The O'Donnell families share one of the fifty commonest surnames in Ireland. By no means all will descend from the famous sept O' Domhnaill which was originally located in Kilmacrenan barony in northern County Donegal. The ancient inauguration place of the O'Donnell chiefs of this sept was the Rock of Doon. This was the sept, of course, to which belonged the adventurous Earls of Tyrconnell. The remains of the north tower of Donegal Castle are all that is left of their stronghold and residence there. There were, however, other O' Domhnaill septs from which O'Donnells descend. One of these was located in West Clare and another in County Galway. The name has numerous spellings which include DONNELL, DOULL, DOOLE, DONALDSON, DONELAN, DONLAN, DONLON and O'DOMHNALLAIN. When the sparse Irish population began to increase it became necessary to broaden the base of personal identification by moving from single names to a more definate nomenclature. The prefix MAC was given to the father's christian name, or O to that of a grandfather or even earlier ancestor. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. A notable member of the name was Hugh Roe O'Donnell (1571-1602) the Irish rebel known as Red Hugh, Lord of Tyrconnel. He fought against the English in Ireland with Hugh O'Neill, and went to Spain to seek military aid in 1602, leaving his power to his brother Rory (1575-1608), who kissed the king's hand and was made Earl of Tyrconnel in 1603; but having plotted to seize Dublin Castle in 1607, Rory, fled and died in Rome.
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