The Clan Donald Centre, Armadale by Rob McDonald Parker FSA Scot. International Director, Clan Donald Lands Trust

When visiting Macdonalds arrive at the Clan Donald Centre, on the Isle of Skye, I am often asked “What is the Clan Donald Lands Trust – what exactly does it do”. Over the past four and a half years, my answers and explanations have been growing considerably longer, so I thought I would take this opportunity to bring some long-standing members of the Clan up to date, and introduce the Trust to the newer members who may not be aware of its work.

It is quite important that I remind you of the circumstances and emotional drive that first introduced the thoughts of establishing a Clan Donald Centre on the Isle of Skye.

Due to the sudden death of his father in 1971, our present High Chief, Lord Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, was faced with the difficult decision of having to sell off some of the Macdonald Estate on the Isle of Skye. During consultation with the then President of the Edinburgh Clan Donald Society, Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton, the idea emerged that perhaps the Clan could raise the money to purchase the land, which would then be held in perpetuity for future generations of Clan Donald. A worldwide fund-raising appeal was started and in 1972 the Clan Donald Lands Trust was formed. Clansmen and women from all over the world warmed to the idea of establishing a focal point for Clan history and activity and at the same time preventing some of the once vast Clan Donald lands from falling into strange hands. Enough money was raised to make the Clan owners of over 17,000 acres of land. Included in the sale was Armadale Castle and its surrounding policies and out-buildings, all sadly in a severe state of disrepair. Other matters which now became the Trust’s responsibility included 123 tenant crofters, a 6,000 acre hill farm, sporting (deer and salmon), ruined Dunscaith Castle, forestry and some of the most scenically beautiful countryside in Scotland.

Having bought the land and exhausted all their funds, the Trust was now faced with the problem of what could be done with the Estate. Through the generosity of the Macdonald Stewart Foundation in Canada, and with support from Mr Ellice McDonald Jr., and Mr Nestor MacDonald both of USA, funds were provided to restore the cottage-end of Armadale Castle, to be known as the Clan Donald Centre. The restoration scheme entailed the reconstruction of the roof of this building and major rebuilding of the crumbling walls. When completed in early 1976 the Clan Centre housed a museum, forty-eight seat restaurant, a gift/book shop, administrative offices and a two-bedroom self-catering suite. In May1976, it was opened to the public and in the first year drew 5,815 visitors. Visitors at that time could enjoy a walk through a small part of the grounds, but the magnitude of the work ahead of the Trust must have made many of them shake their heads.

Since these early days, work has progressed steadily, and today the Centre attracts over 30,000 visitors a year. What do they find now? An expanded museum display, audio-visual theatre, 3½ miles of sign-posted walks and nature trails, scenic viewpoints, children’s venture play area, Countryside Ranger service and the beauty of Armadale gardens slowly being completely restored. Some other accomplishments not so obvious to the visitor, include our estate farm stock, which has grown from an initial 600 breeding ewes to over 2,000 today, plus fifteen cows and a bull. Vast areas of estate grazing land have been rotovated and re-seeded, equipment has been modernised and our staff expanded.

Not bad for eleven years of operation, but while we have never been short of effort, emotion and sincerity, the key ingredient that has made this dream a reality is without question, the continued generosity of the Glencoe Foundation Inc. USA. This charitable foundation was set up by Mr and Mrs Ellice McDonald Jr., of Delaware, USA both of whom are members of the Board of Trustees of Clan Donald Lands Trust. Through their generosity in providing financial support for the Trust, we have been able to receive further support from organisations such as the Highland and Island Development Board, Countryside Commission for Scotland, Manpower Services Commission, and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, to name just a few.

As a result, our rate of expansion has grown very rapidly and reached a point where the present centre facilities were bursting at the seams. In 1982 we embarked on a major restoration project at the old stable building near the entrance to the Clan Donald Centre grounds. Conveniently located close to the road, the stables offered the opportunity of expanding our restaurant and gift shop operation while releasing much needed space at the present Clan Centre for expansion of our museum exhibition and audio-visual theatre. The old stable building had been built in the early nineteenth century to house the carriages and horses of the Macdonald Estates. This fine Gothic-style building, with its majestic castellated central tower, stands like a cathedral on the main Armadale-Broadford road. At a cost of over £800,000 this building is being completely restored to house a 100-seat restaurant, gift and book shop, administrative offices and two luxury suites (available for rent) all serviced through a magnificent baronial central hallway. Visitors will find an excellently designed building with Gothic archways and windows, chandeliers, stag heads and the trappings of an elegant Highland home. The building will be officially opened on 26 May 1984 and arrangements are underway to make this day a major event in modern Clan Donald history. Work is in progress and we will soon see the completion of a new museum exhibition in which we hope, visitors will find an in-depth explanation on what being a Macdonald and a Gael is all about. A further project to stabilise and protect the Bryce section of Armadale Castle, will also be completed this winter at a cost of £120,000.

As you see, my explanations of what Clan Donald Lands Trust does, gets longer and longer, as do the responsibilities. However, the purpose for which the Trust was founded “To establish a focal point for Clan History and Activity” is now a reality and I encourage non-members to get involved. We are not competitors or alternatives to the Clan Societies, but a result of their foresight. The burden of the development work is being borne by members of Clan Donald USA, many of whom visit the Centre annually and donate books for our library and relics for our museum.

The unfinished work of the Trust includes the restoration of the Bryce section to contain an auditorium, portrait galleries, further museum expansion, a study centre with a home for our many rare volumes and historic clan papers. It maybe a few years away, but the momentum to succeed is here today and your support and encouragement would be much appreciated. If you are not already a member of the Trust, please think about it. We are and always will be, the mightiest Clan in the Highlands. Other Clans are watching with great interest, the work being done at Armadale and we are being held up as an example of what can be done when a Clan pulls together.

Are you pulling? If not and you would like to, please get in touch with me, or better still come to see me! Certainly plan for 26 May 1984, it will be a day worth remembering.

Fraoch Eilean.