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August 23, 2021

Alumnus Gets Rare Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Skibo Castle

By Felicia Paige Lucot

On Carnegie Mellon University’s Pittsburgh campus, “Skibo” refers to a café or gymnasium. In Scotland, 3,446 miles away, Skibo is short for Skibo Castle, the former home of industrialist and CMU founder Andrew Carnegie.

Skibo now operates as a private, members-only club, and isn’t accessible to the general public. But, 2018 CMU alumnus Thomas Kelly managed to get a rare peak behind the castle walls during a trip to visit friends in Scotland.

At Skibo Castle, he met liaison Emma Murray for a private, guided tour of the estate. With COVID-19 travel restrictions in the UK at the time, many of the clubs’ international members were unable to visit, allowing an uncrowded, personalized visit for Kelly.

Everything inside the castle had a story to tell, including the organ playing in the great hall.

“Skibo has had strong roots in classical and traditional Scottish music since the Carnegie’s arrived in 1898,” Kelly said. “Andrew Carnegie was specific in his wishes that every day, family and guests would be woken by Scottish bagpipes in the morning, hear the organ in the great hall at breakfast, and enjoy the sounds of the piano in the drawing room in the evening.”

Tom Kelly in ScotlandDuring his trip, Kelly stopped for a selfie in Stonehedge, England.

Today, Skibo hosts a resident musician who plays a wide repertoire of music for members and guests to sing along to after dinner.

“The tour was an amazing experience, and Emma and I had a great conversation about Carnegie, Pittsburgh, history, art and architecture,” Kelly said. “I also got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the operations of the castle and the Carnegie Club itself."

A scenic design and architecture alumnus of CMU, Kelly had a special appreciation for the grandeur of the castle and also the details.

“Although it is large, the castle itself felt warm and inviting like a family home should, so I can see why it was his [Carnegie’s] favorite,” he said. “Everything from the door handles to the wood carvings to the wallpaper patterns had a story custom to Carnegie or Scottish fantasy — a meaning behind it on a scale I haven't really seen elsewhere.”

Kelly left the castle with a few photos as souvenirs, as well as a new appreciation for his CMU roots.

“It was great to get a rare glimpse inside of Skibo,” he said. “It showcases Carnegie's many different personas, from wealthy American tycoon to the humble start he had in Scotland and what his dreams were then. Both I think are reflected in the design of the space.”

the grand staircase
The grand staircase in Skibo Castle.
an office in Skibo Castle
Andrew Carnegie's library study and his original desk.
an interior staircase
One of the many interior staircases in the private club.
an exterior staircase
An exterior stone staircase leads up to the castle.
an interior hallway
One of a myriad of ornate interior hallways in Skibo Castle.