Isle of Skye Inspiration
Inspiration on the Isle of Skye
(An t-Eilean Sgitheanach or Eilean a' Cheò)
My PhD originally involved research into the inherited narratives of my family. It was one of the many reasons I chose to pursue a degree here in the UK versus in my native USA. Like many Americans, my family has ties to Scotland and Ireland. I was raised with stories of my Great-grandmother Shannon, and the stories of her family’s journey from the Isles of Skye and Eigg to the US during the Clearances.
My family is of Clan MacDonald of Clanranald (also sometimes called the MacDonalds of the Isles), and with reservations for archival work and the help of a Research Support Award I was able to go to Skye to conduct research and write about these connections.
The Isle of Skye is the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides.. The island's peninsulas radiate from a mountainous center dominated by the Cuillins, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. Its beauty is famous (and famously featured in many movies like Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender)
Skye is home to some of Scotland's most iconic landscapes. The island has countless ways to enchant you, with its mountain ranges, miles of dramatic coastline and captivating history. In the spring of 2017, my husband and I started our trip by visiting some of the island’s gravesites, including the one containing the famous Flora MacDonald before heading to the archives at Armadale Castle, Gardens, and Museum of the Isles. Armadale is the last of the MacDonald ancestral lands and houses a library and museum as well 2000 acres that include cliffside castle remnants.
Photo Source: Victoria Shropshire @ the Fairy Pools #SpringInScotland
We squeezed every moment out of our time on the Skye, walking to the Fairy Pools, soaking in some Skye sunshine while visiting the (rival clan’s!) MacLeod Dunvegan Castle, and even sampled a few drams of whisky from Skye’s only distillery, Talisker, I returned to Glasgow with a cameras full of photos, a backpack stuffed with notes and books, and felt completely invigorated to start diving into my writing once more. It was both a welcomed break but also an incredibly rewarding and motivating experience.
There is something about revisiting the old tales and learning new ones while walking on the island that bore them, every step rich in both history and folklore. It was an incredible opportunity to travel some of the same shores of the people whose tales of hardship and strength forged many of my family narratives. Even though I made loads of copies and notes in the archives, I also filled the better part of a journal during our time there.
It’s not the same as a proper holiday, but any time you can combine the passion of your research with an opportunity to connect your work to a physical place (especially one as magical as the Highlands and the Islands!) it is well worth the expense and exhaustion.
Photo Source: Victoria Shropshire - Sunshine smile at Dunvegan Castle.
Windy boat rides will take you to the Loch full of seals, basking in the sun!
While that part of my research that included these family-historical links became less a focus of my research by the end of my second year, I will still pursue those in my future writings. And I am so grateful for the opportunity to have accessed the archives that live on this amazing island, in the shadow of my ancestors.