I Declare Mackenzie Day to Celebrate My Heritage

Beauly priory
Beauly priory

On the east coast of Scotland, outside of Inverness, we traveled to the heart of my clan’s land and I declared it Mackenzie Day. We started out wandering among my dead ancestors in Beauly Priory, founded in 1230 as a Valliscaulian monastic community. Every other tombstone was engraved with the name Mackenzie, but the most poignant one lie in the north transept of the church.

“Sir Kenneth Sixth Barone of Kintail” was engraved in the border of a stone bed where a recumbent man with sharp chiseled, facial features, beard and mustache rested. Long arms and strong hands, once bearing heavy swords, lay idle at his sides since his death in 1491. Across from his grave lies the tomb of Alexander Mackenzie, who died in 1557, though his effigy is no longer intact.

Effigy of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
Effigy of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie

From the beautiful village of Beauly, we drove down one lane backroads around Beauly Firth* in search of the Redcastle that remained in Mackenzie Clan hands until 1790. From here my 8th great grandfather Colin Malcolm Mackenzie, the 4th Lord Of Redcastle, traveled to America.

Redcastle
Redcastle, Scottish Mackenzie connection to America

Finding the mediaeval Redcastle, historically known as Edirdovar, was a mystery. It’s marked as a dot on the map of Black Isle, a peninsula between Cromarty, Moray and Beauly Firths. We parked and wandered on foot trying to peek over the 6-foot high brick wall and finally caught a glimpse of the red stone remains. I found a path leading uphill behind a tree line and stumbled upon the crumbling walls of the Mackenzie fortress dating back to the 14th century.

Trees grew out of window frames, overgrown with shrubs and brambles. “No trespassing,” signs warned beware as bricks could tumble down anytime. Though the abandoned chateau was a far cry from it’s former glory, I felt like I discovered a hidden treasure. The castle itself had fallen into ruin, but the well-kept grounds of Redcastle held a working estate where horses grazed on a lawn that looked like a putting green.

In the afternoon we went to visit the Mackenzie clan seat at Castle Leod, which had been in the hands of the Mackenzie’s for centuries, and merits its own post to be shared next week.

Coul House
Coul House

To top off the day, we dined at the Coul House Estate where descendants of the Mackenzie family lived since 1560 until 2003 when the MacPherson’s purchased the mansion turning it into a hotel.

That evening on a hilltop overlooking Beauly Firth, standing in the ruins of Redcastle, I heard the footfalls of my ancestors. I listened to the night call of birds, while the sun set over my shoulder. Here in the shadows of my mighty forefathers, I felt humbled by the evolution of time, calm in the knowledge of life’s continuity.

I shared a profound connection to my ancestral land. A land of rugged mountains, jagged crags, moody moors and misty sea lochs. I sensed a feeling of coming home. Home to deep blue waters, green fields, dark forests, rolling hills and ragged coastlines. Home to a haunting land of castles and ghosts, clans and kilts, witches and magic, superstition and legend. Relentless winds. Stormy seas. Savage landscapes. Wild, wild like my restless soul calling me back to my people, back home to the Scottish Highlands and the Mackenzie clan.Firth in Scotland

*A Firth is a long, narrow indentation of the seacoast used to denote coastal waters in Scotland.


Comments

  1. Tina Quick

    Pat you must be over the moon to be in such beautiful country with which you have such strong ties. What an adventure. One to remember for the rest of your life. Thank you for sharing this journey so poignantly.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Over the moon is right, Tina. And yes, it was an unforgettable trip in a beautiful land.

  2. Dave Schmelzle

    Loved this! Keep it coming Pat. Makes me focus on my upcoming trip to Ireland where I hope to do similar research and discovery!

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Good on ya mate. Just to prepare you for the lingo. I have never been to Ireland, but hope to one day. Isn’t digging up the family skeletons fascinating?

  3. patty carlson

    I’m enjoying your adventure, Pat! Although I’m not of Scottish ancestry, I fell in love with that country on my West Highland Way hike last year. Your love and respect for your history is palpable. I’m sure your dad is living vicariously through your words and footsteps.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Thanks Patty. I wish we would have had the chance to hike more. And yes, my dad is enjoying the journey vicariously and I wanted to go to Scotland in part for him.

  4. Kathleen Pooler

    Hi Pat, you certainly have unearthed a treasure trove of memories about your past. A rich and beautiful travelogue. I can see this as a TV documentary! Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed it very much.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Oh a TV documentary, wouldn’t that be fun. Then I could go back Scotland for the filming. ha I can’t wait to share photos with my dad this summer.

  5. Debbie

    The last photo is stunning, Pat, and I loved hearing about your ancestors. How fortunate you are to be able to walk in their footsteps. This post makes me long even more to revisit Ireland!!

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Thanks Debbie. Yes, I had been dreaming of visiting Scotland for years. I kept wanting to wait to go when there would be sunshine. Well it rains everyday like they say, but it never rains all day. Were you able to trace your ancestors to Ireland? A return trip there is a must.

    1. Pat McKinzie

      Thanks Rebecca it was nice to hear from you. Have you traced your ancestry? It is time consuming and complicated, but so worth the effort.

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