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MacDubháin, other Septs, & Merry Christmas!

Updated: Dec 25, 2019

Nollaig Shona Daoibh / Merry Christmas!

Over the past few weeks I've received several emails relating to surnames and families that are thought to be branches or offshoots of the Ó Dochartaighs and whether or not there's a way to actually test if these families are really branches of the family. Between our Y-DNA Project Administrator, Zack Daugherty, and I, we encouraged them to pursue specific genetic testing and educated them on both the economic option and the exhaustive option. This led me on another research journey, detailed in this blog post, in which I'll cover:

  • The MacDubháin connection to the Ó Dochartaighs

  • Updates to the Septs page and the known status of these families

  • Terminology related to Irish family divisions

Once you're finished with this post, go check out the Septs page on this site for new information and sources.

Pedigrees of the Ó Dochartaigh (left center) and the Mac Dubháin/Magudhán (top right) in the Mac Solaidh Manuscripts, RIA MSS 1404, (24 P 41). Photo courtesy of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, Ireland.

The MacDubháin Connection to the Ó Dochartaighs

I was very happy to receive an email from Ms. Gail Coane Leibell who sent me a copy of an article published by Tomás G. Ó Canann in the Donegal Annual which uncovers a long-unknown connection between the Mac Dubháin family of Raphoe and the Ó Dochartaigh family.

The Annals of the Four Masters mention a Mac Dubháin amongst the nobles slain along with King Echmarcach Ó Dochartaigh fighting de Courcy in the battle of Croc Nascain in 1197. Short of this reference one may only find the name in Ó Dubhagáin's famous Topographical Poems which mention the Mac Dubháin family as one of the families living in Tír Éanna (Raphoe) near the year 1370. These lands were traditionally Ó Dochartaigh territory at the time, so it would appear the Ó Dochartaigh and Mac Dubháin lived together.

There is no Mac Dubháin pedigree in the major Irish genealogies, however, four little-known manuscripts copied by the renowned Ó Neachtain group of scholars in the early 18th century give a twelve-generation pedigree of the Mac Dubháin chiefs. In each copy, presumably from an earlier common source manuscript. It's important to note that the entry for the Mac Dubháin genealogy immediately follows the pedigrees of the Ó Dochartaighs and points back to the Mac Dubháin as being descendants of a son of "Domhnaill of Droma Furnochta" the son of Maoínghaile, who were patriarchs of Clann Ó Dochartaigh. This actually would make them an earlier branch off of the Ó Dochartaighs than even are the McDevitt.

Their name has a number of variants in Irish (Mac Dubháin, Mág Dhubáin, Meagudháin, MacGúain) and in English (McGwean, McGugyne, McGuane), though these anglicizations (English spellings of Irish surnames) have mostly been erroneously modernized under the non-related surname McGowan. It's important to remember that while most of the Mac Dubháin descendants have likely been anglicized to the name "McGowan", very few of the McGowan are biologically Mac Dubháin (kind of like the logic of "all chickens are birds, but not all birds are chickens"). This is because McGowan (the Irish name meaning "son of the Smith") is believed to have originated from descendants of metal smiths of clans all over Ireland. Because of this, it's possible for Mac Dubháin descendants to even bear the name Smith today.

Updates to the Septs Page

A few days ago, I went over the "Septs" page to update information relating to families descended from or allied with the Ó Dochartaighs. Some new topics include answering why that families shown in the genealogies to be branches of the Ó Dochartaigh do not actually show a biological connection, as well as understanding why these branches formed in the first place. It also includes updates to the name McCafferty and Manley.

Here is my evaluation of the current status of known research on the surnames associated with the Ó Dochartaighs:

Fair Y-DNA Evidence to Support

  • The McDevitt Family

Very Limited Advanced Y-DNA Matches, Need More Testers

  • The McBride Family

  • The McManamon Family

  • The McMonagle Family

No Advanced Y-DNA Testers so far, Need Candidates

  • The McCafferty Family

  • The McConnellogue Family

  • The McDubháin Family

Not Biologically Connected

  • The Bradley Family

  • The Manley Family

  • The McAllen Family

  • The McFaul Family

  • The McLaughlin Family

Not Possible to Confirm

  • The Ó Morgair Family (historic variant not used or extinct)

Terminology Related to Irish Family Divisions

In researching for this blog post, I had to go back to the definitions. What actually is a Clan? What is a Sept? Do these equate to Surnames or not? The most common words used today for divisions of Irish families are "Clan" and "Sept". While most dictionaries state them as equivalents, scholars argue which of these words is more appropriate, as they attempt to mark a distinction between the Irish family structures and the very-centralized Clan system of Scotland (Clans of Ireland, History)

In Irish there are a host of words to describe large groupings of family:

  • Cenél (meaning kindred, race, descendants): The Cenél Conaill, were according to medieval annals the descendants of Conall Gulban, Prince of Tirconnell (modern day county Donegal). While this was a group containing most Donegal families, it's likely that it was more of a political than purely genealogical association.

  • Siol or Síl (seed, progeny): The Síl Lugdach, according to tradition, were the seed of Lughaid. This was the pre-surname-era tribal name of family from which the powerful O'Donnell, O'Doherty, O'Boyle, and other families later formed.

  • Clann (children, race, descendants): Clann Famhain was the poetic name used in the Book of Fenagh to refer to the Ó Dochartaighs. Famhain was the grandfather of Dochartach (from whom the surname O'Doherty originated). (Hennessy, Kelly)

  • Muintir (family, people): The Annals of Ulster refer to our family as Muintir-Dochartaigh [people of Dochartaigh].

  • Uí, Ua, or Ó (grandsons, or more loosely, descendants): Plurally, this refers to the whole family (the Ó Dochartaighs), though we do not find this usage in the medieval manuscripts. Singularly, combined with a forename, it may refer to an individual (such as, Aindileas Ó Dochartaigh), but its use without a forename is reserved, as a designation or title, referring to the Chief of the Name (The Ó Dochartaigh). The name is used most frequently in the Annals to refer, individually, to the chieftain; "O'Doherty's Country", referring to the lands under the chieftain's rule (that would have been Inishowen); or "the people of Ua Dochartaigh" (AU 1336.1) refers to the people under the leadership of the chief of the name (which would have included not only the Ó Dochartaighs, but also related and allied families bearing other surnames).

  • Sliocht (offspring, progeny): In relation to the Ó Dochartaighs, this word appears to be used to refer to prominent families or branches within the unified Ó Dochartaigh Clan. Sir Henry Dockwra made handwritten notes in the year 1601 describing the families of Inishowen. Referring to the Ó Dochartaighs, he said "The people are divided into septs... The chief septs are these: Sliocht Brian,…Sliocht Donnell,…Sliocht Brasleigh,…Sliocht Shane,…Sliocht Phelim,…Sliocht Rossa." These are the same or similar family divisions as we find in a 1602 pardon list in the Elizabethan Fiants which list "the race of Brien O Doghartie", …"the race of Shane O'Doghartie", …"the race of the O Dogharties called Breasalie",…"the race of Felim O Doghartie",…"the race of Hugh, William and Redmund, of the O Dogharties",…"the race of Rosa of the Dogharties",… "the race of Donell of the O Dogharties".


There has been little study to determine precise definitions for these many Irish words for family divisions, nor has there been on how the English words, such as sept relate to them (Swift). In modern usage, as we are so distanced from the medieval Gaelic family structure, we often use the terms that we do know interchangeably. In some cases this may be appropriate, while in others it may not be. For instance, there is often a "clan-name" and a "family name" (surname) which use the same spelling, but refer to two completely different groups of people (Woulfe, Irish Clan Names). I'll use the Ó Dochartaigh's neighbors, the Ó Donnell family, for example here. Today you will see references to the "O'Donnell Clan Association", however to be historically accurate, Clann Domhnaill is the "clan-name" of the O'Lavertys, a completely unrelated family (Woulfe, Clann Domhnaill). Continuing on, the poetic clan-name belonging to those of the surname Ó Donnell is "Clann Dalaigh" (literally race of Dalach, a progenitor of that family) (Woulfe, Clann Dalaigh). Finally, the surname Ó Dálaigh (O'Daly), refers to a completely unrelated family (Woulfe, Clann Dalaigh). This example underscores the historical distinction between surnames and clan names.


Now that we have a context of the terminologies that were used historically to refer to our family, despite the fact that there is no verbatim reference to "Clann Ó Dochartaigh" in the annals, that doesn't mean that the Ó Dochartaighs weren't a "Clann" (the Irish spelling of Clan) or that they shouldn't be called by that more-widely-known term. For instance if we marketed ourselves as "Muintir-Dochartaigh", it's likely that few of our kinsmen would realize what in the world that even was, though it's one of the most historically accurate designations that could be used. In modern times, the use of the word "Clan" is the trend of today. The use of this word, as the modern globally-accepted term for historically-organized Irish families, has been cemented by bodies such as Clans of Ireland, which is the organization in Ireland created to for the authentication, registration, promotion, and governance of Irish Clans (Clans of Ireland, Finte). While Clans of Ireland is an independent body, rather than a governmental office, its patron is the President of Ireland, and as of this year there are 74 registered Clans or historic families. In this light the use of the word "Clan" to refer to our family (Clan Ó Dochartaigh) is well established for the context we live in today and its meaning generally understood widespread across the culture of today's society. Thus while we were historically known as Clann Famhain, it's not inaccurate in today's culture to call our family Clann Ó Dochartaigh.

Be sure to check out the Septs page of this site for more information and additional sources.

Nollaig Shona Daoibh / Merry Christmas!

Will Dougherty III


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1 Comment

Hi there will,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to comment that I read your blog and found it very interesting. Apologies for sounding so naive as I am very new at this but my surname is Given and my very limited research suggests that my family may be connected to the McDubháin clan, maybe.

The earliest known Given that I can find is from the 1200’s and it is no secret that some of us emigrated to Ireland. I would be very interested in taking a test to see if there is a connection. Kindest Regards, Ruaridh Given

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