Saturday, July 10, 2010

Exploring Scotland 1 Castle at a Time, Part 27, Portree and Dunvegan Castle

We didn't get to spend nearly as much time on Skye as we'd have liked.   Portree is the major town on Skye. At one time it was called Kiltraglen.  In 1540 King James V sailed into the harbor with a fleet of warships demanding the island lords support. The name was changed to Portree which comes from the Gaelic Port-an- Righ which means Kings Port.

Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in what was MacNabs Inn at the time and which is now the Royal Motel. He bade Flora MacDonald, and Scotland, good-bye from there in 1746.

In the early 1700 overpopulation and poverty forced the citizens of Portree onto ships bound for America. Sir James MacDonald developed the port as a fishing port and brought new industry into the town preventing a larger exodus.

In 1846 the potato famine hit Portree followed by the clearance and a large part of the population once again boarded ships for America and Australia.

Today it is a thriving town built around the harbor that has been it’s heart since the beginning.

We went from Portree to Dunvegan Castle.  Because of the popular TV series The Highlander EVERYONE knows about the Clan MacLeod.  Or they think they do. I wanted to find out more.
Dunvegan Castle sits on a knoll of basalt in a protected inlet.. At one time at high tide the castle was completely surrounded by water and could only be accessed from steps leading up from the water.

The castle has been the home of the MacLeod family for 800 years. Just typing that makes you go WOW!
When we arrived, it was mmediately apparent that the castle was going through a period of repair work. We were disappointed to find that we couldn’t go all the way around it to explore the exterior. In it’s eight hundred years it’s been built onto several times and has about 10 different architectural styles melded into its structure.

      (Notice the crenellated edge on the top of the wall. This was actually part of the original curtain wall. time. )

Clan MacLeod can trace its roots back to Leod Olafson. Leod was the son of Olaf the Black, the Norse King of the Isle of Mann. His grandfather was the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada.
Leod married the daughter of the Rulers of Sky the Macarilts and thus the clan was born with their two sons, Tormod and Torquil. Tormod became the Clan chief of the Dunvegan MacLeods and Torquil the MacLeods of Lewis.

During Tormod’s time, the Norse and the Scots were at odds over whose rule the islands surrounding Scotland fell under. That dispute was settled when in 1263,  Alexander II won the battle of Largs and the Norse retreated from the Isle of Skye. Their King Hakon died on Orkney. and with his death, the Norse lost control of the islands. The Norse people who lived on the islands quickly aligned themselves with the new Scots Lord of Isles and adopted Gaelic as their second language.
(Since we couldn't photograph the castle's exterior from up close we decided to do a Seal trip and photograph it from the water.)

In 1350 Malcolm, the 3rd Chief, built the Keep within the curtain wall that had stood since the beginning. In 1500 a free standing tower called the fairy tower was built. In 1660 and 1680 more additions were made by the 18th Chief. In 1748 the first landward entrance was constructed though it had to be reached by a long flight of stairs.

              ( From this angle you can see how the sea could rush in and surround the castle at high tide.)

In 1657 during the battle of Worchester 800 MacLeods lost their lives in support of Charles II. ( 800 MEN. 800 MEN from the same clan. That number is mind boggling even now.)

                                  (Notice the MacLeod flag flying high over the fairy tower)

In 1790 wings were added to the castle by the 23rd chief Norman MacLeod to act as a barracks for the 2nd Battalion of the 42 regiment he had banded together from local men.. (Later the Black Watch Guard). His son is the one who built the current front entrance and the bridge that permanently crossed the mote which had been filled in little by little over the centuries.

It was the 25th Chief during the Victorian era who tried to tie the whole structure together in a more cohesive manner.

(Notice the  small door at the foot of the Curtain wall where boats would have docked and allowed entry into the castle)

In 1850, the 25th Chief went bankrupted in his efforts to ease the suffering of his tenants from the Potato Famine that had hit Ireland and Scotland . He ended up in London working as a clerk.
It wasn’t until 1929 that the 27th Chief returned to Dunvegan to live but the upkeep of the castle was a financial drain on the family and in 1939 the castle was opened to the public to try and raise money for its upkeep.
In 2000 the 29th Chief, John MacLeod put some of the property up for sale for 10 million dollars, the cost of the repairs of the castle. Though the sale never went through, public awareness was raised and he received help in restoring the castle and reopening it to the public.

I couldn't stand to leave you with this lasting impression of a shrouded castle so I found a lovely  pictures of what the castle looks like without the protective covering.

                                       (I don't even mind that the color shows my photos up.)

The interior of the castle was beautiful.  The thing I remember the most is the very very pink entrance foyer and the Drawing Room.  It had a floor to ceiling painting on one wall of one Lady MacLeod and one of her children that was lovely.  Also the ceiling as you went up stairs to the bedrooms was exquisite. And the decorative railing as you went up the stairs in the foyer caught my interest. The collection of ginding stones in the cellar were interesting as well. 

The main thing we had come to view was the Fairy Flag of the MacLeods.  For indeed Skye is Fairy crazy with it's Fairy Pools, its Fairy Bridge, and the Fairy Flag.  Or maybe it was just the MacLeods, who have been blessed by the Fairies. 

After much looking, I found a picture of the Fairy Flag which looks gold now but may have been Green when first woven.  It is made from silk and it has been suggested it may have been brought back from Constantinople during the Crusades by  Harald Hadara. Regardless of when it was created or how it became a Macleod possession, it is said to be imbued with magical powers. And the MacLeods have believed in it for centuries.  Before the battle of Brittain, Dame Flora MacLeod, 28th Cheif of the MacLeods,  cut small squares of its fabric for every MacLeod RAF pilot who flew in the battle. Supposedly, not a single one was shot down.

The story the MacLeods tell about the flags origin is much different from the version of its travels from the Crusades.. 
Lain Ciar, the 4th Laird of the Clan MacLeod, was handsome and well spoken and all the ladies found him attractive, but none seemed to suit him.  One evening, during a walk he became lost in a dense fog and stumbled into a dwelling. It was there he met a beautiful woman. He became instantly enamored with the woman and asked her to marry him. 
The woman, no woman at all, but a fairy princess, went to her father for permission to wed, but he refused.  He explained that she, being  a wee bean sidhe, one of the Shining Folk, would not age and die as humans do. So being married to a mortal human, would only bring her heartache later. The Fairy Princess was devastated. 
Unable to bear seeing his daughter so distraught, the Fairy King relented and told her he would allow her to go with the Laird and be his wife for a year and a day, but after that time she would have to return to the fairy kingdom. Unwilling to be parted from Lain Ciar, she agreed.
The young couple wed and returned to Dunvegan Castle.  Nine months later the Princess delivered a child. The couples days were filled with love and laughter and their young son. But alas the day arrived that the Fairy Princess had dreaded.  Her father came for her with his Knights of the Fairy Raide.  Unable to break her promise, the princess kissed her child and bade her husband to always protect and watch over him. She told him not to allow him to cry because she would hear it in the Fairy rhelm and not be able to bear it.
Lian Ciar had no way of fighting the oath they had both sworn to her father.  Devastated by grief he swore to never allow the baby to cry.
Months passed and the young Laird grieved for his wife. His only joy remained his young son. The tenants of his land decided to try and cheer him by throwing a feast. They brought the food and wine to the castle. Once the pipers began to play and the crowd began to dance the Laird began to throw off some of his unhappiness. 
The party became so loud and bolsterous that the young maid hired to look after the Laird's child came out into the hall to watch the merriment. 
Noticing the girl peering over the stair railing the Laird rush up to check on the bairn. From outside the door to the nursery he heard a familiar lullaby being sung. He opened the door to see his wife standing next to the craddle rocking their child to sleep. She lowered the sleeping babe back into his craddle and gently kissed him. As their eyes met she disappeared.
Lian Ciar strode to the babies craddle and looked down at his sleeping child. The baby was wrapped in a blanket that glittered with red spots of fairy dust.  
The faded gold cloth of the Dunvegan Fairy Flag does have red dots woven into the fabric. And it is said to have just one protective wish left to protect the MacLeods in future.
I'll end the blog with some photos of the gardens around the castle.  They're well worth the walk to explore.

Tomorrow will be traveling to Minard Castle and taking the ferry to Larne, Ireland.  
Write on,
Teresa R.      


Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I've heard that legend before and now I can connect it to a place. The photos and history is wonderful as usual. Thank you again, Teresa. Your blog is my treat for the day. :)

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks for staying faithful to the blog. We'll be leaving Scotland for Ireland tomorrow.

I hope you enjoy it as much as you have Scotland.

Margaret Tanner said...

We Terea,
Thank you so much for this. I am descended from the MacLeods of Skye. My ancestors left Portree in the 1850's to come to Australia. The whole family,the parents, grown up sons and their wives and children. My father can remember as a little boy vising Granny MacLeod, who lived to be 106apparently she only spoke gaelic, so the kids couldn't understand her.
I didn't get a chance to see Skye when I was in Scotland. So, thank you for this, I loved it.


Annabelle Ambrosio said...

I loved the story. Your blog is a work of art. Thanks again.

Teresa Reasor said...

I'm so glad my blog brings you such good memories. You have to visit Skye. It's beautiful. And with a family history there, I'd try and find the house where your grandmother lived too.
The Scots seem to never do away with anything old. They just renovate and build on. Kind of like the castles.


Teresa Reasor said...

Thank you for saying that. I'm so glad you've liked it!!

P.L. Parker said...

Absolutely beautiful and loved the "fairy" story.

Margaret Mallory said...

Since I just returned from Scotland Tues., reading your blog feels like an extension of my trip. :) We stayed on Skye the longest, because that is where I've set my new series. Looks as tho you had better weather at Dunvegan that we did. We loved touring the castle, but it was POURING so hard that we skipped the gardens & enjoyed "millionaire's shortbread" in the cafe.

I'm loving your blog. Great photos!


Teresa Reasor said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog. And that it's tying in with what you experienced there.

Thanks so much for reading it.

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks for continuing to follow the blog. I only have a few more days left.