Thanks to the Annals of Ulster, the Annals of the Four Masters and a number of other medieval sources, we are fortunate to have the names of the McGrath Chieftains and Termoners of Ulster. The Annals record much of the principal historic events in the province.
Until the 11th century the Termon is not mentioned in the annals, by then we learn that there is a territory between the three Lordships of Tir Conaill (Donegal), Tir Eoghain (Tyrone) and Fir Manaigh (Fermanagh). From early Christian times this territory was recognised as a Termon, a place of refuge and with immunities guaranteed by Church and the Gaelic Kings and Lords.
The Termon was under the protection of the local Saint Davog (Dabhog) and the McGrath Chieftain. We find the annals describing this Termon and that of the neighbouring Termonamongan as Tearmann Dabhog (St. Davog’s Termon) until the end of the 15th century when in 1496 the Annals of Ulster begin to refer to it as Tearmann Mhic Craith (McGrath’s Termon) from the Clan who held the hereditary Lordship and office of Comharba (Protector). From the 13th century the story of the Termon has been the story of the Clan McGrath. The first record of the McGrath Chieftain and Comharba (Termoner) dates from 1290, however it is likely the Clan McGrath was long established prior to this date. Here we have recorded the McGrath Chieftains compiled mainly from the ancient Annals and other sources.
The McGrath Chieftains 1290 – 1641
Giolla Adhamhnain Mac Craith (McGrath) is Chieftain and Comharba
1290 – Nicholas, son of Giolla Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1340 – Muiris son of Nicholas Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1384 – Mark son of Muiris Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1423 – Seán Mor son of Muiris Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1435 – Matthew brother of Seán Mor Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1440 – Seán Bui ‘the fair haired’ son of Seán Mor Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1469 – Diarmuid son of Mark, son of Muiris Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1491 – Rory son of Diarmuid, son of Mark Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1528 – Torlough Mac Craith son of Andrew Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1549 – Torlough Mac Craith dies and ‘The Mac Craith (first name unknown) becomes Chieftain
1562 – Donncha Mac Craith father of Archbishop Miler Mac Craith (McGrath) becomes Chieftain
1596 – Donncha Mac Craith dies and James, son of Archbishop Miler Mac Craith becomes Chieftain
1610 – James, son of Miler Mac Craith is recorded Chieftain on Grant of Title from King James I
1641 – Turlogh, son of James commands 140 rebels in Donegal during the Catholic Confederate rebellion
Late 17th and Early 18th Century:
1691 – Brian, son of Turlogh, a rebel, is outlawed for his part in the Jacobite wars in Ireland.
Seamus Og, son of Turlogh is recorded as Mac Craith (Chieftain) of the Termon.
Reamonn, son of Seamus Og is recorded as Mac Craith (Chieftain) of the Termon,
Chieftain for the 21st Century – The Ceann Fine
Historically the principal function of an Irish Chief was to lead his family / clan in battle on land and sea. The Chief and the Chieftain were at one time in Irish history influential political characters, who wielded a large and often arbitrary authority.
The word “clan” or “clanna” literally means “family”, usually consisted of a single surname (variants possible) descending from an original founder.
An Irish Chief is descended from within a family Derbhfine, traditionally a kin-group of the nine worthiest among descendants of a former chief up to 2nd Cousins to a potential successor. Unlike the English and other foreign succession practices, Primogeniture has absolutely no bearing on the choice of a successor for an Irish Chiefship. An Irish Chief’s right to succession is based upon a superior claim, as distinct from a senior or eldest claim.
Today. the McGrath Derbhfine, the body that chooses the Chief, is the Clan Council of the Society of the Clan McGrath of Ulster. The Clan McGrath uses the term Ceann Fine, literally ‘head of the family’ as the title for the elected Chief. This term is accepted by Clans of Ireland as an appropriate title. The Clan McGrath of Ulster does not generally use the term Chief or Chieftain. The Clan Council recognises these historic terms as applicable only to those who can unequivocally trace direct descent from an historic Clan Chief or Chieftain who held the Chiefship or Chieftainship prior to 1691 and are members of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains.
The current Ceann Fine of the Cumann Chlann Mhic Craith / the Clan McGrath of Ulster is Seán Alusdrann Mac Craith. Seán is a native of Ulster and was elected Ceann Fine in 2012.