Skye’s Hidden Heritage
Discover the historic settlement of Rubh’ an Dùnain
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Rubh’ an Dùnain

Repopulation

Website editor, Gordon Mack, sets out a vision for the future of Rubh' an Dùnain and explains how the concept of establishing it as an online community came about. (A version of this article was first published by the Associated Clan Macleod Societies in their online blog in September 2019.)

New life for an abandoned Skye community

Occasionally, just once or twice in a lifetime perhaps, you are privileged to set foot in a special place. Somewhere that carries a tangible sense of past aeons; somewhere history has stamped its footprints into the stones and the soil; a place where it is impossible not to feel touched by the extraordinary reach of time. For me, Rubh' an Dùnain is that place.

A remote derelict peninsula lost to civilisation for around 160 years, save for the sheep, the otter, the eagle and skua, it is a landscape that touches the soul of Celtic and West Highland heritage.

In 2015 one small family – descendants of Iain ‘Dubh’ MacAskill, 17th century head of the MacAskill clan and a principle leaseholder (tacksman) of Macleod lands in the west of Skye – launched this website in an effort not only to maintain a sense of identity and kinship, but also to foster on-going research into their ancestral homeland – and, more importantly, re-sow the seeds of a new community in this beautiful and abandoned place.

Future vision

The website has drawn praise from around the world and thousands have already visited online. However, to continue to grow and thrive, any strong and vibrant community demands on-going friendship and support. Today, the MacAskills of Rubh' an Dùnain Society has a vision for this intriguing land – now established formally as one of Scotland's newest Historic Monuments. It believes Rubh' an Dùnain, favoured for its important military location by the MacAskills – the Macleod chiefs' hereditary coast-watchers and bodyguards – has the potential to play a modern strategic role as a novel 21st century community.

The Society views this website as a catalyst for an online repopulation of the peninsula with virtual residents who could be scientists, archaeologists, historians, students, artists, musicians, school children, members of the Skye clans diaspora, Viking sailors – indeed anyone with an interest in the life, history and understanding of these islands. It's been given a working title, Friends of Rubh' an Dùnain, and the Society thinks its unique combination of history and geography, culture and heritage, offers to:

  • Demonstrate the relevance of timeless history within a contemporary landscape – meeting key objectives of Historic Environment Scotland;
  • Become a tangible a reference point for the study of indigenous Gaelic tradition, from boat-building to language and culture;
  • Satisfy charitable funding criteria;
  • Deliver its virtual residents enormous resources on many different levels;
  • Develop and extend social media interaction;
  • Help constrain footfall on a valuable but delicate monument and yet still foster visitor interest in the Western Highlands of Scotland.
  • This is a project which is beyond the means of a small, self-supporting Society which wishes to continue primarily as a family group. It does recognise, however, that creating a new community will require hard work, a dedicated cheerleader, volunteers – and an injection of cash. But the family does undertake to devote time and effort to help establish Friends of Rubh' an Dùnain by:

  • Identifying and engaging with key stakeholders;
  • helping to steer the creation of a core management team and operational structure;
  • assisting with relevant set-up costs if necessary (though our own funds are limited);
  • actively supervising the transition of website administration;
  • helping to generate publicity as required;
  • delivering enthusiasm.
  • The search for a cheerleader and honorary patrons is getting underway. We look forward to your views or suggestions – and, of course, to enthusiastic volunteers. You can add your COMMENTS BELOW, or offer support to other like-minded Friends of Rubh' an Dùnain and JOIN US HERE.

    Comments: 14 (Add)

    Maree McCaskill on October 23 2019 at 12:37

    I am a descendant of the McCaskill/MacAskill family that left Skye in 1852 for Geelong in Victoria Australia. I have traced my family back to 1776 in the area and established that they were crofters.
    I have visited Skye 7 times, but the last trip in 2012 was the highlight as I chartered a fast boat to take me to Rubh' an Dunain and up the canal to the Lock where the birlinns were placed in dry dock and the site housed the remnants of the Viking settlement. It was just breathtaking and for me it was almost visiting a very spiritual place that gave me a sense of "home". I have explored a number of the graveyards, some of them abandoned and requiring access via fording a stream. I too was concerned that an amazing historical record is likely to be damaged beyond repair.
    Being so far from Skye and the larger groups of MacAskills/McCaskills that centre on the USA and Canada, this site will be a brilliant way of connecting all of us who trace our heritage to Rubh' an Dunain. I would be willing to help in any way possible.

    Karla Rodebush (MacCaskey) on August 24 2019 at 18:39

    Hello. I was in Skye just last month (July, 2019) with my mother to trace ancestral roots. We are descendents of the McCaskey lineage (aka MacAskill, https://www.houseofnames.com/mccaskey-family-crest), who immigrated to Canada and the USA in the1800s.

    I felt a very deep connection to Skye and continue my research of my past and people. How fortunate to stumble upon this website. We did not get to the graveyard on Rubh' an Dunain, but I am planning my next trip (2020). I would love to be part of this project and connect with others of similar lineage. I, too, think the concept of repopulating this area via an online community is exciting. I would love to help in whatever way possible.

    Roberta Langford on June 8 2019 at 05:33

    I have MacAskill/McCaskill lineage and also have Ancestry DNA (as well as my male twin). I am related to the McCaskills that immigrated to the USA in North Carolina starting in the 1770s. I visited Skye and walked on part of the land, Rubh' an Dunain in October 2018. I was told by a local to visit an old graveyard a few minutes drive away where the family is buried. And on a cool rainy day, we did that.

    Very old and with slabs with swords etched in the stone. BUT I am concerned about the graveyard and the condition that it is in. This graveyard with an old church? has McCaskill and MacLeod family members along with other surnames from the 1400s-1800. There is a bush growing in the McCaskill graves, and overturned very heavy and large stone. Moss is growing on the words. Words that are harder to read and appear to be a genealogy record etched on the stone marker--the largest I have seen, I have a picture and video of my sister and I read this headstone. I have more pictures. I want to try and to repair, and cut that bush out--but need help. Who can I contact or is willing to go me to help? I am 50 years old. I fear much will be lost.

    I will return in Spring 2020. My email is roberta6469@msn.com if you have an interest. I found a book on relics and the actual name of the graveyard. Some of the relics are store in Edinburgh from this graveyard/church when the book was written in the 1920s.
    I also want to make the full walk on Rubh' an Dunain to see what I missed.

    William Haig Hodge McCaskey 16th on January 22 2019 at 09:51

    Born in Edinburgh in June 1959 I have always been told that my family history comes from the Isle of Skye. Living in Australia from the age of 5 and without relatives around me I have never had the urge to find out anything more about my Scottish ancestry till I visited Skye approx 20 years ago.
    I have returned a number of times, signed up on ancestry.com and undergone DNA testing, discovering I am 36% Scandinavian. My ancestral trail brings me to the MacAskills under the Macleod clan, bringing me to Rubh'an Dunain.
    Currently one of my hobbies is underwater archeology and I would love to volunteer my time and equipment sometime to assist discovering more about our heritage.

    Tricia Barson on November 1 2017 at 23:49

    My direct maternal line ends with Catherine & Ewan McAskill born between 1790-1800. I doubt I will find any further records. We were also cleared and immigrated to Canada. I had the opportunity to visit Isle of Skye last May with my mother. It was amazing. While there visiting the records at Armadale castle the lady helping us told us about Rubh' an Dunain. We did the walk and I can't wait to go back. I appreciate this website and going through the virtual walk. I hope more excavations can happen so we can learn more. Fun place!

    David McCaskill on March 13 2017 at 09:38

    As an exiled McCaskill I have studied the history of my West Highland roots for many years and have found your website a source of great information and entertainment. To be able to view the land of my forefathers from my home in western Canada is a joy. It delivers a real sense of belonging.

    The concept of repopulating this area via an online community is a novel approach and exciting. It seems to offer a wealth of opportunities across a wide spectrum, but particularly for Gaelic culture, history and language. Developed in the right manner, I think it stands a good chance of capturing the imagination of young people who so often feel the need to migrate to large cities and other lands.

    I will be happy to lend my support in whatever way you think best and look forward to further details.

    Gustaf Anthony Keen on September 27 2015 at 22:54

    On 2 September 2015 my wife and I from Cape Town in South Africa travelled by train from Glasgow to Mallaig en route to Skye for a visit to my wife's sister recently moved to there . In the train we sat opposite an elderly gentleman who turned out to be one David MacFadyen of Tarskavaig on Skye .He told us briefly about a Viking canal at Rubh' an Dunain and mentioned he had picked up a piece of a ship's timber dated to about 1200 . My sister in law and husband had also heard of this Viking canal and were interested in visiting the area so we resolved to take a walk there a day or two later from Glen Brittle car park .This we did on a fine clear day with the Cuillins free of cloud . We walked and discovered many things new to us . We had only the Landranger topo map as guide but we found the tacksman house , the lochan with canal and adjacent ruins , the cave , and the Dun wall , and we visited the chambered cairn . We scrambled up the heights to get excellent views of sea and mountain . We had a wonderful day out in the wilds of Scotland with clearly a lot of fascinating history under foot . Upon return to civilisation we dived into the internet to find out more about these exciting places we had visited . Then we found your excellent website with all its fascinating information and links to fill in the background . Your "virtual journey" is almost exactly what we had done and remains as a wonderful reminder of our visit . The references you hide away under "Library" deserve much better display . The 2015 essay by Colin Martin is particulary interesting . The RCAHMS and their "canmore" websites have a wealth of information and illustrations , all cross linked . Our whole journey has proved fascinating and very much helped by your really very good website . Perhaps we should have done our homework first - studying your website before visiting , but there is much satisfaction in exploring totally unknown territory and finding things for yourself and then reading about it . Thank you for your help .

    Ronald Macaskill Watt on August 26 2015 at 09:57

    I came across the article in History Scotland. Which led me to your site.
    Not digested it yet but most interesting.

    When we tried to walk to Rhu an Dunain my wife was not well and we had to turn back a few hundred yards short, so I greatly appreciate the virtual walk.

    My mother wrote an article on The Macaskills of Rhu an Dunain but Bill's is much more detailed.

    Now I will be looking for work on the Macaskills who remained on Skye. Our lot moved north to Ramasaig in Duirinish but were again cleared at least twice

    Ronald Macaskill Watt

    Don Currie, Edinburgh on June 25 2015 at 16:26

    What a great resource - really imaginative and original.

    Calum MacAskill on April 13 2015 at 14:12

    Well done to all involved a very professional and informative site

    Coinneach on April 12 2015 at 10:39

    Excellent work - looking v. professional .. I'll disseminate to guides

    Joanne Dodge, Charlotte, North C on April 9 2015 at 15:16

    Excellent site. The virtual tour is wonderful.

    Marjory Danskin on March 30 2015 at 15:40

    I will be visiting Skye on holiday soon and it is wonderful to have a chance to learn about some of its history, without necessarily having to make such a long walk. Your virtual tour is perfect for a 'senior' like me.

    M J Danskin, Bedford, England

    Brian Macdonald on March 30 2015 at 15:34

    What a treat to find this site! I visited Rubh an Dunain last year on a family holiday and am heading back to Skye this summer. But I had no idea about the history of the place when I visited.

    Absolutely fascinating. Thank you!

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