This surname MacDONELL is one of the hundred most common in Ireland. Families of the name do not all share the same ancestry but will mainly derive from either the McDonnells, who came from Argyllshire in Scotland in the 13th Century to Ulster where they carved out a territory for themselves in County Antrim, or from the MacDomhanaill sept of County Fermanagh, or from the Mac Domhnaill sept in County Clare. In addition, a few who now bear the name MacDonnell may descend from Scottish settlers of the clan MacDonald, the two cognate names having been confused. The gallowglass McDonnells displaced the McQuillans in Northern Antrim and seized their stronghold, Dunseverick. Other spellings of the name are MacDONNELL and McDONNELL. The tradition of surnames in Ireland developed spontaneously, as the population increased and the former practice, first of single names and then of ephemeral patronymics or agnomina of the nickname type proved insufficiently definitive. At first the surname was formed by prefixing 'Mac' to the father's Christian name or 'O 'to that of a grandfather or earlier ancestor. Alastair Ruadh MacDonell (1724-1761) was a Scottish Jacobite from Glengarry. He joined the French Scots brigade in 1743, and was sent to Scotland to support the 1745 Jacobite Rebellian, but was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London from 1745 until 1747. He succeeded his father in 1754 as 13th chief of Glengarry, and became known as ' one of the best men in the Highlands ', but it was proved (after his death) that he had become a government spy on his fellow Jacobites. Over the centuries, most people in Europe have accepted their surname as a fact of life, as irrevocable as an act of God. However much the individual may have liked or disliked the surname, they were stuck with it, and people rarely changed them by personal choice. A more common form of variation was in fact involuntary, when an official change was made, in other words, a clerical error. In the Middle Ages heraldry came into use as a practical matter. It originated in the devices used to distinguish the armoured warriors in tournament and war, and was also placed on seals as marks of identity. As far as records show, true heraldry began in the middle of the 12th century, and appeared almost simultaneously in several countries of Western Europe.
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