Women’s History Month: Fionnghal nic Dhòmhnaill (Flora MacDonald)

Portrait By Allan Ramsay

Flora was born in 1722 at Milton on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, third and last child of Ranald MacDonald (d. 1723) and his second wife Marion. Her father was a member of the minor gentry, being tacksman and leaseholder of Milton and Balivanich; she had two brothers, Angus, who later inherited the Milton tack and Ronald, who died young. Her father died soon after her birth and in 1728. Her mother remarried Hugh MacDonald of Armadale, Skye. Flora was brought up by her father’s cousin, Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat. While some MacDonalds remained Catholic, particularly in the Islands, her family was part of the Presbyterian majority

Flora was the Outer Hebrides when Prince Charles and a group took refuge there after the Battle of Culloden in June 1746. One of his companions, Captain Conn O’Neill from County Antrim was distantly related to Flora and sought her help. Navigating familial opportunities (Hugh commanded the militia), she assisted Prince Charles by securing passes allowing for his passage to the mainland. To accomplish this, Charles was discuised as an Irish maid and gave the name Betty Burke. Flora parted ways, remaining in Skye and Charles was taken from Portree to the island of Raasay. They would never meet again.

The boatmen, who assisted in the escape were later captured and confessed. Flora was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Lady Margaret intervened and Flora was allowed to live outside of the Tower but still under supervision. She would eventually marry Allan MacDonald, travel to North Carolina (where he would be captured during the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge). Once he was released from prison they would return to Skye.

Flora’s grave in Kilmuir Cemetery, Skye. Photo By Dave Fergusson

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