The MacDonalDs of Sleat

The crest of the Macdonalds of Sleat (pronounced “Slate”) is the same as the parent crest of Clan Donald without the crown. A gauntlet covered hand bearing the cross, crosslet fitchee or warrior’s cross. The term cross, crosslet refers to the cross having another cross at each end and fitchee refers to the point on the bottom. The warrior’s cross was planted in the ground before going into battle during the Crusades. The cross appears to be St. Julian’s Cross and is one of the most frequently used symbols of Clan Donald. There is no crown in the Sleat crest indicating the Scottish crown did not recognize Sleat as an Earl or Lord. The current chief of the Macdonalds of Sleat is recognized as the 17th baronet of Nova Scotia which is indicated in the full arms with the helmet facing forward rather than to the side, but the crest alone does not distinguish baronets. The motto is the same as the parent motto, “Per Mare Per Terras” Latin meaning By Sea By Land.

SEE thE SlEat PEninsula in thE Clan Donald Journey to ArmaDalE ViDEo

The Sleat peninsula is on the southern tip of the Isle of Skye. The island of Skye was called by the Gaels “Eilean a Sgiathach” the winged isle. Peter MacDonald, Past Resident Director of Armadale (Gaelic meaning arms valley)castle on Skye, pointed out that Skye is shaped like a wing and that the Celtic inhabitants, being aware of the shape of the island, named it Sgiathach. It is unknown whether the legendary 1st century warrior queen Scaith (her fortress being Dunscaith) was named after the island or the island named after her. The current name Skye is actually Norse from Sky-a the Cloud Island. Sleat (Norse smooth) is the southern area of Skye that is less mountainous and experiences less severe weather. Sleat is one of the few areas still literally covered with thick foliage as all of the Highlands once were.

This branch of Clan Donald was founded by Hugh, younger son of Alexander, Lord of the Isles. This branch is often referred to as Clann Uisdein (Gaelic spelling of Hugh). The family name Houstin is one form of the Gaelic clan name. Hugh had a son, John, by Fynvola MacIan of Ardnamurchan and there has been considerable dispute about the legitimacy of a second son, Donald by the daughter of the chief of Clan Gunn. It was a common, accepted practice for leaders to take a second or third wife. Often referred to as handfast or Highland weddings they are a genealogist’s nightmare. The shift in determining leadership from the Celtic derbfine (anyone worthy within 3 generations) to feudal heraldry (automatically the eldest legitimate son) demoted these “other” sons of the chief to “illegitimate” in the eyes of the Lord Lyon, but not in the eyes of the clansmen. John gave the lands he inherited to Clanranald which added to the dispute.

The Macdonalds of Sleat are descended from Donald Gallach (Gaelic= foreigner) whose inheritance of the lands of Skye, Uist, and Morar were also disputed. The chiefs of Sleat had anything, but a smooth inheritance with one actually joining a band of pirates for three years. Another Sleat chief, Donald Gorm (Gaelic= bluish green) met his death in an attempt to storm Eilean Donan castle. Donald stormed the castle with several men in galleys. They were unable to break the iron backed castle gate as arrows fell on them. A single arrow (reportedly his last) hit Donald Gorm in the foot. He pulled out the shaft not realizing it was barbed. The barbed arrowhead severed an artery killing the Chief of Sleat. Many years of battling with the MacLeods followed. Dunscaith (Gaelic= fort of Sgathaich) was the ancestral seat of the Macdonalds of Sleat from 1469 to 1632 when the seat was moved to North Uist and then Armadale (Gaelic= arms valley). MacDonald tradition is that anciently it was the fortress of Scathaich (or Skatha) the Druidic warrior queen to whom Cuchulainn and many of the princes of Ireland were sent to learn the art of war. The Sleat Macdonalds were loyal Jacobites (to the Stewart cause) which cost Clann Uisdein many lives.

The most famous member of Clann Uisdein will always be Flora Macdonald who saved Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden (Gaelic= back of the little pool) by concealing him as her handmaiden. He was carried away to Skye and hidden until he could be taken back to the mainland for a ship to France. A reward was offered, but none of the Highlanders of Skye would betray their King. Many died rather than reveal his location. This branch of Clan Donald paid a high price for their loyalty. Many were transported to the colonies, some even sold as slaves. When Flora Macdonald’s rescue of Bonnie Prince Charlie was discovered she was imprisoned for a short time, but her courage made her a living legend (and an embarrassing prisoner) in England. She eventually was transported to the American colonies with many of her clansmen. She returned to her beloved Skye for her last years where she died. Her memorial on Skye is a favorite tourist attraction.

EvEnts from SlEat

The Armadale castle ruins and the 20,000 acres surrounding them are the last remaining lands of Clan Donald. The Clan Donald Lands Trust is a British Charity organized by prominent members of Clan Donald including Ellice McDonald Jr, CBE Delaware and his wife Rosa to save the last remaining lands of Clan Donald as a heritage for descendants of Clan Donald all over the world. The preservation of the ruins and maintenance of the beautiful castle gardens is currently managed by Jan Walwork Clarke, Resident Director. The “Museum of the Isles” at Armadale was originally designated the Clan Donald Centre, the name change to “Museum of the Isles” correctly reflects the status of the Lordship of the Isles as an ancient Celtic Kingdom made up of several clans under the elected leadership of Clan Donald. The museum is in the shape of a Celtic Cross and provides an unequaled view of how your ancestors lived through artifacts, murals, and multi-media presentations. The best way for you to be a part of the preservation of your heritage is to support the Clan Donald Lands Trust independently and/or as a member of your local Clan Donald organization. Donations to the Clan Donald Lands Trust have enabled the Trust to design and construct The Museum of the Isles. This state of the art museum houses artifacts clan members donated from all over the world so they could come home and be properly preserved and displayed. The Museum not only provides a central gathering place for all members of all branches of Clan Donald, but a major tourist attraction that will assist in the maintenance of the 20,000 acres of Clan Donald lands in the care of the Trust.