As the MacDougall Gathering draws near, with hundreds of the clan’s diaspora busy making plans to descend on Oban this summer, the team at Historic Kilbride has been busy preparing to welcome everyone to this important part of its story.
We recently spoke with people on either side of the oceanic divide- Liam Griffin of Friends of Kilbride, and Kyle Jones, President Elect of Clan MacDougall Society of North America, about the upcoming Gathering and why events such as this are so important to clan members from around the world.
Liam Griffin embarking on one of his many fundraisers for Kilbride, this time by bicycle.
Liam is the reason for the Kilbride season- it was his single-minded vision that saved Kilbride, site of the ancestral MacDougall burial aisle since the 18thcentury, from certain oblivion. After purchasing the historic property adjacent to his from a local farmer who had let it go to ruin, Liam’s hard graft, along with that of his wife Myra, has brought it back to life, and recently gifted the property to Historic Environment Scotland.
“Prior to the purchase of the property by the charity, Kilbride was seen by some as an abandoned huddle of stones, infested with blow in trees, nettles, bramble bushes and abandoned rusting debris,” said Liam. “However, among that debris were not only the remains of the 13th century church, but Clan MacDougall’s sacred memorial aisle, where stand the commemoration stones of such iconic MacDougalls as the Jacobite, Iain Ciar MacDougall, hero of the battle of Sherrifmuir. The remains of his dauntless wife, Mary of Sleat, lie alongside Iain’s. Other memorials record the lives and times of such MacDougall clan members as “James: The Keeper of Records for Scotland “ and “Patrick: Killed at the battle of Giudad Rodago.”
Having been involved in the North American Society after discovering a Clan tent at the Minnesota Scottish Fair in 2006, Kyle has been involved since he served as the Minnesota State Representative. Kyle will assume the presidency from Scott MacDougald in July 2020.
“People join a Society such as ours primarily seeking a more tangible connection to their heritage. The Gatherings and site visits help provide this,” Kyle said.
“For the Scottish diaspora, there is a real sense of loss that is hard to identify. Though we love the places we now live, and are loyal to our new countries, there remains a sense of being out-of-place. There is a separation from something important and valuable.”
The MacDougall Memorial Aisle at Kilbride
Meanwhile, here at Kilbride, a small, but plucky group of volunteers give hundreds of hours of labour and skills each year to conserve Kilbride and preserve it for the enjoyment and education of future generations. With support from the Clan and the staff at Dunollie, they have saved Kilbride from oblivion. From filling out grant applications and administering funding, to speaking engagements and keeping the grounds maintained, to marketing and showing visitors around the site, it is thanks to the endless toil of Friends of Kilbride volunteers that MacDougalls from around the world have one more place in Scotland that they can call “home”.
“Local folk, recognising the historic value of the various elements of Kilbride, and aware of the interest shown by those who visited the site, formed “Friends of Kilbride”, determined to begin the preservation journey that would ensure Kilbride’s history would not be lost to coming generations,” Liam said.
Over the summer, thanks to a grant from Carraig Ghael Windfarm Community Fund, major work was done to shore up a crumbling wall overlooking the MacDougall memorial aisle, with masons from Rowan Stone Works of Appinusing historic methods to make the wall both safe for visitors and to conserve the architecture.
As a visit to Kilbride is part of the official event schedule, guests will get a chance to see the new work, and be welcomed with tea or coffee and treated to a viewing of “Kilbride: A past too rich to have no future”- a short film that tells the story of the site and efforts to preserve it over the past couple of decades. Members of the Kilbride volunteer team will be on hand to give guided tours of the site and answer questions.
The next projects in the planning stages are more masonry work, and an interpretation board, for which a GoFundMe page has been set up. Along with an improved visitor kiosk, FroK looks forward to showing off all of their hard work to the MacDougall Clan members in July, who will enjoy a full slate of activities.
There are many good events planned and we are excited for all, but for us it is all about our people,” Kyle shared. “I am quite excited (and honoured) by a dinner invitation from Chief Morag. Visiting with Robin the Younger, is one of my favourite things and I hope we can play outside with our cameras and technology toys again. We hope to find ample time to spend with Liam Griffin, who we find delightful. Catherine Gillies is one of the only women in the world who can get me on a dance floor and I hope she will be in attendance for another go. Also hoping Mary Freer will be there because she make me laugh.”
Minnesota State Representative and President Elect, Kyle Jones
Photo courtesy of Facebook
MacDougall history simply oozes from around ever corner in Argyll, with places such as Kilbride, Ardchattan Priory, Castle Stalker and the Pass of Brander.
“We love exploring and try to visit new areas on each trip, always including a pilgrimage to Oban,” said Kyle. “If I had to pick just one place, it would be the Isle of Lismore. Though my documentation is not as complete as I would like, this is most likely my own family’s origin point. It is certainly where that ethereal feeling of being “home” is felt the most strongly. We have been fortunate to spend some time on the island, have made some friends, and try to keep up with what is on there.”
And what does Kyle most look forward to at the Gathering?
“Beyond the personal connections, the most important thing is to strengthen the relationships between the Clan leaders on the various continents so we are all ‘rowing in the same direction’ as I like to say. The past few years have been exciting ones for Clan MacDougall with many good accomplishments. I think this trend will continue and look forward to receiving “marching orders” so we can coordinate our efforts in sharing our history and building our future.”
Liam is also looking forward to this special occasion, as he said, “We look forward to keeping Kilbride’s rich history alive and accessible for all our visitors, but a special ‘Failte’ await the Clan MacDougall visitors, so closely linked to Kilbride’s story.”
To donate to the Friends of Kilbride interpretive board fundraiser, visit