Skye - History - Clans and Scottish Rule

Clans and Scottish Rule

The most powerful clans on Skye in the post–Norse period were Clan MacLeod, originally based in Trotternish, and Clan MacDonald of Sleat. Following the disintegration of the Lordship of the Isles, the Mackinnons also emerged as an independent clan, whose substantial landholdings in Skye were centred on Strathaird. Clan MacNeacail also have a long association with Trotternish, and in the 16th century many of the MacInnes clan moved to Sleat. The MacDonalds of South Uist were bitter rivals of the MacLeods, and an attempt by the former to murder church-goers at Trumpan in retaliation for a previous massacre on Eigg, resulted in the Battle of the Spoiling Dyke of 1578.

After the failure of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, Flora MacDonald became famous for rescuing Prince Charles Edward Stuart from the Hanoverian troops. Although she was born on South Uist her story is strongly associated with their escape via Skye and she is buried at Kilmuir in Trotternish. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell's visit to Skye in 1773 and their meeting with Flora MacDonald in Kilmuir is recorded in Boswell's The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. Boswell wrote, "To see Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great champion of the English Tories, salute Miss Flora MacDonald in the isle of Sky, was a striking sight; for though somewhat congenial in their notions, it was very improbable they should meet here". Johnson's words that Flora MacDonald was "A name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour" are written on her gravestone. After this rebellion the clan system was broken up and Skye became a series of landed estates.

Of the island in general, Johnson observed:

I never was in any house of the islands, where I did not find books in more languages than one, if I staid long enough to want them, except one from which the family was removed. Literature is not neglected by the higher rank of the Hebrideans. It need not, I suppose, be mentioned, that in countries so little frequented as the islands, there are no houses where travellers are entertained for money. He that wanders about these wilds, either procures recommendations to those whose habitations lie near his way, or, when night and weariness come upon him, takes the chance of general hospitality. If he finds only a cottage he can expect little more than shelter; for the cottagers have little more for themselves but if his good fortune brings him to the residence of a gentleman, he will be glad of a storm to prolong his stay. There is, however, one inn by the sea-side at Sconsor, in Sky, where the post-office is kept. —Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.

Skye has a rich heritage of ancient monuments from this period. Dunvegan Castle has been the seat of Clan MacLeod since the 13th century. It contains the Fairy Flag and is reputed to have been inhabited by a single family for longer than any other house in Scotland. The 18th-century Armadale Castle, once home of Clan Donald of Sleat, was abandoned as a residence in 1925 but now hosts the Clan Donald Centre. Nearby are the ruins of two more MacDonald strongholds, Knock Castle, and Dunscaith Castle, the legendary home of Queen Scáthach. Caisteal Maol, built in the late 15th century near Kyleakin and once a seat of Clan MacKinnon, is another ruin.

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