The McQuillans (Irish: Mac Uibhilín) are an Irish sept. The chiefs of the family were Lords of the Route, an old word for a private army, from the late 13th century to the mid 16th century. The family had its principal residence at Dunluce Castle in County Antrim from before 1513.
There is a difference of opinion between the traditional origin of the McQuillans and the modern, academic view.
The traditional view is that the McQuillans are descendants of Fiachra MacUillin, youngest son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the ancestor of the O'Neills. In this connection, the MacQuillan chiefs were accorded the status of Princes of Dal Riada.
The modern view is that the McQuillans are descended from a branch of the de Mandevilles, a Cambro-Norman family who settled in Ulster during the Anglo-Norman invasions under the de Courcys in the late 12th century. As descendants of Hugh de Mandeville, they assumed the Gaelic name Mac Uighilin (Mac Hugelin, a diminutive of Hugh), whence McQuillan. From earliest times the name has been confused with MacWilliam. As allies of the O'Neills, the MacQuillan chiefs were incorporated into Irish polity by means of an honorary, though transparently bogus, O'Neill pedigree. They were not O'Neills but were regarded as such for diplomatic purposes.
Partisans of the traditional view argue the McQuillans must have acquired their lands in Twescard in the 1460s by purchase from the Mandevilles at a time when Mandeville influence was collapsing.
The home country of the McQuillans was in the areas of Antrim known as the Route and the Glens, with their seat at the castle of Dunluce. They became gaelicized very early, forming a sept on the native model. Their chief was Lord of the Route ("The MacQuillan of the Route"), the route referred to apparently being the usual route between Scotland and Ireland.
Throughout the 14th century the de Mandevilles were hereditary High Constables of Ulster. However, in the words of a contemporary, "they were as Irish as the worst." In this period, rebellion and disloyalty marked the lesser Normans such as the Mandevilles who resented the great Earls over them and wanted to be the supreme captains of their nations.
By the end of Edward II's reign (1327), almost half the land colonized by the English in Ireland belonged to absentee landlords. The resident Anglo-Irish nobility accused the absentees of draining the land 's wealth instead of investing it in the defense of their holdings, their derelict castles and unmanned frontiers encouraging the Irish to encroach and creating military problems for the Anglo-Irish. The Scottish war between Robert the Bruce and England spilled into Ireland. Roger Mortimer was responsible to the king for the organizing of the Anglo-Irish resistance to Bruce. Mortimer greatly expanded the grants to the Anglo-Irish nobility. When Mortimer fell from grace in England, all of his grants were resumed. De Burgh ignited a resumption of the hostilities between the de Burghs and the FitzGeralds. In 1315 the Mandevilles joined the Irish King Edward Bruce in an abortive attempt to unite the Irish and Scots against the English. Henry de Mandeville, seneschal of Ulster, was accused of treason and imprisoned in Dublin. In 1331 Henry de Mandeville was appointed Seneschal of Ulster by his cousin Richard de Burgh, the Red Earl of Ulster, who was father-in-law of the Scottish King Robert Bruce. This appointment was a delegation of the de Burgh's English authority over the native Irish kings. However, the Mandevilles, already in the process of going native, murdered William de Burgh the young Earl of Ulster in 1333 at the Ford of Carrickfergus as a result of a family feud. For the rest of the 14th century, messages sent from the Anglo-Irish parliament complain of decaying defenses and incompetent administration by absentee landlords, and the prophecy of reconquest of the colony by Irish chiefs and rebellion by the "degenerate" or gaelicized English.
Their predominant position was consolidated by Sincin Mòr McQuillan, who ruled as Chief from 1390 to 1449. During the 15th century the McQuillan chiefs were allies of the O'Neills who were the royal family of Ulster and who vigorously opposed English incursions into the area.
In 1541 their chief Rory Og McQuillan declared that no "captain of his race" had ever died in his bed. By then, Anglo-Scottish confiscation of native lands in Ulster was beginning and the McQuillan power was declining. The sept met with major defeats at the hands of the McDonnells and many of them dispersed. In 1550 James McDonnell established himself in the Glens, where the McQuillans had ruled since 1400. In 1563 the McQuillans suffered a major defeat by the McDonnells at the Battle of Ora. The McQuillans were defeated again in 1580 by Sorley Boy McDonnell. In 1586 the English confiscated the lands of Edward McQuillan (1503-1605), the last Lord of Dunluce, and granted them to Sorley Boy McDonnell. In 1603 the English government began the Plantation of Ulster, a plan to settle Ulster with English and Scots who were to receive grants of confiscated Irish lands. Sir Randall McDonnell, son of Sorley Boy, received a re-grant of McQuillan lands and was created Earl of Antrim.
The last Lord of the Route, another Rory Og McQuillan (died 1634), recovered a part of the confiscated lands but was the last to bear the title Lord of the Route. In the late 17th century, a Capt. Rory McQuillan was an officer in O'Neill's infantry in King James II's Irish army.
Edward MacQuillen, son of Ephraim MacQuillen, recorded the following information on his descent of the MacQuillins of Ulster: Walter MacQuillin, father of Roderick MacQuillin, father of Edward MacQuillin, Sr. [the last Lord of Dunluce], born 1503, father of Edward MacQuillin, Jr., born 1535, father of Roderick MacQuillin, born 1567, father of Richard MacQuillin, born 1594, father of Charles MacQuillin, born 1630, father of Richard MacQuillin, born 1670, father of Ephraim MacQuillin, born 1726, father of Edward MacQuillin, born 1760, father of Joseph MacQuillin, born 1792.
Coat of Arms
Gules a wolf rampant Argent a chief Or. Crest: a demi-dragon Azure.
- Wikipedia: Dunluce Castle
- Wikipedia: Clan McQuillan
- M. Webb, "The Clan of the MacQuillins of Antrim" in Ulster Journal of Archaeology vol. 8, 1860.