At dusk on a summer’s evening in the year 795AD, a sinister
looking high-prowed ship ploughed into the sands at Lambay
Island just north of Howth Head on the east coast of Ireland
near Dublin. Immediately from the body of the Longboat, the
oarsmen rushed to attack the monastery of Saint Columkill. They
slaughtered the monks, plundered the monastery for for all the
gold and silver vessels they could find, and then disappeared
back into the Irish Sea. The Irish Annalists, referring to the
incident, describe the unwelcome arrivals as 'dubh-ghaill'.
The first 'Doyles' had arrived in Ireland!
This was the beginning of more than two centuries of attack
and invasion which had devastating effect on Ireland, and on the
Irish monasteries in particular.
Viking (from the Old Norse Vikingr) means
'sea-rover' or 'pirate', and this precisely
what these people were. Ethnically, they were Teutons, Danish,
Swedish and Norwegian farmers, fisherman and sea-merchants, who
were forced onto the open sea in search of a livelihood by
over-population and a shortage of arable land at home.
From the eighth century, their plundering raids terrorized much
of the known world, reaching as far as America, North Africa and
Members of Clan Doyle /Clann O DubhGhaill ('Dubh-Ghaill'
... pronounced 'Du-Gall') take their family surname
from the Irish Gaelic words meaning 'Dark/Evil
Foreigner'; and this is just what the indigenous Celts
called the Danish Vikings who started settling in Ireland
and Scotland more than 1,000 years ago.
In Ireland, the annalists distinguished two groups among the
raiding Vikings, the Lochlainn, or Norwegians, and the Danair,
or Danes, the Norwegians being described as fair, the Danish as
dark (because they wore chain-mail armour). Initially, the
Norwegians dominated, and their raids were sporadic and
unsystematic. From about 830AD, however a new phase of large-scale
attacks, involving the use of fleets of long-ships, began, and
the Vikings penetrated deep inland though the use of rivers and
lakes. Attracted by the wealth of the monasteries and churches
they plundered them steadily. From this period date the first
Vikings' fortified settlements. In 852AD, the Danes wrested
control of one of these settlements, the military and trading
post of Dublin, from the Norwegians under their king Olaf (in
Irish Amlaoimh), and founded the Danish Kingdom of Dublin which
was to last three hundred years, until the coming of the
For the next 100 years, up to the middle of the tenth
century, the Vikings consolidated and extended their power
though unremitting aggression. From about 950 on, however, the
east Clare Gaelic sept of the Dal Cais began its rise to power,
capturing first the Kingship of Munster from the Eoganachta and
then, with Brian Boru, taking the high-kingship of Ireland from
the Ui Neill in 1002AD. Brian fused the disparate Gaelic forces
together with some renegade Vikings into a single confederate army, and
stopped the combined might
of of the Norwegian and Danish forces in the battle of Clontarf
on April 23 1014AD, neutralising the power of the Vikings
in Ireland permanently.
Although their political power declined after this,
as a people the Vikings were soon thoroughly absorbed into the
religious and political life of the country, adopting the Irish
language and the Irish customs, intermarrying and intermingling.
To them also we owe all of the earliest towns in the country:
Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick all began as
Viking settlements, and, even after their absorption into the
Gaelic culture, the commercial interests of the newcomers kept
them centred in these areas.
As early as 851AD one DubhGilla, son of Broder, is mentioned
as king of Idrone in County Carlow. From this time onwards, it
is an interesting exercise to trace the development of the name
in the calendars of Irish records. We instance the following as
examples:- O Dowill, Dowyll, O Dowile, O Doule, O Douell, Duggal,
McDuggal, McDowell, Dowell, McDowall and Dowall. All are clearly
forms of 'dubh-ghaill' mentioned above.
McDowell family in Ireland are our
'cousins', and are
descended from the Danish Vikings who settled in Argyll and the
Western Islands of Scotland.
Their great ancestor was Somerled (a Viking word meaning
“summer warrior”) , he was the master of Argyll (on the west
coast of Scotland) and he was killed in battle against the Scots
in 1164AD. (Argyll
and the Western Isles were not ceded to Scotland by the King of
Norway until 1266AD.) A
branch of this family settled in Ireland in the
Initially they served as
mercenary soldiers) for the O’Conor Clans in the Province of
Connacht. For the
next 300 years or so, the McDowells are recorded in various
ancient Irish records as professional soldiers, serving a number
of different Irish Warlords in various parts of Ireland.
The modern English language version of 'Dubh-Ghaill'
in Ireland today is 'Doyle', 'O’Doyle' or
'Dowell', 'McDowell', and in Scotland it is
'Dougall' or 'MacDougall' (the modern Scots-English
pronunciation is closer to the original Gaelic). In Ulster and
Roscommon, these names now exist as 'McDowell' and
'Dowell', and are carried on by the descendants of the
original immigrant Irish/Scots/Norse Galloglass
mercenaries. A more complete list of surname varients include all
the following: Dougall, Dowell, Doyle, O'Doyle, DubhGhaill,
MacDowall, MacDowell, McDougal, McDougall, McDoughall, McDowall,