Kildonan parish


Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, Samuel Lewis - 1851

KILDONAN, a parish, in the county of Sutherland, 9 miles (N. W. by W.) from Helmsdale; containing 256 inhabitants. This parish takes its name from Kil, a " cell or chapel", and Donan, the name of the saint who promulgated Christianity in this part, and whose memory has been handed down by tradition with great veneration. It is chiefly remarkable as having been, for several ages, the residence of the celebrated clan Gun. They are supposed to have descended from the Norwegian kings of Man; and Lochlin, the Gaelic name for ancient Scandinavia, or at least for Denmark, is still spoken of by the Highlanders as the native country of the Guns, the Macleods, and the Gillanders. The immediate ancestor of the Guns is said to have been the son of Olave, fifth Norwegian king of Man, who had three sons by his third wife, Christina, daughter of Farquhar, Earl of Ross. These were, Gun or Guin, the founder of the clan Gun; Leoid, Loyd, or Leod, from whom sprang the Macleods; and Leaundris, the first of the clan Landers, or Gillanders, of Ross-shire, many of whom afterwards assumed the name of Ross. It appears that these several heads of clans were dependent on their grandfather the Earl of Ross, who possessed great power and influence in different parts of the country, and especially in Caithness. In that county. Gun was originally settled; and his first stronghold was the castle of Halbury, at Easter Clythe, usually called Crowner Gun's Castle, and which was situated on a precipitous rock nearly surrounded by, and overhanging, the sea. The clan of Gun continued to extend their possessions in Caithness till about the middle of the fifteenth century, when, in consequence of their rancorous feuds with the Keiths and others, they thought it expedient to establish their chief, and a strong detachment of the clan, in the adjoining county of Sutherland, where, by the protection of the Earls of Sutherland, they obtained, among other places, lands in the parish of Kildonan, which they held for a considerable period.

The PARISH is twenty-eight miles in extreme length, and varies in breadth from five to seventeen miles. It is bounded on the north by the parishes of Reay and Farr, on the south by Clyne and Loth, on the east by the county of Caithness, and on the west by Farr and Clyne. This is altogether an inland parish. Its northern division is lofty, and marked by several high and massive mountains. The southern part consists of two parallel ranges of mountains, separated by the beautiful valley of Helmsdale, through which runs the winding river of the same name, passing many verdant holms and haughs, and some ornamental clumps of birch, and falling into the North Sea at the village of Helmsdale, in the parish of Loth. Ben-Griam-more is a mountain nearly 2000 feet high, and, with the other lofty elevations, characterized by wide chasms, rent or worn by powerful torrents, gives to the scenery a wild and magnificent appearance. The upper district is remarkable for the number and size of its lakes, of which Loch-na-Cuen, one of the largest, is adorned with two or three small islands and several winding bays. The waters abound with char and trout, and some of them are famed for angling.

The SOIL of the haughs near the river is formed of deposits of mossy earth, with sand and decomposed rock: much of the upland consists of tracts of moss, lying contiguous to the pastures. The entire parish is the property of the Duke of Sutherland, and has been from time immemorial part of the ancient earldom of Sutherland. Almost the whole of it is occupied with sheep-farms, which are in the hands of six tenants; and the number of sheep grazed, all of the Cheviot breed, is estimated at 18,000. Previously to the year 1811, the land was let in small portions, and much attention was paid to the rearing of Highland cattle; but between that period and 1821 the cattle gradually yielded to the introduction of Cheviot sheep. In consequence of this change, and the consolidation of the small farms, the population was diminished in numbers from 1574 to 565; and it is now not half the latter number. There are two or three good roads in the parish, chiefly for local convenience. The principal communication of the people is with Helmsdale. Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Dornoch, synod of Sutherland and Caithness; patron, the Duke of Sutherland. The stipend is £158, of which £70 are received from the exchequer; and there is a good manse, with a glebe of fourteen acres, in addition to which the minister has the privilege of grazing sixty sheep. Kildonan church is a plain building, erected about 1740, and rebuilt in 1786. There is a parochial school, the master of which has the maximum salary, and about £3 fees, with a school-house. The remains of several circular or Pictish towers may still be seen in the parish, as well as numerous barrows or tumuli; it also contains some mineral springs, supposed to have been anciently used for medicinal purposes.