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Skibo's Special Relationship

Posted: 25 November 2020

Though the term had been in use since the nineteenth century, it was Winston Churchill who popularised the concept of the 'special relationship' between Britain and the US. Though separated by an ocean (and – infamously – a common language) the two nations have long been trading partners, allies and friends. Situated in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, Skibo also has its own 'special relationship' with America – one that dates back over a century.

The strong connection between Skibo and the States began with former proprietor Andrew Carnegie. Born in Dunfermline in 1835, he emigrated to America with his family as a child and it was there he made his fortune in steel, becoming one of the richest men in history.

Though he built his empire in the US, Carnegie never forgot his roots and was a frequent visitor to his homeland. After he married New Yorker Louise Whitfield in 1887, the couple spent their honeymoon in Scotland and they then spent each subsequent summer for the next decade holidaying here.

Andrew and Louise Carnegie's card, from the Skibo Castle archive.

Andrew and Louise Carnegie's card, from the Skibo Castle archive.

In 1897 the couple's first – and only – child was born. Wanting his daughter Margaret to grow up feeling just as at home in Scotland as she did in the States, Carnegie decided to purchase an estate in his home nation. And so, in 1898, the Carnegie family arrived at Skibo.

After their arrival, Carnegie began a unique tradition that continues at Skibo to this day: above the portico flies a flag that shows the Union Flag on one side and the Stars and Stripes on the other. Carnegie designed it himself, conveying his love of both the land of his birth and his adopted nation. He had flown this hybrid flag at Cluny Castle when he had rented it in the summers before he came to Skibo, and when he bought his Highland estate he brought his flag with him.

The dual sided flag still flies today at Skibo.

The dual sided flag still flies today at Skibo.

It is said that Andrew sought and was granted permission from the British king and American President to fly this flag. While no evidence for this can be found in the Skibo records, it was seen by both King Edward VII and future US President Woodrow Wilson when they visited in 1902 and 1908 respectively and, as no challenge was made either at the time or afterwards, it can be understood that neither the king nor the office of the president objected to Carnegie's creative vexillology.

Today, the close association between Skibo and the US continues with The Carnegie Club's owners and around a third of its members hailing from North America. And so at Skibo, along with Scottish traditions like ceilidhs, the Saturday night 'Address to a Haggis,' tartan clad butlers, welcome tots of malt whisky, and a bagpiper who circles the castle each morning to wake guests for breakfast, members are also able to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving at the club - something especially appreciated by those Americans members who now live or work in the UK and are unable to celebrate the occasion with family and friends back home.

Thanksgiving is a popular celebration at the club with members of all nationalities.

Thanksgiving is a popular celebration at the club with members of all nationalities.

While 2020's Thanksgiving is inevitably muted by the current restrictions both at home and abroad, the club looks forward to celebrating the holiday in 2021 in the traditional Skibo way. That is, with members of all nationalities invited to enjoy a convivial meal together in Mr Carnegie's Dining Room where they tuck into juicy roast turkey served with classic sides including pigs in blankets, baked yams, and whipped potatoes, followed by a delicious slice of freshly baked pecan pie.

Over a century after the 'special relationship' between Skibo and the States began, it is as strong as ever and is set to continue for many years to come.

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