Darlene Weisz and Diane McDowell
Thanks to the Foundation, we had a wonderful time in Scotland this summer. The John Carasik Scholarship provided us a stipend and especially the opportunity to work with heritage projects in the Oban area, the traditional home of the MacDougalls and the McCallums.
We worked mostly on the Isle of Lismore in Oban Bay. Their new Heritage Centre opened in March after years of funding and building. The Lismore Historical Society, whose dreams and hard work created the Centre, have spent many years collecting and preserving historical documents and artifacts of life on this unique Island. They have many projects under way, so there’s much to do of such variety that anyone’s time, talents, and enthusiasm can be used well.
Lismore is a beautiful Island, still very rural, with one road for both islanders’ cars and the bicyclists. There are also many hiking trails with great views of the mainland and other islands; a special trek for us was to the ruins of Castle Coeffin, built by the MacDougalls in the 1200’s and now the logo for the Heritage Centre. We felt very welcomed and appreciated by the islanders while we were there. The co-directors were flexible about setting up tasks for us that we could do, were fun to do, and yet were worthwhile. The staff in the Centre are remarkably dedicated and excited about what they are doing, as are all the volunteers. How fun it was to be a part of it!
We worked with the islanders in mapping the ruins of old farms and rural settlements around the island. One of the goals was to encourage them to develop their own projects with the aid of the RCAHMS (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland), which is currently focusing on documenting Scotland’s rural history. There were quite a number of enthusiastic islanders on hand by the time we met with the MCAHMS director.
The MacDougall projects around Oban are more at the planning and funding stage, but we did have the chance to tour the displays and materials at Dunollie House. Clan Chief Morag MacDougall and her husband Richard took the time to meet with us at Dunollie House, her official residence on the north edge of Oban just next to Dunollie Castle. They welcomed us with tea and scones (and Richard’s chocolate birthday cake). Morag discussed with us some of the plans for develop part of Dunollie House into a clan center and museum. With more time and funding, they should soon be in full development. Future volunteers will be helping to uncover some previously hidden gems of history, culture, and MacDougall family lore.
We also toured an exhibit of the MacDougall Collection. Miss Hope MacDougall, the aunt of the clan chief, spent her life collecting over 4000 pieces of the history and artifacts of rural Scottish life, a small sample of which were on display at Ganavan Beach. Many volunteers are already working on the collection, with the support of the Friends of the Macdougall Collection, but years of painstaking and fascinating work need to be done by both experts and volunteers.
Oban is a great place to spend a week or two, and we loved it there. It’s an old Georgian town in a beautiful setting of bays and islands, including Lismore and Kerrera. it has rail service from Glasgow, it’s the gateway to the western islands by ferry, and it’s a favorite tourist destination. After our days on Lismore, we enjoyed our evenings in Oban, especially walking the town in the lingering summer sunsets, viewinge the War and Peace Museum and the MacTavish traditional music show, and visiting with our new Lismore and MacDougall friends.
We couldn’t have asked for a more delightful and meaningful experience (except to stay longer). Anyone who is interested in the MacDougall and McCallum clans, who would like to meet some great Scots, and who want to learn more about their family history and traditions should get that scholarship application form and fill it out. We are so glad we did.