US couple have their hearts in the Highlands
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.