Ardtornish Castle, Morvern, Argyll
1.5 miles south-east of Lochaline
Track off A884
Ardtornish Castle is situated in the grounds of the Ardtornish estate in Morvern, on the west coast of Scotland. It stands 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.
A fortified Hall House pre-dates the castle by several hundred years as seat of the Lords of Argyll and Somerled, King or Argyll and the Isles.
Today the castle is little more than a stump of a once key strategic fortress for the Lordship of the Isles.
The history of its clan chiefs however endures to this very day in shaping key events in Scottish History.
~ History ~
1380 ~ John Islay, Lord of the Isles and 6th chief of Clan Donald dies at Ardtornish Castle. From here his funeral procession sails through the Sound of Mull to his place of burial on the Isle of Iona.
1411 ~ John's son and heir Donald of Islay signs a charter at Ardtornish Castle to sail his fleet to the Earldom of Ross to press home by force his claim to the Earldom against Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland.
Donald defeats a large force of Mackay's at the Battle of Dingwall. He captures Dingwall Castle and then advances on to Aberdeen with 10,000 clansmen. Near Inverurie he is met by 2,000 of the local gentry, many in armour, hastily assembled by the Earl of Mar. After a day of fierce fighting there is no clear victor. By nightfall Donald has lost 900 men before retreating back to the Western Isles, and Mar has lost 600.
Too feeble to retreat, the Earl of Mar and his surviving men camp on the battlefield, expecting combat to resume in the morning. Come dawn they find that Donald has withdrawn during the night, retreating first to Ross and then back to the Isles.
1412 ~ The Duke of Albany follows up his campaign against the MacDonald's with a three-pronged attack on Donald's possessions, forcing Donald to surrender his claim on Ross, and to become a vassal of the Scottish crown and give up hostages against his future good behaviour.
Donald surrenders his sword to Albany at Lochgilphead.
1423 ~ Donald, Lord of the Isles, dies just months before King James I of Scotland is released from imprisonment in England. Donald's son Alexander, still a minor, succeeds him. John Mor Tanister is appointed as guardian.
1424 ~ The ransomed King James I of Scotland returns to claim his throne and sees to it that all of the Duke of Albany's heirs and supporters are executed in order to secure his throne.
He is also aware of the growing rivalry between the Campbell's and the MacDonald's for mastery in the West Highlands. He therefore sends as envoy to the MacDonald's James Campbell. Inevitably a quarrel begins and in the ensuing fight John Mor Tanister is killed. On return to the mainland James Campbell is tried and executed at Inverness. The King denies any involvement or influence in either killing. The killing of John Mor does however create intense animosity between the MacDonald's of the Isles and the House of Stewart.
1428 ~ To bolster his authority the King detains Alexander, Lord of the Isles, whilst attending a parliament in Inverness.
1429 ~ Alexander MacDonald invades Ross but is defeated and captured by the Earl of Mar. In turn Mar suffers a devastating defeat at the hands of Donald's nephew Donald Balloch.
1431 ~ Donald Balloch defeats the Stewart Royal army at Inverlochy and lays waste to the area. King James I leads an army to extract revenge but upon reaching Dunstaffgne Castle, finds that Donald has retreated to the safety of the MacDonald's principal seat in Islay. The King without a fleet for his army to pursue Donald, leaves the Royal punishment to the people of the islands. A head supposedly of Donald is sent to the King.
1437 ~ King James is murdered in his chambers in the Greyfriars monastery in Perth by men acting for James's uncle, the Earl of Atholl. Atholl is arrested, tried and executed. Alexander MacDonald assumes the title as Earl of Ross, which is confirmed after the King's death.
1461 ~ The Highland Lords give their consent at Ardtornish Castle that Ranald of the Isles, together with Duncan, Archdeacon of the Isles, as envoys to London, and together with The Earl of Douglas and his brother John Douglas of Balvenie, to sign a secret Treaty with The English King against the King of Scotland.
1462 ~ John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, signs a secret treaty along with his co-conspirator the Earl of Douglas, with the Yorkist King Edward IV of England. The Treaty of Westminster-Ardtornish agreed that if Scotland is conquered by England, the lands north of the Scottish sea (the Firth of Forth) would be divided between the Lord of the Isles and the Earl of Douglas to be held from the crown of England, while the Earl of Douglas would hold Scotland south of the Firth.
1474 ~ The secret treaty is revealed by the English to the Scottish crown resulting in John MacDonald's forfeiture of the Earldom of Ross.
1493 ~ The aftermath of the unsuccessful Raid on Ross by the MacDonald's and their Highland clans, John's final forfeiture to the Scottish Crown as Lord of the Isles follows. The lands of Ardtornish remain for a time in the hands of the Crown but are eventually given to the Clan MacLean chief of Duart Castle. John MacDonald, last Lord of the Isles, lives out his final days in a monastery.
The castle is later abandoned after the MacLean's lands and power has been devoured by the Campbell Earls of Argyll.