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Murphys ‘gather’ for ‘homecoming Scotland 2009’

For every single Scot in their native land, there are thought to be at least five more overseas who can claim Scottish ancestry.

Claire Murphy of Troy is one of those “overseas” who claims Scottish ancestry and she claims it proudly.

That’s why, when Scotland announced plans to celebrate its first ever Homecoming year in 2009, she said, “I’m going home” and she went.

Claire and her husband, Malon, were among the hundreds of thousands who have already made their way “home” to Scotland during Homecoming Scotland 2009.

“It was the trip of a lifetime,” Claire said. “It was something that I’ll never forget because it put me in touch in a very personal way with my roots – with who I am.”

The Murphys made their primary destination the Isle of Skye where the MacLeod Clan, of which she is a member, put down ancient roots on The Misty Isle.

The Isle of Skye is just off the west coast of Scotland and home to Dunvegan Castle, which is the seat of the MacLeod of Macleod, chief of the Clan MacLeod.

“Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland,” Claire said. “It has been the stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly 800 years. The clan chief lives in the castle but it is also open for tours.”

The castle was first built for protection but now visitors are welcomed. The tour fees help with the upkeep of the huge castle and are a boost to the local economy.

Claire found that her roots run deep in the rocky Scottish soil and that her heart is tightly bound to those who inhabited the isle.

“Going to Scotland was a pilgrimage of sorts,” she said. “It was such an inspiring experience to stand where my ancestors had stood. It was a very uplifting experience to be there – to be where I came from.”

The history of Dunvegan Castle was intriguing with its relics and traditions but it was the stories of the people that Claire found most interesting.

“They were my ancestors and I wanted to know as much about them as I could,” she said.

“Malon and I participated in The Gathering 2009, which was a two-day event on July 25 and 26. It was the largest international clan gathering in the world and included the largest Highland Games ever in Scotland. The Gathering was a chance for Scots, for us — to celebrate our roots.”

The Murphys, dressed in MacLeod clan tartan, participated in The Royal Mile, a huge parade along the cobbled streets of Edinburgh from the Parliament to the Queen’s Castle.

“To be a part of that was so exciting,” Claire said. “The most inspiring thing was hearing, what seemed like, hundreds of bagpipes playing ‘Amazing Grace.’”

But it was not all play and no work for the Murphys. However, they consider tracing their roots fun-work.

The opportunities to do genealogical research or just browsing were enormous.

“The MacLeod Clan is very organized in its genealogical research, Claire said. “There were five volumes of research available to us and workshops to attend and stories to hear. There were all different kinds of Scottish crafts to view. There was so much to see and to do. There was no way to do it all.”

While in Scotland, the Murphys wanted to do as the Scots did, so they took five days to tour the country.

They took boat trips, visited historic sites, strolled in public gardens, shopped and stayed overnight in bed and breakfast establishments that put them in touch with the Scottish culture and in ear-shot of the Gaelic language.

“Scotland is one of the most beautiful places that you will ever see,” Malon said. “The scenery is fabulous. The mountains, the hills, the lochs, the gardens. Everywhere you looked was a ‘postcard.’”

As forest landowners, the Murphys were amazed at the lack of woodlands.

“The early Scots were seafarers and, dating back to the Middle Ages, they actually used up the trees for fuel and for building boats,” Malon said. “That’s why you don’t see trees on the mountains. There’s a reforestation effort underway and you’ll see trees in the towns but you’re just beginning to see trees on the lower levels of the mountains.”

Malon’s interest in Scotland was spurred when he learned that he, too, was of Scottish descent.

“We came home much more appreciative of our Scottish heritage,” Claire said. “Our ancestors lived poor and oppressed lives but they were courageous in coming to America, where they endured many hardships,” Claire said. “Their courage and fortitude makes me want to do all that I can to leave something for future generations. I hope we can do that and we will try our best.”