Clan Donnachaidh: The rescue of an ancestral kirk, and new initiatives for the future

Struan Kirk.

Three years ago, the Scottish Banner carried a report on the upcoming International Gathering of this oldest of Scotland’s clans. It’s the only one which still uses its original Gaelic name: Clan Donnachaidh, or the Children of Duncan. Robertsons, Duncans, Reids, and proud bearers of the many other sept names, came from around the world to the clan’s Highland Perthshire home for a week of celebrations to mark the 80th birthday of their Chief, Gilbert Robertson of Struan. Gatherings in the Clan’s homeland have been a regular annual event for a long time now. Progress with easing of current pandemic-related travel restrictions permitting, another is planned for August 2021.

Ancient historical lands

It had been Clan Donnachaidh’s unwavering support of the Jacobite monarchy through the 17th and 18th century Risings which accelerated the process whereby, by early in the last century, the clan had lost almost all its ancient historical lands. These had at one time covered more than a thousand square miles, including Lochs Tay and Tummel, and stretched as far as the gates of Perth. Yet the pride of Clanspeople across the globe in their history had remained unquenched. The result of this unquenchable spirit was first the vigorous and international renaissance of the Clan Donnachaidh Society after World War II, and then in the 1970s the raising of substantial funds to construct a Clan Donnachaidh Centre, including what was Scotland’s first purpose-built Clan Museum, at Bruar in Perthshire, very close to the Chiefs’ historical base at Struan.

Fifty years later, another dream took shape. That too has now come to fruition. It was at the time of that 2018 Gathering that clan members launched another fundraising drive: this time, for money to support an ambitious plan to purchase, from the Church of Scotland, the place where a thousand years of their ancestors lie at rest: Struan Kirk. Their dream has now been realised. A new Trust was formed, the purchase completed, and the Trust now owns the Kirk with a mandate to preserve this place of peace and beauty in perpetuity.

Over the past two years, a programme of substantial repairs to roof, doors, windows and entrance porch has been carried out to safeguard the building’s future as a place both of worship and of gathering. Challenges ranging from Highland winters to rare bats requiring protection under the law, and from commissioning and installing fine new stonework to dealing with serious issues around heating, ventilation and water needs, have been faced and successfully overcome. While less radical than the entirely new church building which had been constructed some two centuries earlier, this rescue of what the Clan has always regarded as its own spiritual home was the second time in a very long history when Robertsons and other Clan Donnachaidh names had stepped in to save this special part of their heritage.

A sacred site

A young Clansmen climbing in the Grampians.

To understand the significance of the place where this happened, we have to go back some 1300 years — before Picts and Scots had united into one people — to when Christianity first came to Highland Perthshire. The point where the River Garry meets Errochty Water, where the kirk stands, was likely to have already been a sacred site when a tonsured monk, from Iona in the Hebrides, chose this spot as the place where he would preach the gospel in Perthshire for the first time. Errochty means assembly place in Gaelic, and Struan means stream or the place of streams. A succession of church buildings were erected there over the centuries, wooden initially, the first one dedicated to St. Fillan, a legendary Scottish Saint originally from Ireland, and later built of stone. An 8th century bronze handbell known as St. Fillan’s bell, now in Perth Museum, was quite possibly one which marked the calling to prayer and the rituals of early worship at Struan.

By the 15th century, Struan was absolutely at the core of the Clan’s extensive lands, and the churchyard had by then become the burial place of the early chiefs, as of members of the local cadet houses and indeed of many others of the Clan. A Highlander laid great store by letting his dust mingle with that of his ancestor. The parish of Struan was in due course united with Blair Atholl and others locally, some time before 1638. About two hundred years after that, the then Duke of Atholl, with support from the Dunkeld presbytery, proposed the kirk’s suppression, partly because of its very poor state of repair. The Clan would have none of it. 1,500 heads of household in the area signed a petition that ‘Strowan shall be rebuilt on the old ruins, preserving what will always be very dear to them, the stance of their ancient altar and the graves of their kindred and friends.’ The heritors went to law and appealed their way to the Lords of Council and Session, the highest court in the land. Its decision was that Struan Kirk could not be closed. Led by Duncan Robertson of Kindrochit, plans for a new church were submitted by Clan members in 1826, and construction was completed in 1828.

Spiritual home of the Clan

Some remodelling of the interior was carried out in 1938, and further improvements in the 1960s, partly funded by the Clan Society, included a new baptismal font. It was this 19th century building and spiritual home of the Clan which has now been rescued for posterity.

Clan Donnachaidh continues to look to the future with new initiatives, but always with an eye to and a connection with its history. One such is the Clan Donnachaidh Youth Award, launched in 2018 to coincide with Scotland’s Year of Young People. The award is given annually to a youngster living in Perth and Kinross — chosen by the Clan from nominations put forward by teachers, parents or peers — who has shown exceptional courage and determination in overcoming disadvantage or difficulty. The award was inspired by Clan Donnachaidh’s first chief’s legendary ancient friendship with King Robert the Bruce, and by the old story of how Bruce, on the run from the English redcoats and hiding in a cave at the lowest ebb in his fortunes, watched a spider refuse defeat and “try, try and try again” before finally succeeding in spinning its web across the cave. 

The accompanying shot of one of its young Clansmen climbing in the Grampians illustrates the sort of courage and determination of which the Clan is so proud.

For more information on Clan Donnachaidh and its Society visit: www.donnachaidh.com

Historic Canongate tenements returned to former glory

Major conservation work, led by Edinburgh World Heritage, has just been completed on the last of three historic tenements on the Canongate comprising of 16 residential dwellings and 5 shops. Work was funded by the charity’s Conservation Funding Programme, which is supported by Historic Environment Scotland. Edinburgh World Heritage also provided expertise, advice and support to the residents and shop owners throughout the project.

Cordiner’s land

Also known as cordiner’s land, 195-197 Canongate is a 17th century tenement, which, together with its neighbours, embodies an important part of the Old Town, part of the Old and New Towns World Heritage Site. The cordiners were tanners, curriers (people who prepared leather for sale) and shoemakers who derived their title from the French “Courdouanier” meaning “of Cordova”, the source of the finest leather at the time. In 1825, they rebuilt the front half of the tenement and it became their meeting-place. The cordiners would also have sold their goods in the premises on the ground floor of the tenements, known as ‘luckenbooths,’ a purpose these tenements retain to this day. Throughout this period, the Canongate was its own royal burgh, established by King David I in 1128, and independent of Edinburgh until the two were united in 1865.

In the mid-20th century, these three tenement buildings were part of the substantial restoration of the historic Canongate Tolbooth area spearheaded by city architect Robert Hurd. His proposals respected the scale and nature of existing buildings and retained much of the original fabric of the buildings. Further conservation work, grant-aided by Edinburgh World Heritage, was completed in 2015 to 183-187 Canongate, a 300-year-old tenement, also known as ‘Bible Land’ after the carved stone cartouche on its frontage, and in 2019 to 189 and 191 Canongate, probably best identified by its striking red lime harling and limewash, reinstated as part of its conservation. Today, these tenements represent nearly 1000 years of Scotland’s history.

Historic buildings

The restoration and conservation of 195-197 Canongate, a five-storeyed, six-bayed block, was carried out by David Willis at CLWG Architects, and retained the traditional features of the tenement. These include repairs to the rubble and dressed stonework, timber-framed multi-paned sash and case windows and the carved panel in one of the central bays between the first and second floors which displays the emblem of the cordiners (shoemakers). Additional work included repairing chimney heads and gables, overhauling roofs, gutters and flashings, repairing the south external masonry wall, removing loose paint and re-painting the north elevation, and repairing rainwater goods.

Brenda Clark, the representative of the residents of 185 Canongate, said “Edinburgh World Heritage’s support and expertise in the field of restoration of historic buildings was invaluable. We were delighted to see our neighbours in the tenements next door follow suit and the rear elevation of the buildings look very impressive. We are now trying to persuade our neighbours in the adjoining building overlooking Gladstone Court to tackle the repairs to their building and would encourage them to approach Edinburgh World Heritage for their help and advice.”

Ray Disotto, owner of the Fudge Shop on the ground floor of 195-197 Canongate said “The generous grant offer by Edinburgh World Heritage made this work possible, and it has revived the look of the building which now blends in with rest of the Royal Mile. I’m sure it will improve business for all in the street.”

World Heritage Site

Christina Sinclair, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “The Conservation Funding Programme provides invaluable support to residents and owners of traditional buildings in and around the World Heritage Site to help them organise, to provide them with expertise, and to offer practical financial support, from beginning to end. Following the success of the conservation work at 195-197 Canongate, we are exploring how to better engage communities in areas outside of the World Heritage Site.”

City of Edinburgh Council Planning Convener Councillor Neil Gardiner said: “As a Planning Authority, we’re ultimately the guardians of our historic built heritage and our listed buildings guidance works to protect period properties right across the city. We’re very lucky to have such unique buildings in all corners of our Capital – including of course within our World Heritage Sites – and Edinburgh World Heritage provides invaluable support to keep them secure, sustainable and well looked after. As a City, we all need to play our part in making sure the listed buildings we live in can still be occupied and enjoyed for generations to come, and Edinburgh World Heritage regularly engages with property owners and tenants to preserve Edinburgh’s historic built environment. The conservation work carried out in the Canongate is a perfect example of a community working together. I hope other property owners see the incredible difference it makes and feel compelled to follow suit.”

Is Scotland ready for the return of lynx?

An extensive and impartial study to assess people’s views about the possible reintroduction of Eurasian lynx to the Scottish Highlands has been launched by a new partnership of the charities SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust.

Ecological research has shown that extensive areas of Scotland could support lynx, but the charities say returning the shy and elusive animal is less about science and more about people’s willingness to live alongside a species that’s become forgotten on these shores.

The year-long Lynx to Scotland consultation will impartially and accurately assess public and stakeholder attitudes around the idea of lynx reintroduction, including in rural communities.

“With a global biodiversity crisis, we have a responsibility to have open and constructive conversations around restoring key native species to the Scottish landscape – and science shows that apex predators like lynx play a vital ecological role in maintaining healthy living systems,” said Peter Cairns, Executive Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

Lynx are now expanding in range and numbers across mainland Europe as hunting laws are enforced and public attitudes to large predators soften. Several successful lynx reintroductions since the 1970s have brought ecological and environmental benefits to countries more densely populated than Scotland, and in areas used for farming, hunting, forestry and tourism.

Solitary woodland hunter

European Lynx (Lynx lynx) adult female peering out from behind tree in winter birch forest. Bardu, Norway (c)

As a shy and solitary woodland hunter, lynx are rarely glimpsed and attacks on humans are virtually unknown. Research suggests the Highlands has sufficient habitat – and more than enough roe deer, the cat’s preferred prey – to support around 400 wild lynx.

Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life, said: “Scotland has more woodland deer than any other European country, and their relentless browsing often prevents the expansion and healthy regeneration of our natural woodlands. By preying on roe deer, lynx would restore ecological processes that have been missing for centuries, and provide a free and efficient deer management service.”

Jenny MacPherson, Science and Research Programme Manager with the Vincent Wildlife Trust, which will lead the study, said: “Reintroducing lynx would inevitably bring challenges. Lynx to Scotland will actively include stakeholders representing the full range of perspectives,in order to produce meaningful conclusions about the level of support or tolerance for lynx, and therefore the likely success of any future reintroduction.”

The Eurasian lynx is native to Britain but was driven to extinction some 500-1,000 years ago through hunting and habitat loss.  Lynx to Scotland runs until February 2022 and is not associated with any other previous or current initiatives to restore lynx to Britain.

For details, see: www.scotlandbigpicture.com/lynx-to-scotland

Legendary author Sir Walter Scott is star of Saturday night show

An international celebration for the 250th anniversary of the life and works of Sir Walter Scott gets underway this weekend (Saturday March 20th) with an online broadcast of a spectacular light show from the Scottish Borders.

Scott fans around the globe are being invited to view the stunning display at Smailholm Tower by visiting the website, www.WalterScott250.com, at 6pm (GMT) on Saturday, which is World Storytelling Day (March 20th).

Scott enthusiasts

The broadcast will feature well-known Scott enthusiasts, including Outlander author Diana Gabaldon who will share how Scott inspired her and what her writing has in common with the 19th Century author. This will be followed by the world premiere of a brand-new short film of the Young Scott, created by artist and director, Andy McGregor, which will be projected onto the 15th-century tower.

The 250th anniversary launch event is being funded by EventScotland and organised by Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott, on behalf of the international Walter Scott 250 Partnership.

Smailholm Tower, which is owned by Historic Environment Scotland, was chosen as the location to start the celebrations because of its influence on Scott as a child. The tower is next door to the farm where Scott lived as a boy, and his early experiences here continued to inspire him throughout his life.

The programme for the launch evening is: 6pm Start of broadcast at: www.WalterScott250.com.

Glengarry Highland Games-See you at the Games in 2022

By: The Glengarry Highland Games Organizing Committee

It was difficult last year when we realized we had to cancel the 2020 Glengarry Highland Games. This past fall with hints of a Covid vaccine and infection numbers going down, the Games were optimistic that 2021 would see a return to the traditional Games with world class competitions, the sights and sounds of great Celtic entertainment, and in reunion with family and friends. However, as Games President Eric Metcalfe states, “I never thought we would have to make this decision two years in a row, but we do not have a choice. After much discussion, all are in agreement that this year’s 2021 Games are not going to happen.”

Look to the future

As everyone knows, vaccinations will still be rolling out over the summer and most likely mass immunity will not be reached that would allow for large groups to gather in August. Again this year, the Games is most disheartened to not be hosting one of the premier Highland Games in North America. In the meantime, the Games are monitoring the Covid situation and developing ideas on how the spirit of the Games can be celebrated this summer in some fashion. Keep checking back on the Games website and social media to see the plans that come up for entertaining everyone.

As President Metcalfe encourages, “While we will not be seeing you in 2021, with optimism, we look to the future. As soon as we can we will be busy planning your return to our fairgrounds and excitedly look forward to hosting a reunion like only Glengarry can!”

Until then, take care, stay Covid negative and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

The next Glengarry Highland Games will take place in Maxville, Ontario on July 29-30, 2022. For details see: www.glengarryhighlandgames.com

2021 New Zealand National Pipe Band Contest

Hawke’s Bay on the North Island’s East Coast will ring to the music of 55 pipe bands in March when the region hosts the New Zealand national pipe band championships. Bands from throughout New Zealand and perhaps even some from Australia, if travel restrictions permit, will be in Hawke’s Bay on 19 and 20 March, bringing with them a significant economic boost to the local economy.  Up to 3,000 visitors are expected over the time of the contest. Chair of the organising group, Kerry Marshall, says that what is truly exciting is the record number of juvenile bands entered where the age limit for pipers and drummers is 18 years of age.  “This reflects the strength of youth involvement in the pipe band movement here in New Zealand, something we’ve seen here in Napier and Hastings as well.”

World-wide interest

Mr Marshall expects the NZ contest to be one of the few major pipe band competitions to be staged next year.  “The livestreaming of the event will attract world-wide interest and be a great opportunity to showcase Hawke’s Bay,” says Mr Marshall.

Local Mayors and councils are pleased that the iconic event is being staged in Napier and Hastings.  March is going to be another busy month for events in the Bay with the national athletics champs and the International Horse of the Year show being held here in the weeks preceding the contest. Pipe Major, Jarrod Cawood, of the HB Caledonian Pipe Band, which is taking part in the contest, says the organising group, The Piping & Drumming Academy of Hawke’s Bay, is appreciative of the support of local councils and sponsors.  “The input of so many organisations will ensure that this event reflects well on the region and provides a boost for our local pipe bands.”

The main venue is Mitre10 Sports Park where the music competitions will be held while the street march event will be in Napier’s CBD on the Friday afternoon. The contest website, nzpbchamps.nz, will be updated with more details once scheduling is complete.  The website has links for local accommodation and other information about the contest.

Here’s looking at Coo

Highland cattle in Dumfries & Galloway and Edinburgh are aspiring social media influencers in a new VisitScotland video wishing future international visitors a ‘happy coo year’.

Highland cattle from Kitchen Coos and Ewes star in the social media video.

The video was promoted on the national tourism organisation’s social media channels during January and has been viewed more than 90,000 times. Captured on VisitScotland’s own “coo cam”, the animals were filmed throughout November enjoying their day-to-day lives against the breath-taking backdrop of Kitchen Coos and Ewes near Newton Stewart and Swanston Farm in the Scottish capital. VisitScotland hopes the footage will provide a moment of light relief for the many international travellers whose trips to Scotland were disrupted or cancelled last year by the pandemic, and as we stay at home.

Coosday

Highland cows are a major talking point on the national tourism body’s social channels which is reflected in the popularity of the weekly Coosday posts published every Tuesday. Scottish farm life is a major part of the appeal of agritourism. The tourism trend, which includes farm visits and food and drink experiences, had its first virtual conference in November and could grow in popularity in the wake of the pandemic, as visitors seek a more rural-focused experience. The conference was hosted by Scottish Agritourism, the membership organisation for agritourism businesses in Scotland which sits within the umbrella of the national Scottish Tourism Alliance.

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: Highland cows have long been the stars of our social media channels and we hope our coo cam will provide a much-needed smile to those travellers who have been unable to visit due to the pandemic. We look forward to a better year ahead for our industry and visitors, and we will continue to provide support and inspiring content as we celebrate Scotland’s Coasts and Waters in 2021.” All footage was captured on a GoPro Hero 8 by experienced farm professionals who care for and look after the cattle daily. VisitScotland advises that visitors do not approach Highland cattle when exploring the country, so as not to alarm them. The video can be viewed across VisitScotland’s social media channels.

St Kilda-The island that time never forgot

General view of the site (© GUARD Archaeology Ltd).

Newly published research has revealed how archaeologists discovered evidence of inhabitation over 2,000 years ago on St Kilda. Archaeological investigations were carried out between 2017–19 by GUARD Archaeology, who were contracted in preparation for the development and refurbishment of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) base on the archipelago’s main island of Hirta. This resulted in the largest archaeological excavation ever undertaken on the island, which revealed traces of inhabitation on St Kilda over 2,000 years ago during the Iron Age.

The island group of St Kilda, a UNESCO designated dual World Heritage Site, is situated c40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. The islands are all that remain of an eroded volcano that was active during plate tectonic movements and the creation of the North Atlantic Ocean around 55 million years ago. The excavations took place in the south-west of the main island of Hirta, overlooking Village Bay.

Iron Age

Overhead view of the excavated channel (© GUARD Archaeology Ltd).

Radiocarbon dating of carbonised food remains adhering to sherds of pottery that had been washed into a stone channel indicates intensive inhabitation nearby at some point between the early part of the 4th century BC to almost the end of the 1st century BC. Most of the pottery recovered dates from the Iron Age, although a sherd of a possible early Bronze Age Beaker and two sherds of medieval pottery were also found. The pottery assemblage demonstrates the land in the vicinity of the excavated area was subject to occupation from at least the Bronze Age.

Alan Hunter Blair of GUARD Archaeology, who directed the excavations, said: “The recent archaeological work has revealed that the eastern end of Village Bay on St Kilda was occupied fairly intensively during the Iron Age period, although no house structures were found. The presence of large quantities of Iron Age pottery across the site suggests settlement must have existed nearby. One of the most significant problems facing archaeologists working on St Kilda is that earlier buildings were dismantled and cleared away in order to build new ones using the old stone as a building resource. Stone was also cleared, including that in burial mounds, to increase the available cultivation area, leaving little trace of what may have been there before. The fact that any archaeological remains survived at all on the investigated area is remarkable given the location of the site on extensively used and landscaped ground. The remote island group of St Kilda has not been immune from change, but understanding what is left allows us to understand the lives of its past inhabitants in a little more detail.”

Tantalising glimpses of life on St Kilda

Village Bay, St Kilda.

Susan Bain, Manager, Western Isles said: “These results are very encouraging, that the evidence of very early settlements on the islands can still be identified. We have tantalising glimpses of life on St Kilda 2,000 years ago, not only from their pottery but also the remains of a souterrain, or underground store, that was discovered in the 19th century. These few clues tell us that people were well established on St Kilda as part of the wider settlement of the Western Isles.”

Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, Phil Long, added: “St Kilda is a place that has proved to be deeply fascinating to people the world over. Much of that is to do with the pathos of the evacuation of the last St Kildans in 1930, but we now know from these archaeological findings that their story goes much further back in time than previously understood. This further adds to the knowledge and evidence that justifies St Kilda’s special status and the need for our charity to continue to raise funds to provide for its study, conservation and protection.”

The archaeological work on St Kilda was commissioned by QinetiQ working on behalf of the MoD. ARO42: Hirta, St Kilda by Alan Hunter Blair is freely available to download from the ARO website: https://archaeologyreportsonline.com/publications.html

Text and images are courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland. For more information on the Trust or to help them protect Scotland’s heritage see: www.nts.org.uk

Do you remember sailing from the Clyde to Canada?

In the 1950s, tens of thousands of Scots left their homes to emigrate to Canada. In the years after the Second World War, poverty was rampant in Scotland, especially along the Clyde where the old industries of steel making, and ship building were struggling. The Glasgow area, in particular, sank into depression with little chance to find work or provide for your family. Canada offered hope.

The ships of the Canadian Pacific Line were well known on the Clyde, transporting Scots to and from Canada. The company also had deeper ties, coming to the shipyards on the river for many of the fine vessels for their Atlantic and Pacific routes as well as those for coastal and lake services.

The Paddle Steamer Waverley, built on the Clyde in 1947 and now the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer, had a role to play in this. Her job was to tender to the weekly service liners to Quebec and Montreal, boarding thousands of immigrants at Greenock’s Princess Pier, as pipers played. This duty was steeped in emotion for everyone as many left Scotland forever on-board Waverley to start a new life far, far away.

The last of the great Clyde paddlers

Waverley Steam Navigation Company – the Scottish charity responsible for caring for PS Waverley – would like to hear from anyone who remembers Waverley from this time. Did you take a steamer from Liverpool to Quebec and remember the little ships coming up alongside as you paused in Greenock? Or did you yourself take that journey from Greenock out to North America? If so, please drop us a line via email at [email protected]. We would love to see your pictures and hear your stories.

Waverley was built for the London and North Eastern Railway and entered service on 16th June 1947. She was built to replace the first Waverley who was sunk by enemy action at Dunkirk in 1940. The new Waverley was not viewed as particularly special at the time – she was not the largest of the Clyde steamers, or the most luxurious. In fact, when the Clyde steamers began to fall out of use in the 1970s, Waverley was not the first choice as a vessel to preserve. But as the last of the great Clyde paddlers, she was gifted to the Paddle Steamer Preservation society in 1975 for just £1. Over the past 45 years she has firmly established herself as a unique maritime attraction. She is the “Sole Survivor”.

Unfortunately, Waverley had to be temporarily withdrawn from service in May 2019 due to boiler issues. Following a highly successful public appeal and with support from the Scottish Government Waverley was reboilered, she made her triumphant return to service in August 2020.

The impact of Covid-19 has left Waverley lacking vital funds to meet the cost of her annual dry docking and maintenance to ensure she can return to service in summer 2021. Waverley’s Covid-19 Relief Appeal is open, donations can be made online at: www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk

Waverley alongside the great trans Atlantic steamers - early 1950s
The PS Waverley alongside the great trans-Atlantic steamers, 1950s.