Clan Donald Magazine No 2 (1962) Online
West With the Clansmen
by Air Commodore A.R.D. Macdonell of Glengarry DFC RAF.
Towards the end of 1960, I received an invitation from the Clan Donald Society of America to be their guest of honour at the 1961 Annual Gathering and Highland Games at Ligonier, some fifty miles from Pittsburgh. I most happily accepted this invitation and offered up a silent prayer that I would be able to take leave at the appropriate time. The games were to be held in September, a month which is historically notorious for military alarms and excursions!
As summer approached, it became clear that I would be unwise to count on more than a week out of office, and on this narrow time basis my plan to fly to Pittsburgh was made. At that stage, I could see no possibility of finding time to visit Canada, much as I wanted to see something of our clansmen there. A fortnight before I was due to leave for America, however, an opportunity presented itself of flying to Toronto with a RAF Transport Command Britannia. I jumped at it, literally at 48 hours notice and, on the principle that no man is indispensable, handed over my directorate to my deputy - thank God for deputies - and caught the Britannia.
The only address I knew in Canada was that of Colonel Hugh Macdonell Wallis near Montreal and to him I cabled. By the time he got my cable I was airborne.
We staged through Goose Bay and landed at Toronto on the evening of Sunday 27th August. As I came down the gangway, I was astonished and delighted to be met by John Macdonald, who has undertaken the task of inaugurating a Clan Donald Society of Canada, a piper, a group of newspapermen and two television units. Colonel Wallis had spread the news! While my baggage miraculously by-passed the Customs, I gave a few short press interviews and gulped nervously at the television cameras. John Macdonald rescued me and, together with his charming young wife, we drove into Toronto to the house of Judge Ian Macdonell where I spent the next three days.
The Judge and his wife were most gracious and hospitable to me. They had only just returned from their holiday but immediately set about making me comfortable despite the fact that they were without help in the house and had only that very day heard that I was airborne for Toronto.
Judge Ian is of the Greenfield family of Glengarry and has, very appropriately, undertaken to assume the office of President of the Clan Donald Society of Canada. In this he has the sponsorship of Lord Macdonald.
Judge Ian and I had many interesting talks about the Clan and I was, I think, able to make a few suggestions for bringing members together and for setting out a constitution.
Between times my host and hostess, and John Macdonald and his wife, showed me Toronto. I took tea with Miss Carolyn Macdonald of Sanda, was received by the Lieutenant Governor and his wife and two sons, and was presented by the Lord Mayor with a magnificent pair of gold cuff links, embossed with the city's coat of arms.
An occasion which I shall always remember with great humility was when I was privileged to meet John Macdonald's father who was desperately ill. In this fine old gentleman's active mind lay a veritable fund of Scottish history and detailed information about the Clan. I knew that all of you would have wished me to give him your greetings and to say how delighted we were that his son has undertaken to gather the Clan together in Canada. This I did on your behalf. He was very moved. I was most sad to learn that he died some weeks later.
From Toronto I travelled to Senneville, near Montreal, as the guest of Colonel Hugh Macdonell Wallis who, as many of you may remember, has long expressed all the right ideas about the preservation of the ruins of Invergarry Castle.
During the week I stayed with Colonel Wallis the story of our Clan in Canada really came to life. Quite apart from being an excellent historian with a great gift for spoken narrative, Colonel Wallis possesses a splendid library of books about the Clan and fates and fortunes of those of our Clansmen and Clanswomen who came to Canada, either direct or through the early Scottish settlers in the Mohawk Valley.
And so it was proper and inevitable that the two of us should drive out through Glengarry County to Alexandria to where Monseigneur The Right Rev. Ewen Macdonell, was expecting us in the Monastery - "Father Ewen", who was so beloved of Glengarry, my father, accompanied us for the rest of the day as we drove from one small town to another where so many of the headstones in the cemeteries bear the names of Macdonell or Macdonald. So much of our history lies buried here and with it the Gaelic which fifty years ago was so freely heard but is now so seldom spoken.
It was an extremely hot day, and I was glad of the comfort of the kilt, but anxious for the elderly priest who guided us and led our imaginations so that the past lived again. And I fell silent as I think one does when those who have lived long and learned much and seen many changes speak of the happenings of yesterday.
We paused in the town where Spanish John lies buried, but no one knows the exact place of his grave and so, in the evening we came to Cornwall where a reception had been arranged in the Mess of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders.
I still find it difficult to choose words to express the warmth and generosity of heart which was bestowed upon us by Colonel Stuart, the Commanding Officer, and all the Officers, Warrant Officers and senior NCO's who received us.
I was paid the compliment of a personal piper - a Pipe Major - and all three of us; Colonel Wallis, Father Ewen and I were given a great welcome.
To mark the occasion, I was presented with a copy of the regimental history inscribed with the signatures of all the officers present at the reception.
With the knowledge that I would not be expected to do the driving back, I enjoyed to the full the excellent Scotch which appeared so frequently and so prodigiously. It was after midnight by the time we saw Father Ewen into his Monastery at Alexandria: It was an hour and a half later when Colonel Wallis and I reached Senneville.
I shall long remember that day and our drive across Glengarry County. The spirit of the Scots is very much alive and though most of the descendants of the early settlers have moved west in search of fertile land; the name Macdonald or Macdonell is still to be found among the records of the living as well as on the tombstones of the dead.
Though time was so short and advance notice of my coming was accordingly publicised but little, I am grateful indeed to my host for making possible this trip through Glengarry County. Would that I could see more of our Clansmen there and know them better.
My meeting with Kingsburgh in Pittsburgh was a great moment. We had corresponded for three years, if not more. We did not meet as strangers.
His untiring efforts over the years to establish Clan Donald in America are known to all of us but it was my privilege to see the enthusiasm and dedication which he has engendered among Scots in general and Clan Donald in particular in his country.
You will have read of the Highland Games at Ligonier, attended last year by Clanranald. I can add little to what was then written. But, from my personal point of view, I was impressed beyond all measure by the warmth of the welcome shown me and by the strong feeling of identification with Scotland and with our ideals and customs which these, our American friends. Express.
The games were excellently organized. Under a clear sky in blazing sunshine, the pageantry of pipes, banners and kilts proceeded throughout the day. Oddly enough it was a uniformed member of the state police who expressed it all so perfectly. As the time arrived for me to leave the field, he gripped me by the hand and said: "Brother, I like you and I'm happy."
In conclusion. To those of us who are fortunate enough to cross the Atlantic either on business or pleasure bent, I know that in Canada and in the United States there is a tremendous welcome for any member of Clan Donald from any part of the world.
In my privileged position both as one of your Chiefs and as a serving officer in the Royal Air Force, I can perhaps be your envoy on other occasions. In this way, the personal contacts, which matter so much in these days of misunderstanding and tension can be strengthened and sustained.
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