The Clan Donald Society of Islay by Archie & Valinda Fletcher of Persabus, Port Askaig

Greetings Fellow Clansfolk,

It gives us great pleasure to announce the formation of Comunn Chlann Domhnuill Ile, started where Clan Donald itself began – Islay. Our island is steeped in history with many of our members descended from the clans who were here before and during the Kingdom of the Isles.

We are delighted to greet you our expatriate Highlanders and we hope many of you will look to your roots and come “Westering Home” to meet us and to walk where Somerled and his descendants once lived. We can show you many ancient and medieval sites, carved slabs and crosses.

Kildalton’s ancient high cross is world famous and is the only one of its kind left intact in Scotland. It is a magnificent sight and it is hard to believe it is over 1,000 years old because the details are still so clear. The ruined chapel beside it houses some carved stones among them MacIain’s, the only stone in low relief in Islay, also the hereditary pipers to Clan Donald. The MacArthurs of Proaig have a most interesting stone to one who was a famous hunter. There are more carved stones in the graveyard.

Kilnave our other ancient high cross, stands in solitary splendour beside the ruined chapel that once housed the fleeing MacLeans and others from the battle of Traigh Gruineart. It is said only one man escaped from the church, a MacMhuirrich (Currie) and his descendants are still in Islay.

Kilchiarn Chapel founded by St Columba in AD 563 on his way to Iona is perhaps the most romantically situated ruin with its carved stones and the pre-Christian cup marked stone outside the chapel ruins. Here one can stand and watch the Atlantic Ocean surge into the bay. Tradition says that once the font of Kilchiarn was removed to Nerabus where the people there had such ill-health and bad luck they were glad to return it drawn by one old mare to Kilchiarn although it had taken many horses to drag it to Nerabus.

Kilchoman with its beautiful medieval disc-headed cross has a small cone-shaped hole at the base, covered by a plug-shaped stone. One can place money in the hole and either turn the plug or walk round the cross three times in a clockwise direction to ask the Lord for help or a blessing. Here too, come women who desire a son – sometimes it works!

Among the carved stones in the churchyard is the priest’s slab that covers Sir Lachlan MacLean killed at Traigh Gruineart in 1598. In the field beside the churchyard lies the last sanctuary cross in Kilchoman and the American graveyard for those drowned from the Otranto. The Lords of the Isles once had a summer house here where the manse and gardens now stand.

Kilnaughton too has its ruined church and among the carved stab stones there lies a warrior in whose crossed arm it is said one can always find water to cure warts. Bridgend has many beautiful carved stones inside the old graveyard, also the shaft of across.

Nereabolls, the only church holding in Islay that paid its rent in black, white and grey cloth lies in ruins but has perhaps the finest carved stones in Islay.

Dunyvaig Castle, built on solid rock is now only a shell but still stands proudly guarding the harbour from which Angus Og sailed with over 2,000 clansmen to fight and help turn the tide at Bannockburn in 1314. Local history says that Coil Ciotach (left-handed Coll) returning to Dunyvaig and an ambush heard his brother, a piper, playing “A cholla mu ruin”, he understood the warning and ecaped. It is said an enemy slashed the piper’s hand severing his little finger, but the brother of Coll stoically changed hands and went on playing.

From Corrary about a mile outside Bowmore on the Port Ellen road one can see the ruins of the last court of appeal where justice was seen to be done in front of the clan. Between the gap one looks out to sea and there on Laggan Point one sees the rock where justice was enforced. The corpse was later buried in the chapel at Laggan River. There are many other standing stones and sites in Islay not easily accessible, as well as modern wonders like the Round Church in Bowmore. A mere stripling of only 200-odd years, built round so that the devil could never find a corner. When it was first built the bell was tolled at 9.30 a.m. every Sabbath to warn the worshippers to prepare for the 11.30 a.m. service.

In the Oa among the stark cliffs stands the American monument to the sailors drowned at the sinking of HMS Tuscania in 1918. It was from the Oa in 1615 the faithful clansmen lit the beacon fires to warn Sir James MacDonald of danger in his last abortive attempt to recover his family possessions when he landed at Portnahaven.

Finally the accompanying photograph, taken at a private visit of Air Commodore Aeneas Ranald Donald MacDonell of Glengarry CB DFC RAF (Retd.), shows him standing among the carved stones of his ancestors in the heart of it all -our priceless jewel Eilean Mor in Finlaggan, cradle of Clan Donald.

This is Islay history as he is the first chief of Glengarry to return to Islay since the terrible destruction of Finlaggan by government forces in 1615. The ruins are more or less as they were left then, a tragic memorial of an era unsurpassed.

I repeat our invitation to all our clansfolk. Come to Islay, meet Clan Donald in its birthplace, hear the oldest living classical language in the world being spoken and walk among history. Beannachd Leibh.