In 2003, the High Council of Clan Donald decided to reinstate the ancient “Comhairle nan Eilean,” the Council of the Isles, which served as an advisory council to the Lords of the Isles of old.  The original Council of The Isles met at Finlaggan on the Island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland, so it was decided that the new Council would be called the Council of Finlaggan.      

Structurally, the Council resembles a cathedral chapter, consisting of sixteen ‘Chairs’.  Each Chair is named after a significant Clan Donald or Lordship castle.  Candidates for membership on the Council of Finlaggan may be proposed by any member of the High Council, and appointments must receive unanimous consent from the Chiefs.  Nominations for membership on the Council of Finlaggan will not be sought from persons outside the High Council of Clan Donald; however, Chiefs naturally are free to seek advice on names they might wish to propose.

Members on the Council of Finlaggan are not separated into different levels; all members are equal in status, to serve at the pleasure of the High Council.

The original sixteen members of the Council were invited to propose, subject to the approval of the High Council, the name of his or her Chair.  Members of the Council are known as ‘Councillors’, and are addressed as, for example, the Duntulm Councillor, or the Tioram Councillor.

The head of the Council is known as the Tòiseach, and is appointed by the High Council from among the members of the Council.  Major Bruce Macdonald of Canada was appointed as the first Tòiseach, and has been succeeded by Malcolm McDonald of Australia. Tòiseach is Gaelic word for leader.  It is also the word used in Ireland for their Prime Minister.

The main rôle of the Council of Finlaggan is to provide advice to the High Council. The Council of Finlaggan may provide advice to the High Council on issues referred to them by the Chiefs, and may bring forward to the High Council unsolicited advice on issues of concern or interest. The Tòiseach will consult with the other members of the Council on such issues, and will provide a consensus opinion for the consideration of the High Council.

The members of the Council are to function as the eyes and ears of the High Council; to keep the High Council informed about issues, concerns, and developments in their geographical areas. Finlaggan councillors are also a resource available to the High Commissioners in their own countries to provide advice and encouragement.  The Council of Finlaggan will gather on ceremonial occasions to support by its presence the High Council of Clan Donald.

Donald Munro, Dean of the Isles, writing in 1549 described the Council as follows:

“The Council was composed of four of the greatest nobles, four thanes of lesser estate, and four great men of the royal blood of Clan Donald, presided over by the Macdonald as ‘Herdsman of the Isles’. The four great nobles were Maclean of Duart, Maclean of Loch Buie, MacLeod of Harris, and MacLeod of Lewis. The four thanes were MacKinnon, MacNeil of Barra, MacNeil of Gigha, and one other. The four great men of Clan Donald were the Chief of Clanranald, Maclain of Ardnamurchan, Macdonald of Kintyre, and the chief of the Clan, Alasdair Carrach of Lochaber (the Macdonalds of Keppoch). The Council was also attended by the Abbot of Iona and the Bishop of the Isles.”


Two of the on-going projects undertaken by the Council are (1) the creation of a Clan Donald Armorial and (2) an attempt to identify the ancient Cadet families and the modern-day descendants.

The Clan Donald Armorial

The primary objective of this project is to research and record information on all Coats of Arms currently held by members of Clan Donald. 

Cadet Families

In 1962, Donald J Macdonald of Castleton, the Secretary of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh, began a project he called ‘Where Are The Lost Macdonalds?’ In 2005, two Finlaggan Councillors, led by the late James A McDonald of Savannah, Georgia, USA, undertook under the auspices of the Council of Finlaggan to try and complete Castleton’s work. Those with information on the various Cadet families detailed in this report are invited to share their information with the Webmaster.