New Slains Castle dates from 1597

In recent years, the Clan Hay Society has been one of the beneficiaries of the Scottish Government’s Clans and Historical Figures Events Fund, which has enabled us to provide a broader programme of events than used to be the case.  This fund, administered by Visit Scotland, the government agency responsible for tourism in Scotland, was established to fund activities that would bring together people visiting Scotland for clan events with the local community where these events take place, in order to provide a better experience for both.

In 2020, the theme of these events is to be Coasts & Waterways, one that might be tailor-made for Clan Hay, whose principal seat is on the Aberdeenshire coast.  A proposal has now been submitted to Visit Scotland for an ambitious programme over an extended weekend, centred on our usual annual gathering at the Aboyne Highland Games, but with additional events in the village of Cruden Bay, close by Slains Castle, Clan Hay’s principal seat.

It is proposed that these events will run from Friday 31 July to Monday 3 August.  An exhibition will be staged at a suitable location in Cruden Bay, focusing on four themes: Slains and the Hays of Erroll; Castles of the Coast; the Jacobite Coast; and the Smugglers’ Coast.  The weekend would begin with a ceilidh in the village, bringing together Hays with members of the local community, and end with a farewell concert.  During the course of the weekend, there will be lectures on the Jacobites of the area and on the importance of smuggling in days gone by.  Minibus tours will explore the local castles and Jacobite sites, and a tour of the coastline by boat will explore the sites famously associated with smuggling.

The remains of Old Slains, with the present Chief’s house in the background

There is much to see in all of these themes.  Slains has been the seat of the Hay chiefs for over 700 years and there will be opportunities to explore both Slains Castles.  North East Scotland was a hotbed of Jacobite support, the coastline here dominated by the Hays and the Keiths, both major Jacobite clans.  Attachment to Jacobitism survived here long after it had been extinguished elsewhere, backed by a lingering attachment to the Episcopal Church, which thrived in the North East long after it had been largely suppressed.

Aberdeenshire is sometimes called The Castle Country and there are more than 20 castles, some still inhabited, most in ruins, that can be seen within a very few miles of Cruden Bay.  Many of these are not usually open to public access and it is hoped we will be able to provide a rare opportunity for members to see them.  Some of these have close Hay connections, others with families with whom we were closely associated, but all have a thrilling story to tell.

Smuggling was very common, especially after the Act of Union of 1707 enforced English customs duties in Scotland.  Although illegal, it was not regarded as morally wrong and it is estimated that there was scarcely a family on this part of the coast that wasn’t involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in the illicit trade.  Then as now, smuggling comprised a broad spectrum of activity, from relatively harmless, small-sale local trade, to the businesses operated by the landowning and professional classes, to violent organised crime such as that undertaken by the notorious brothers, Philip and John Kennedy, of the Ward of Slains.  (The Kennedys’ career was brought to an end with the blow of a customs officer’s sword to Philip’s head in 1798.)  The coastline of Slains and Cruden is studded with caves with can still be seen and which were extensively used to store contraband.

We have yet to hear Visit Scotland’s decision on our application, but it was initially well received and, if successful, we hope to bring our members an unforgettable experience next year.