Clann Somhairle

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House of Somerled
Parent house House of Ivar [1]
Founder Somerled

Clann Somhairle, sometimes anglicised as Clan Sorley, /ˌklæn ˈsɔːrli/ refers to those Scottish and Irish dynasties descending from the famous Norse-Gaelic leader Somerled, King of Mann and the Isles. Primarily they are the Clan Donald, formerly known as the Lord of the Isles, and the mainland Clan MacDougall, and all their numerous branches. Clan Macruari are their lost sept.


According to the Clan Donald DNA Project, Somerled was almost certainly of paternal Norwegian ancestry,[2] but his dynasty claimed Gaelic ancestry and a descent from the legendary Colla Uais and Conn of the Hundred Battles. Clan Donald chiefs have so far tested positive for a Norwegian variety of Haplogroup R1a (Y-DNA), but more MacDougalls currently need to be tested before a non-paternity event (NPE) can be completely ruled out.

Alex Woolf attempts to reconstruct a descent from the Crovan dynasty and the Uí Ímair for the Clann Somhairle, but concedes this may only be through the female line,[3] the scenario most widely known and uncontested. In any case, Woolf believes the Clann Somhairle appear to have based their claim to the Isles on this descent. Sir Iain Moncreiffe attempted to reconstruct a male line descent from Echmarcach mac Ragnaill himself to Somerled,[4] but this has received little attention. More recently it has been suggested by Richard Oram that Somerled may actually have been a male line descendant of the Jarl Gilli,[5] whose lineage apart from being Norse is uncertain.

The Orkneyinga saga refers to Somerled having "dominion in Dalr" and records that his family are known as the Dalverjar—literally "dale-dwellers". W. F. Skene suggested that although the words have quite different meanings that this name was linked to the earlier pre-Norse kingdom of Dál Riata.[6]

Clan Gothofred

Donald Monro's 1549 Description of the Western Isles of Scotland offers a brief description of the five main branches of Clan Donald that existed in his day under the title "Heir Followis The Geneologies Of The Chieff Clans Of The Iles". Monro also states that in earlier days the House was known as "Clan Gothofred".

This Somerle wes the sone of Gillebryde M'Gilleadam, name Vic Sella, Vic Mearshaighe, Vic Swyffine, Vic Malgheussa, Vic Eacime, Vic Gothefred, fra quhome they were called at that time Clan Gothofred, that is, Clan Gotheray in Hybers Leid, and they were very grate men in that tymes zeire. (Translation from Scots: This Somerled was the son of Gillebryde M'Gilleadam, son of Sella, son of Mearshaighe, son of Swyffine, son of Malgheussa, son of Eacime, son of Gothefred, from whom they were called at that time Clan Gothofred, that is, Clan Gotheray in the Gaelic language, and they were very great men in those times.)[7]

The name "Gofraid" also appears in numerous other versions of Somerled's ancestry.[8]

Similarly, a poetic address to Aonghus of Islay describes Clann Somairle as having "sprung from Síol nGofraidh" (the seed of Gofraid)[9] and a recently rediscovered poem from a 17th-century manuscript written by Niall MacMhuirich addressed to Domhnall mac Raghnaill, Rosg Mall (i.e. "Domhnall mac Raghnaill, of the Stately Gaze")[10] has the line:

Ó Ghothfruigh ó hÁmhlaibh Fhinn,   Descendant of Gofraidh, descendant of Amhlaibh Fionn

"Amhlaibh Fionn" ("white Olaf") may be Amlaíb Conung the 9th century Norse–Gael son of the king of Lochlann.[11] Various suggestions have been offered as to which of the possible Gofraid's these texts may have referred to, including Godred Crovan, Gofraid ua Ímair and Gofraid mac Fergusa.[11][12][Note 1]

See also


  1. Although not, for some reason, Gofraid of Lochlann, presumed father of Amlaíb.[13]


  1. (distaff) female line
  2. Clan Donald DNA Project
  3. Alex Woolf, The origins and ancestry of Somerled: Gofraid mac Fergusa and 'The Annals of the Four Masters', Medieval Scandinavia 15 (2005)
  4. Iain Moncreiffe, The Highland Clans: the dynastic origins, chiefs and background of the Clans connected with Highland history and of some other families. Clarkson N. Potter. Revised edition, 1982. p. 56.
  5. Richard Oram, The Lordship of Galloway. John Donald. 2000. p. 53
  6. Jennings, Andrew and Kruse, Arne (2009) "From Dál Riata to the Gall-Ghàidheil". Viking and Medieval Scandinavia. 5. Brepols. p. 132
  7. Monro (1774) "The Geneologies Of The Chieff Clans Of The Iles".
  8. Woolf (2005) pp. 3–4
  9. Woolf (2005) p. 12
  10. McLeod & Bateman (2007) p. 75
  11. 11.0 11.1 McLeod & Bateman (2007) pp. 502-03
  12. Woolf (2005) pp. 13-14
  13. Ó Corráin (1998) p. 3