The Clan Donald Centre Library by Margaret Macdonald, Archivist

Last year saw the opening of a new library and study centre at the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale. It was the final realisation of one of the Centre’s original aims – to collect documents, books, traditions, etc. relating to the history of Clan Donald and the Lordship of the Isles.

Almost since its inception in 1971, clansmen from all over the world have donated books, while in recent years this has been augmented by a generous grant by the Glencoe Foundation for the purchase of books. By 1988 the Centre had accumulated a library of over 1,500 books and journals. In that year two important events occurred.

First. Harry Matthews, an American member of Clan Donald, donated his collection of over 2,500 books, journals, and manuscripts to the Trust. A few months later the Trust was offered the chance to purchase an important collection of Jacobite books assembled to mark the 200th anniversary of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s death. It was able to do so with the help of grants from several institutions, including the ever generous Glencoe Foundation. With its library collections now more than trebled in quantity, the Centre now had a serious accommodation problem. The Director’s office, where the original library was stored, was full to overflowing, so the Somerled Flat, adjoining the offices, was commandeered as a short term solution. When I joined the Trust in 1989, as its archivist-cum-librarian, it also became my office.

When the accommodation shortage was at its most acute, the opportunity arose for the Centre to purchase Armadale House. This had become vacant on the untimely death of the Dowager Lady Macdonald. The house had originally been built for the head gardener at Armadale and is sited beside the walled garden just up the hill from the Castle. It needed extensive work to convert it to its new specialised use as a library. The floors had to be strengthened to allow for the enormous weight of books, a sophisticated environment control system was installed in the book store to provide the right storage conditions for our collections of rare books and manuscripts; wiring was installed for our mini-computer network; exhibition lighting was installed in the two display rooms; all water tanks and piping were removed from the upper parts of the building to minimise the risk of burst pipes and water damage to the collections; and intruder and fire alarms were installed.

Now complete, the Study Centre provides a reading room where about one third of the collections are on the open shelf; two display rooms; office space; and a work room for basic conservation work, exhibition preparation etc.

Our collections are varied. We have books on Scottish history, literature (including Gaelic), folklore, archaeology, music, and costume, with particular emphasis on the Highlands, as well as biographies and clan histories. We also have a growing genealogical section comprising a mixture of published works and family trees sent in by clansmen. The library has a basic computer catalogue which is in the process of being upgraded. We also hope to add a genealogical database some time in the future. By the time this article is published we also hope to have transferred the Macdonald estate papers from the Scottish Record Office. These papers, purchased by the Clan Donald Lands Trust in 1981, cover the Skye and North Uist estates of Macdonald of Sleat and are an important historical source. The Scottish Record Office, itself suffering from a lack of accommodation, is willing for the papers to be returned to Skye as part of its general policy of returning archives to the regions. but until now the Centre has had nowhere to keep them. This archive has been catalogued – the finished catalogue running to nearly 1,200 pages with over 6,000 entries – but it has not yet been indexed.

At present access to the library is open to all members of the Clan Donald Lands Trust and visitors through the main gate. The library is open all year, Monday to Friday, but during our closed season (November to March) it is open by appointment only.