The clan name has been written over the centuries promiscuously as McDonald, MacDonald and Macdonald. These notes have adopted MacDonald throughout although, for example, the Clan Chief now writes his name as Macdonald.
The Island of Skye, a part of Inverness-shire lying off the west coast of Scotland, has long been associated with four distinct clans ~ the MacDonalds, the MacLeods, the MacKinnons, and the MacQueens, of which the first two have at different times owned Caisteal Camus, Knock Castle.
The MacDonalds, known also as Clan Donald, have been one of the most powerful and influential families in the Highlands from mediaeval times until now. The clan was founded over eight hundred years ago by Somerled, King of the Isles. Somerled had three sons ~ Dougal (ancestor of the MacDougals), Ranald and Angus ~ and it is from Donald the eldest son of Ranald (the first to be styled Lord of the Isles) that the main family descends. MacDonald is an anglicised version of the Gaelic Mac Dhomhnuill meaning son of Donald.
The clan, divided into a number of distinct branches, (Sleat, Clanranald, Glengarry, Keppoch and Glencoe), held vast territories in the western Highlands and islands of Scotland and also in Ulster. Those in Skye were owned by the MacDonalds of Sleat.
In 1476 John MacDonald, the last MacDonald Earl of Ross, was created a Lord of Parliament as Lord of the Isles, but this title was forfeited to the Crown in 1493 and has since been reserved for the eldest son of the reigning monarch. The current Lord of the Isles is thus Prince Charles.
John MacDonald in 1469 gave a charter of the lands of Sleat on the Isle of Skye to his illegitimate half-brother Hugh, and Hugh’s direct descendant, the 8th Laird of Sleat, was in 1625 created a baronet as Sir Donald MacDonald of Sleat. In 1776 his direct descendant Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat, the 9th Baronet, was raised to the peerage as Baron MacDonald of Slate (note the spelling change).
The third Baron MacDonald of Slate may or may not have married in 1799, but certainly did marry or remarry the same lady in 1803. The earlier marriage, if it existed, was judged unlawful, but the later marriage, according to Scots law, legitimated the children of the earlier marriage.
However, the peerage title was in the Peerage of Ireland, and Ireland did not allow subsequent marriages to legitimise children born too early. In contrast, the baronetcy was Scottish, so the eldest boy of the family could succeed to that. The result of this difference in law was that the two titles separated, the baronetcy descending through the eldest son, and the peerage title together with its territorial barony through the eldest surviving son born of the second marriage.
Caisteal Camus, or Knock Castle or Dun Horavaig, lies on the east coast of Sleat, about 35 miles north of Armadale on Skye, south of Cnoc Uaine, on the eastern side of Knock Bay. Today it is a ruin, built on the site of a dun, standing on a steep headland with a ditch cutting off the promontory. It consists of a ruined 15th century keep of which one part, a window, remains to some height, with traces of later buildings.
The castle was long owned by the MacLeods during the medieval period, but in the 15th century it was captured, along with Dun Sgathaich, during an attack on Sleat by the MacDonalds. Then in 1431 it was taken by royal forces during the struggles between James I and the Lords of the Isles. In an attempt to resurrect the Lordship the castle was besieged by Alastair Crotach MacLeod, who had already seized Dun Sgathaich, but eventually he had to withdraw.
Caisteal Camus was first extended, and then in 1596, when the MacDonalds owned the property, remodelled. It was still occupied in 1632, but by 1689 it had been abandoned and was decaying, much of the stone being used for nearby buildings. Tradition claims it to be haunted by a Green Lady, a gruagach, a ghost associated with the fortunes of the family who occupy the castle. If good news is to come the ghost will appear happy, but if there is bad news she will weep. The castle is also said to have had a glastaig, a spirit particularly concerned with caring for the livestock.
Until 1972 Lord Macdonald held the territorial barony of MacDonald in Skye, and was seated at Armadale Castle, but he then sold a substantial portion of the lands together with the barony to Sir Iain Noble of Ardinglas, Bt. Sir Iain is now offering the barony for sale with an asking price of one million pounds.
Armadale Castle became The Clan Donald Centre and is now the focus for MacDonalds worldwide. Recently it has been reconstituted as the Museum of the Isles to become an all embracing cultural, historical and genealogical centre for the Western Highlands and Islands.
The Barony of MacDonald was sold to its new Baron shortly after being featured in the Baronage pages.
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