A raven Proper perching on a rock Azure

 Motto: Creag an Fhitich (The Raven’s Rock)

 Origin of Name: Gaelic, Domhnull (World ruler)

 Badge: Heath

 Lands: Glengarry

 Historic Seat: Invergarry Castle

 Clan Chief: Ranald MacDonell of Glengarry

Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Crest 
Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Crest - Tartan Vibes Clothing

The Clan MacDonald of Glengarry's crest is a distinctive emblem steeped in symbolism and reflecting their unique heritage. Let's delve into the meaning behind its central elements:

  • The Raven: Perched atop a rock, a raven, depicted in its natural black plumage, stands as the central figure. The raven, a creature often associated with intelligence and adaptability, embodies the clan's strategic prowess and their ability to navigate challenges throughout history.

  • The Rock: The raven stands firmly on a sturdy blue rock, symbolizing the clan's unwavering presence and enduring spirit within the Scottish Highlands. This "Rock of the Raven", as their motto translates to, represents their deep connection to their ancestral lands.

  • The Motto: "Creag an Fhithich" (Gaelic for "Rock of the Raven") directly references the crest, reinforcing the symbolism of resilience and attachment to their ancestral lands.

The powerful image of the raven perched on the rock creates a lasting impression. It reflects the clan's resilience, their keen strategic mind, and their unwavering connection to their Highland heritage. This crest serves not just as a visual representation but as a powerful reminder of the Clan MacDonald of Glengarry's rich history and enduring legacy.

Clan Macdonald of Glengarry Tartan

The Clan MacDonald of Glengarry possesses a distinct tartan, a vibrant symbol of their heritage. However, unlike many clan tartans with well-documented origins, the Glengarry tartan's history remains shrouded in a touch of mystery.
Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Tartan
Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Tartan
Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Ancient Tartan
Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Ancient Tartan
Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Modern Tartan
Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Modern Tartan

A Bold and Evocative Design

While variations may exist, the most recognized Glengarry tartan features a striking interplay of colours. Deep red, a symbol of courage and bravery, takes centre stage, often offset by rich dark green, representing the verdant Scottish landscape so important to the clan's identity. Black threads interweave throughout, adding a touch of strength and resilience.

Wearing Their Clan Colors

In the absence of a definitively documented Glengarry tartan, many clan members choose to wear the well-recognized MacDonald Dress Tartan. This tartan, a symbol of their broader Clan Donald heritage, proudly displays a similar colour palette of red, green, and black, albeit in a distinct pattern.

Unlike the potentially vibrant Clan MacDonald of Glengarry tartan, the well-documented Clan MacDonald of Sleat tartan exudes a timeless elegance. This distinctive pattern, a symbol of the clan's rich heritage, features a captivating colour palette where deep green takes centre stage. The verdant hue, reminiscent of the lush Scottish Highlands that the clan has called home for centuries, is often offset by rich navy blue and black threads, creating a sense of sophistication and resilience. Occasional flashes of red or white might also be present, adding a touch of vibrancy and symbolizing the clan's bravery.

Explore the timeless traditions of the Clan Macdonald of Glengarry through our Macdonell of Glengarry collection of tartan products on our website. And bring a piece of the clan's history into your present.

Notable Figures in Clan Macdonald of Glengarry

Clan MacDonald of Glengarry, a distinguished branch of the more prominent Clan Donald, boasts a rich history filled with notable figures who have left an indelible mark on Scottish history. These individuals, through their leadership, bravery, and contributions to various fields, have embodied the clan's values and traditions, ensuring its legacy endures through the ages.

1. Alastair Mac Mhic Alasdair (16th Century)

Alastair Mac Mhic Alasdair, also known as "Alasdair Gorm", was the 14th Chief of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry and a prominent figure during the 16th century. He was a fierce warrior and a skilled leader known for his unwavering loyalty to the Scottish Crown. Mac Mhic Alasdair played a crucial role in the Battle of Benrinnes (1594), where he led his clan to victory against the rebellious Clan Gordon. His leadership and bravery earned him a reputation as one of the most formidable Highland chiefs of his time.

2. Sir Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell (1773-1828)

Sir Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell
Henry Raeburn, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell, the 15th Chief of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry, was a distinguished military leader and a pivotal figure in the Catholic Church in Canada. He served with distinction in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars, earning the rank of Major-General and receiving numerous honours, including a knighthood. After the war, MacDonell dedicated his life to serving the Catholic community in Canada, founding the Diocese of Kingston and becoming its first bishop. His contributions to the military and religious spheres left a lasting impact on Scotland and Canada.

3. Aeneas Ranald MacDonell (1875-1941)

Aeneas Ranald MacDonell (corrected birthdate), the 21st Chief of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry, was a prominent figure in both Scottish and Canadian society. He served as a Major in the British Army during World War I. He was later involved in various business ventures and philanthropic endeavours. MacDonell was also a passionate advocate for Scottish culture and heritage, playing a pivotal role in preserving and promoting the traditions of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry. His contributions to military and civilian life earned him the respect and admiration of many.

4. Aeneas Ranald Euan MacDonell (1999-2021)

Aeneas Ranald Euan MacDonell (1941-2021), the 23rd Chief of Clan MacDonald of Glengarry, continued the legacy of his predecessors as a respected leader and advocate for the clan. He held various positions within the Clan MacDonald of Glengarry Society. He was deeply committed to preserving the clan's heritage and traditions. His dedication and leadership earned him the admiration of clan members worldwide. While there is no confirmation, it has been suggested that he served as a Captain in the British Army during World War II.


The Clan MacDonald of Glengarry's story is one of unwavering loyalty, resilience, and a deep connection to the land. Their legacy lives on not only through the ruins of Invergarry Castle and their symbolic tartan but also in the hearts and minds of clan members worldwide. This article serves as a starting point for those interested in learning more about this remarkable clan and its enduring impact on Scottish history.

Frequently Asked Questions

What clan is MacDonell of Glengarry in?

The Scottish Highland Clan MacDonell of Glengarry is a branch of the Clan Donald. The clan chiefs of the Clan MacDonell of Glengarry were originally seated at Strome Castle but later moved to Invergarry Castle.

Does the McDonald's clan still exist?

Clan Donald is still the largest clan in Scotland and the descendants of thousands of MacDonalds who emigrated also make it the largest in the world.

What is the motto of the MacDonell clan?

Invergarry Castle was the traditional seat of Clan MacDonell of Glengarry. The castle stands overlooking Loch Oich on Cregan an Fhithich (Scottish Gaelic: The rock of the raven), which became the clan's motto

What is the crest of the MacDonell of Glengarry?

MacDonnell of Glengarry Clan Crest: A raven perched on a rock. MacDonnell of Glengarry Clan Motto: Cragan An Fhithich (The rock of the raven).

Teresa Finn Author

Teresa Finn

As someone with a deep passion for clan heritage, especially the intriguing world of tartans and their rich traditions, I'm here to be your companion on this exciting journey. Together, we'll delve into the depths of clan history, uncovering the stories behind these vibrant tartans and making every connection to your heritage more meaningful.

Read more Teresa's articles

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