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Which Mac Duinnshleibhe?

There is a great deal of evidence to support the theory that MacLea is derived from the name McDunsleibhe.

Niall Campbell, later 10th Duke of Argyll thought that

“There is evidence of not only the 'd' but also the 's' dropping out by euphonistic elision, the name becoming Mconlave and McDunlave and Mcinlay, etc”.

He also thought that "it was possible" that this was the Dunsleve ancestor of the Lamonts, MacLachlans etc. This possibility has been picked up by others as probable or even factual!

However, I believe that there are two possibilities as to our eponymic ancestor:

  1. Dunshleibe Ua Anradhan
  2. Dunshleibe Ua Eochadha

Dunshleibe Ua Anradhan
The conventional view is that our eponymic ancestor was Dunsleve, the son of Aedh Alain who was the son of Aedh Anradhan (Anrothan), the O’Neill prince who married a Princess of Dalriada, inheriting her lands of Cowal and Knapdale. Anradan was descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland in the fifth century. I shall call this the Dunshleibe ua Anradhan possibility.

The case for this theory is this:

The argument for our descent from Anrothan is based on:

  1. The assumption that our name is derived from MacDunshleibe
  2. That a Dunsleve existed in Cowal in the 1200s
  3. That the name Molmore used in the 1544 Charter was often used by MacSweens.

I have always felt uncomfortable with this theory – and it should be remembered that Niall Campbell merely said that it was “quite possible” – he was clearly uncertain.

The case against this theory is this:

  1. Dunshleibe ua Anradhan was of the Cenél nGabráin. Given the antipathy between them and the Cenél Loairn, I cannot see how someone of the Cenél nGabráin could become the Coarb of St Moluag the patron saint of the Cenél Loairn.
  2. I cannot identify our family in any of the genealogies – a strange omission if this theory were true.
  3. Under Brehon law the succession should have gone to someone of the Fine Erluma, (Tribe of the Saint) or the Fine Grin (Tribe of the Land). Anrothan was not from either tribe so would not be eligible.
  4. Anrothan would have O’Neill DNA – and although he married a Princess of the Royal House of Dalriada the Y chromosome is passed down the male line and his descendents would have the O’Neill DNA – not Dalriadic DNA.

Dunshleibe Ua Eochadha
According to Byrne the Ulaid rigdamnai alone used the name Mac Duinnshleibhe

“ So for instance when after 1137 the Dal Fiatach kingship was confined to the descendants of Donn Sleibe Mac Eochada (slain in 1091), the rigdamnai set themselves apart from the rest of the family by using the name Mac Duinnshleibhe (Donleavy)." Byrne, page 128

It seems as though Ruaidhri Mac Duinnsleibhe was the last king of Ulidia dying at the end of the twelfth century . Rory, son of Dunsleve, is number 54 on O'Hart's roll of the kings of Ulidia and described as "the last king of Ulidia, and its fifty-fourth king since the advent of St. Patrick to Ireland."

In Irish Pedigrees – The Stem of the Dunlevy family, Princes of Ulidia, O'Hart says

“Tuirmach Teamrach, the 81st Monarch of Ireland had a son named Fiach Fearmara, who was ancestor of the Kings of Argyle and Dalriada, in Scotland: this Fiach was also the ancestor of MacDunshleibe and O’Dunsleibhe, anglicised Dunlevy, Dunlief, Dunlop, Levingstone and Livingstone. …

.According to Dr O’Donovan descendents of this family (Cu-Uladh the son the last MacDunshleibe King of Ulidia), soon after the English invasion of Ireland, passed into Scotland, where they changed their name.”

Last references to Mac Duinnsleibhe in The Annals of Ulster

These entries record the end of the Mac Duinnsleibhe rule of Ulidia

U1165.5 Eochaidh Mac Duinnsleibhe [Ua Eochadha] was expelled from Ulidia.

U1166.2 Cucuach Mac Gilla-espuic was killed by Donnsleibhe, grandson of Eochaidh [Ua Eochadha]. His sons were Donnsleibhe, Maghnus, Eochaidh and Aedh.

U1166.8 Eochaidh Mac Duinnsleibhe [Ua Eochadha] was blinded by Muircertach Ua Lochlainn in violation of the protection of the successor of Patrick and of the Staff of Jesus and of Donnchadh Ua Cerbaill, namely, the arch-king of Airgialla

U1171.5 Great foraying force [was led] by Maghnus Mac Duinnsleibhe [Ua Eochadha] with all Ulidia into Cuil-in-tuaisceirt, so that they plundered Cuil-rathain and other churches, until a small number of the Cenel-Eogain under Conchobur Ua Cathain overtook them and gave battle and killed one and twenty men, both chiefs and sons of chiefs, and a multitude of others along with them. And Maghnus himself was wounded. And moreover that Maghnus was killed shortly after in Dun by Donnsleibhe, that is, by his own brother and by Gilla-Oenghusa Mac Gilla-espuic, namely, by the lawgiver of Monaigh, after great evils had been done by him,—namely, after leaving his own wedded wife and after taking his wife from his fosterer, that is, from Cu-maighi Ua Flainn and she [had been] the wife of his own brother at first, namely, of Aedh; after inflicting violence upon the wife of his other brother also, that is, of Eochaidh; after profanation of bells and croziers, clerics and churches. Donnsleibhe took the kingship in his stead.

U1177.5 A hosting by John De Courcy and by the knights into Dal-Araidhe (and to Dun-da-lethlas), on which they killed Domnall, grandson of Cathusach [Mac Duinnsleibhe Ua Eochadha], king of Dál-Araidhe.

U1196.2 A hosting by Ruaidhri Mac Duinnsleibhe [Ua Eochadha] with the Foreigners and with the sons of the kings of Connacht to Cenel-Eogain and the Airthir. Howbeit, the Cenel-Eogain of Telach-oc and the Airthir came to the Plain of Ard-Macha and gave them battle and defeat was inflicted upon Mac Duinnsleibe and stark slaughter of his people took place there, namely, twelve sons of the kings of Connacht.

U1200.4 A foray by Ruaidhri Mac Duinnsleibhe [Ua Eochadha] with some of the Foreigners of Meath, so that they pillaged the Monastery of Paul and Peter [in Armagh] until they left not therein but one cow.

Byrne says that Ruaidhri died in 1201

The case for this theory is this:

The argument for our descent from Donn Sleibe Mac Eochada is based on:

  1. The assumption that our name is derived from MacDunshleibe
  2. That since 1137 the name Mac Duinnshleibhe was reserved for the the rigdamnai of Ulaid
  3. That the Mac Duinnshleibhe entries in the Annals of Ulster suddenly stop in the early 1200s
  4. The fact Cudulig was Abbot of Lismore in 1150, but that he appeared to be an interregnum as his descendents were appanaged in Morvern – becoming the Macleans
  5. This suggests that a new line of abbots (or an older line resumed) in the early 1200s
  6. That the office of Abbot was held in very high regard and that the Coarb of St Moluag was a very high office – more than suitable for an exiled prince.
  7. That the Mac Duinnshleibhe shared a common ancestor with Kings of Dalriada - Fiach Fearmara.
  8. That the Mac Duinnshleibhe were therefore of the Fine Grin (Tribe of the Land) and so would be eligible.
  9. The Ui Echach Coba and the Dál nAraide descend from Fiacha Araide, ancestor of Moluag
  10. That Cathusach Mac Duinnsleibhe Ua Eochadha was described as king of Dál-Araidhe .
  11. That the Mac Duinnshleibhe were therefore of the Fine Erluma (Tribe of the Saint) and so would be eligible.
  12. Therefore the Mac Duinnshleibhe were of both the Fine Erluma and the Fine Grin so VERY eligible.
  13. Most Highland families adopted their surnames after an eponymous ancestor who lived c.1150-1350. We are recorded as using this name as far back as the 1500s.


There is an intriguing reference in U1166.2 -"Donnsleibhe, grandson of Eochaidh [Ua Eochadha]. His sons were Donnsleibhe, Maghnus, Eochaidh and Aedh".

The conventional view is that Dunsleve,was the son of Aedh Alain who was the son of Aedh Anradhan (Anrothan). Perhaps this is the case.

But It may be that our line is Dunsleve, the son of Aedh MacDunshleibe Ua Eochadha.

Last updated 22 May, 2008