2011 Scholarship Recipient

Thomas Ashby McCown

I spent four weeks in the late summer of 2011 at Dunollie, as a MacDougall McCallum Foundation Scholar, to study a collection of documents at Dunollie House that were to be housed in the new Dunollie Archive, and to help in whatever way I might in setting up the facilities for storing and accessing the documents. An introduction to the project and some of my observations can be found on the Dunollie web site, www.dunollie.org, along with contributions by others on interesting subjects.


I visited four regional museums, two before and two after arriving in Oban, that are near significant historical and archeological sites in order to learn more of current good practice in displaying and explaining material history. My first stop was the Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway, Lewis, which was exhibiting thirty (out of ninety three) pieces of the 12th century collection, the Lewis Chessmen. The Museum had a superb Gaelic video presentation of the history and interpretation of the Chessmen. The museum shop sold bilingual descriptions and interpretative sketches of residential structures that would have been used between one and a half and two and a half millennia ago. The depiction of the Carloway Broch as a residential structure, in particular, proved to be very useful on a later trip to Lismore Island. Traveling from Stornoway to Oban, I visited the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, which has fine collections of objects representing the geology, wildlife, archaeology, and history of the Highlands. While in Oban, I drove south to Kilmartin, at the edge of the Mòine Mhòr and surrounded by around 800 important archaeological monuments, to visit the Kilmartin House Trust Museum and the Marion Campbell Library. At the end of my Oban stay, I took the ferry to Lismore and the shore path to Ionad Naomh Moluag. Observations connected to the trips to the Kilmartin House Trust Museum and Ionad Naomh can be found in the “A View from the Reading Room” section of the Dunollie House web site.

The 1745 House at Dunollie

In their report, as 2006 MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation Scholars, Darleen Weisz and Diane McDowell described their discussion with our chief, Morag MacDougall of MacDougall and Dunollie, about plans to develop part of Dunollie House into a clan center and museum. The 1745 House is the first stage of this development. It is that part of Dunollie House on which construction was begun in 1745 by Alexander, the 23rd chief, and into which his family moved in 1764. The 1745 House will contain an Education Room, an Exhibition Room (funded by the MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation), an Archive Room, a Reading Room, and offices and facilities. A reasonably sized stone patio has been constructed in front of the 1745 House, which expands the common space of the House and which will allow, after a canopy is added, outdoor gatherings and events. It is difficult not to be a little moved, walking down from the 1745 House in early evening around to the sea side of Dunollie, to view over the waters of the Sound of Kerrera and the Firth of Lorn the changing light in the sky on Morvern and the islands of Kerrera and Mull. A view that has been shared by generations of MacDougalls.

My role was initially to help move boxes of documents and other, sometimes heavier, items into and out of the 1745 House and to provide a little help with the house cleaning, in preparation for the arrival of our Chief and her family and for pre-opening visits by donors from the United States — and to create some workspace for myself. Having moved and labeled document boxes into the Archive Room, I settled into my “office” – the Reading Room. It was exhilarating.

The four weeks visit coincided with a feverish rush to bring projects to completion. Each of the rooms needed work. The documents needed to be housed in archival conditions and given preliminary organization. The patio was to be completed. The MacDougall Heritage Tartan was to be launched August 25 at the Argyllshire Gathering and Oban Highland Games. Project Manager, Catherine Gillies, assembled an extremely competent team of professionals, volunteers, and technical consultants to administer the development and operation of the project. During these weeks, the team worked hard and well together, and the conversations were always stimulating.

Our chief, Morag MacDougall of MacDougall and Dunollie, her husband, Richard, and our Tànaiste, Robin, were in residence for three of the weeks of my stay. They are all involved in the work of the 1745 House — discussing projects, plans and problems, providing guidance, meeting visitors, and I am sure more than I saw or will ever know. Margaret Carasik, of the MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation was also there to lend a hand.

The Document Collection

The document collection is extensive. There are fifty some boxes containing bundles of documents. Initial catalogues of the bundles have been professionally prepared. The collection also includes some books, maps, pictures, and other items of historical interest. The condition of the documents ranges from very good to marginal, but they are, overall, in good condition. I believe that creating archival conditions for storing and facilities for responsibly accessing this valuable collection is an extremely timely project.

This collection provided the source material of those great books, Highland Postbag by Jean MacDougall and Kerrera-Mirror of History by Hope MacDougall of MacDougall. Viewing the original documents with the typed transcriptions of those three grand sisters – Jean, Hope, and Coline, our 30th Chief, MacDougall – stirs warm reflections.

The earliest bundle that I saw was labeled as containing six charters dated between 1450 and 1572. Documents in the bundle were apparently intact but appeared somewhat fragile and I decided to leave detailed examination to more expert hands. There is a large amount of personal correspondence in the collection, many interesting pieces of which have been recorded in the above books. However, aside from correspondence with family members, outgoing correspondence tends to be, if not lost, in the files of recipients. This collection includes, however, journals of the outgoing correspondence of John MacDougall, the 25th chief, during his tours as a naval officer. He most likely had the services of a secretary during these periods. There is a very good collection of legal and commercial documents spanning centuries — I am an economist (a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing) and enjoy reading such matters. Hope MacDougall’s book on Kerrera demonstrates how effectively some of this seemingly dry material can be used. There are sasines among the documents that are written on vellum, some in Latin with English summary and some in English with Latin summary, which are beautiful and in very good condition. There are even a few poems to be found in the collection. These are from the first part of the 19th century, with one obliquely referring to Wordsworth who wrote at least three poems at Dunollie. There is a fair amount of material of political interest – including a hasty 1689 note of a nearby landing of 600 troupes from Ireland, a formal 1691 letter, with official seal, from the Earl (later Duke) of Argyll trying to organize support for William III, and correspondence during the early Jacobite risings.

The collection contains not only primary documents but a small number of copies of pertinent documents from other sources. I quoted from two such documents, concerning the Brooch of Lorn, on the Dunollie House website — a copy of a letter from Lord John Campbell from the Argyll papers and a copy of Chambers Edinburgh Journal of April 6, 1839. These secondary documents often give historical texture to the primary documents. For example, the collection contains both the well-known description by Sir James Turner, General Leslie’s Adjutant-General, of the 1647 massacre Dunavertie and a document detailing the charges against the (then late) Earl of Argyll for the massacre and subsequent plunder of Gylen Castle. Not only did the religious wars reduce the fighting men available to MacDougall Chiefs, but the enormous debts contracted during these wars were, at least in part, settled by raising funds through wadset agreements, a number of which , along with redemptions, can be found in the Archive. A wadset agreement is roughly a sale of (at least some rights over) property with the option to repurchase at a future date. Most of the mid 17th century wadsets were redeemed by Alexander, but not until the 1750s. In addition to the loss of income this would involve, there is correspondence in the archives that suggest that losing control over the property may have affected, as well, the men that Iain Ciar could call on for military service in the early Jacobite risings. There were presumably other sources of funds available during this period. A letter from Robert Colhoun in 1715 discusses an apparent smuggling operation in which he was involved with Iain Ciar. And additional debts were incurred – there is a list of Iain Ciar’s debts in the collection – but collateral must have been scarce. In general, one is forced to conclude that the MacDougalls put their lives (what few were left) and sacred honor on the line in the early Jacobite rebellions, but they must have done it on a shoestring. I am confident that additional work in this collection will add significant texture to this period.

Gaelic is the native language of Clan MacDougall. The Chiefs of Clan MacDougall had Gaelic at least through the beginning of the 19 century. People who lived around Oban had it through the first part of the 20th century. I would liked to have found, however unlikely, a Gaelic document in the collection. I did not, although there are many bundles that I did not examine. This is not surprising. English was established as a language of commerce in larger towns at an early period while the 1609 Statutes of Iona of James VI focused on making English the language of the Clan Chiefs and on extirpating the traditional culture of the Gael from their houses. There is, however, a reasonable amount of written Gaelic material located in various places that is pertinent to the history and traditions of Clan MacDougall. I hope this material can be made more generally available in a reasonably time. There is a strong Gaelic language component in the development of the 1745 House programs.

The Oban Games

Although I have attended many games in various capacities representing the Clan MacDougall Society of North America, I found the Oban Games to be different. Perhaps they have an unfair advantage over North American games, being located in a spot steeped in perhaps two millennia of Gaelic culture in which MacDougalls, under that name, have participated for eight and a half centuries. (North American games do, however, have their strengths and I am very fond of them.) The Heritage Tent at the Oban Games hosted a range of knowledgeable people to handle questions relevant to local history and heritage. The groups include the organization representing the Ùlpan system of Gaelic instruction, the Argyll Archaeological and Historical Society, Ionad Naomh Moluag and the Dunollie House Project, which was launching the MacDougall Heritage Tartan at the games. A more extensive account of the Games appears in the Tartan, the newsletter of the Clan MacDougall Society of North America, on the Society website (www.macdougall.org).

Ionad Naomh Moluag

I spent the better part of my last two days at the 1745 House travelling to Ionad Naomh Moluag (St Moluag’s Center or the Lismore Heritage Center) on the Isle of Lismore. A description of this trip can be found on the “View from the Reading Room” section of the Dunollie House website. The MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation is held in fond regard at the Center and I was allowed broad access to material there.

I was assisted in this visit by several knowledgeable long time members of Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr. Jennifer Baker introduced me to Margaret MacDougall who provided an overview of the two sections of the library: the David White Library with a splendid selection of Gaelic and English reference books and the Argyll and Bute Lending Library which hosts a popular children’s corner. She also reviewed the many new books that were yet to be catalogued. Margaret MacDougall, in turn, arranged for me to meet David White on the second day of my visit. We had extensive conversations on catalogues, databases, cataloging standards, the history of the Center, the history of the island, and more. He kindly gave me a tour of the Tirfuir Broch, which tour was very helpful since archaeologists have recently re-dated and reinterpreted the Broch. He also pointed out the Center’s ongoing work assembling documents relevant to the history of the island. This is an extremely valuable extension of the work of the museum. I hope to have an opportunity to look at that collection on my next trip to this island.


I spent five and a half weeks in Scotland and regard this as one of the most satisfying periods of my life. I am grateful for the support that the MacDougall McCallum Heritage Foundation provided me and for the honor of being designated one of its scholars.

Tòmas MacCòmhghan/Thomas Ashby McCown

Betesda, Tìr-Mhàrie/ Bethesda, MD

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