Message from the Chief
Summer 1999

Reported in Roslin O Roslin, Autumn 1999 (Vol 3 No 17).

by Malcolm Caithness

As I write this another full and eventful summer starts its transition to autumn but as nature heads for its winter break in the Northern Hemisphere conversely the Clan goes from strength to strength with the work ever increasing.

It really started at the end of July with my now annual visit to the Halkirk Games on 31 July as guest of the Thursos. The weather was magnificent and a record crowd of over 5000 people turned out to watch competitors from Norway, Australia, the United States, England and Scotland battle it out. The local Caithnessians were well represented but the cup for the champion heavyweight went abroad. Clan Sinclair and Clan Gunn shared a tent but next year we will have our own. Notwithstanding this being a "quiet" year a lot of sales of Sinclair "goods" were made from the tent.

The AGM of the Clan Sinclair Association was well attended and focussed mainly on the plans for the Millennium Gathering - Sinclair 2000. The excitement and workload seem to increase in proportion. I spent part of the next week with Ian Sinclair at Noss Head before visiting the MacDonald's on Skye who have an excellent Clan Centre. I learned much that will be of help in our plans for Noss Head.

After a short time back at home Niven and I flew to Norway to be the guests of the Pillarguri Committee in Otta about three hours north of Oslo. They were part of the group that we had taken to Caithness in April.

We spent one day touring the area of which Rognvald was Jarl in 871. It was an incredible feeling to visit the land of one's ancestors - a land of fjords, huge steep mountains, a wonderful clear air and gracious and friendly people. It is very similar to the West Coast of Scotland except on a much larger scale. After leaving that as their home no wonder our ancestors found the flat and fertile lands of Orkney and Caithness a land of plenty for the farmers.

Niven and I stood on the shore at Klongnes where George Sinclair had landed his vessels in 1612 on his ill-fated expedition. Did our ancestors sail from the same spot? We drove back to Otta through Romsdalen, the route George had taken and there can be little doubt he knew where he was going and sought to avoid conflict.

The next day we visited various local sites around Otta, including where George spent his last night, a farm where a survivor from the battle and his descendants lived, and went to the top of the hill from which Pillarguri is alleged to have blown her horn. That is part of the "history" of the battle but she was first mentioned in 1832.

Iain, Annabel and Sarah Laird joined us that evening as did Chris Maile - all had been on the April trip. In the evening there was a concert and dinner to honour Ase Kleveland who was this year's winner of the Pillaguri prize.

On the Saturday a small party of us went to George Sinclair's grave where Chris piped for us and I laid some yellow roses - a sign of friendship. Then I had the honour to unveil a new plaque to commemorate all those who had fallen in the battle while Chris again piped for us.

That evening we had a memorable party with all the Committee (one of whom is also descended from Rognvald and thus a very distant cousin) and lots of new friends. The highlight was the presentation by Niven of an especially engraved sword of friendship to the Committee. On it was the Sinclair Coat of Arms, the date 1398 to commemorate Prince Henry's voyage to the New World and the word peace in 204 different languages. We were so well looked after and strong and abiding friendships have been built.

After three days at home I flew to the United States and stayed initially with Brad and Sindy who met me at Raleigh Durham, in their lovely home at Chapel Hill. After a day to get used to the heat and humidity - though it was somewhat dented by the side effects of hurricane Dennis - we all drove down to stay with eastern Vice President of the Clan, Don Sinclair, and his wife Gloria at Gainesville. They gathered together a good number of Sinclairs for a very enjoyable dinner and evening.

The southern hospitality was everything I'd heard of and after a hearty breakfast we drove back to Chapel Hill. Mary Selver, the Secretary/Treasurer, flew down from Boston and she, Brad and I drove up to Alexandria the next day. There we had another enjoyable evening with Tom and Shelagh Sinclair who hosted a dinner for us. Again there was an excellent number of the clan to enjoy all the good food.

Unfortunately the hurricane warnings prevented some from coming but I hope to meet them on another occasion. Before driving back to Brad's we had constructive meetings on Clan business and its future with Linc Cummings, the brother of the much-missed Pete, and then the Charities Aid Foundation of America at their offices.

All four of us then flew to San Francisco to attend the two days of the Pleasanton Games to which I had been invited to be one of the visiting chiefs. There was a very constructive meeting to discuss the future of the clan and our plans in Scotland with Chuck Sinclair and then the Commissioners.

That night before the Games, Mollie Sinclair hosted a well-attended reception, which gave me a good opportunity to meet and talk to a lot of the clan before the Games. Gary Sinclair had erected an excellent and welcoming tent in a prime location and there was a steady stream of visitors. It is no wonder he has won so many "best tent" awards.

On the first day Brad, Mary and I joined the pageant with Mary Queen of Scots for the Royal Repast. The year was 1562 and so all conversation was held as if in those days. It was beautifully enacted in proper costumes (except for us) and performed in fine style even though the temperature was in the nineties. She then came with her large entourage to visit the tent and meet all the commissioners present. She declared the Sinclairs to be her favoured Clan, which was probably true in real life as well as Bothwell, whom she married, had a sister Jean who was married to the then Earl of Caithness' son.

The Clan dinner was a great success with about ninety Sinclairs sitting down together. Mollie and Chuck's wife, Carolyn, organised it beautifully and Tearlach Sinclair addressed the haggis supported by the Commissioners. We provided our "in house" singer, pipers and highland dancers - a talented clan.

The highlight of the second day was the parade of the clans in front of the grandstand. They lined up with the Sinclairs, the largest in number, on the right of the line facing the saluting box. When the clans were told to leave I decided to change the format. With Jeff Brinton, who did sterling work carrying my banner for so long, we left the box and, with him leading and banner flying high, led the clan, followed by all the others off the field behind the pipes and drums and marine brass band.

Almost as moving were the closing ceremonies on both nights. Over 700 pipers, including the world champions, playing Amazing Grace in front of some 30,000 people and not a dry eye in the house.

The excitement over, the next day Mollie showed us San Francisco and the amazing redwoods in Muir Wood.

It was an incredible trip with so much achieved, old friendships renewed and strengthened, new ones made and a lot of business undertaken which will in due course reap benefits for all the clan.


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