The Clan Donald Lands Trust by Major J.E.B. Hills, Director.

Many will remember that the launching of the Clan Donald Lands Trust Appeal was announced in the 1971 edition of this magazine. Many of the readers contributed to the Appeal, became members of the Trust and as such, will have received copies of the Annual Report. The intention therefore of this article is two-fold; to inform members of the Clan Donald Societies of what has happened to date and secondly, to give an outline of our future plans to both Society and Trust members.

The question that is most often put to me is what exactly is the Clan Donald Lands Trust. In a nutshell, the CDLT is a non-profit making charitable trust administered by a Board of Trustees, the members of which are variously domiciled in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States of America. Their charter is to hold in posterity the lands that were purchased as a result of the contributions, both great and small, sent in by Clansmen from all corners of the globe. They meet regularly; an Executive Committee deals with detailed matters and reports to the full Board.

The second most common question is what land does the Trust own. The Trust owns just over 14,000 acres of the Sleat peninsula on Skye (see map). This is divided up between the crofted land and the in-hand farm at Armadale. There are 131 crofts in ten townships let to 112 crofters and the total acreage under crofting tenure amounts to approximately 9,000 acres, the greatest part being common grazing. The former farm at Ostaig is now run in conjunction with Armadale Farm and totals 5,000 acres. The only other major landowner within the Clan Lands is the Forestry Commission who purchased 3,800 acres at Tormore in 1965. However, members of the CDLT have access to this land.

Although the Clan is extremely fortunate – in fact unique amongst Clans – in owning a large estate, it does produce certain problems. The farmland is in poor condition with almost non-existent fences, poor drainage and archaic farm equipment. To set up a model West Highland farm, which many would naturally like to see, would involve a tremendous outlay of capital at a time when interest rates are at their highest and farming is going through the worst depression since the 1930’s. This is therefore not possible and a feasibility study combining farming with other uses is at present being made.

If, however, farming development is in a state of suspension, the same does not apply to the area of Armadale Castle, the Gardens and the Stables. The Trust exists to provide a focus for Clan Donald sentiment throughout the world and this is being brought about by the establishment of the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale. A main feature of this Centre will be the Clan Donald Museum. Here among display of Clan relics and pictures, will be a historical exhibition, which, because the Lords of the Isles once held sway from the Mull of Kintyre to the Butt of Lewis and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Moray Firth, will illustrate not only the heritage and history of the Clan Donald, but the culture and life of the Western Gael generally. Other developments planned in conjunction with the Museum are a reference library and a tea-room. The proposed site for this Museum is the old Stables near the Castle entrance. This is a fine stone building built in the Gothic style around 1815. Regrettably, it is in a sad state of disrepair and will need a considerable sum spending on it before it is ready for fining out as a Museum. However, plans have been prepared and approved by the Trustees as well as by the official organisations such as the County Council and it is hoped that work may start within the next year.

The exact future of Armadale Castle still remains undecided, but for those of you who have a sentimental feeling for the building, you may rest assured that it has been unanimously agreed by the Trustees that it will not be pulled down and removed. It must however, be realised that it is already in a dangerous condition with the roof having collapsed in one place and the whole building riddled with dry rot. An estimate to completely restore it was put at £400,000. Our task is therefore to find a way of halting further deterioration and in some way to preserve as much of the building as possible, but at the same time avoiding having a large annual maintenance bill. Various proposals are at present being considered with a tremendous amount of interest and enthusiasm being shown by the North American Trustees.

Lastly, but by no means least, the Gardens around the Castle. These have a history of three hundred years and contain some of the finest specimen trees on the West coast of Scotland. Again sadly, they had been neglected for some thirty years when acquired by the Trust and in the mild damp gulf stream climate of Skye the undergrowth had run amok. Furthermore, many of the trees had either been damaged or killed by the salt-laden south-westerly gales which buffet Sleat throughout the winter.

Most of these have now been removed and work is well on with the clearing of the undergrowth. During 1973, the Trust launched its own Plant-a-Tree scheme and some 180 trees were donated. Work on the re-planting has started and although it will be several years before the gardens are fully restored, they will eventually be amongst the most notable in the Country.

Progress may seem slow, but this is not a time for rapid development based on bank loans. You may rest assured though, that the CDLT flourishes and continues to recruit more and more members.

Members of recognised Clan Donald Societies are automatically members of the Trust. But membership of the Trust is not confined to fellow clansmen. Anyone who wishes it well may join. Individual membership already totals some 1,500 with addresses in 21 different countries. But the Trust needs the active support of a larger membership still. You can help by recruiting new members and, if you are not already a member, by joining yourself. Subscriptions are £1.00 per annum or £20.00 for life membership.

Please send all applications and enquiries to me personally at: The Clan Donald Lands Trust, Upper Ostaig House, Sleat, Isle of Skye, Inverness-shire; telephone number Ardvasar 235.

Footnote to the online edition: The current address and website for the trust is:

Clan Donald Lands Trust,
Isle of Skye
IV45 8RS

Left to right: John H. Macdonald, Toronto. Ellice McDonald Jr, Delaware. *Robert A. Macdonald MBE JP, Glasgow. Lt. Col. Colin Macdonald, Guelph, Ontario. *Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton.  *Ranald A. Macdonald, Captain of Clanranald. *The Rt. Hon. Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald, High Chief. Robertson McDonald, Tennessee. *Air Cdre. A.R.D. MacDonell CB DFC, Chief of Glengarry. *AVM D.M.T. Macdonald CB of Tormore, Maj. Andrew J. Macdonald of Blairour. Note: *Indicates member of Executive Committee. Photograph taken by and reproduced by kind permission of Mr Calum Neish, Skye.

Clan Donald Lands Trust Arms graphic produced by The Highland Connection and displayed by kind permission of the Clan Donald Lands Trust.