Castles of Clan Donald

Finlaggan Castle

Finlaggan Castle, a fortified medieval palace built on two islands in Loch Finlaggan, was the centre of power in Somerled’s sea kingdom. Eilean Mòr housed the main residence and a chapel, surrounded by a small urban centre of paved streets and stone buildings. Eilean na Comhairle was where the Council of the Isles met to discuss matters of law.

Finlaggan Castle (as imagined)
Finlaggan Castle Today

Dunyvaig Castle

Dunyvaig Castle was built on top of an existing fort or dun, Dùn Naomhaig. It was used as the naval base for the Kingdom of the Isles. The MacDonalds of Islay had their own professional warrior class who manned the birlinns and nyvaigs.

Dunyvaig Castle Painting
Dunyvaig Castle Today

Dunaverty Castle

Built in the eighth century, Dunaverty occupies a superb strategic location jutting far out from the Scottish mainland. The castle commands the whole of the Firth of Clyde and the Irish Channel, and is within sight of the Irish mainland.

Fortified in 1248, Dunaverty was ceded by the Norwegian King Haakon IV to Dougall MacRuari in 1263, then later given to Alexander MacDonald of Islay.

Dunaverty Castle (as imagined)
Dunaverty Castle Today

Castle Tioram

Castle Tioram (Scottish Gaelic: Caisteal Tioram, meaning “dry castle”) sits on the tidal island Eilean Tioram in Loch Moidart, Lochaber, Scotland. Although hidden from the sea, the castle controls access to Loch Shiel.

Castle Tioram is the traditional seat of the Clanranald (Clann Raghnaill) branch of Clan Donald. The castle was seized by Government forces in around 1692 when the clan chief Allan Macdonald of Clanranald joined the Jacobite Court in France. A small garrison was stationed in the castle until the Jacobite rising of 1715 when Allan recaptured and torched it, purportedly to keep it out of the hands of Hanoverian forces.

Castle Tioram (as imagined)
Castle Tioram Today

Castle Mingary

Mingary Castle (Scottish Gaelic: Caisteal Mhìogharraidh), is a castle nestled on ridge of rock overlooking the sea, it was considered a strategically important site in terms of communication with overseas areas and as an entranceway to the Sound of Mull

Mingary Castle dates to either the thirteenth- or fourteenth century. It could have been originally constructed by either the MacDougalls or the MacDonalds of Ardnamurchan (also known as the MacIains of Ardnamurchan). King James IV of Scotland used it as a stronghold for fighting Clan Donald in the late 15th century.

Castle Mingary

Castle Ardtornish

While Finlaggan was the centre for Gaelic law, language, and culture, Ardtornish Castle was used for affairs of state and military meetings. Ardtornish is situated on the west coast of Scotland standing at the seaward end of a promontory which extends in a southerly direction into the Sound of Mull.

The castle was one of the principal seats of the high chiefs of Clan Donald from the early 14th to late 15th century, but Somerled had a fortress here in the mid-12th century. Ardtornish was the hub of strategic sea lanes important to him.

It was at Ardtornish in 1461 that John, fourth Lord of the Isles, met representatives from King Edward IV of England, in a plot to conquer and divide Scotland. This scheme is known as the Treaty of Westminster-Ardtornish, and it proved to be the undoing of the Lordship. When James III of Scotland found out, the Lordship was forfeited in 1493 and its MacDonald rulers dispossessed.

Later, it was at Ardtornish Castle that John Lord of the Isles died in the 1380s and from where his funeral procession sailed through the Sound of Mull to the island of Iona.

Castle Ardtornish Today

Castle Aros

Castle Aros a 13th-century castle near Salen on the Isle of Mull. The castle overlooks the Sound of Mull.

The castle was initially a stronghold of Clan MacDougall. When they backed the losing side in the dispute between John Balliol and Robert the Bruce, their lands were declared forfeit and the castle transferred to Clan Donald.

It was described as ‘ruinous, old, useless and never of any strength’ in 1688, but seems to have been garrisoned by Argyll’s troops in 1690.

Castle Aros Today

Dunscaith Castle

Built about the thirteenth century on an earlier fortified site, the castle is the legendary home of Scathach, a Gaelic warrior queen. The castle became the principal seat of the MacDonalds of Sleat in the fifteenth century. The family left for Duntulm Castle in 1619, to bolster their claim to the lands of Trotternish.

Dunscaith Castle (as imagined)
Dunscaith Castle Today

Castle Borve

Castle Borve, also known as Caisteal Bhuirgh in Scottish Gaelic, is a 14th-century tower house, located at the south-west of the island of Benbecula. The building of the tower is attributed to Amie Mac Ruari, the first wife of John of Islay, and dated to between 1344 and 1363.

It was occupied by the Macdonalds of Benbecula until the early 17th century. In the 14th century, Castle Borve was the most important castle, not only in medieval Benbecula, but possibly in the entire Outer Hebrides.

Castle Borve
Castle Borve Today

Duntulm Castle

A late fourteenth-century castle built on the site of an earlier dùn or broch, Duntulm was a courtyard castle with a four-storey tower.

The castle was built in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the area was subject to feuds between the rival MacLeod and MacDonald clans. The defences were improved in the 16th century, and by the early 17th century the MacDonalds of Sleat had finally gained the upper hand in the area.

Around 1650, the castle’s importance peaked, when further improvements were made, and a rectangular structure or house was built within the wall. However, around 1732 the castle was abandoned, when Sir Alexander MacDonald built a new residence, Monkstadt House, five miles to the south, robbing much of the castle’s stone as building material.

Duntulm Castle (as imagined)
Duntulm Castle

Castle Sween

Castle Sween is thought to be one of the earliest stone castles built in Scotland, having been built in the late 11th century. It was built by a Irishman called Suibhne, son of Hugh Anrahan, brother of the king of Ulster and High King of Ireland. He left for Scotland after a family quarrel, and became Lord of Knapdale and founder of Clan MacSween.

As late as the thirteenth century, the MacSweens possessed the surrounding lands of Knapdale. However, by the second half of the century, these territories passed into the hands of the Stewart/Menteith family.

In 1323, after the death of John Menteith, the Lordship of Arran and Knapdale passed to his son and grandson. In 1376, half of Knapdale, which included the castle, passed into the possession of John, Lord of the Isles, by a grant from his father-in-law, King Robert II.

In 1490, Castle Sween was granted to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, by King James IV. In 1647, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Castle Sween was attacked and burnt by Alasdair MacColla and his Irish Confederate followers.

Castle Sween Today

Castle Strome

Originally built by the Macdonald Earls of Ross. Later in 1472, the castle was owned by Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh and Alan MacDonald Dubh, 12th Chief of the Clan.

In 1539, King James V granted the castle to the MacDonells of Glengarry. Later in 1602, the castle was besieged by Kenneth Mackenzie, 1st Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, Chief of Clan Mackenzie, assisted by their allies Clan Matheson. After the MacDonells surrendered, the Castle was demolished and blown up. The MacDonells of Glengarry built a new castle further inland called Invergarry Castle.

Castle Strome (as imagined)
Castle Strome Today

Castle Bheagram

Caisteal Bheagram was a Clanranald stronghold until the 17th century. It was reached by a causeway (now submerged) across Loch an Eilean. It is thought to have been built on the site of an Iron Age broch.

A small fortified tower was built by Clanranald on a small island in the centre of Loch an Eilean. Dating from around 1600, the two-storey tower was connected by a causeway to the southern bank of the loch.

Castle Bheagram Today

Castle Dunluce

In the 13th century, Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, built the first castle at Dunluce. It is first documented in the hands of the McQuillan family in 1513 after they became Lords of the Route. The McQuillans were the Lords of Route from the late 13th century until they were displaced by the MacDonnells after losing two major battles against them during the mid- and late-16th century.

In 1584, on the death of James MacDonald, the 6th chief of the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg, the Antrim Glens were seized by Sorley Boy MacDonnell, one of his younger brothers. Sorley Boy took the castle, keeping it for himself and improving it in the Scottish style. Sorley Boy swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth I and his son Randal was made 1st Earl of Antrim by King James VI and I.

Dunluce Castle (as imagined)
Dunluce Castle Today

Castle Kenbane

A two-story castle was built in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell, brother of Sorley Boy MacDonnell. In 1551, the castle was besieged by English forces under Lord Deputy Sir James Croft, in the course of an expedition against the MacDonnell’s. Another siege in 1555 by English forces, the castle was partly destroyed by cannon fire. Colla MacDonnell died at the castle in 1558.

Sorley Boy MacDonnell exchanged the castle for another property on Colonsay with Gillaspick MacDonnell, son of Colla MacDonnell. The castle was then presented to the Owen MacIan Dubh MacAllister, 2nd of Loup, Chief of Clan MacAlister as a reward for their service and loyalty to the MacDonnells. Owen MacIan Dubh MacAllister was killed in 1571 during a skirmish with the Carrickfergus garrison, fighting alongside Sorley Boy. The castle remained in the hands of the descendants of the MacAllisters of Kenbane until the 18th century.

Castle Kenbane (as imagined)
Castle Kenbane Today

Camus/Knock Castle

The ruins of Castle Camus or the Castle on the Bay, also known as Knock Castle, stand on a precipitous headland on the East Coast of Sleat at the northern shore of the bay from which the castle derived its name. It was one of the principal abodes of the Sleat family and was the home of James Macdonald of Castle Camus who probably built its tower and certainly resided there during the first half of the 16th century. The last documentary evidence of life in the Castle is on August 13th, 1632 on which date a bond was signed there, when Castle Camus was still a clan stronghold, declaring Sir Donald Macdonald chief of the clan. At the end of the 15th century the Castle was besieged by the MacLeods and a Macdonald heroine, who was afterwards known as “Mary of the Castle” and whose praises are sung in Gaelic song, inspired the clansmen to resist the siege and defeat the enemy. See a video showing the 15th century ruins for Knock Castle.

Camus/Knock Castle (as imagined)
Camus/Knock Castle Today

Castle Invergarry

Invergarry Castle was the seat of the Chiefs of the MacDonells of Glengarry. The castle’s position overlooking Loch Oich on Creagan an Fhithich – the Raven’s Rock – in the Great Glen, was a strategic one in the days of clan warfare. It is not certain when the first structure was erected on Creagan an Fhithich, but there are at least two sites prior to the present castle.

After raids by the Clan Mackenzie in 1602, which included the burning of Strome Castle, the MacDonells of Glengarry fortified Creagan an Fhithich. According to Clan tradition, the castle was built with stones passed hand to hand by a chain of clansmen from the mountain Ben Tee.

During the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell’s troops under General Monck burned the castle down in 1654. Repaired, it was held for King James VII from 1688 until its surrender to the Government forces of William and Mary in 1692. It was then held by the Jacobites during the 1715 uprising, but taken for the government in 1716. During the 1745 uprising, it was again held by Jacobites and visited twice by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

During the Jacobite risings of 1745 to 1746, Prince Charles Edward visited the Castle shortly after the raising of the Royal Standard at Glenfinnan and is said to have rested there after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. In the aftermath of Culloden, it was sacked and partially blown up by troops under the Duke of Cumberland as part of his systematic suppression of the Highlands. However, the stout walls refused to yield and have survived the centuries to serve as a reminder to their history.

Castle InvergarryCastle Invergarry (as imagined)
Castle Invergarry Today

Castle Glenarm

There has been a castle at Glenarm since the 13th century, where it resides at the heart of one of Northern Ireland’s oldest estates. The present castle was built by Sir Randal MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim, in 1636, and it has remained in the family since its construction. It is currently owned by Randal, Viscount Dunluce, the son of Alexander McDonnell, 9th Earl of Antrim.

The McDonnells have been in Glenarm for nearly 600 years and the Estate has been in the family for 400 years. Before taking up full time residence at Glenarm, the family lived most notably at Dunluce Castle.

Castle Glenarm

Armadale Castle

By the 1670s, the MacDonalds of Sleat had built a tower and farmhouse at Armadale. In 1690, the tower, Armadale Beag, was bombarded by government ships in an attempt to capture Sir Donald for leading his clan on the Jacobite side at the Battle of Killiecrankie. The Chief was forced to return to Duntulm.

In 1703, a replacement house was constructed nearer the shore. This was used for visits and trade, and also leased out to clan relatives. It is from this house that Flora MacDonald was married in 1750.

The MacDonalds of Sleat left Monkstadt House in 1798 to return to a newly-built mansion house, the white building still standing today. They added the Gillespie-Graham mock Gothic castle in 1815. See a video of Armadale Castle

Armadale Castle in 1900
Armadale Castle Today

Ormacleit Castle

Ormacleit Castle, on the Isle of South Uist. was completed in 1708 by Allan MacDonald of Clan Ranald to a T-plan design. This rare example of a high-quality tower house is one of the last castles built in Scotland.

By the seventeenth century, male children of clan chiefs went to school in the Lowlands where they learnt English. This had a profound impact on their attitudes and ambitions. Allan MacDonald had also spent time as a Jacobite exile at the French court at Versailles. These cultural influences are reflected in the design of Ormacleit Castle.

The castle was destroyed by a kitchen fire in 1715, on the eve of the Battle of Sherriffmuir where Allan MacDonald was killed.

Ormacleit Castle Today

Castles Pictures