A Skye Terrier Homecoming

This summer the United Kingdom's Skye Terrier Club unveiled a life-sized statue of two Skye Terriers on the Isle of Skye, Scotland.

By Judith Tabler | Posted: October 20, 2014 1 p.m. PST

Skyes Armadale Castle
Some of the 103 attendees (including 47 terriers) at the Skye Terrier "Homecoming" in front of Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye. Photo by Jo Hansford.
 

Royalty and bagpipes welcomed Skye Terriers as they proceeded up the gentle slope to Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye. It was a warm, sunny day in July when 47 terriers and 103 of their people crossed "over the sea to Skye.” They came from all over the United Kingdom and as far away as the United States. The aptly named "Homecoming” was organized by The Skye Terrier Club in the United Kingdom to highlight the unveiling of a new statue in the dog’s homeland. The goal is to raise public awareness of the Skye Terrier.

The event was more than two years in the making, and the result of many hours of hard work by the Skye Terrier’s fans. The breed is fortunate to have a specific and idyllic location to cite as its origin — the Isle of Skye. The largest of the inner Herbrides on the west coast of Scotland, Skye boasts a magnificent landscape that varies from the Cuillin Mountains to wide glens, from waterfalls to lochs and calm pools, and from jagged cliffs to smooth, sandy beaches. Skye contains some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland and is a tourist destination for many travelers.

On the southeastern peninsula, near where the ferries from Mallaig, Scotland, dock, stands the estate of Clan Donald Skye, operated by the Clan Donald Trust. The grounds encompass 20,000 acres, including the partially restored Armadale Castle and the Museum of the Isles. The museum houses a display about the Skye Terrier, featuring the UK Skye Terrier Club’s 150-year-old plaster model of Greyfriars Bobby (who is said to have guarded his owner’s grave for 14 years), which was used as the prototype for the iconic bronze statue in Edinburgh. Alongside it this past summer was the premier exhibit of three sculptures by the Swiss artist Edouard-Marcel Sandoz (1881-1971) of his own Skyes.

 

Saving the Skye

Skye Statue Unveiling
The statue's unveiling from left to right: Princess Anne; Jenny Kendrick, Chairperson of the Skye Terrier Club; and Georgie Welch, sculptor. Photo by Jo Hansford.
 

Dog breeds have always been subject to the whims of fashion. In the current climate of enthusiasm for designer dogs, many significant purebred lines may disappear. The history of a particular breed and the importance of sound dog breeding are often poorly understood by the public and disparaged in the press. Without taking that fight on, the UK Skye Terrier Club has simply tried to raise the awareness of the breed. The scarcer a type of dog becomes, the less likely the public is to see a representative of it. Many people have never seen a Skye Terrier; therefore when thinking of acquiring a puppy, families don’t consider the breed. The prophecy of extinction then becomes self-fulfilling.

In 2013, Skye Terrier registrations in the United Kingdom fell to just 17 puppies. According to the UK Kennel Club, any breed with fewer than 300 registrations per year is considered vulnerable and probably unsustainable. In the United States, the registration numbers were only slightly better, with 63 individual Skye Terriers registered in 2013. (Because there were only six litters registered in the US during 2013, many of those 63 came from the 12 litters in 2012.) The worry about the loss of a breed is real. In fact, the Paisley and the Clydesdale Terrier, relatives of the Skye, both vanished in the last century.

The Skye Terrier Club in the United Kingdom has decided to address this problem head-on with a campaign to increase awareness of the breed. They welcome press coverage wherever they go. In the spring of 2013, a group of Skyes and their people walked the Isle of Skye. It was called "The Great Skye Terrier Relay Walk” and spanned a full 55-mile trek over four days. Skye fanciers often gather at the iconic statue of Greyfriars Bobby for photo opportunities and at the nearby Greyfriars Kirk church for services that bless the animals. In October 2013, they gathered when a wonderful statue of Robert Louis Stevenson as a boy with his Skye ‘Cuillin’ by Alan Herriot was unveiled in Colinton Parish Church in an Edinburgh suburb. Another destination for Skye devotees is Horatio McCulloch’s grave in Warriston Cemetery in northern Edinburgh to see the lovely Skye carved on the back of the monument. However, "The Homecoming” is the culmination of the UK Skye Terrier Club’s ventures.

 

The Homecoming

Skye Terrier Statue
The statue in front of the Clan Donald Skye estate is of two life-sized Skye Terriers: one prick-eared and one drop-eared. Photo by Jo Hansford.
 

On July 24, 2014, canines and humans explored the Clan Donald Skye estate’s beautiful gardens and gathered by mid-morning on the lawn sweeping down from the castle to the sea. There, looking out over the water, would soon stand two old friends of the island — a pair of life-sized bronze Skye Terriers, one drop-ear and one prick-ear.

The location of the statue demonstrates the harmonious collaboration between the Clan Donald, the Skye Terrier Club and the sculptor, Georgie Welch. Ms. Welch is a renowned animalier based in Wiltshire. A glance at her portfolio shows her keen understanding and obvious appreciation of animals. Ms. Welch said that she wanted to portray the dogs moving to show off their flowing coats, but found it difficult. Just like a dog show judge, a sculptor needs to comprehend what is actually going on under all that hair. One day, when it was pouring, she called a friend with a Skye and said she needed to observe the dog walking in the rain. Watching the wet coat cling to the body as he moved, she got the insight she needed to sculpt the front carriage.

With the location for the statue determined, the Skye Terrier Club still needed to select a base. Members of the Club and two Skyes, Sula and Thor, visited the Torrin Quarry on the Isle and, after climbing on several slabs, the dogs selected their favorite — a piece of brown granite. Perhaps it was due to Sula and Thor’s enthusiasm that the wonderful folks at the quarry decided to donate the granite. The top and bottom of the stone were leveled, but the sides were left in their organic state. The plinth is low so that children and, as it turns out, Skyes, can enjoy the statues up close and personal.

Schoolchildren on the isle also contributed to "The Homecoming.” They drew pictures of Skyes that were a hit with all the attendees. And, since Gaelic is still spoken on the Isle of Skye, the children competed in conferring Gaelic names on the dogs. The winners were Dileas (pronounced "Jeelus” and meaning "faithful”) for the drop-ear and and Ceó (pronounced "Kheaw” and meaning "misty”) for the prick-ear. The base of the sculpture is inscribed in both Gaelic, "Bha gràdh is sealbh aig Comann nan Abhagan Sgitheanach orra,” and in English, "Owned and loved by the Skye Terrier Club.” Scotland’s only Gaelic college, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, is on the Isle of Skye. Perhaps in the future, students at the college will stop by on test days to rub the dogs’ noses for good luck.

The Skye Terrier Club members must have snuck in a few nose pats because July 24 was a postcard-perfect day. The sky was bright blue, punctuated only by a few puffy clouds. The temperature was in the mid-80s, perhaps even a tad warm, as people and dogs gathered on the lawn to greet Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal.

Princess Anne was met by representatives of the Skye Terrier Club, including Amanda Anderson from Belfast, who is credited with the original idea of a statue on Skye; Chair of the Skye Terrier Club Jenny Kendrick; VisitScotland Regional Director Scott Armstrong; General Manager of Clan Donald Skye Stephen McKeown; and club patron Christian Landolt. Mr. Landolt, a renowned equestrian, lover of Leonbergers and Bearded Collies, is a recent and enthusiastic convert to the world of Skyes.

The princess then made her way across the lawn, shaking hands and chatting about dogs with almost every attendee. Before unveiling the statue, she spoke briefly about Skyes being called the "heavenly breed” and congratulated the club on promoting the "greater knowledge and understanding of these intelligent, loving and loyal dogs.” Mr. Landolt and Ms. Kendrick teased the princess about the possibility of adding a Skye to her kennel of beloved Bull Terriers.

Mr. Armstrong added, "The addition of this beautiful Skye Terrier statue, appropriately named ‘The Homecoming,’ in its homeland, gives the thousands of visitors who flock to Armadale Castle each year the chance to learn more about these loyal dogs whilst taking in the wonderful surroundings of the castle, the museum and grounds.”

A lone piper, Alastair Mackay, played the tune specially composed for the day by Craig Muirhead entitled "The Skye Terrier’s Homecoming.” After the princess left, Skye Terriers and their humans toasted the breed and thanked all the members for their hard work. The rest of the day was filled with a treasure hunt, a viewing of Walt Disney’s Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier-themed quiz and was capped with a lovely dinner.

And every Skye Terrier wagged all the way home.

 

Skye Terrier Statue
The statue's granite plinth is low enough that children and even Skyes can climb on it. Photo by Judith Tabler.
 
From the October 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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