Clan Donald

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Clan Donald Magazine No 12 (1991) Online

The Clan Donald Lands Trust "Whence and Whither" - a Brief Memo to Clansmen by Ellice McDonald Jr CBE Hon.



Because the future does concern me, and because I hope to live in it, I write history rather reluctantly, albeit it is necessary to understanding the Clan Donald Centre. This brief memo of the origins, the purposes, and the possibilities of this establishment must necessarily be somewhat piecemeal.

The Concept

CDLT was born shortly after the death of the late Lord Macdonald in 1970. The young High Chief, with the advice of Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton, elected to establish a charitable trust whose physical property would be Armadale Castle and its policies, as well as a large acreage suitable for hill farming. The basic concept as stated in the charter was: "First, to erect and maintain a Clan Museum on the Clan Lands in the Island of Skye for the purpose of fostering Clan sentiment and interest and the encouragement of education of members of the Clan and the general public in the history of the Highland Clans and the Clan Donald in particular and the collection and preservation of records and traditions and objects of historic interest bearing on the history of Clan Donald. Second, to provide a benevolent Fund for Clansmen in distress and widows and orphans of Clansmen. Third, to provide funds to assist in the education of Clansmen, to provide scholarships at schools or universities for the sons and daughters of Clansmen." That was the basic concept, but, like most basic concepts, it has been embellished, enlarged, elaborated, ramified, although still retaining its original intent. An important contribution was made by Clanranald, when he insisted that any museum be known as "The Museum of the Isles," recognizing that the Lordship of the Isles was not just an exclusive MacDonald entity, but, rather, a sort of commonwealth participated in by many of the Western Highland Clans, some of whom were, at one time or another, more important than Clan Donald. However, overall, and in the long run, this confederation (or whatever called) was represented by the MacDonalds, a theme so very ably presented by Carolyn Proctor in her excellent treatise "The Headship of the Gael."[1] That basic concept has now evolve to this; that the Trust should exist for the following purposes:

1. To be a focal point for clansmen throughout the world, i.e including those in Scotland and for emigrants to foreign countrie such as Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, England, Belgium, South Africa, etc.

2. This centre should exist not for the benefit of the chiefs, or the trustees, or officers or employees of the Trust, or for any special group, but for clansmen throughout the world, regardless of physical or mental ability, social status, wealth, political prominence, or whatever. This concept recognizes the vertical social orientation of the clan (the Gaelic orientation, not the horizonal feudal orientation); i.e., a clansman is a clansman and is accepted as such, and the High Chief is first among equals.

3. To create facilities and administer programs whose purpose is to explain the past and present story of Clan Donald and the other West Highland clans that were integral parts of the Lordship of the Isles, and to perpetuate the traditions of these clans in the future.

"It is no joy without Clan Donald, it is no strength to be without them:
the best race in the round world:
to them belongs every goodly man."

Organization - 1st Phase

The Clan Donald Lands Trust as a newborn babe got off to a slow start. Early annual meetings were characterized by a lot of talk accomplishing naught. There was a dearth of leadership, organization and funds, and the young legal entity held together precariously by dint of overdrafts and erratic bursts of interest. Some bad mistakes were made, such as the premature and amateurish fund raising campaign and the sale of many choice bits of property by the First among Equals to Sir Iain Noble without first informing his North American backers (who would probably have bought the same acreage for the same price or better, and saved it for the Trust). If this is a criticism of Lord Macdonald, it is, also, simply a statement of fact (let me say that had I had this responsibility at his age, the result would have been a shambles). Things went from bad to worse, the final blow being the Calypso cruise ship fiasco. David Macdonald Stewart and I bailed the Trust out of that unfortunate situation by paying off the Greek shipowners, each of us chipping in 50%. However, that was enough for me, and I announced firmly that I was through, and wanted nothing more to do with the Trust - not then, not ever. Preparations were made to auction off the physical Assets of the Trust to any interested parties, i.e., from the continent, or whatever.

David Macdonald Stewart, then chairman of the Macdonald Tbbacco Company of Canada, wanted to continue, and in July, 1977, sent an emissary, Major Donovan Carter, to try to persuade me to change my mind. After three hot July days of golf, whisky and talks late into the night, I still said, "No," and Carter returned to Canada. The day after his departure, my wife, Rosa, said, "Isn't it too bad." The second day she said, "Isn't it a shame," and the third day, she said, "All that effort and enthusiasm and expenditure going to waste. I think it's terrible." I said, "Rosa, I know how your mind works. You want us to get back in. We can, but, remember, it will cost a bundle." She said, "I don't care. I think we should do it." I telephoned David Stewart, and we were back in. The fact that the Clan Donald Lands Trust survives today can be attributed to Lord Macdonald, Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton, David Macdonald Stewart of Canada, and, in the final analysis, to Rosa Laird McDonald of "Invergarry," Montchanin, Delaware.

2nd Phase

David Stewart granted Don Carter leave of absence, and for the next two years, we were busy straightening out the mess - paying long overdue bills, finding a factor (with the kind help of John Macleod of Macleod), setting up a proper financial and accounting structure, trying to establish a favorable rapport with a highly critical press, regaining the good will of clansmen who had been alienated, and attempting to put all on a common sense businesslike basis. Don did most of the work, since I was then High Commissioner, Clan Donald, USA, and involved in the effort to reshape and expand that interesting and potentially explosive body.

Shortly after I was appointed High Commissioner, I met a chap at the Grandfather Mountain Games, who told me his middle name was McDonald, I prevailed upon him to sign up as a member of Clan Donald, USA, which he could easily afford to do, since he was a big shot in Eastern Airlines. His first and last names were Robert and Parker. By the winter of '78-'79, Don Carter and I had things fairly well in hand on Skye, except that we lacked one all important ingredient - a full time International Director, an executive of Scottish birth, but with experience in North America, a natural born salesman, someone experienced in handling personnel, a man knowledgeable in the realm of budgets and cost accounting, an individual who could make decisions, and who enjoyed a challenge, the bigger, the better; someone who was essentially honest, and with the guts to stand up to anybody. One cold February afternoon, I persuaded Parker to fly to Delaware from New York on the pretext of seeing Longwood Gardens. See Longwood we did, and followed up with dinner at "Invergarry." It was roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, plum pudding, with a couple of bottles of Hungarian Egri Bikava (Bull's Blood). This was followed by discussion into the wee hours, and I offered him the job. In June of 1979, Robert McDonald Parker took over as Clan Donald Lands Trust's first International Director.

The twelve years since have been a period of many successes, a few failures, and a triumphant transformation of the physical Centre. The forming up of a loyal, efficient and trustworthy team is a tribute to Robmac's leadership. I can't say enough about the farm operation run by Norman MacPherson and Gordon Jeffrey, with Richard Sidgwick's guiding hand as factor; the new gardens under the genius of Tim Godfrey; the ranger activities led by a Gaelic speaking lady, Donella Beaton, who can control a group of 15 or more energetic children as though they were puppets; the new library, including the outstanding contribution by Harry Matthews, all in the competent hands of highly qualified librarian, Margaret Macdonald, daughter of the late Air Vice Marshal Calum Macdonald of Tormore; Duncan MacInnes, responsible for the Stables and flats, the gift shop, restaurant and cottages, Valerie MacKinnon and Flora Maclean supervising; in the gift shop, Sheila MacPherson; and, last, but not least, the one and only John Macdonald at the museum. I love these people. They are the best of the best.


So, now we are on the verge of the future and the possibilities are limited only by our imagination, our will to go forward, and our funds. Being Celts, imagination is no problem. The will to accomplish what should be done should be reinforced by a council of advisors, not too many in number, but representative of clansmen throughout the world, individuals of determination and courage. As for the fund situation, I have been working on that. Let me say, the Clan Donald Lands Trust owes a great deal to the various Scottish agencies such as the Highlands and Islands Development Board, Countryside Commission, Nature Conservancy Council, National Museum of Scotland, Highland Regional Council - Library Fund, Scottish Arts Council, Skye and Lochalsh District Council, Scottish Museums Council, Sir John McDonald Study Fund, TSB Scotland Foundation, etc. These good friends have been of inestimable help, and shall never be forgotten. Bob Cowen (Sir Robert, now), backed us when the Stables situation was critical, and we are most appreciative.

Of course, we need a good auditorium, perhaps near the new library, and one embodying the new audio-visual technology which has so enhanced the ability to communicate worldwide. The new auditorium building could have an office for the different Clan Donald Societies or clan extensions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Belgium, South Africa, Edinburgh, Glasgow, etc., plus a suite for the different clans who made up the Lordship. Someday, we could have the finest music school in the Highlands, with emphasis on the pipes and drums, the clarsach, the fiddle, and Gaelic singing. The logical location for this would be the keeper's cottage renovated and adapted especially for this purpose. We need additional space for the retail shop, a tearoom, to reserve the Stables Restaurant for meals only, and administrative offices near to the entrance. Such a complex might be constructed at the location of the gates. We could have a really fine cairn in memory of Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton. We could have all kinds of clan related programs so that clansmen worldwide would have a place to come and enjoy, a place to meditate, to carry on research, a place to say, "Thank God I was born a Highlander and a MacDonald." And, maybe, at the end of the day, we would have a dram of single malt -or two?

Suas Alba,

Ellice McDonald, Jr., CBE, Hon.


[1] "Headship of the Gael," written by Carolyn Proctor, published by Clan Donald Lands Trust 1985, Armadale, Ardvasar, Isle of Skye IV45 8RS, Scotland:

"The story of Clan Donald is at the centre of the story of Gaeldom, The Western mainland and the Isles of Scotland were, for over four hundred years, a flourishing political and cultural unity -the Lordship of the Isles. And Clan Donald was at its head.

"The Tradition marks its beginning in the twelfth century with Somerled, the greatest of the heroes of the Gaels and the progenitor of Clan Donald. But the story begins further back, with the peoples who made Scotland, and does not end until the Jacobite Risings and their bitter aftermath.

"Here on Skye we tell the story of Clan Donald at its zenith, for 'in their time was great peace and wealth in the Isles thro the ministration of justice". It is this spirit we celebrate and which lives on as long as there are MacDonalds to remember it" [Return to text]

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