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Gaelic Name — Mag Fhionnaile/Mag Fhionnghaile

Tribe Name — Cineál Chonaill

Territory — North Donegal coast

Patron Saint — St Colm Cille

Motto/War Cry — Clann Fionnghaileach Abú

(Clan McGinley Forever)

Noted As — Ecclesiastics & Warriors

Clan Leader — Niall McGinley

Clan Historian — Proinsias Mag Fhionnghaile

Clan Secretary — Ríte Mhig Fhionnghaile

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The leadership of our clan is based on the old Brehon Law system, the ancient, and natural laws of the Irish people. Under this system, we do not rely on leadership being transferred from father to oldest son (the system used in most countries), but rather the system of Tánaist. This means that the leader did not automatically assume that his eldest son would take over, but instead the chief (or Taoiseach in Irish) would CHOOSE who he thought would be best suited to take control after him. In reality, it was more often than not the eldest son. This great and ancient system insured that the best abled person would be the next chief, able to lead the clan in the best interests of the clan. The leader or Taoiseach would choose his successor or Tánaiste, as soon as he thought fit.

The Brehon Law system also allowed for the choice of successor/Tánaiste to be 'over ruled' by the greater members of the clan if they thought that the choice was unsuitable! If a clan chief died before making known his successor, or, if for some reason there was a 'break' in the line of leadership, the clan members would meet and choose one. Members of the clan could arrange a meeting and propose a new Tánaiste. This was the case among the McGinley clan.

It is not known for sure who was the last ancient Clan Chief/Taoiseach of the McGinley clan, but it has been assumed that one Donnchadh Mag Fhionnghail who flourished at the end of the 1500's and beginning of the 1600's was the last of the ancient chiefs. He came from the Clondahorky in the north of Co Donegal and attended the Inquisition of Lifford in 1613 where he was described as a 'gent'. These special inquisitions were usually attended by the nobles, clan chiefs or at the very least important peoples of the county. Prior to Donnchadh we find the name of Aodh Óg Ó Domhnall Mag Fhionnghail/Hugh the Younger O'Donnell McGinnell who lived at the end of the 1500's and beginning of the 1600's. He was chosen as 'an important and illustrious member of the community (of Donegal)' to be one the jury of the 1609 Inquisitions at Lifford, Co Donegal. The other jury members, sixteen in total, comprised known clan leaders or members close to the leadership of varied Donegal clans. These two men were obviously closely related but we do not know for sure exactly how, possibly father and son.

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Under the 'old Brehon Law system' any clan leader had to fight for and protect…

1. The Clan System. We understand this to mean, in modern terms, to promote and nurture all clan systems and organisations within the Gaelic world. Where possible, to help others of the same surname in business and culture. Part of this 'promotion' was to live in the ancient territory, or to visit as often as possible.

2. The Gaelic Language. The chosen leader of any Irish or Scottish clan had to be fluent in the native Gaelic language, or have some knowledge of the language, or at the very least TRY to become accustomed with it. At the very least he must use the Irish form of his name. The Gaelic language was always a fundamental cornerstone to the culture of the Gael, both in Ireland and Scotland.

3. The Irish Catholic Religion. The chosen leader had to be a believer of the Irish Catholic religion and NOT the Roman Catholic form. This should not be a big problem as the two are basically the same, but the Irish version, sometimes called the Celtic Church, as taught by Colm Cille and the other Irish saints, does not accept the Pope as supreme, but instead accept only God as supreme and all men being EQUAL. The Irish form also has a much closer bond with the natural world. Remember that the so called Roman Catholics of Ireland, until recently, followed many Irish Catholic beliefs (often ignorantly called Pagan), such as Sheelanagigs, Halloween, holy trees, pagan deities like Lugh, Brid etc. They celebrate Irish Catholic figures such as St Colm Cille, St Fionnan, St Colman and many more. It is hard for many Irish today to accept, but when the Irish were fighting for their liberty against the English, the 'Roman' element did not take centre stage until the wars of the 1640's, AFTER the fall of the clan system and the Brehon Laws.

4. The Native Clothing. The native clothing of the Gael was just as important an issue for him/her as was religion and language. The Gael fought for the right to wear their own attire. Despite many stupid laws banning the wearing of such 'peasant or rude' clothing (from an English point of view), the Irish constantly ignored the English authorities on pain of imprisonment. ALL these elements were part of his/her CULTURE. The wearing of our native clothing should be adhered to as often as possible. The glorious Leine should take centre stage.

Whoever was chosen had to satisfy all of these conditions. The present clan chief is Niall Mag Fhionnghaile, a native of Glenswilly in Co. Donegal. He is a direct descendant of the McGinleys who fled their ancient homeland in the north of the county after 1603/4 and settled in the Glenswilly area. He is an accomplished researcher and writer of many years. He wrote a great book about his father, the reknowned Dr. J.P. McGinley called "Dr. McGinley and his Times". At present, the McGinley clan has no elected Tanaiste, but it is hoped that this will be remedied in the near future.

The Office of Taoiseach of the clan holds no honours. It is not an official title or based on 'bloodline' but is instead 'honorary'. The Chief Herald of Ireland does not accept the position. They strangely only accept the 'foreign' English system of direct father to son linkage! It is simply a position for someone who loves his heritage and loves to promote the McGinley name.


Aodh Mór Mag Fhionnghail (fl. 1580)
Aodh Óg Ó Domhnaill Mag Fhionnghail (fl.1609)
Donnchadh Mag Fhionnghail (fl. 1613)
Niall Mag Fhionnghaile (at present)



Meaning of the Name

Clan Origins

Clan Territory

Surname Distribution

St Colm Cille

Native Clothing


Clan Leadership


McGinleys in America


Special Places

Neighbouring Clans

McGinley Placenames

Coat of Arms

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