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Message from the Chief

Message to Clan MacNeil in Canada

17 January 2015

Dear fellow MacNeils,

Congratulations on the launch of your new website!  It looks very nice, and I hope it proves to be a good platform for sharing information and news.

Looking ahead at 2015, I’d like to let you know about an event happening in Barra this coming September 18-20, a major scholarly conference titled,  THE HISTORIC GALLEY CASTLES OF THE NORSE – GAELIC SEAWAYS – A REASSESSMENT.  The background and details are as follows.

An outstanding feature of the Norse-Gaelic seaways is the network of dramatic castles built on or near the shore. They typically dominated main lines of sea communication, and were accessed by ‘birlinn’ or galley. They played a central role in the Hebrides during the Hebrides’ heyday, broadly from the Norse period through to the end of the Lordship of the Isles, when the islands were at the crossroads of the Norse-Gaelic world.  In recent years considerable inter-disciplinary scholarly effort has gone into reinterpreting their history, dates, functions, and method of construction.

This 3-day international gathering was stimulated by my father’s call to revisit galley castle studies with a rigorously comprehensive approach to studying four aspects of the castles: Physical, Historical Evidence, Functions, and Relations. The conference will bring together some of the leading experts in their fields to take stock of the latest research to examine:

* The wider cultural context of galley castles, including evidence from Ireland, the Isle of Man and Caithness as well as the Hebrides and the ‘Hebridean mainland’

* The landscape and maritime context of castles, and how they were influenced by galleys

* The changing historical and political context of the western seaboard of Scotland, from Norse control to the Gaelic Lordship of the Isles and the efforts of the Scottish monarchy to exert central control

* The functions of the galley castles – political, military, economic, and cultural – and relations between the castles

* The significance and characteristics of Hebridean galleys in the history of boat-building

* New findings on the structure, materials and construction of the galley castles, and how they can best be conserved

My mother and I were keen, after Dad’s death, to find a way to ensure that the work he had been doing on galley castles was not lost or ignored.  After several years of false starts, with the encouragement and guidance of Barbara Crawford at St Andrews University  we were fortunate to find a group coalescing around The Islands Book Trust, Historic Scotland, and  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who have joined with us to organise the conference.

More than scholars 20 will be delivering papers at the conference, and I am pleased that one of them is Professor Andrew McDonald of Brock University, who will deliver the keynote address.

My mother, Sau Ming, Ruari and Seumas join me in wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Productive New Year!

Rory Macneil of Barra