The Figurehead of Clan Campbell on His Scottish Heritage, Inveraray Castle, Clan Campbell Tartan, Loch Fyne & More
I had the pleasure of speaking with the Chief of Clan Campbell, His Grace the Duke of Argyll, about his Scottish heritage at his ancestral home, Inveraray Castle, on Loch Fyne on the west coast of Scotland. In a free-ranging conversation, he shared his views on topics ranging from the Clan Campbell Tartan and Highland Games to how to manage one of the most-visited Scottish castles. and what he hopes his legacy to his children will be.
Read: Considering a trip to Scotland? Check out our Hebrides & Scottish Highlands tour itinerary!
Born Torquhil Ian Campbell, among the 29 titles His Grace holds, he particularly prizes his designation as 28th MacCailein Mor, the 35th Chief of Clan Campbell. The Campbell Clan is one of Scotlands largest clans and also one of its best known.
He is the son of Sir Ian Campbell, 12th Duke of Argyll and Iona Mary Colquhoun, the daughter of Sir Ivar Iain Colquhoun of Luss 8th BT, Chief of Clan Colquhoun. From 1980 to 1983, he was a Page of Honour to Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II. His Grace, the Duke, was educated at Glenalmond College, Perthshire, Scotland, as was his father before him. He then went on to the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, where he was awarded a diploma in Rural Estate Management. He took a post as Assistant Land Agent for the Duke of Buccleuch at the Buccleuch Estates near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders where he remained from 1991 to 1993. The following two years were spent in London working as a sales manager for the Grosvenor House Hotel. In 1995 he joined the French company Pernod Ricard, with which he is still affiliated.
Scotland clan culture is part of the country’s draw for me. The concept of “belonging” has always fascinated me and it was a privilege to speak to the head of the world’s second-largest such extended family. My meeting with His Grace happened to occur just weeks after my mother passed away, and his observations about the importance of valuing both individual strengths as well as family heritage were particularly poignant and meaningful for me. My conversation with His Grace the Chief of Clan Campbell was a reminder that while there are many branches of mankind’s family tree, we are all rooted in our shared human condition.
History and Heritage of the Campbell Clan, Scotland
Meg: It’s my understanding that most Scottish clans can claim among their ancestors a mix of different races that include the Picts, the Celts, Viking and Norse raiders and Norman and Flemish knights. Could you tell me about the Campbell clan ancestry?
Duke of Argyll: I have a unique position. I am a direct descendent of the ancient high kings of Ireland from the Hill of Tara in the 7th century. When I wear my dress kilt jackets, on it I wear silver salmon buttons; the silver salmon is the emblem of the ancient high kings of Ireland. The ancient kingdom of Dalriada, was ruled by the Irish kings. Their capital was Dunadd in the Kilmartin glen, which is a little bit further down the road from here. The Kilmartin glen is one of the most important archeological sites in Scotland with around 350 ancient monuments of which 150 are prehistoric.
I can therefore claim that my ancestors have been around for some time. The Campbells as a family came to notoriety in the late 1200s with Cailean Mor Caimbeul, also known as Sir Colin Campbell of Loch Awe and then grew to be what is arguably one of the most numerous Scottish families. The Vikings had a huge influence on the coastal regions of Scotland really through rape and pillage. My name is Torquhil, which is a deviation of the son of Thor, so there is still that Viking heritage there. I got the name through my mother’s side, who had a brother called Torquhil.
Meg: I came across a reference to a legend that the first ancestor of the Campbells is Smirvey, son of Arthur. Is there any connection?
Duke of Argyll: As in King Arthur?
Duke of Argyll: Every place wants to be the home of King Arthur. There are rumors that he was Scottish. I married a Cadbury and there’s a place called Cadbury Castle, but that’s apparently where he was from. Who knows? There are even rumors that the Knights Templar came from Loch Awe. There are gravestones on some of the Islands with wonderful carvings of Knights. My children love looking at them. Everyone’s got a different theory.
Meg: What is the origin of the name Campbell?
Duke of Argyll: There was a chap called Cam Beul and he had a crooked mouth and he was one of the founding members of the family, we’re talking about 1200.
Meg: I understand that clan means family in Gaelic.
Duke of Argyll: The word Clan does come from the Gaelic, clann, or progeny, which gives a sense of identity and shared descent. You basically have to be relatively simplistic about it as many would have taken on a name although not related to the Chief as sign of solidarity, or for basic protection, or for much needed sustenance. So there are lots of different names that come under the Campbell banner.
Meg: In today’s world, I think there is a great deal of desire to belong and to feel a sense of connection.
Duke of Argyll: This comes to the very core of the Clan system in Scotland. I think it is really important to have that knowledge of your past. I am very privileged, and fortunate, because I can go and open a book and I can trace my ancestry in one book back a thousand years. We have a TV program on at the moment called Who Do You Think Your Are? They take celebrities or well-known people and trace back two or three generations. A lot of people don’t even know who their grandparents are or where they came from or what they did or how many members of the family there were. Those with Scottish ancestry have a wonderful resource in Scotland to be able to fill the gaps in their knowledge and to provide that sense of belonging.
So when you talk about the Scottish Diaspora living abroad, big societies in Canada and the United States, Australia, New Zealand, places where the Scots went–they’re incredibly passionate about their heritage and their roots. Two years ago I was involved in a project in Philadelphia and we raised money to build a monument to Scottish immigration. This I think is a very good example and shows the strength of this passion, even today.
Inveraray Castle: Campbell Castle, Scotland
Meg: Can you talk a little bit about Inveraray Castle?
Duke of Argyll: The present castle and the one that I live in was started in 1746 after the last great battle in Culloden, Scotland. The family received the Dukedom of Argyll in 1701 from William and Mary for supporting their quest for the throne. He became a Privy Councillor and was William’s chief Scottish advisor. With this new role the family needed a castle fit for purpose.
The first drawings of the present castle were done by Sir John Vanbrugh for the 2nd Duke, but the final design was done by Roger Morris and construction was started by the 3rd Duke. The design was truly modern, baroque, Palladian and Gothic in style. The construction was eventually finished in 1789. The style is very French, big windows and this is where the family would come for the summer. London was the center of culture, business and social activities.
Meg: Inveraray Castle has an extensive gallery of family portraits and there are some colorful figures in the family history. Are there a couple of ancestors whom you have particular affection for, whose stories you might describe?
Duke of Argyll: With a family like mine you can take your pick. There are wonderful portraits by Batoni, Medina, Raeburn, Ramsay, Gainsburgh, Winterhalter to name but a few.I think that my favorite is a beautiful picture of Lady Charlotte Campbell (1775-1861) by John Hoppner. She is painted as Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn and adorns the wall in the Tapestry Drawing Room. We named our daughter after her.
Meg: I understand the MacArthur Room of Inveraray Castle has a particularly interesting history—can you tell me about that?
Duke of Argyll: There is rather a ghostly bed in this room which is elaborately carved and belonged to the MacArthurs of Loch Awe. Legend has it that a young Irish harpist was murdered by the Duke of Montrose’s men in 1644. The bed was moved to the present castle from the old Inveraray Castle and the boy’s ghost was so attached to the bed it traveled with it. When a member of the family is about to die, it is said that harp music is heard coming from the room.
Meg: What are the challenges of being the steward of a property like this?
Duke of Argyll: In short, many. It is a huge responsibility to look after something like Inveraray. Imagine what it costs you to look after your house and then multiply it many-fold. My wife and I are very fortunate that the castle and estate have been looked after extremely well over the past couple of generations, so we have a good base to build on. It is a business so we have to keep pace with the many challenges that are relevant today. The part of the business that is most visible is the opening of the castle. We spend a great deal of time promoting it and tourism in general. We always try to be innovative and this year we were fortunate enough to have the filming of the very popular Downton Abbey Christmas Special, so we will all be glued to our TV’s on Christmas day.
My father’s advice was to try and hand the estate on to the next generation in a better position than it was when you inherited it. I always keep that in the back of my mind and try to think up ways of doing it. Not an easy challenge, but never the less a rewarding one.
Meg: Can you describe how the present day town of Inveraray came about and give a little of its history?
Duke of Argyll: The present town and Royal Burgh of Inveraray was the product of one man, Archibald, the 3rd Duke of Argyll. He decided to completely redevelop the town and move it away from his new castle. The original sketches were made by the Duke in 1744 and the first buildings were started in 1751. Construction was finished in 1770 by the 5th Duke who employed the services of Robert Mylne to finalize the details.
Meg: There’s a school of thought in cultural heritage about trans-generational qualities that are passed down from family to family–it might be a sense of pride or it might be a sense of humor. Are there any characteristics that you feel are particularly pronounced in your family?
Duke of Argyll: I am sure that someone looking in from the outside would say that there are relevant character traits if you really looked at them. However, I think that a sense of individuality brings in new ideas and it is important to be yourself. Times are constantly evolving and what is good today might not fit tomorrow. I’ve got three children and they’re all different. I certainly don’t see them as clones of my wife and I.
Meg: Is there a particular memory that you have of an experience growing up where you really felt that you suddenly understood the significance of the Clan Campbell and your future role within it?
Duke of Argyll: No. There’s no school on how to be a duke or a clan chief. My father gave me the opportunity to be at his side when I felt that I wanted to. The learning process for me was a process of osmosis. I stood beside my father at Highland games and marches. I listened to him talking to Clan Campbell members from around the world and gradually you just take it in bit by bit. That’s what I hope to do it with my children and so far it seems to be working. They enjoy it for a bit and then they need to go off and be children.
Meg: What are those bits that hold appeal for you?
Duke of Argyll: Welcoming people here, the kind of thing I did in the States in Philadelphia, the Clan Campbell societies. Trying to balance that with having a young family and a wife, and working, it’s quite tricky. As I get older, I will have more time to do some of these things that maybe I just don’t have quite enough time to do at the moment. But the sense is that I am a clan chief. I am here, if anybody wants to write to me I try to answer their letters. You just do what you can.
The Campbell Tartan
Meg: Can you speak a little bit about the Campbell clan tartan?
Duke of Argyll: Campbell Tartan as we know it today is a relatively modern invention having changed from regional tartans to clan tartans in the mid 19th century. The popularity was increased by the Royal visit of King George IV in 1822. Tartans are based really on the colors of the area that you come from. The inspiration for Campbell clan tartan comes from west coast of Scotland where we have a high rainfall and we’re very green. The Campbell tartan is very green with blues and blacks. It’s the basis of the likes of Black Watch and considered to be one of the most popular tartans around the world.
Meg: Can you explain what Campbell country is and what it encompasses?
Duke of Argyll: The core of Campbell country is Argyll on the west coast of Scotland. There are an additional 31 main branches of the family and therefore the influence of the family stretched far and wide.
Meg: I came across a quote ‘Whether the heart is of the Highland is a matter of understanding and personal style.’ Is your heart of the Highland and what does that mean to you?
Duke of Argyll: If you ask me where my home was I would say it was Inveraray, but as a family we move around and spend part of the time in London. Inveraray is always the place that I look forward to coming back to. I am British, but very proud of my Scottish heritage.
Meg: What about it calls to you?
Duke of Argyll: Difficult to describe, but it’s the magic of it and the way it makes me feel. People who visit Scotland and the west will understand what I am trying to say. It can be the rugged beauty of it, the proportions of mountains, water and sky. The fresh air and the lack of development give a very unspoilt aspect to it all. To me it’s like no other place on earth and I have been to a great many of them.
Meg: That’s true. What is the Campbell clan plant badge?
Duke of Argyll: Bog Myrtle. It’s a local plant that grows in very wet marshy areas. It’s a very hardy plant and it’s a natural midge repellent and very welcome at times. It has an amazing aroma to it. Not very colorful but it’s very pretty. Clan plants were used as part of your identity.
The Campbell Clan Connection with Iona
Meg: I understand there is a connection with one of your ancestors and the Island of Iona.
Duke of Argyll: My father sold the Island in 1973 to the National Trust to pay death duties and inheritance tax on the estate when he inherited it from my grandfather the 11th Duke. He did what was right at the time and in hindsight, crikey, I wish he’d kept it. It has become a very historical and important Christian attraction.
Meg: I understand the family motto is ‘Do not forget.’ What does that mean to you and what do you think the significance of it is?
Duke of Argyll: Do not forget, never forget, Ne Obliviscaris. I think never forget you’re a Campbell. A lot of people say never walk in front of a Campbell. Always stay behind them! A reference to the way people thought of us in the past. Being a big powerful family was a huge strength, but put you in the firing line of everyone else. Never forget your heritage, who you are and what you are.
The Role of Scottish Clan Chief in 21st Century
Meg: What do you view the role of the clan chief in the 21st century?
Duke of Argyll: It’s the one title I’m incredibly proud of because it’s a blood title, it can’t be taken away from me. If I got stripped of dukes and lords and everything else the one thing that I would still be would be MacCailein Mor, which is Chief of the Campbells. I am through a blood line the head of a very big family. I am just the latest in a very long genetic line. There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with it. People do look up to the position as it gives them a focal point for their own history. It doesn’t have quite the same meaning today that it used to have, but people ask ‘Are you my clan chief and I’m really honored to meet you.’ It’s just one of those things. It’s kind of a funny responsibility. I would hate to disappoint somebody who had made this huge effort to come and find out where they were from and have the opportunity to meet their clan chief. I try to live up to the name, role, and responsibility as best as I can.
Meg: So you consider being generous with your time part of the responsibility.
Duke of Argyll: Its part of the job. I don’t have to do it, but I do because I enjoy it. People make a huge effort to come here, they spend a lot of money, and the very least I can do is give them a little bit of my time.
Meg: Is it challenging to just be yourself because there are such expectations of you?
Duke of Argyll: Just a question of time management. If I really want to get away from it all I take my fly fishing kit and disappear for a couple of hours.
Meg: Fishing is a favorite past time for you?
Duke of Argyll: Fishing is my passion. It’s just a total escape from everything. It requires 100 percent concentration. You can’t think about what’s going on in the office or what’s going on at home, you have to focus on the task at hand and I just find it a very good way to relax. The estate is a rural estate, we’re all about the outdoors. Fishing allows me to see what’s going on outside. I might go to a manager and say, I saw this and I saw that or something’s not happening. It might be fences, it might be gates, or it might be roads, or it might be trees, whatever. I just find it’s just a wonderful way to relax and just totally focus on something else.
Meg: Can you tell me what a day in the life of a clan chief is like?
Duke of Argyll: Well, if you want to know we had 15 people staying last night. I got up, cooked breakfast for all the children, and then we were out in the garden building a bonfire and chopping trees down. The children were roasting marshmallows. We had lunch with the family and friends, followed by me speaking to you and after that I’m going to put my feet up.
Meg: What is your hope for your son who will inherit your role?
Duke of Argyll: My hope is that when it’s his turn he does what he thinks is right. I’m not going to tell him the way it should be done and when I’m carried out in a box, things will probably be a bit different. He has to do what he thinks is right. It will be all about his personality and his view of the future. We’re all different. I concentrate on things that I feel are important. My father was different and he did it his way. I do not think there’s a right way or a wrong way, but I think you’ve got to be yourself. You have to enjoy it.
Meg: Was your father as open-minded as you are?
Duke of Argyll: He took the view that while I’m alive it’s mine and when I’m dead it’s yours. But the family business was all in trust, I was a trustee and my father had been doing it for years and years and years. I was the one that went to agricultural college so I probably had a more modern approach to it. I suppose over the last 10 years that he was alive he might say, ‘Okay, maybe your way is more appropriate and maybe we should try it.’ So things changed and I hope the same will happen with my son.
Meg: That’s actually quite a great legacy to give your son that he is free to do it his way.
Duke of Argyll: It will be his name on the board and he can do it his way.
Logistics & Lodging
Fly into Edinburgh Airport, serviced internationally and domestically. Fly direct from cities in the U.S. like New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, from Toronto, Canada and most major cities in Europe. If arriving late or departing early, The Hampton by Hilton is well rated airport favorite.
From Edinburgh, you’ll drive to Inveraray.
You’ll need a rental car for your jaunt to Ullapool and other Highland locales. Check out the best options on TripAdvisor for your Scotland trip.
If you’re inspired to do some island hopping, you’ll enjoy the spectacular views from aboard one of Caledonian MacBray’s ferries. The company’s service is punctual, comfortable and incredibly scenic. You can find timetables and tickets prices here.
Publisher and editor of www.BestCulturalDestinations.com (BCD), which profiles people engaged in creating & preserving culture, and celebrates our unique differences and shared human condition. BCD defines “Best Cultural Destinations” as those that teach us, and help us grow in understanding, compassion, and capacity for connection.