MacDowell is a popular surname in Ireland but the origins of the name are rooted deep in Scottish history.
There are several variations to the name including McDougal, McDill and McCool. See the end of the article for a fuller list of variations. It originated before the 10th century in the area of Galloway in south western Scotland. It comes from the old Scottish name MacDubhghaill.
Descended from Vikings
The prefix ‘Mac’ means ‘son of’. Dubhghaill was a personal name that was made up of two parts; ‘Dubh’ which meant ‘dark’ or ‘black’ and ‘gall’ which meant ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’.
So the MacDowells descended from the son of a black foreigner. The foreigner or stranger in question would have been a Viking and the adjective ‘black’ would have referred to hair colour rather than skin colour.
The Vikings invaded the British and Irish isles for centuries, particularly western Scotland, northern and eastern England and south-western Ireland. Rather than taking the valuables and returning home they would often stay and eventually integrate with the natives.
Other clans that descended from the Vikings include the Murphys and the Doyles.
Battles with the English
The MacDowells are descended from a man named Dougal, who was the son of Fergus. Fergus was a king and Lord of Galloway during the 12 century.
The family remained lords and lairds for centuries and had many battles with the English. Dougal’s great-great-grandson Sir Fergus MacDowall was the fifth laird and was taken prisoner by the English in 1401 in the Battle of Homildon.
In 1513, Uchtred MacDowell and his son Thomas both died along with James IV of Scotland, fighting the English in the Battle of Flodden. The battle took place in the north of England and was the largest between the two kingdoms. The Scottish failed in their attempt to invade England. Flodden is notable as it saw James IV become the last British monarch to die in battle.
Another member of the MacDowell clan, John the eleventh Lord, was killed by the English in the battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547.
MacDowell name spreading across the world
Over the years many MacDowells travelled to and settled in Ireland. MacDowell become a popular surname in Ireland.
Many MacDowells from further reaching parts of the world such as America, Canada and Australia are more likely to have descended from Irish emigrants than Scottish. The Irish emigrated in far greater numbers due to various economic and political reasons such as the potato famine and being expelled by the British.
So while MacDowell is originally a Scottish name it is likely to have travelled from Scotland to America/Canada/Australia via several centuries in Ireland. MacDowells in these countries can likely claim both Irish and Scottish ancestry, depending on how far back they look.
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Variations of MacDowell
The name MacDowell has many variations including MacDoual, MacDowal, MacDowall, McCool, McDill, McDool, McDougal, McDowell, McDuall and McDugald.