US cou­ple have their hearts in the High­lands

The Oban Times - - Heritage - MARK ENTWISTLE men­twistle@oban­

AS HE ad­justs his bon­net and then squeezes the last of the weather’s worst ef­forts out of his kilt, Rodney Allen still can’t keep a smile far from his face at this year’s Ari­saig Games.

A res­i­dent of Fayetteville in North Carolina, the US Army physi­cian and his wife, Dianne, are well used to what passes for sum­mer in Scot­land af­ter hav­ing come to the games every year for the past 14 years.

But this year, held as is cus­tom on the last Wed­nes­day in July, saw an ex­tra special di­men­sion for the cou­ple when Rodney was asked to deputise for the Chief of Clan­ranald.

The past 13 years have seen Ari­saig Games part­nered with the Clan­ranald an­nual gath­er­ing and it is the cus­tom for the chief, or one of his two sons in his stead, to for­mally de­clare open the games, held this year as they have been for the past 33, at Traigh Farm.

How­ever, this year’s rain­lashed event saw Ranald Macdon­ald, 24th Cap­tain and Chief of Clan­ranald, un­able to at­tend and although the chief’s son, An­drew, was able to make an ap­pear­ance, the hon­our of open­ing the games and lead­ing the clan pa­rade, fell to Rodney.

North Carolina has strong links to Scot­land, with it be­ing the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for the High­land Scots who em­i­grated to the colonies in the 18th cen­tury.

They in­cluded Flora Mac- Don­ald, the High­land heroine who helped the flee­ing Bon­nie Prince Char­lie af­ter the de­feat at Cul­lo­den, and who lived in North Carolina for around five years with her hus­band.

Rodney, who holds the po­si­tion of lieu­tenant in Clan­ranald, mean­ing he can rep­re­sent the chief if need be, has traced his fam­ily his­tory and is de­scended from High­land Scots on both his par­ents’ sides – from Knoy­dart and South Uist.

Asked why the cou­ple keep re­turn­ing to Scot­land, Dianne replies: ‘Two words – the peo­ple. There is al­ways a real sense of con­nec­tion with the land and the peo­ple.

‘And there has been such a warmth and wel­come from the folks here over the years that it has al­ways felt like com­ing home.’

Mem­bers of the Scot­tish Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for 20 years, the cou­ple proudly rep­re­sent their clan at High­land gath­er­ings across the United States from April to Oc­to­ber.

But it is those in Ari­saig that have cap­tured the cou­ple’s hearts and they even ar­rived early enough this year to help set up the games field and take part in all the as­so­ci­ated so­cial events.

‘I think as you get older you be­gan to re­alise who and what you re­ally are, what you’re made of and your con­nec­tions, and such be­come im­por­tant be­cause they tell you about your­self,’ he ex­plained.

‘Peo­ple think about things like hair colour, eye colour when it

comes to ge­netic make-up but I think there’s some­thing about the land that calls you back as well and I think that’s why peo­ple, not just in the States, but places like Australia and New Zealand, are so pas­sion­ate about their her­itage as well,’ Rodney told the Lochaber Times.

‘My grandmother was pretty strongly into his­tory, and still had a lit­tle of the Gaelic, so we grew up with it all, although we didn’t have a real un­der­stand­ing un­til much older.

‘And she of­ten used Gaelic words mixed into her con­ver­sa­tion so we had a bit of fa­mil­iar­ity with that also.’

Rodney’s ma­ter­nal fam­ily line first makes an ap­pear­ance in Amer­ica af­ter the 1715 Ja­co­bite ris­ing, while his pa­ter­nal line sur­faces not long af­ter the 1745 ris­ing.

Rodney added: ‘I was very proud to be asked to of­fi­cially open the games, but there was more pride in rep­re­sent­ing the fam­ily it­self than any per­sonal pride – I was just glad to be able to help out.’

Dianne and Rodney Allen at this year’s Ari­saig Games and Clan­ranald Gath­er­ing.

The Ari­saig Games and Clan­ranald Gath­er­ing last Wed­nes­day.

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