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A Wee Update from Shannen:

Well, the time has come, the end of my apprenticeship here at Dunollie! I have been part of the team for almost a year, and it truly has been the most wonderful experience.

I have got the chance to do so many things that I have never done before: giving the guided tour; delivering primary school workshops; and of course, learning about collections care. I detailed my experience of learning the tour and working alongside my colleagues to deliver school workshops in my six-month blog, so I will skip over them for now. But I will always (always, always) find time to talk about our collections!

Having my first job in the sector at a place as unique as Dunollie has been an immensely interesting experience. We care for two collections here – the Hope MacDougall social history collection and the Clan collection itself - and they intersect at the idea of telling stories about people. The Clan collection is mainly comprised of textiles belonging to the family from around the 19th century onwards, and contains some incredibly significant pieces including the only known five-piece Highland Revival tartan suit, and a beautiful 19th century beetle wing dress of cream silk. There are stories to be found both in these, and also the less extravagant pieces – lots of the MacDougall textiles show evidence of being mended or updated over time.

The Clan collection also contains some incredible Jacobean textiles and weaponry – the survival of which tells a fascinating story of political rebellion. Taking, for example, the bed hangings found in the loft of Dunollie House in 2011, adorned with hand stitched Prince of Wales feathers in a beautiful indigo blue – the survival of this incredible textile suggests it was taken when Mary MacDonald, wife of Iain Ciar (22nd Chief) fled to Kerrera whilst her husband was off fighting for the Jacobite cause. Prior to her journey to Kerrera, she had stayed and held the castle at Dunollie with a handful of fighting men and the couples four children. This is one of my favourite stories to tell on our guided tour, and people are often very responsive and smile at the thought of a woman staying behind with a few good men to defend the family’s home. Mary was a staunch supporter of the cause, and to think of her packing up these beautiful bed hangings, adorned with painstakingly stitched illustrations of a proud political symbol, I think gives us such an insight into who this woman really was. Getting to know these stories of the family who have sat atop the cliff here for the last 900 years has been an incredible honour, and there is still so much more to learn.

The other collection which we care for here is the social history collection of Miss Hope MacDougall. Hope was daughter, sister and finally aunt to the last three chiefs of the Clan MacDougall, and devoted her life to understanding the working lives of the people of Scotland’s highlands and islands, particularly those involved in fishing, agriculture and textile production.

Hope had a deep passion for social history, and not only amassed an extensive object collection, but a large archive of research to compliment her collection and also on the history of Oban and its surrounding areas. Though her collection contains many impressive items – such as the 19th century working loom, or agricultural tools from all over the highlands and islands – I spoke recently at Dunollie’s AGM about how much I have enjoyed finding more personal details about Hope herself within her collection. Of course, her passion for social history is a huge part of who she was, but some things in her archive boxes especially speak to who she was to others. She has kept more than one letter thanking her for a lovely letter or beautiful Christmas card sent to friends across the country.

One of the most wonderful things she left us was a handwritten inventory of her collection, complete with drawings of some of the objects in the margins. And most beautiful of all, a collection of newspaper clippings about the death of her friend and mentor, IF Grant, founder of Am Fasgadh (the Highland Folk Museum) in a folder on which she had written an echo of a newspaper heading: “Pioneer.”

Inside, Hope had kept many stories about Grant, along with pictures which she had been sent by others who knew of her love and respect for her friend. Hope was not only a smart, passionate, woman collector. These things show us she was warm, caring, thoughtful. It feels like such an honour to try and care for the life work of someone so incredible – I am so looking forward to the plans we have in 2024 to continue with our long-term plans to maximise the impact of both of our collections.

And that brings me to what I will be doing next! I feel so lucky to say that I have been offered a role here for the next 30 months as part of a collections-based project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. So, for anyone who is used to seeing me, I won’t be going anywhere! And to anyone who maybe reads these blogs from further away, maybe there will be further updates from me about my favourite Dunollie finds in the future.

Thanks everyone for a fantastic year!

Shannen 😊

1 Comment

Jan 15

Most interesting. Thank you for posting and look forward to another post.

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