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