Alexander MacDonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim

Alexander MacDonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim (1615–1699) was a Roman Catholic peer and military commander in Ireland. He fought on the losing side in the Irish Confederate Wars (1641–1653) and in the Williamite War (1688–1691). Twice his lands were forfeit and twice he regained them. However, he is probably best known for having been shut out of Derry by the apprentice boys at the beginning of the latter of these two wars.

The Earl of Antrim
ResidenceGlenarm Castle
OccupationLandowner, Soldier
PredecessorRandal MacDonnell, 1st Marquess and 2nd Earl
SuccessorRandal MacDonnell, 4th Earl

Birth and origins

Alexander was born in 1615,[1] probably at Dunluce Castle, his parents' habitual residence. He was one of the eight children, and the second son, of Randal MacDonnell and his wife, Alice O'Neill. His father was the 1st Earl of Antrim. Alexander's mother was the daughter of Hugh Ó Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone of the O'Neill Dynasty. His parents married in 1604.[2]

He appears below as the younger of two brothers:

  1. Randal (1609–1682), who became the first Marquess of Antrim;[3] and
  2. Alexander (1615–1699), the subject of this article.

He also had six sisters[2] of which five are known by name:

  1. Ann, who married firstly Christopher, Lord Delvin, and secondly William Fleming, Baron of Slane;[4]
  2. Mary, who married firstly Lucas, 2nd Viscount Dillon, and secondly Oliver, 6th Lord Louth;[5]
  3. Sarah, who married firstly Neile-Oge O'Neill of Killileagh in County Antrim, secondly Charles O'Conor Sligo, and thirdly Donald Macarthy More;[6]
  4. Catherine, who married Edward Plunket of Castlecor;[7]
  5. Rose, who married Colonel Gordon commander of a regiment in Robert Munroe's army.[8]

Father's inheritance

When Alexander's father, the first Earl of Antrim, died on 10 December 1636 in Dunluce Castle and was buried at the Bonamargy Franciscan Friary.[9][10] In his will he had divided his estate between his two sons. Alexander inherited the Barony of Glenarm,[11] whereas the elder, Randal, inherited the title and the larger share of the land, consisting of the baronies of Dunluce and Kilconway.[12] Alexander made Glenarm Castle on the east coast of County Antrim his residence.

Irish Confederate Wars

After coming of age, Alexander MacDonnell spent three years travelling abroad in Europe on his grand tour. He returned to Ireland just before the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, in which he sided with the rebels and commanded a regiment of Irish. Unlike his brother Randal, Alexander urged for a conciliatory approach. He led a regiment during the Irish Confederate Wars until the Confederation surrendered to Cromwell in 1652. His lands were confiscated and distributed among Cromwellian soldiers, but in exchange he received 3,500 acres in Connaught.[13] By 1656, he was living in England.

Family tree
Alexander MacDonnell with his two wifes and other selected relatives.
Sorley Boy

d. 1590
1nd Earl


d. 1665


d. 1669
3rd Earl

d. 1710
4th Earl


d. 1739
5th Earl
XXXEarls & marquesses
of Antrim
First wife on the left, second on the right. Also see the lists of siblings and children in the text.


After the Restoration in 1660, Alexander MacDonnell was restored to his lands by Charles II in 1668. In 1680, he was appointed custos rotulorum for Antrim.

Brother's succession

On 3 February 1682 his only brother, Randal, died childless. Like Alexander, Randal had married twice but both marriages were childless.[14] The marquessate, became extinct and Randal was therefore the first and last Marquess of Antrim of the 1645 creation. However, Alexander succeeded him in the earldom as the 3rd Earl of Antrim.[15]

Alexander was also invested as a Privy Counsellor and Lord-Lieutenant of Antrim shortly after the accession of King James II in 1685, as the King followed a policy of replacing Protestant officials with Catholic ones throughout Ireland.

Williamite War

At the outbreak of the Glorious Revolution, which replaced James II with William of Orange, Antrim was already in his seventies. He stayed loyal to James. When the Dutch invasion threatened, James ordered Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell, whom James had appointed viceroy of Ireland, to sent reliable Irish troops to England. These units sailed to Chester in September and early October 1688.[16] To replace these units, Tyrconnell ordered four new regiments to be raised, one for each Irish province. The Ulster regiment was to be raised by Antrim. He hired 1,200 Scottish mercenaries (i.e. redshanks), making sure they were all Catholics. The unit was supposed to be ready on 20 November, but delays occurred.

At that time Tyrconnell's remodelling of the Irish army had advanced so far that few units still had significant numbers of Protestant soldiers. One of those was the regiment of Viscount Mountjoy, a Protestant loyal to James. This unit was in garrison at Derry. Tyrconnell considered this unit unreliable and on 23 November he ordered Mountjoy to march to Dublin, supposedly for embarking to England.[17] Mountjoy's regiment was to be replaced by Antrim's,[18] but that was not ready and Derry found itself without garrison.

When Antrim finally got his troops on the way, he met Colonel George Philips, a Protestant, at Newtown Limavady, who sent a messenger to Derry to warn the city. On 7 December 1688, with Antrim's regiment ready to cross the Foyle River under the Ferryquay Gate, thirteen apprentices seized the city keys and locked the gates.[19][20] With this Derry was in rebellion against Tyrconnell and James;. Antrim was not strong enough to take the town by force and retreated to Coleraine.

When Tyrconnell heard that Antrim had been kept out of Derry, he stopped Mountjoy on his march to Dublin and sent him back to Derry. On 21 December Mountjoy reached Derry and struck a deal with the city, according to which two of his companies, consisting entirely of Protestant soldiers, would be let into town.[21] The one was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Lundy, the other by Captain William Stewart.[lower-alpha 1] Both later swore allegiance to William. Mountjoy appointed Lundy governor of the town in place of Philips.

James lost the Williamite War in Ireland with the fall of Limerick in 1691. Antrim as a supporter of James was one of the losers. Peace was signed with the Treaty of Limerick according to which all the members of the Irish landed gentry having served in the Jacobite Army who did not immediately swear allegiance to William and Mary would forfeit their title and lands. Antrim seems to have missed his chance in 1691 and not have sworn allegiance to William immediately after the signing of the treaty. However, he seems to have obtained a pardon at a later stage and did regain possession of his lands.[22]

Marriage and children

He married, firstly, Lady Elizabeth Annesley, daughter of Arthur Annesley, 1st Earl of Anglesey. She died childless in 1669.

He married, secondly, Helena Burke, daughter of Sir John Burke of Derrymaclachtney, after 1672. They had two children:

  1. Randal (1680–1721), who succeeded as the 4th Earl; and
  2. Mary (married 1700), who married Henry Wells.[23]

Death and succession

Alexander MacDonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim, died in 1699 and was succeeded by his son Randal.[24]

Notes and references

  1. William Stewart was the grandfather of the first Marquess of Londonderry.
  1. Lodge 1789, p. 211: "Alexander, the third earl of Antrim, was born in the year 1615 ... ."
  2. Burke 1949, p. 66, left column, line 30: "His Lordship [the 1st Earl] m. 1604, Alice, dau. of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and had issue, with six daus. ..."
  3. Debrett 1828, p. 688, line 31: "... RANDAL, 2nd earl, who was advanced to the dignity of marquess of Antrim on account to his loyalty to King Charles I. 1644;"
  4. Lodge 1789, p. 207, line 12: "Daughter Lady Ann, was first married to Christopher, Lord Delvin; and secondly to William Fleming, Baron of Slane ..."
  5. Lodge 1789, p. 207, line 15: "Lady Mary, first in 1605 to Lucas, the second Viscount Dillon; and secondly to Oliver, the sixth Lord Louth."
  6. Lodge 1789, p. 207, line 17: "Lady Sarah, first to Neile-Oge O'Neill of Killileagh in the county of Antrim, Esq. (son of Neile Mac-Hugh O'Neile, who, in Q.Elizabeth's wars in Ireland, was slain in the service of the Crown) by whom she had Henry O'Neile, born in 1625, and other children; secondly to Sir Charles O'Conor Sligo, Knt., who died at Sligo 14 May 1634, without issue; and thirdly to Donald Mac-Carthy More, Prince of his sept in the Province of Munster."
  7. Lodge 1789, p. 207, line 25: "Lady Catherine, in 1639, to Edward Plunket, of Scatlecor, Esq. son and heir to Patrick, Lord Dunsany."
  8. Lodge 1789, p. 207, line 27: "Lady Rose, to Colonel Gordon, who commanded a regiment in Major-General Robert Munroe's army in the North."
  9. Burke 1949, p. 66, left column, line 35: "The [1st] Earl d. 10 Dec. 1636, and was s. by his elder son ..."
  10. Hill 1873, p. 246, line 9: "He died at Dunluce at the 10th of December, 1636, and his body, after lying in for some time in state, was buried in the vault which he had built at Bunnamairge in 1621 ... "
  11. Hill 1873, p. 247: "His younger son, Alexander, was bequeathed the barony of Glenarm,"
  12. Hill 1873, p. 246, line 24: "His elder son, Randal, got the baronies of Dunluce and Kilconway,"
  13. Hill 1873, p. 352: "his lands were set out to adventurers and soldiers, he receiving 3,500 acres in Connaught "
  14. Debrett 1828, p. 688: "... [Randal MacDonnell] was twice married but d. without issue 3 Feb. 1682."
  15. Burke 1949, p. 66, left column, line 43: "He [the 1st Marquess] d. 3 Feb. 1682, when the marquessate expired, but the other honours devolved on his brother ... "
  16. Childs 2007, p. 3, line 14: "To strengthen his forces in the face of the Dutch threat, James ordered the better elements of the Irish Army into England. One regiment of dragoons, a battalion of Foot Guards, and Anthony Hamilton's and Lord Forbes's battalions of line infantry, a total of 2,964 men, sailed to Chester during September and early October."
  17. Childs 2007, p. 3, line 23: "Tyrconnell, on the other hand, did not want an unreliable batallion in such a key post so, on 23 November, he ordered it to England via Dublin."
  18. Macaulay 1855, pp. 143–144: "a regiment of twelve hundred Papists commanded by a Papist, Alexander Macdonnell, Earl of Antrim, had received orders from the Lord Deputy to occupy Londonderry."
  19. Macaulay 1855, p. 145: "seized the keys of the city, rushed to the Ferryquay Gate, closed it in the face of the King's officers, and let down the portcullis."
  20. Joyce 1903, p. 213: "Lord Antrim marched to take possession of Derry; but while the aldermen and magistrates were hesitating, a few of the bolder young apprentices seizing the keys, locked the town gates on the 7th of December 1688, and shut out Antrim and his Jacobite forces."
  21. Witherow 1879, p. 199: "in pursuance of an arrangement with Mountjoy of the 21st of December, the citizens of Derry had admitted a part of his regiment to garrison their town."
  22. Hill 1873, p. 358: "suffered forfeiture as an adherent of James II. He had now become old and was comparably unable to wrestle with the difficulties of his position, but he persevered in his efforts to regain the family estates, and was eventually fortunate in getting his case included in the articles of Limerick."
  23. Lodge 1789, p. 212: "... one daughter, Mary, married in August, 1700, to Henry Wells, of Bambridge, in the county of Southhampton, Esq., nephew to the late Lord Chancellor Wyndham."
  24. Burke 1869, p. 32: "His lordship m. 1st Elizabeth Annesley, 2nd dau. of Arthur, 1st Earl of Anglesey, by whom (who d. in 1669) he had no issue. He m. 2ndly Helena 3rd dau. of Sir John Burke Knt. of DerryMaclaghtny, co. Galway, and dying in 1699 was s. by his only son.
  • Burke, Bernard (1869). A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire (31st ed.). London: Harrison.
  • Burke, Bernard (1949), A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire (99th ed.), London: Burke's Peerage Ltd.
  • Childs, John (2007). The Williamite Wars in Ireland 1688 - 1691. London: Hambledon Continuum Press. ISBN 978-1-85285-573-4.
  • Debrett, John (1828), Peerage of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 2 (17th ed.), London: F. C. and J. Rivington - Scotland and Ireland
  • Hill, George (1873). An Historical Account of the MacDonnells of Antrim. Belfast: Archer & Sons.
  • Joyce, Patrick Weston (1903). A Concise History of Ireland from the Earliest Times to 1837 (12th ed.). Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son.
  • Lodge, John (1789), The Peerage of Ireland, 1, Dublin: James Moore - Blood royal, dukes, earls
  • Macaulay, Thomas Babington (1855), The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, 3, London: Longman Brown Greens & Longmans
  • Witherow, Thomas (1879). Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689. London & Belfast: William Mallan & Son.
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Randal McDonnell
Earl of Antrim
Succeeded by
Randal McDonnell
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