Almost 30 years ago, the bold initiative was embarked upon to build a birlinn or galley which would, as far as surviving knowledge allowed, replicate the vessels which plied the west coast of Scotland and beyond during the 12th-15th century heyday of the Lordship of the Isles.
Ever since, the galley – named Aileach after a Scottish princess who sailed across to Ireland to marry - has sailed proudly, contributing to the education and enjoyment of many, before reaching its final destination in South Uist, home to the Macdonalds of Clanranald since the 13th century.
Now the time has come to create a permanent home for the Aileach, where it will become the centrepiece of long overdue inquiry and research into the maritime history of that turbulent period. We know a great deal about what happened on land; too little about how the sea served as the lifeblood of far-scattered communities.
To achieve this outcome, an ideal partnership has been formed between the award-winning Kildonan Museum/Taigh Tasgaidh Chill Donnain in South Uist and the Lord of the Isles Galley Trust which currently owns the Aileach.
Working together, these two charitable organisations have the shared aim of raising sufficient funds to build a basic structure which will ensure the long-term preservation of the Aileach, both as an attraction and source of interest in its own right and also as a bridge to deeper understanding of a formative era in Hebridean history.

The presence of the Aileach in an adjacent building will enhance the excellent Kildonan Museum collection of 10,000 South Uist artefacts, built up over the past half century, as well as allowing for the expansion of its educational and research roles.
The objective is to raise £75,000 in order to deliver upon these objectives, in time for the 31st birthday of the Aileach in 2022. Donations of any size will be most welcome and will, unless otherwise stipulated, be publicly acknowledged.
This a great project for all with an interest in Hebridean and maritime history to support and we look forward to keeping you informed of its progress over the coming months.

“Aileach has been an inspiration for me and others to have a sense of the profound maritime history of the western isles…. she is now being retired and has found a permanent home, most appropriately, at Kildonan Museum, on the Isle of Uist in the Outer Hebrides.”
Ranald Macdonald , 24th Captain & Chief of Clanranald

The Lordship of the IslesThe Lordship of the Isles
Aileach is the first replica of a Hebridean birlinn (or West Highland Galley) ever built. She is forty feet long, clinker built in larch on oak frames. Her beam is ten feet and she draws two feet. She has sixteen oars and one square sail, hoisted on a yard and controlled by sheets and braces.
Origins of the Galley
Aileach was built in 1991 at the MacDonald boatyard in Moville, Co. Donegal, Eire, where the family have been building wooden boats since their ancestors fled Scotland in 1745. She was designed by Scotsman Colin Mudie - famed for his modern yacht designs as well as important historic replicas. The primary purpose behind her building was to further knowledge of the design and use of Celtic Galleys. No remains of Celtic Galleys have ever been recovered, although the Trust is keen to encourage archaeological exploration for galley remains. Unlike the longships of the Vikings, galleys were not preserved in burial mounds. In Scotland timber was precious. When a galley became old the sound planks were re-used, others burned for fuel.
The uses of such vessels are well remembered. The un-decked galley was the vessel developed from Viking lines which enabled Somerled, the founder of Clan Donald, to break the power of the Norsemen in the twelfth century. For the next 400 years these beautiful craft, swifter and more manoeuvrable than their forbears, formed the sole means of communication in the kingdom created by Somerled and his sons. Their domain spanned 25,000 square miles and 500 islands.
The design of Aileach was based on quite detailed representations of galleys on medieval grave slabs, found in the Hebrides and all along the western seaboard of Scotland. The effigy which provided the most detail is on a MacLeod gravestone at Rodel Church on Harris. Estimations of length and beam came from Scottish State Papers as well as from the interpretation of carvings.
Celtic Galleys are distinguishable from Norse longships by having a straight sternpost on which a rudder is hung, instead of a steering-oar over the starboard side. The design of Aileach's tiller was difficult as there are no tillers represented in the carvings. Aileach has a double-handed tiller, curving around her wide stern. Aileach is a light boat, designed to flex in waves, and with her shallow draft she can negotiate shallow channels and be hauled up beaches out of the reach of bad weather.
  • The Lord of the Isles Galley Trust, Kildonan Museum, South Uist