This surname is one of the most famous in Irish history. Originally chiefly associated with Ulster and specifically Donegal, where the main clan were located, with two further septs in West Clare and Galway, all trace their descent from the same ancestral chief "Domhnall" a gaelic compound which translates as "world ruler". "Domhnall" himself was descended from "Niall, of the nine hostages" one of the ancient legendary figures of Irish history, in the fourth century a.d. It is said that St Patrick himself directed that the clan should carry the sign of the cross on their shield for ever.Clearly with such a pedigree behind them the O'Donnells have had a lot to live upto, and this they have achieved in large measure. The predominence of the clan dates from the 13th century, and at one point they held over thirteen thousand acres of land in the district of Kilmacrenan, Co Donegal, and were measured amongst the leading land owners in the country. In 1567 Hugh O'Donel, the thirty third in descent from Domhnall, and Chief of Tirconnel, was knighted by the Lord Deputy, and the arms were confirmed as a gold field charged with an arm holding in the hand a cross crosslet fitchee. In 1603 Hugh Roe O'Donnell lead a rebellion against the English, but was defeated at Kinsale. A later ancestor Maximilian O'Donnell, Count O'Donnell, and forty third in descent from "Domhnall" saved the life of the Emperor of Austria and was granted the unique honour of impaling his coat of arms with that of Austria. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Godfrey O'Donnell, which was dated 1258, Chief of the Clan, and recorded in the Annals of Ireland, during the reign of Pope Alexander 1V elected 1254, died May 28th 1261. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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