A branch from very early in the MacDonald line became the Clanranalds and a branch from them settled on the mainland near Inverness, built Invergarry Castle and chose to spell their name MacDonnell, which is nearer the Gaelic original MacDhomhnuill.
19th century depiction of Clan MacDonnell of Keppoch The MacDonnell name itself is found in two distinct families known as MacDonnell of Keppoch and MacDonnell of Glengarry.
Ranald was the younger son of the 1st Lord of the Isles and had five sons. Alan, one of the sons, would be progenitor of Clanranald. Another son, Donald, would have a son, Alexander, who could be considered the first Glengarry chief.
The lands of Glengarry lie in Lochaber, once part of the ancient Pict Kingdom of Moray. Donald, Alan and the other brothers had been denied their lands by their uncle Godfrey.
When Godfrey’s son Alexander was executed in 1427, the lands became the property of the Crown. The MacDonnells became tenants of the Crown on what should have been their own land.
In 1491 James V received the submission of most of the Clan Chiefs regarding the new feudal relationships and acknowledgement of Royal superiority. With his rebellious attitude, however, Alexander of Glengarry resisted submission for forty years more. On the 6th March 1539 he received a Crown charter to Glengarry, Morar, half of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, Lochbroom and the castle of Strome.
Nonetheless he joined a rebellious attempt to aid Donald Gorm of Sleat reclaim the Lordship of the Isles.
Donald was killed in battle and Alexander, tricked into attending on James V, was swiftly jailed in Edinburgh until 1542. He died in 1560.
On the Keppoch side the MacDonnells are descended from Alistair Carrach. For his involvement in the 1431 insurrection of Donald Balloch, Alistair had a large portion of his lands removed and transferred to MacKintosh, chief of Clan Chattan.
This caused a long-running feud between the two clans. The 12th chief of Keppoch, Alexander, and his brother were both slain in 1663 in what is remembered as Tobair-nan-ceann, the Well of Heads, not far from Invergarry. This is where the heads of seven murderers were washed before presentation to Lord MacDonnell of Invergarry.
The son of the 15th chief was among the men who attacked government soldiers who were preparing a surprise assault on the Glenfinnan gathering. This was the first strike at the government in the rising of 1745. He later fell at Culloden.