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Clan Carmichael 2007 Gathering

Clan Carmichael International Gathering 2007

It was with great anticipation of seeing old friends and family – cousins all – that we arrived  for the welcome dinner in the Carmichael Visitor Centre farmhouse kitchen restaurant on Tuesday evening, June 26.  Four of our number hadn’t arrived as they had encountered bad weather in New York and were to be delayed until Thursday.  We were greeted by our Chief and his Lady.  There were smiles and hugs all around as we caught up on the news over pre-dinner drinks in the courtyard.  We met some Carmichaels we hadn’t previously known – Wayne England from New Zealand and some of the Robinson family from Toronto and Illinois.    

We were served a delicious buffet dinner featuring Carmichael meats prior to a welcoming speech by our Chief.  He presented a plaque to Ann and Jack Carmichael, half of which was the Carmichael tartan and crest and half the Armstrong tartan and crest.  Over 307 years ago, a Carmichael chief was murdered by an Armstrong as he did his duties in the borders.  Chief Richard said 307 years is a long time to hold a grudge over anything; let bygones be bygones, he said.  Ann was an Armstrong before marrying a Carmichael.  She and Jack have done much for the Clan over the years and were honored for that service.

We then witnessed a Bond of Manrent ceremony in which Steven Goeser from Utah, whose wife is a Carmichael from Australia, made his pledge, ‘being of sound mind and able body, to take up arms and fight for the Chief of Carmichael.’  He said he would ‘follow him into battle wherever he may choose to go and always hereafter defend the interests of Clan Carmichael.’  He swore allegiance to the Clan and promised to wear the tartan and crest with pride.  Richard then accepted Steven as a Bond of Manrent member of Clan Carmichael and bestowed upon him all the privileges of such Clanship.  After a rousing cheer of ‘A Carmichael, A Carmichael, A Carmichael,’ we were dismissed for the evening, visited awhile, and then returned to our varying abodes for the night. 

The next morning we met at the Visitor Centre to board a coach for a trip to the Kingdom of Fife and Loch Leven Castle, the castle where Mary Queen of Scots and her four Maries were imprisoned in 1567.  It was here she signed her abdication papers on July 24, 1567.  The castle ruins rest on a small island in the middle of the Loch, the largest loch in lowland Scotland.  We were ferried by small boat, 12 at a time, to the island.  There is evidence there was a fortress on the island from the 5th century AD, but the present ruins date from the 13th century, just before the Scottish wars of independence.  We wandered around the ruins, feeling the cold air and thinking what it must have been like to be imprisoned there with very little ground around the castle on which to walk, large fireplaces trying to add some warmth to the thick stone walls on cold winter days, and guards watching every move.  There were no human comforts that we could detect.  We then ferried back to the mainland, once again 12 at a time, to have lunch in the restaurant at the visitor centre.

After lunch we boarded the coach once again and were driven to the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens in search of the Aconitum carmichaelii plants, discovered by William Carmichael McIntosh, a professor of Natural History at the University of St. Andrews, from 1882-1917, and a founding member of the St. Andrews Temperance Society.  He became a famous botanist and marine biologist.  The common name of Aconitum Carmichaelii is Monkshood or Carmichael’s Monkshood, a plant which is recommended for the back of a border because of its ‘imposing upright stems.’ Captain Dugald Carmichael, a Scottish army officer and botanist who collected plants in New Zealand, has a number of plants named after him including Carmichaelia, a New Zealand broom.

We were met at the gates of the Botanical Gardens by two guides, ladies who had not been told we were in search of our clan plant, a carmichaelia.  Looking a bit confused, they divided us into two groups for their standard tour, so we were forced to search out the plants on our own as they were telling us about other things!  We stalked along reading all the plant markers we could see, and suddenly! an aconitum carmichaelii was spotted right in front of us prompting us to interrupt the guide to point it out to everyone in the group!  It was not blooming, so we were unable to see its blue flowers, but we photographed the plant anyway.  The other group found two carmichaelia plants.  As we toured the gift shop at the close of our tours, an aconitum carmichaelii was spotted for sale in the plant section and was quickly bought to be presented to the Chief for planting in his garden.

From the garden, we were driven along Princes Street and around behind Edinburgh Castle to Prestonfield House at the foot of Arthur’s Seat.  Here we had time to tour the Prestonfield House Hotel where rooms can be had for a mere £350 ($700) per night.  This hotel is said to be the most romantic in Scotland.  Some of us thought if we could splurge to afford the room, we surely couldn’t afford the food in the beautiful dining rooms and would be forced to perhaps kill and eat one of the peacocks wandering the grounds.  Following our fantastical musings, we adjourned to the former stables for our dinner and the Taste of Scotland Show, a lively evening of song and dance which was enjoyed by all.  It was late when we arrived back at our cottage or hotel, but we had a later start the next morning, so not to worry.  We had had a wonderful day with mostly sunshine and great fellowship.

It rained a great deal during the night and was still drizzling the next morning.  Our group day began at 11 a.m. when we met at the Eagle Gates for a symbolic checking of the eagles.  Claudia LeMone has learned to play the bagpipes so piped us on our walk to the Caput of Barony with Arthur Carmichael as the standard bearer.  Chief Richard gave us some of the history of the estate from in front of Helton’s Tower while it rained.  We then walked through wet grass and mud to Kirkhill for more history with Mike Carmichael now as standard bearer.  The Chief and his family were joined by one of his younger brothers, David, and his family for the scattering of the ashes of Richard’s Aunt Peggy, sister of his mother.  She attended previous gatherings and encouraged him as he sought to become Chief back in 1980.  It was a solemn occasion which concluded with Claudia piping ‘Amazing Grace’ before we marched back through soggy fields to the marquee set up for lunch. 

The blue and white marquee was decorated beautifully for our lunch of sandwiches, choice of either ploughman’s pie or venison and game pie, salads and desserts prepared by the lady who runs the farmhouse restaurant.  Hamish Carmichael attended the gathering for the day and provided for sale a book which he has published on the Carmichael connection in France.  The rain continued and several cars got stuck in the mud; another car had an encounter with part of the forest as the back slid into a tree.  We were wet and cold.  The veterans had arrived with waterproof hiking boots, but most of us had wet feet all day, our shoes squishing with every step.  After lunch, some people gave up and returned to the hotel or their cottage, while a handful of us stayed in the marquee to visit all afternoon.  The sports day had to be cancelled.  The business meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. was attended by a few of us.  It continued to rain.  The Chief erected a small orange marquee over his barbecue grill so he could cook our meat for the evening dinner before the ceilidh party.  He was wearing an orange sweater so seemed to disappear against the background of the orange marquee.  The floor of the main marquee was becoming a bit slick in places as people came in and out with mud, water and grass on their feet, so it was not advisable for anyone to dance at the party, but smiles remained in place.  John Carmichael, an entertainer for over 30 years in the Glasgow area, came to play music and tell a few stories during the evening.  Mike Carmichael was the emcee for the evening.  The talent displayed by family members varied from comedy to Carmichael Jeopardy to singing and to playing musical instruments.  The Chief and his family, with Sarah on tin whistle, sang a song about a wild rover that contained the chorus ‘No, nay, never, no more,’ which this reporter has been singing constantly since that performance.  David, the Chief’s brother, who has a beautiful voice, sang a poignant song written by the Armstrong, who killed the Carmichael, on the night before his execution for the crime.  We were all splashing our soggy way home around 11 p.m. and praying for sunshine for the next day.

We did have a watery sun as we met at the Visitor Centre on Friday morning to board the coach for our tour of the castles of the Carmichael neighbors.  The Carmichaels were granted their land by the Douglas Chief shortly after the Battle of Bannockburn.  This meant the Carmichaels were no longer vassals of the Douglas’ but were men in their own right.  There is some speculation that the Carmichael had saved the life of the Douglas Chief during that battle, but no one knows for sure that was the reason for the granting of the land, although it appears to be a sign of gratitude for something major.

We first went to Douglas where the factor of Douglas, Jim Fleming, gave us a tour of the Douglas Museum then took us into St. Bride’s Church where the Black Douglas’ are buried.  We saw the tomb of James ‘The Good’ Douglas, who was charged with taking the heart of Robert the Bruce to the Holy Land on Crusade.  On the way, he was killed by Moors in Spain (he took the long route to the Holy Land apparently!), so his heart was brought back to Douglas and Bruce’s heart was buried at Melrose Abbey.  From Douglas, we went to Hamilton, had lunch in the Hamilton Visitor Centre then toured the Hamilton Mausoleum, built by the 10th Duke in 1852.  (He appears to have been something of an eccentric.  He wanted to be buried inside an Egyptian sarcophagus which was made for someone very short.  In order to fit him inside, his legs were cut off at the knees!)  The inside of the mausoleum was used for Masonic meetings and marble was imported from Italy to inlay the floors with Masonic symbols.  The great heavy carved doors originally on the building are now lying covered at the side and can be viewed.  By slamming the present day doors, you can time the echo for 15 seconds.  This makes it difficult to hear anyone who is speaking as the echo goes on and on.  From the Masonic area, we went to the crypt below.  The bodies have long since been removed from the crypt as the ceiling cracked in the movement of the building, and there was concern it might come down, the mausoleum being built over an old mining area which has settled over the years.  However, the other side of the building eventually sank too and the damage was prevented from getting any worse.  As we were walking back from the mausoleum to the coach, some Spanish students spotted Jack Carmichael and Mark Nigro wearing kilts and had to take pictures of them and with them for their souvenir snapshots of their trip to Scotland!  We continued on from Hamilton to the ruins of Bothwell Castle, another Black Douglas stronghold built in the 13th century.   The oldest part of the castle, the residential part known as the great donjon, was built for Walter de Moray who became Lord of Bothwell in 1242.  The 3rd Earl of Douglas came into possession of the castle in 1362.  There is a very narrow and winding staircase in the donjon that has been fitted with a rope handrail in recent years.   We couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to negotiate that staircase with no handrail and carrying a candle in the early years of habitation.

The weather had held up for us this day, and we returned to our dwellings to prepare for the closing dinner and Grand Tartan Ball.  Previously planned for the marquee in the Carmichael walled garden, the event was moved to the Carmichael Village Hall so the approach and the floor would be dry.  A wonderful meal was provided, again by the lady who runs the farmhouse kitchen at the Visitor Centre, and a local group came in to entertain.  Villagers, who do Scottish dancing regularly, came to demonstrate the dances to us then to pull people out of the crowd to participate.  A good time was had by all even if some of us have two left feet and will never get the rhythm of it.  Two local young ladies did Scottish dances for us; the music was provided by drums, keyboard and accordion.  A piper entertained and we were given a demonstration of how the highlanders put on their plaid of 8 yards of tartan, pleating it, putting a belt below it and then lying on it so they could fasten the belt and form the kilt part with the extra yardage being slung over a shoulder or tucked into the top of the belt to form a pocket for carrying items.

At the end of the evening, Chief Richard acknowledged his staff, to whom we all showed our appreciation.  They are a superb, loyal small group of people with many talents.  He acknowledged his family, the Robinson family from Toronto and Napierville, Illinois, who were a joy to meet.  The children participated happily in all the activities, whether the ceilidh or the dancing at the tartan ball.  Micky Carmichael and his family were acknowledged for their loyalty to the Clan.  Stephanie Nicholson and Jeanette Lemmon were recognized for their contributions to the gathering for providing history and background.  The Chief said this was the ‘smallest, wettest and best’ gathering yet.  The smallness provided an intimacy that is more difficult to achieve with large groups; the weather brought us all together in a cheerful common misery J, and it really was a most wonderful gathering.  Three cheers for our Chief – A Carmichael!  A Carmichael!  A Carmichael!

Jeanette Simpson Lemmon 

Jack and Ann Carmichael

Bond of Manrent Ceremony

Edinburgh Botanical Gardens

Kirkhill with Chief and family

Marquee set up for lunch

Chief barbecuing Carmichael meats for dinner

Flag in the Douglas Museum

Black Douglas Mausoleum

Heavy carved door at Hamilton Mausoleum

Bothwell Castle became a stronghold of the Black Douglases

Narrow winding steps in living area of the castle

President of Clan Carmichael USA, John Carmichael, dancing at Grand Tartan Ball

More dancing at the ball



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