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Christmas at the Castle

This December, the team at Dunollie were excited to take part in the annual Christmas tree festival at Saint Conan's Kirk, Loch Awe. This 3-day celebration encourages local business, charities, community groups and schools to display a Christmas tree and invites visitors to vote for their favourite. It’s a wonderful event that brings the Argyll community together.

In previous years, the team had chosen a traditional style tree decorated with beautiful ornaments made by children and visitors during our annual Dunollie Makes Christmas event. This year, we decided to think more creatively and try something a bit different. This resulted in our most ambitious tree yet, entitled ‘Christmas at the Castle’. Our tree was shaped like an elegant evening dress, made using evergreen foliage picked from the grounds at Dunollie Castle and our own Heritage MacDougall tartan to create a stunning bodice.

The tree is inspired by and represents the incredible women of the MacDougall family – who defended castles, ran estates, wrote books and inspired museums – and the nationally significant textile collection that we care for here at Dunollie Museum, Castle and Grounds.

Creating ‘Christmas at the Castle’ was a collaborative project involving not just our staff team, but Janice Kincaid (our neighbour and Dunollie volunteer), the ladies of the Threads and Yarns sewing group and two students from Oban High School’s construction department, led by Lesley Lyon, their teacher.

We began by building a wire frame from deer fencing to act as a crinoline and fitted this around one of our Dunollie Mannequin’s. From there, we began to attach branches of foliage from trees in Dunollie Castle grounds to begin shaping it out. Our talented volunteers created stunning festive bouquets of foliage using bay, eucalyptus and holly which was then used to bulk out the skirt and create eye catching texture.

When all the greenery was in place, the tree was then decorated using MacDougall tartan hanging hearts and ribbons and an abundance of fairy lights.

At this point we discovered that the tree was very heavy, so we called upon Gary Mulqueen to kindly transport her to Saint Conan’s Kirk for the final touches to be put in place. This is when Jayne Mulqueen got to work creating the bodice. From one length of Heritage MacDougall tartan, Jayne created a striking and elegant design reminiscent of something you would see in a Vivien Westwood collection! She then attached a corsage made of MacDougall tartan brooches, made by the Threads and Yarns volunteers, which cascaded down the length of the bodice.

A traditional tree has either a fairy or an angel on the top, but because our tree was not traditional, we had to have something alternative. We chose a stunning, handmade, silver rose head piece, made by Jayne. The whole creation drew much attention and received amazing feedback from everyone who saw it. A real work of art.

Our installation was completed by the addition of a small, plastic replica of Dunollie Castle. The castle replica was designed and made by two Oban high School students from the construction department, Morgan Bruce (S1) and Ruari Cottier (S5). The two students used drone footage to carefully map the shape of the castle to design an almost identical shape. The design was then produced using the school’s 3D printer and took almost 5 days to print. The result was fantastic.

We are very proud of our partnership with Oban high School, the young people we work with are hardworking, creative and dedicated. This incredible replica of Dunollie Castle is just one of a number of project we have seen come to fruition thanks to this collaboration and we hope to see many more of them in the coming years.

Our tree was on display at Saint Conan’s Kirk, alongside more than 70 other trees throughout the duration of the festival. On Sunday evening, we received the wonderful news that our tree won!

Christmas came early for us here at Dunollie! A huge thank you to everyone who helped to create, ‘Christmas at the Castle’ and to everyone who went on to vote for it as their favourite tree in St Conan's Kirk.


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