The remains of Ormaclett – or Caisteal Ormacleit – a residence of the Chief of Clanranald, are situated on the island of South Uist about eight miles from Lochboisdale. It was built in 1701 and destroyed by fire just fourteen years later in 1715.
Ormaclett Castle is two storeys and an attic in height and built on the popular T-plan. The masonry is of harled rubble with freestone dressings. The gables are steeply pitched which adds much to its appearance, and the attic was lit by dormers. A heraldic panel (since removed) displayed the arms of Clanranald. The house stood within a courtyard and once sported elaborate gardens - hard to imagine in its present state.
Ormaclett was built in the manner of a French Chateau, the consequence of a remark made by Clanranald's wife, Penelope McKenzie, whom he met in France. Upon viewing Ormaclett she remarked:
"My father has a bigger hen house than this!"
Shamed, Clanranald had the old castle pulled down and raised the present mansion. We can only hope Penelope was satisfied!
The nomenclature 'house' is correct as in no way could Ormaclett be considered a 'castle' for, although retaining parts of the original, it is unvaulted and devoid of fortification.
Battle of Sheriffmuir
On the 6th of September 1715 the Earl of Mar raised the standard of King James at Braemar. Clanranald was at the head of his clan when, on the 3rd of November, the Jacobite and Government forces met at Sheriffmuir.
In the midst of the battle he fell and, as his clansmen gathered around his body, Alasdair of Glengarry called out:
"Today for revenge, tomorrow for weeping!"
They rallied and bore down the government's forces but to no avail as Mar was forced to withdraw north where the Jacobites disbanded.
The Second Sight
Sheriffmuir provides an instance of the second sight so commonly met with in the western highlands. A few days before Clanranald left to join Mar, Lady Ranald had a premonition that some dire calamity was going to befall her home at Ormaclett. This proved prophetic for, on the same day that Clanranald fell at Sheriffmuir, Ormaclett Castle caught fire and burned to the ground.
Today Ormaclett stands within a farmyard and is in a critical condition - after 303 years in ruin its total collapse cannot be long delayed - unless someone can be found who has the ways and means – and fortitude – to rescue it?
CLAN CONNECTION - Clan Clanranald
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.