Mac Sweeney Fanad
We are most grateful to heraldic scholars and historians who have given us permission to publish their research.

Mac Suibhne  Fánad:  Mac Sweeney Fanad. ("Donegal History & Society", Geographic Publications, 1995.)

Author:  Fergus Gillespie, Chief Herald of Ireland.


The first Mac Suibhne to settle in Tir Conaill was Eoin, grandson of Máel Muire. Having expelled the ruling Ó Breisléin family from Fanad sometime after 1263, he became lord of that territory and his daughter Caterína married Domnall Óc Ó Domnaill, king of Tír Conaill. His son, Suibne, succeeded him, but died without issue within the year, and with the death of Suibne's brother, Toirdelbach, the Mac Suibhne lordship of Fanad ceased for the time being.

After the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 Murchad Mear, great-grandson of Máel Muire an Sparáin and grandson of the Murchad who died while a captive of the earl of Ulster, arrived at Lough Swilly with his followers. According to Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne he and his son, Murchad Óc, conquered part of Inishowen, Fanad, Ros Guill, Ó Mail Gaíthe's Tuath and the two tuatha of Tír Boghaine, and on these territories, with the exception of Inishowen, he settled his people. It is unlikely, however, that Murchad penetrated as far south as Tír Boghaine.

Murchad Mear was succeeded by his son, Murchad Óc, as lord of the conquered lands east of Bearnas Mór. Of Murchad Óc's sons, Máel Muire became lord of Fanad and Donnchad Mór became lord of the Tri Tuatha in north west Donegal, previously the territory of Ó Báegill.

Máel Muire defeated Niall Ó Domhnaill in battle at Achadh Móna but later was present as an ally of Niall when the latter killed his brother, Conchobhar Ó Domhnaill, king of Tír Chonaill, at Murvagh, near Donegal town, in 1342. For his trouble Máel Muire was granted Moross in the north of Fanad. He also extended his territory by taking Ray and Glenalla, in the present day barony of Kilmacrenan, from Ó Tairchirt.

The next lord of Fanad was Máel Muire's son, Toirdhealbhach Caoch, who was granted certain privileges by Ó Domhnaill, such as the right to sit on Ó Domhnaill's right hand side and the right to spend three nights in each house in Tír Conaill. This, and the agreement that Toirdhealbhach Caoch and his successors would supply two gallóglaigh for every quarter of land in his territory when Ó Domhnaill went to war, is indicative of the growing interdependence of Ó Domhnaill and Mac Suibhne Fanad.

Toirdhealbhach Caoch's son, Toirdhealbhach Ruadh, assumed the lordship in 1399, but not without a struggle with his two uncles, Eoin and Murchadh. In this he was helped by Toirdhealbhach an Fhíona Ó Domhnaill, king of Tír Conaill, who himself inaugurated Toirdhealbhach Ruadh at Kilmacrenan, the traditional site of inauguration of Ó Domhnaill. According to Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne Mac Suibhne of Scotland had been inaugurated by the successor of Colum Cille at Iona, but after the family's removal to Ireland the ceremony had been sometimes performed by Ó Firghil (O Friel) at Kilmacrenan, 'baile Choluimchille', rather than by the abbots of lona. Toirdhealbhach Ruadh was present in Meath in 1423 with Ó Domhnaill (Niall) and Ó Néill (Domhnall) when they defeated the army of the English lord deputy, although it is Mac Suibhne Connacht who is mentioned in A.F.M.  In 1434 Niall Ó Domhnaill was captured by the English during a skirmish and his army was rescued with difficulty by Toirdhealbhach Ruadh after their defeat. He and Neachtain Ó Domhnaill, Ó Domhnaill's brother, were defeated in the Rosses in 1435 by Ó Néill (Eoghan), but Leabhar ChIainne Suibhne loyally claimed that Toirdhealbhach and Neachtain were the victors!

Toirdhealbhach Ruadh died, probably in 1438, having ruled for thirty nine years. He was succeeded by his son, Ruaidhrí, but not until a dispute over the succession with his uncle, Donnchadh Garbh, had been resolved by Ruaidhrí's defeating his uncle in a wrestling match. During Ruaidhri's lordship a beef tax was levied on Fanad by Neachtain Ó Domhnaill. Ruaidhrí died after ruling for thirteen years, and was succeeded by his brother, Domhnall.

In 1456 Énrí Ó Néill, king of Tír Eoghain, along with the sons of Neachtain Ó Domhnaill, who were in exile with Ó Néill, invaded Inishowen. They were opposed by Neachtain's nephew, Domhnall, the ruling Ó Domhnaill, who was aided by Maol Mhuire Mac Suibhne, son of Toirdhealbhach Ruadh and brother of Domhnall. Ó Domhnaill was  killed in the subsequent battle near Cúl Mic an Treoin (Castleforward), and Maol Mhuire and Ó Domhnaill's brother, Aodh Ruadh, were taken prisoner. Neachtain's son, Toirdhealbhach Cairbreach Ó Domhnaill, then assumed the kingship of Tír Conaill, and after Domhnall Mac Suibhne's death at the hands of his nephews, the sons of his brother, Ruaidhrí, Toirdhealbhach Cairbreach proclaimed Domhnall's cousin, Toirdhealbhach Bacach, lord of Fanad.

Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill and Maol Mhuire were released in 1460 and the following year they defeated Toirdhealbhach Cairbreach at Kinnaweer on Mulroy Bay. After Aodh Ruadh's victory he was inaugurated as Ó Domhnaill at Kilmacrenan and immediately set up Maol Mhuire as lord of Fanad. Maol Mhuire ruled for eleven years. He was killed on Easter Tuesday, 1472, at the river Finn, fighting beside Aodh Ruadh against Ó Néill (Énrí). After the battle, his body was taken to Derry for burial covered with the flag of another captain of gallóglaigh, Mac Domhnaill of Antrim, which he had captured in the battle.

Maol Mhuire was succeeded by his son Ruaidhrí, who built Rathmullan castle. His wife was Máire, daughter of Ó Máille (Eoghan), and a woman of great piety. Together they built the Carmelite priory at Rathmullan, which was completed in 1516, the first prior of which was Suibhne Mac Suibhne of the Connacht branch. Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne tells us that the priory was built to honour Ruaidhrí's son, Ruaidhrí Óg, a man who had travelled abroad and who could speak many languages.

Ruaidhrí's successful campaigns with Ó Domhnaill, both Aodh Ruadh and his successor Conn, are given great prominence in Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne. But other campaigns, where he suffered defeat, get no mention, such as in 1497 when Ó Domhnaill (Conn) was defeated in battle by Mac Diarmada (Tadhg) of Moylurg and Ruaidhrí taken prisoner, and later in the same year when Conn was defeated and killed at Béal Atha Daire in Fanad and Ruaidhrí's son taken prisoner by Ó Néill (Énrí Óg)!

Ruaidhrí was famed for his patronage of poets and learning. He died in 1518 and was buried in Rathmullan 'in the habit of the friars of Mary'. His wife, Máire, survived Ruaidhrí by four years. She is remembered as being generous, a good mother, pious, and a great builder of churches, both in Ulster and in Connacht, and, of course, the person who caused the 'leabhar díadhacht', which forms the first part of the manuscript of which Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne is the second part, to be written.

After Ruaidhrí's death there was a fierce struggle for the lordship of Fanad until Domhnall Óg, son of Domhnall Mór and cousin of Ruaidhrí, the previous lord, was proclaimed Mac Suibhne by the chiefs of Cenél Conaill at Kilmacrenan. Ruaidhrí's son, Toirdhealbhach, however, would not submit to Domhnall Óg and continued to defy him, and when Domhnall Óg died in 1529, Toirdhealbhach gathered his followers and had Ó Firghil inaugurate him at Kilmacrenan, which greatly angered Ó Domhnaill (Aodh Dubh), for Ó Domhnaill claimed that he alone had the right to inaugurate his sub chief. Toirdhealbhach was killed in 1544 by the sons of Domhnall Óg Mac Suibhne, the previous lord, as revenge for the death of their brother, Maol Mhuire. It was during his lifetime that Leabhar Cblainne Suibhne was compiled.

Ruaidhrí Carrach, son of Domhnall Óg, ruled for ten years until he was slain in 1552 with two of his kin 'in a monastery'. The next Mac Suibhne to be mentioned in the annals is Domhnall Gorm, leader of 'Slíocht Domhnaill', when he was with Calbhach Ó Domhnaill in a victory over Seán an Díomais Ó Néill in 1557.  He was slain in 1568 by some of his own kin, 'Muintir Sruithéin' and was succeeded by Toirdhealbhach Óg, son of Toirdhealbhach (who had died in 1544). Toirdhealbhach Óg and Mac Suibhne na dTuath were slain at Dún na Long on the Foyle near Strabane in 1570 in battle against Ó Néill (Toirdhealbhach Luineach). Toirdhealbhach Óg was succeeded by his brother, Domhnall, who was the last inaugurated lord of Fanad, for he lived well into the seventeenth century and witnessed the destruction of the Gaelic order in Tír Conaill.

When Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill was captured aboard an English ship at Rathmullan in 1587, Domhnall's son, Domhnall Gorm, was, most likely, one of the captives who was taken to Dublin with him. (Domhnall Gorm escaped from Dublin Castle in February 1588). In 1592 Domhnall was present at Aodh Ruadh's inauguration. He gets little mention in the annals, except for the year 1599, when he accompanied Aodh Ruadh on a raid into Thomond.

In October of 1600 the English authorities were informed that Domhnall was with Aodh Ruadh.  In March of the following year there was an English garrison installed in Rathmullan and in May Domhnall submitted. In September he rose out again, but finalIv submitted in January, 1602. When Ó Néill and Ruaidhrí Ó Domhnaill sailed from Rathmullan in September 1607, some of the ship's company, who had gone ashore for water, were attacked by Mac Suibhne's son, but succeeded in routing him and his party.

In 1608 Domhnall was on a list of jurors which indicted the earls of Tyrconnell and Tyrone for treason.  For his loyalty he received a grant of land in the Plantation of Ulster and in 1619 he is reported to have 2000 acres, called Roindoberg and Caroocomony. 'He hath built a good bawne, and a house, all of lime and stone, in which with his family, he dwelleth'.

His son, Dormhnall Gorm, was married to 'Honora' daughter of Mac Suibhne na dTuath (Eoghan Óg) and had ten children. He died on 12 February, 1637, and is buried in Clondavaddog, in Fanad.

Among the Mac Suibhne Fanad proprietors listed in the Civil Survey whose lands were held forfeit after the 1641 rising were Domhnall Óg and Aodh Buidhe, sons of Domhnall Gorm, both of whom held lands in the parish of Clondavaddog in the north of Fanad. A leading insurgent in the rising was Éiremhón Mac Suibhne, son of Uaitéar, whose lands in the parishes of Aughnish and Tully were forfeited.

In the census of 1659 the only Mac Suibhne titulado mentioned for Donegal is 'Donell McSwyne' in Clondavaddog. Some thirty nine Mac Swyne families are counted for the barony of Kilmacrenan. In the Hearth Money Rolls, most taxpayers of the name listed for the barony are found in the parishes of Clondavaddog, Clondahorky, and Tullaghobegley.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                         January 12, 2004

.