Caisteal Na Nighinn Ruaidhe, Argyll
4.5 miles east of Kilmelford
The Castle of the Red-Haired Maiden was originally a three-storey tower house with walls seven feet thick, surrounded by a defensive wall with a small outbuilding. Most of it has now fallen to rubble, apart from the south wall of the tower house. Viewed from the shore, it’s almost completely obscured by trees, but through the branches an arch and a window can just be seen.
The location is simply beautiful and can be easily accessed from the road. Viewing the castle however is far from easy. This should be done during the winter months when the trees lose their leaves and for a short period reveal their hidden treasure.
~ History ~
1190 ~ Dugal Campbell acquires the MacDougall lands of Lochavich through marriage to Brihid MacCaurre, during a period when the Campbell's fortunes are on the rise at the expense of their rivals.
1220 ~ Dugal dies and is succeeded by his son, also named Dugal.
1308 ~ King Robert Bruce defeats John MacDougall of Lorn, with the subsequent forfeiture of his lands.
1316 ~ Sir Colin Campbell in 1316 is awarded the lands of the MacDougall's, including the lands of Loch Awe and Loch Avinch.
On Loch Awe Sir Colin controlled the castles at Fraoch Eilean, Fincharn and Innis Chonnel, his main base, newly acquired from the MacDougall's. His one weak link was the very important route from Loch Awe through Lochavich to the sea, linking Campbell lands. His grandfather, Cailean Mor, had been killed by the MacDougall's not two miles north of Loch Avich. He therefore decides to build himself a castle on the small island near the shore of the loch to defend this important route.
Legend has it in the course of its construction, the masons did not receive money, but continued to work, believing that the Campbell's would pay them a reward at the conclusion of all the labours. However, the plan was apparently upon completion to send Campbell servants to the island under the pretext of inspecting the works, and when the builders rose to the fortress walls, the servants would drop them into the lake.
The only person who knew of this scheme was the daughter of the castle's owner, nicknamed the Red Virgin. Outraged by her father's meanness, she swam in a boat to the island and told all the masons. When they learned of the plot, they fled, leaving the castle unfinished, and never to be finished.
A different version of the same legend has the Masons, father and son, building a castle on Loch Avich for the local land owner. As in the previous story, the owner decided not to pay with the workers due to not having the money to pay them, but instead intended to kill them when everything was completed. But a servant girl, a red-haired girl, fell in love with the builders son, and warned him of the danger. The son tells this to his father and he comes up with a plan for getting money for the work and to return home alive.
Upon near completion the father informs the owners that to complete it he needed one special hammer that he had left at home and that someone had to be sent for; but this hammer is very valuable and his wife will give the tool only to a person who can be trusted, which he suggested should be the owners own son, which is agreed.
The father also sends his wife a message in advance which reads;
" I am sending you a small hammer, do not leave it until the big hammer returns home."
The wife understands the meaning of these words, and makes sure that the owner's son is thrown into prison and held there until the builders, father and son, return home with the money owed and unharmed.
However, the owner of the castle himself guessed that the red-haired servant girl had betrayed him, and so kills her, dropping her from the top of the tower. The castle remains incomplete, and the masons never paid for the work completed.
A further version has the daughter of the owner of this castle being famed for her unusual beauty: her skin was snow-white, her hair curled in gold, because she was called the Red-haired Maiden Lokh Avacha. River robbers attacked her and she was rescued by a neighbouring lord. They immediately fell in love with each other, but concealed their relationship from her father, who was a mortal enemy.
She apparently decided to secretly marry her brave saviour; and her father, being aware of this from a servant, calls his daughter to the top of the castle, just as she was about to flee; and, ready to sacrifice everything in his insane vengeful passion, he ruthlessly throws her off the fortress walls. The murder occurred in front of the girl's lover who is waiting downstairs; and so he rushes upstairs to her father and pierces his heart with a dagger. The castle becomes empty and ruinous.