There it was. Nestled into the valley, dripping with vines and overgrown wildflowers, the castle! Its walls were crumbling, and it had no roof, but the majesty and history of the aged structure were not lost on us. “Wow,” my husband exclaimed. This was it. His family’s ancestral home, the MacDonald clan seat on the Isle of Skye, Scotland.
When we booked this trip months earlier, we knew that while we travelled throughout Ireland and Scotland that we wanted to visit sites that represented something special for us. Something about our families’ histories and where our ancestors had come from beckoned. In Ireland, we found many graves marked by O’Noonan and Noonan, my maiden name. But the fascination, for both of us, came when we went to Scotland.
My paternal grandmother’s line has been traced back to the Stewarts of Scotland who lived in the grand and imposing Edinborough Castle which overlooks the city from its perch on a hill which is now a museum. The city itself is grand, but the castle was something else. I felt very excited to be standing in that place, but for unknown reasons, the experience didn’t resonate with me as deeply as I had hoped. I wanted that feeling of home, the acknowledgement in my bones that I had had family living here, inside these imposing walls, an impression that this was where I came from. And while the castle was impressive, and I adore the city of Edinburgh itself, I didn’t have that moment. Not there. It turned out that I would have to wait for that feeling, that homecoming until we visited my husband’s heritage site on the Isle of Skye a few days later.
It started days before we reached the MacDonald castle. As we boarded the ferry to take us from Mainland UK to the tiny island of Skye we were already excited to see the place where Jeff’s ancestors lived for so long. When we made landfall, we were just absolutely rocked to our core by this tiny islands grandeur! The red Cullen Mountain range, the hills upon hill of heather, the volcanic spire called the Old man of Stor, the fuzzy highland cattle and millions of sheep. This was it. We both felt it in our bones. HOME!
Every minute we stood with our feet on that island’s rocky soil we felt more and more connected to this place. By the time we made it to Jeff’s clan seat three days later, we were smitten. We excitedly posed next to the sign for Lord Macdonald’s drive leading to the castle. We walked around gaping at the castle and its grounds. We went to the little museum that was attached that detailed the history of the lands and finally stood with lumps in our throats looking at the family crest. We had never seen the MacDonald crest before, and it touched us in a way that neither of us expected. Because it wasn’t just a grand old family’s crest, it was OUR crest too!
Looking back over the trip as we flew home we marvelled at this incredible journey and how much we enjoyed finding out more about our ancestors. We specifically discussed how blessed we felt to have been to Skye. How much it felt right to be there in our hearts and how badly we wanted to come back. Even before our plane left the ground, we knew we would return. We had no children during this trip, but we discussed bringing our future offspring here. We wanted them to experience the wonder that we had. There is something incredibly different when visiting a country whose history saturates your past. The experience was so much more profound when visiting the tourist sites when you learn the local history when you walk through the towns.
While our children are yet too young to enjoy a trip of this magnitude that hasn’t stopped us from plotting our return. We’ve bookmarked the lodgings, poured over hike guidebooks and discussed which ones we would be able to do as a family. We are bursting at the seams to show our children their roots, and give them the thrill of seeing their name on a castle. To let them wake up to the wet smell of fog drifting in off the loch at the foot of a red mountain. That feeling of Home. For home is where the heart is, as they say… And you may find it lies in the hearts of your ancestors as well.
By Kaeleigh MacDonald
Kaeleigh MacDonald runs the popular infertility blog Unpregnant Chicken where she writes her musings on the wild world that is “trying to conceive”. She holds a B.Ed. in Educational Psychology as well as an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology although nowadays she spends most of her time entertaining her toddler and exploring Calgary.