(excerpted from an article by Jean Munro in the 1979 Clan Annual)T
en years ago, on 30th August, 1969, the Donnachaidh Museum was opened by the Duke of Atholl. Since then the Society has recruited many new members. – a considerable portion of them having joined at or through this natural centre of the clan – and even those of us who were members before 1969 find it hard to believe the days when the museum was only a pipe dream.
At the opening Sir Edward Reid said that the real pioneers were Charles Guthrie,W.S., Edinburgh, who died in November 1962, and Senator Wishart McLea Robertson, Canada, who retired from the office of Honorary President in June 1963. From the time of the re-founding of the Society after the Second World War it had been hoped that one day a clan house in the clan country might be acquired, and small sums of money were set aside for this purpose in what was called the Struan Fund. The project was taken a step further at a council meeting held on 9th August, 1962, when it was agreed that ‘to have a small cottage with ground sufficient for tented meetings in the Struan, Calvine, Blair Atholl or Kinloch Rannoch areas might be the most suitable proposition.
In the following March the council heard that the chief was strongly in favour of having such a house if possible and that Mr. Guthrie had bequeathed some items to add to the small but interesting collection of exhibits kept in the clan office.
Local landowners were asked to inform the Society if they knew of a suitable cottage, and over the next two years a sub-committee looked at several possible cottages, going in one case as far as applying for planning permission for the necessary development. In spite of hearing that Perth County Council had refused this permission, hope continued and the annual meeting in June 1965 gave the clan council authority to purchase a house in the clan country if anything suitable was offered.
Four months after getting their authority the council endorsed the views of a sub-committee that the projected clan house should be primarily a museum and only secondarily a residence for visiting clansmen, that it should be situated on or near the A9 Perth to Inverness road in the clan country, and finally if no cottage became available within six months a site for building should be acquired.
By June 1966 the site next to the Bruar Falls Hotel, generously offered at a nominal sum by the Duke of Atholl, had been chosen. The Struan Fund, standing at about £6,000, was renamed the Museum Fund and registered as a charity for which an appeal was to be launched. Council was authorized to approach an architect to prepare plans and obtain planning permission in principle.
The council saw the preliminary plans in May 1967 and approved them. Meanwhile a world-wide appeal was launched for £30,000 with which to build, equip and endow the project, and numerous fund-raising events took place. One of the most ambitious was a performance of ‘Going for a Song’, a popular radio and television programme on antiques, staged by the series’ chairman Max Robertson with Arthur Negus as one of the experts. A thousand tickets were sold for the evening in Leith Town Hall and the profit was more than £800 and much publicity for the appeal.
With £12,000 in hand the architect was authorized to start the construction of the buildings by Thain Construction (Northern) Ltd. And on 4th May 1968, the first turf at the site was cut by Miss Lorna Robertson of Struan as representative of her brother the chief.
The next 16 months were filled with problems and worries but also with increasing pleasure at the overwhelming response to the appeal by members and friends led by the outstanding example, enthusiasm and drive of Sir Edward Reid. This response not only took the form of the essential cash but included the most welcome offer of the gift or loan of exhibits. In March 1969 Alec MacRae, then proprietor of a garage in Blair Atholl but known to clansfolk as honorary piper and accredited guide to clan country, was appointed curator by the council which unanimously agreed that he was the man for the job.
And so, at last, on 30th August the museum doors were thrown open to illustrate, through exhibits dating from all ages between the fourteenth century and the present day, four interwoven themes – the clan history, including the principal families; the clan country, its past, present and future; the work of the clan society; and the life and achievements of individual clansmen and clanswomen.