Historic former MacDonald clan seat restored

Monkstadt House, Kilmuir, Skye.

Monkstadt House in north Skye, once the seat of the island’s powerful Clan Donald, has been fully restored to its former glory.

Skye builder, James MacQueen purchased the historic 18th century building and spent three years working on it.

Monkstadt House became the seat of the Clan Donald in 1732 when Alexander MacDonald, the Lord of the Isles, vacated nearby Duntulm Castle. Monkstadt was the first slate roofed house on Skye. The Clan Donald vacated Monkstadt House in 1798, following the restoration of Armadale Castle in Sleat in the south of the island. Armadale Castle has been the clan seat ever since. It is also the venue of the Donald MacDonald Cuach competition.

Over the years a variety of individuals – form tacksmen, farmers and land workers – lived in Monkstadt but the house fell into disrepair. It was abandoned completely in 1956 and its roof sold. Monkstadt stood as a ruin and was entered onto the Buildings at Risk Register, maintained by The Scottish Civic Trust.

Monkstadt in the spring of 2008.

In the early 1980s the MacQueen family purchased Monkstadt. James MacQueen took over the property in 2018 and has now restored it fully. The building will operate as a luxury self-catering lodge and will be used to host weddings and fine dining evenings.

The 1745 Jacobite Association has placed a plaque on the building in memory of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s visit there to meet Flora MacDonald and Sir Alexander’s wife, Lady Margaret MacDonald who is subject of the ceòl mòr classic, Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute. Members of Skye’s militia questioned Flora MacDonald and Lady Margaret in the dining room about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s whereabouts. The two women then devised the plan to get him over the hill to safety at Old Kingsburgh House.

In her book, Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland, Bridget MacKenzie describes how the legendary piper, Iain Dàll MacKay for many years used to visit Duntulm and Monkstadt to play for the MacDonald family and their guests. He was, it seems, very friendly with Sir Alexander.

However, Sir Alexander had sent his eldest son, James to Oxford for his education at a time when the blind piper was in his 90s. When young James succeeded his father he invited Iain Dàll to play but asked him to play from downstairs. “The old man rose,” writes Bridget, “and said in Gaelic, with a similar rhyme to the one in the translation:

Give Sir James this message:
I played my music for his father
For the pleasure of his ears;
For the son I will not stand below
And blow it up his a..se