Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill and the Rathlin Island Massacre

To fully understand the importance of the role played by Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill in the early English failures of plantation in Ulster, one must appreciate the threat posed to the English crown by his background and lineage. Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill, which translates as Somerled of the yellow hair, son of Donell, more commonly known by his Anglicized name, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, was the son of Cather Maclan and Alexander MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the Glens in Antrim, who in turn were descended from King John of the Isles. During Somhairle’s youth, Alexander established a power base for his family in both Ulster and Scotland.[1] Because of this, Somhairle was seen as a Scottish-Irish fliath, a term used for any person belonging to a powerful family but who is not necessarily, as it often is presumed, a chief. However, Somhairle, his father, and brother each were, in fact, chiefs of the MacDonald clan. This essay will outline the series of events that demonstrate how Somhairle’s connections with both Scottish and Irish clans became to be viewed by the English as a threat to early English attempts at plantation in Ulster. Continue reading

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Celtic Lore and James VI and I’s Attempts at Union

In Westminster Abbey, underneath the coronation chair, there lays a plain stone. The stone, commonly known as the Coronation Stone, or the Stone of Scone, serves primarily as the place where English monarchs are crowned. However, before being used by the English crown, the stone was used by the Scottish kings according to legend. During Edward I’s war with Scotland in 1296, the stone was taken as a spoil of war and placed in Westminster Abbey. In the 1328 Treaty of Northampton, one of the terms was the restitution of the stone to Scotland. Despite the agreement of these terms, the stone remained in Westminster.[1] Thus it was notable when James VI of Scotland was crowned king of England in 1603 on this Scottish relic. Continue reading

Sixteenth Century Ireland: Kingdom or Colony?

In the sixteenth century, England underwent a period of expansion and transition. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I undertook the mission of trying to govern and merge Ireland into England in the most effective and financially profitable way. However, unlike Wales, which was successfully incorporated as essentially an extension of England in the mid-1530s, Ireland remained in constant flux. The fact that Ireland received the title of “kingdom” in 1541 would only go on to make things more confusing. However, while under Henry VIII, England’s policy towards Ireland was more consistent with the rule of a kingdom, while Queen Elizabeth I’s policy towards Ireland was more consistent with that of a colony. This has led to debate among historians about whether Ireland was a kingdom or was treated more like a colony, and which method of rule, Henry VIII’s or Queen Elizabeth’s, was more effective in terms of expediting England’s expansion in the British Isles. Continue reading