James McConell, Fifth Chief of Clan Iain Mhoir, was usually spoken of by the English by the name of Colkitto. It is by that name he is mentioned by the immortal Milton in his eleventh sonnet written in 1645 as follows:
"A book was writ of late call'd Tetrachordon,
And woven close, both matter, form, and style;
The subject new: it walk'd the town a while,
Numb'ring good intellects; now seldom pored on.
Cries the stall-reader Bless us! what a word on
A title-page is this; and some in file
Stand spelling false, while one might walk to Mile End Green.
Why is it harder, sirs, than Gordon,
Colkitto, or Macdonnell, or Galasp?
Those rugged names to our like mouths grow sleek
That would have made Quintilian stare and gasp.
Thy age, like ours, O Soul of Sir John Cheke,
Hated not learning worse than toad or asp,
When thou taught'st Cambridge, and King Edward Greek.
In a commission from Donald Dubh, Lord of the Isles, to treat with Henry VIII of England dated July 23, 1545, Donald names two members of this family: "Angus Maconill, breuder german to James Maconill."
In a letter to the King of England dated January 24, 1546 he signs his names as "James McConil of Dunnywalk and Glennis," while in the body of the letter his name is spelled James McConaill. In a letter to Lord Deputy Sussex in 1562 he signs as "James MakConnell of Dunavaige."
Shortly after James McConnell became a chief of the Clan Donald South, Donald Dubh, Chief of Clan Donald North, otherwise known as Lord of the Isles died in 1545, the islanders selected James McConnell as their chief. However, for some reason, he never further qualified for that prime position. [At this point also, control of the Clan appears to have been somewhat disorganized. Jame's brother, Colla McConnell, appears to have acted much like an independent chief in Antrim. When Colla died around 1556, Colla's brother Sorley Boy McConnell was the primary leader of the Clan in Antrim. Sorley Boy McConnell was known as "Lord of the Route."
His prominence in history rests chiefly on his activities in Ireland against the English, where he defeated them in Ulster in 1557. He is referred to by Sussex as the best of all the Macdonalds of Ireland. While James McConnell was in Ireland, Sussex ravaged the coast of Kintyre and in a letter to Queen Elizabeth dated October 6, 1558, referring to this expedition he says: "The same daye (September 19th) I landed and burned eight Myles of leyngth and therewith James McConnell's chief howse called Soudell [Saddell Castle]." However, Susssex found he could not expel James from Ulster in this manner.
Queen Elizabeth of England, when writing to Queen Mary of Scotland, complained that "one James MacOnell, sometyme named the Lorde of the Oute Isles" detained as a prisoner one George Bustsyde "a poure gentyllman of Yngland," whom he had taken at Rathlin Island. She further said he had been a prisoner with "my Lorde James Maconnell thes ten yere." James accepted a ransom of 120 crowns and the English Ambassador Randolph's best horse and the "poure gentyllman of Yngland" was allowed his liberty.
While James McConnell was in Kintyre, his brother Sorley Boy McConnell who was in Ireland, appears not to have realized the magnitude of Shane O'Neill's preparations for war. O'Neill had accepted a commission from the English to drive James McConnell's forces out of Ireland. [Note: there is a difference of opinion on this. Many historians believe Shane did not have approval from the English and simply misinterpreted the friendly treatment he received when he visited Queen Elizabeth as official sanction for waging war on his neighbors.] This was Shane's opportunity to strike while the forces of the Scot were divided.
On hearing of these preparations, Sorley Boy caused warning fires to be lit on the prominent headlands along the Antrim coast, to indicate his distress to James McConnell in Kintyre, who so interpreted these signals. James sent out the firey cross summoning the clansmen and went to the rescue, at the same time instructing his brother Alexander McConnell to follow as soon as further forces could be collected.
On landing at Cushindun Bay, James was confronted with his own Castle of Redbay in flames. He saw at a glance that the work of destruction was commenced. The appearance of Sorley Boy with meager forces in full retreat before O'Neill convinced him of the grave state of affairs. He joined the retreat and the combined forces fell back on Ballycastle in the hope that Alexander McConnell would arrive with reinforcements from Kintyre. James drew up his forces at the foot of Glentaisie and faced the foe. Here in the early morning of May 2, 1565, the O'Neills numbering more than 2,000 opposed the Scots with little more than half that number. The issue could not be doubted. A desperate and bloody battle ensued. The Dunnyveg forces fought with conspicuous bravery but they were overpowered and almost totally annihilated. According to O'Neill's own estimate, 700 of them perished.
James McConnell, who was severely wounded, and his brother Sorley Boy, with nineteen other leaders, were taken prisoner. Another brother, Angus McConnell, was among the slain. Alexander Og McConnell followed his brother James with a force of 900 men and landed at Rathlin Island but on hearing of the defeat, returned to Kintyre. James McConnell was sent by O'Neill as a prisoner to Castle Crocke, near Strathbane, where, after a short confinement, on July 5, 1565, he is supposed to have been murdered. Shane reported the death of James in a letter to the Privy Council of Ireland, dated August 25, 1565.
The impression produced by the death of James McConnell in Ireland may be gathered from the entry in the Annals of the Four Masters, where it is recorded that "the death of this gentleman was generally bewailed; he was a paragon of hospitality and prowess, a festive man of many troops, a bountiful and munificent man. His peer was not to be found at that time among the Clan Donald of Ireland or Scotland; and his own people would not have deemed it too much to give his weight in gold for his ransom, if he could have been ransomed."
[Note: The rest of this story.... For two years Sorley Boy and other McConnell prisoners were paraded around and scorned by Shane. However, the O'Neill Clan was disastrously defeated by the O'Donnell Clan so that Shane was left with almost no army. At this point, Shane decided to make peace. A banquet was held near Cushendun and after two pleasant days of feasting, hot words led to a fight. In the fight the McConnells killed Shane and freed Sorley Boy. Then, as a sort of revenge for the 700 plus McConnells who had died because of Shane O'Neill's war, they cut off Shane's head, pickled it, and sold it to the English who displayed Shane's head on a spike at Dublin Castle.]
[Note: Another McConnell disaster: Lord Deputy Essex offered extremely bad terms to Sorley Boy McConnell in 1572-1573. The terms were rejected. In 1575 Essex, with a large number of troops, attacked Rathlin Island, where many McConnells lived. The people escaped to a castle, but with limited supplies, they were soon forced to surrender. When they surrendered, Essex and his men systematically killed every man woman and child on the island-- about 600 people. Then they took every animal and possession on the island and burned the fields. They had expected to find the island full of booty and the expedition was a for-profit adventure organized by Essex with the participation of some English pirates. One of the most famous participants in this was none other than the famous Sir Francis Drake. Sorley Boy and his men could do nothing more than watch events from the coast of Ireland. The people who died included many wives and children of men in Sorley Boy McConnell's army.]
[Six weeks after the massacre, on September 6, 1575, Sorley Boy led a force of men, largely composed of sons, husbands and fathers of the victims and attacked Carrickfergus-- then the largest town in Antrim. While Essex was out of reach, many who participated in the massacre were at Carrickfergus including Captain John Norris and his troops. The McConnells fought with great fury, animated at the thought of the butchery of their wives and children. Every townsperson fought to defend the city because no one had any illusions about what would happen if the McConnells broke through. More than one hundred troops died in the battle and also sixteen townspeople died. The material losses were also large because Sorley Boy managed to carry away every horse and cow the town possessed.]
James McConnell had married Agnes, daughter of Colin Campbell, Earl of Argyle, by whom he had:
1. Archibald McConnell, his successor.
2. Angus McConnell, who succeeded his brother Archibald.
3. Ranald McConnell of Smerby who acted a prominent part in the troubles of the house of Dunnyveg with Maclean of Duart, with whom he was a hostage for some time. In 1614 he held the fort of Lochgorm and entered into a bond to surrender it to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor which covenant he performed January 28, 1615.
4. Coll McConnell who carried out a terrible vengeance upon the Macleans at Mullintrae under the mistaken idea that his brother Ranald had been put to death while a hostate at Duart.
5. Donald Gorm McConnell who possessed the barony of Carey in Antrim granted to him by patent dated September 18, 1584. He was killed at Ardnary, Ireland in 1586 in a battle against the English.
6. Alexander McConnell who possessed for some time the barony of Glenarm. He was killed at the same time as his brother Donald at Ardnary.
7. Ineen Dubh McConnell or "black haired" a daughter who married Hugh O'Donnell of Donegal.
James McConnell was succeeded by his son Archibald in