Friday 2 September 2011

St Donan’s House, South Uist

Eilean Donan Castle
From whom Alexander Carmichael got this snippet of information concerning St Donan’s House, South Uist, is not now known with certainty. Archaeological remains, particularly those with an ecclesiastical connection, were of great interest to the collector, something which is reflected in his folklore notebooks. Aside from providing rough measurements of the actual site, Carmichael then proceeds to give some traditions about it stating that the saint is said to lived there. Mention is then made of the nearby township of Kildonan – where the museum is now located – and how it was cleared during the 1830s. Before this rather sad event, Flora MacDonald, the most famous Jacobite heroine, is said to have lived in this township after she had separated from her husband, Allan MacDonald of Kinsburgh (c. 1720–1792), who is said to have come to visit Flora in his dotage.

St. Donans house in Eilean Donain
L[ength] 50 x 26 feet with several surrounding ruins
Length of Isle 70 y[ar]ds. B[readth] 50 yards. This isle
is about 25 y[ar]ds from the next isle which is ab[ou]t
50 y[ar]ds from Claddh [sic] Donain. Cladh Donain
is a peninsula with a no of ruins and that
of a chapel & altar and the font in a herds
house at Milton & used as a crotag. Isl[e]
Donain is a small gre[e]n fertile isle field
of nettles & viratus Alba. St Donan is said to have
lived here & the the [sic] large ruin is called ‘Taigh-
Dhonnain’. Graves and caibeil are in the
Peninsula of cleadh [sic] Don[ain]. Near by is the hamlet
of Kildonain the ruins of many houses fr[om] which
the people were ousted ab[ou]t 40 y[ea]rs ago. Beautiful
land now a sheep track. Ab[ou]t 20 tenants
Flora MacDonald is said to have lived here
left her husband fr[om] jealousy.
Alain Chi[n]sburgh came to Lochaoineart and
was so infirm with rheumatism & flesh & age
that he had to be carried upon a cra-leaba to Bornish
where he remained that night and proceeded next day
to Kildonan to Flora’s house. How long they remained

St Donan, a Columban saint, is closely associated with one of the Small Isles, namely the Isle of Eigg, where he suffered the death of a martyr on 17 April 617. Tradition says that this day was being observed as Easter Sunday. The Felire of Oenus the Culdee says (in translation):

“With the festival of Peter the Deacon,
To glorious martyrdom ascended
With his clerics of pure lives Donnan of cold

Many are the place-names associated with St Donan, ranging from Carrick, Loch Garry, Kintyre, Arran, South Uist, and, of course, Kintail. The iconic Eilean Donan Castle situated on the island of St Donain is a familiar site and has been used in many films through the years such as The Highlander and as the Scottish HQ for MI6 in the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough. But don’t be fooled by the way it looks: it was restored during the twentieth century (completed in 1932 after twenty years of restoration work) from the ruins of a fortified structure which dates to around the thirteenth century.

CW150/82, ff. 55v–56r.
Eilean Donan Castle.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]