on June 26, 2008
Dunvegan Castle has been the stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly 800 years. Architecturally it contains work of at least ten building periods. Its history, and that of the famous Clan whose Chiefs have ruled from their castled Rock are rich with drama and packed with colourful interest. Within Dunvegan's stately halls are priceless heirlooms, some of which have descended in the hands of the Chiefs of MacLeod since medieval times.Rising sheer from the almost vertical edges of the rock, the castle’s massive grey towers and hoary battlements stand forth against the sky, mountain and islet-spangled sea. On the landward side are the gardens of the castle, whose beauty and range of plant life attract the interest of serious gardeners.The motto of Clan MacLeod is ‘Hold Fast’, and throughout the centuries their Chiefs have strove to do so. Three Chiefs even though ruined by difficulties caused by the hostility of centralised government towards Scottish Clans, have remained faithful to the Rock.Although the Chief during the '45 uprising didn’t support Bonnie Prince Charlie, many of his Clan did so. One of them even piloted the boat which brought the Prince 'Over the sea to Skye' from Uist during the time when the Prince was a fugitive.The Potato famine of 1847-51 forced the 25th Chief from his home, exhausted and ruined by the stress of providing food and work for his people. At the age of 39 he left Dunvegan to take a job as a clerk in London to raise his family. In 1929 his second son, the 27th Chief, returned as an old man to his boyhood home, the castle of his ancestors.Today the Castle has a unified design with Victorian dummy pepper-pots and defensive battlements running along the roof line. The 25th Chief between 1840 and 1850 carried out this 'romantic restoration'. Underneath this outer skin there remains buildings, each of a different date.The castle houses several relics; chief among them is the famous Fairie Flag of Dunvegan mounted in a picture frame and displayed in the castle's drawing room. Legend has it the queen of the fairie gave this magical flag to the clan in reward for a favour they had done her, and that waving it would enlist the fairies help in time of need. Many believe the flag has aided the family through hard times to remain held by a golden thread to this isle and their castle. The MacCrimmon Pipes on display have come down from hereditary pipers to MacLeod. Pipers in Scotland would come to receive tuition from them. Pipers still make a special pilgrimage to Dunvegan Castle where the MacCrimmon hereditary pipers to the MacLeod clan Chiefs once played the finest pipe music.A little test of a chief’s suitability for the job is the Rory Mor’s Horn. It holds two litres of claret, which every chief had to drink down in one draught to prove his manhood. The Dunvegan Cup, another artifact, carries the inscription around the brim that it had in 1493 been made for Katherine, daughter of King Neil and wife of Macguire, Prince of Fermanagh – Ireland. But inside the silver cover there is a far older oaken cup. In the basement there are items, photographs and stories of St. Kilda, a remote island belonging to the fief of Clan MacLeod. The islanders there like the MacLeods for a long time might have thought the motto ‘Hold Fast’ appropriate. For one thing an important part of their diet came from being lowed down sheer cliff faces on ropes to harvest gulls eggs. It was ‘hold fast’ or plunge. Eventually though they had to abandon their island. Their method of fertilising the small bit of cultivated land available had poisoned it with toxic metals.
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