After several months of planning, my father and I finally arrived in Oban for the first leg of our “Spring of 2013 Two-week, Three-Town-Tour of Scotland.” The objective of the first leg of our trip was to connect with Clan Chief Madam Morag MacDougall of MacDougall and learn a bit about one of our clan’s most famous castles, Dunollie. We knew it would be a meaningful experience – after all, we’re Americans interested in tracing our roots – but we had no idea how wonderful our time in Oban would turn out!
We were scheduled to have lunch with Madam MacDougall and her family at 12:30 on Wednesday, May 8, and, having arrived in town the day before, spent the morning catching up on sleep and doing some minor exploring around McCaig’s Tower. We made our way to Dunollie from our guesthouse in town with ease and were met by Ian, one of the castle’s exceptional volunteers. After a brief introduction and explanation of our purpose for the visit, he led us around to the residential portion of the house where we were met by Madam MacDougall, her husband Richard, and their son Robin. After the necessary introductions were made, we sat down for a delicious meal with the family and the castle staff: Ian (whom we had met earlier), Angus (Aonghas), Mary, Jane, and Fiona – a wonderful and lively bunch!
When lunch ended and the table was cleared, we decided to take a tour of Dunollie. We journeyed up the short pathway to the castle entrance, where Ian, Richard and Robin shared with us its history, as well as trivia we wouldn’t have found in a book or on a website. For instance – why would two particular species of poisonous plants (hemlock and monkshood) have grown around the castle? Or, did you know that the castle grounds show evidence of being inhabited hundreds of years before Dunollie was built? According to Ian, who is a virtual encyclopedia local knowledge, the 2% of the grounds with have been excavated thus far have begun to open a wealth of history once lost to the ages. What else might they find in future excavations? Artifacts? Treasures? Evidence of the lost city of Atlantis?!
When it began to rain, we headed back down the hill for a tour of the museum. The museum is located in the original portion of the house and its first addition (the second addition being used as the current residence). I had visited Oban and Dunollie in 2010 a few months before the museum opened, so I was I anxiously looking forward to this new opportunity to learn about our clan’s history. Angus (Aonghas), a man of many talents and wearer of many hats, served as our guide. As a MacDougall, I was a bit embarrassed about how little I knew of our clan’s history. My father, Malcolm, is the President-elect of the Clan MacDougall Society of North America, and I serve as the Society’s chaplain, so you would think we’d be experts in all things “MacDougall.” Angus (Aonghas) quickly dispelled my discomfort, though, as he patiently answered our questions and listened to our tidbits of partial knowledge and misinformation.
Since the museum had been open since mid-2010, there was a great deal of information to share and artifacts to examine. The 1745 House, as it is called, is not a grand structure. While humbling to some extent (how many of us imagine our chiefs’ home to be of grandiose proportions?), its size is ideal because it allows the exhibits to rotate in and out, constantly providing for new and unique experiences. The size of the museum also allows for those who have limited time to quickly but thoroughly examination of artifacts and information. However, history buffs might easily require several hours, or even days, to delve into the depths of the clan’s past. My father and I, each fascinated with varying eras of history, had to return the following day in order to fully explore the clan’s history!
If you think you’ve had your fill at Dunollie Castle and the 1745 House, or simply need a break from history overload, take a short drive south of Oban to the Kilbride Kirkyard (cemetery) where you will find the burial sites of several MacDougall chiefs, along with the ruins of the old church. Public transportation does not travel to Kilbride, so you will need to have your own vehicle or hire a taxi from Oban’s train station. However, the journey from Dunollie to the cemetery is only 4.5 miles and a mere 3.3 miles from the train station. As a minister, I was pleased to find the burial marker of another MacDougall minister, John MacDougall (3 May, 1833 – 22 April, 1886). The marker reads “CLERK IN HOLY ORDERS DIED 22 APRIL 1886, AGED 53. 4TH SON OF ADMIRAL SIR JOHN MACDOUGALL K.C.” As with the castle and museum, hours can be spent roaming this small but populous cemetery, so plan accordingly – especially if you need to hire a cab!
I don’t want to share too much so as to not rob you of fully enjoying a visit of your own, but I encourage all visitors to inquire about the recently discovered MacDougall “Heritage” Tartan and the fun little W.C. on the second floor of the museum. We stayed at two locally-owned guesthouses – Glenbervie and Dunheanish – and highly recommend either of them. The owners are friendly, helpful, and accommodating, both houses are reasonably and affordably priced, and both are conveniently located in town. For a delicious meal we recommend a stop at Cuan Mor, which serves Oban’s very own Oban Bay Beer. The food, atmosphere, and staff were so wonderful that we ate there three nights in a row!
In my opinion, half of the fun in any journey is the opportunity to explore and discover, so I leave the rest of Oban’s attractions to your own adventurous designs. Suffice it to say, however, that you can easily find enough activities to fill an entire week! In fact, I’m already looking forward to my third venture to Oban (focused around the world-wide clan gathering in late August 2014) and continuing my exploration of Dunollie, the 1745 House, Oban, and all things MacDougall!