Historic clan seat given new lease of life

An historic 18th century building in north Skye that was the seat of the Clan MacDonald has been fully restored to its former beauty following a three-year project by its new owner, island builder James MacQueen.

Monkstadt House – as it is traditionally known – became the seat of the Clan Donald in 1732 when Alexander MacDonald, the Lord of the Isles, fled his ‘haunted’ home at Duntulm Castle. Renovated using original stone from the castle, Monkstadt was said to be the first slate roofed house on the Isle of Skye.

Monkstadt House was vacated by the Clan Donald in 1798, following the restoration of Armadale Castle in Sleat.

In the years that followed various tacksmen, farmers and land workers lived in Monkstadt and the surrounding land, but the house gradually fell into disrepair. In the early 1980s the MacQueen family purchased Monkstadt, and Ian MacQueen undertook extensive renovation work to its exterior. James MacQueen took over the property in 2018 and it has now been fully restored to its former beauty.

If you’d like to subscribe to the Free Press, please click on the banner above for more information.

The Free Press were recently invited to the grand opening of the house which is now known as Monkstadt 1745 – luxury lodge and steadings.

Speaking about the hallowed building following the restoration project, James MacQueen said: “What attracted me to it is that we were there as children – we had a caravan up at Monkstadt and we used to go up there on family holidays. The croft is up the road – and they let us park our caravan there.

“I wanted to bring some life back to the house – it has been empty for so long, so to see it being used now for a purpose was really important to me.

“I am absolutely delighted, when we actually finished the work in 2020 but then the pandemic hit, and we went into a lockdown.

“But when we were allowed to open, there were customers interested and people did want to see the house.

“There is work ongoing over the next two to three years – and as we develop now over the next few years, I would like there to be some entertainment over the winter for the local population like cèilidhs, so we use that historic connection.

“It is open for weddings and fine dining by booking.”

Free Press photographer Willie Urquhart was in attendance to chronicle the grand opening.

He added: “The refurbishment of Monkstadt House was completed when the pandemic broke out so there wasn’t an opportunity to have an opening then – it has only been very recently that we have been allowed to have more than 30 people through the Government guidelines.

“We had the 1745 Jacobite Association here – they wanted to put up a plaque in memory of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s visit, Flora MacDonald and Lady Margaret – so we used that opportunity as the rebirth of Monkstadt and the official opening.

“There were quite a few members from that association there. The dining room is where Flora MacDonald and Lady Margaret were questioned by the local militia about Bonnie Prince Charlie and his whereabouts, and that’s where they developed the plan to get him down to Kingsburgh.

He added: “Overall, I am absolutely delighted with it all.”

Article by Adam Gordon, images by Willie Urquhart.