Dunaverty Castle

Dunaverty Castle, Kintyre, Argyll

~ History ~

712 ~ Selbech, king of Lorn and North Dalriada, besieges Dunaverty Castle. Thereafter becoming a principle stronghold against his rival South Dalriadic king.

719 ~ The southern Dalriada King Duncan Bec, takes revenge against his northern rival Selbech in a naval battle in which he is victorious over his already depleated rival, who has been weakened by internal wars between himself and his brother Ainfcellach.

726 ~ A second naval battle between the rival Dalriada Kings see's Selbech's forces victorious.

1221 ~ King Alexander II of Scotland launches his first campaign into Western Scotland to wrestle control from Norwegian rule.

1248 ~ King Henry III of England allows Walter Byset to buy stores from Ireland for Dunaverty Castle which he has seized and is fortifying, apparently in revenge for hospitality given by Alexander II, King of Scotland to certain English pirates.

However later in the same year the castle is taken by Allan, the son of the Earl of Atholl, and Byset is taken prisoner.

1249 ~ King Alexander II launches his second campaign against the Norse Lords who still control much of Argyll and the Hebrides, but dies in the same year. His seven year old son is unable to follow up his father's work during his minority.

1261 ~ King Alexander III sends and embassy to the Norwegian court of King Haakon in an attempt to purchase the Outer Hebrides from Norse control, but this is rejected and his ambassador is arrested.

1262 ~ King Alexander attempts a more forceful approach and dispatches William, Earl of Ross to capture the Isle of Skye, prompting the Norwegian King to retaliate and force the issue.

1263 ~ Dunaverty Castle is garrisoned by King Alexander III during the resultant Norwegian campaign to regain the Isle of Skye and retain the Hebridean and Western Isles of Scotland, by King Haakon.

The castle is eventually surrendered to the Norwegian king, who in turn grants it to Dubhghall mac RuaidhrĂ­, one of his steadfast supporters in the Hebrides.


King Haakon then sails his fleet from Kintyre into the Clyde where the Scots attempt once more a negotiated settlement. But this is however a ruse designed to give them time and at Ayr, some 20 miles east of Arran, a Scottish army is being assembled to engage the Norwegians as soon as they came ashore.


With the negotiations ended, Haakon divides his forces sending a large element to attack Lennox on the River Clyde. The remainder of the force attack the Isle of Bute where Rothesay Castle is surrendered without a fight. The Norsemen then captured Great Cumbrae island to use as a base for further attacks. However during the night whilst their forces are beached on the island, stormy weather blows a number of the Norse ships from their berths onto the hostile Scottish mainland just south of Largs.

Whilst making repairs to their ships on the Scottish mainland they are attacked, forcing them to abandon their ships. King Haakon despatches his fleet to join his stricken men on the mainland, with some 200 men securing a hill to defend themselves against the Scots. The following day Haakon himself joins his men, but by this time the full force of the Scottish army has arrived. Fearing being cut off Haakon orders a retreat to their ships. The retreat in part becomes a rout.

A few months after the battle, it has become clear that a significant Scottish victory has been achieved. King Haakon IV withdraws his fleet from the Clyde and returns towards Norway but, given the weather at that time of year, his progress is slow and whilst mooring in Orkney, he dies, never returning to Norway.

The Scots retake Dunaverty Castle.

1266 ~ Haakon's successor King Magnus is forced to sign the Treaty of Perth. Along with punitive expeditions against the local Hebridean lords who had sided with Haakon, this brings most of the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Mann under the authority of the Scottish Crown, albeit through the Lordship of the Isles under Clan MacDonald.


1306 ~ Following Robert the Bruce defeat at the Battle of Methven against King Edward I's forces, he is forced toflee with what remains of his army. Many of Bruce's allies are captured at the battle and put to death on the orders of King Edward as a warning to other Scottish nobles who may consider supporting or giving shelter to the Bruce.

The retreating Bruce makes for the friendly lands of his Campbell allies, but are intercepted by the MacDougalls, loyal to King Edward. In the ensuring Battle of Dalrigh Bruce is again defeated and forced to flee.

Bruce decides to change the route of his escape towards Kintyre and the lands of his loyal ally, Angus Og MacDonald of Islay and seek the shelter of Dunaverty Castle.

Bruce's men are again forced to flee once more after just three days as an English fleet sent by King Edward to lay siege to the castle under the command of Sir Henry Percy approaches.

Bruce and his men manage to escape the trap and arrive at Ruthin Island off the coast of Ireland to shelter for the winter and plan their return the following spring. In the summer of that year King Edward I, Hammer of the Scots and Bruce's nemesis dies. Bruce defeats the English at the Battle of Loudoun Hill.

1493 ~ John MacDonald, the fourth and last Lord of the Isles, forfeites his title and lands to King James IV.

1494 ~ King James IV has personally garrisoned and provisioned Dunaverty Castle.However, upon sailing away from the castle, Sir John MacDonald who the king had recently knighted, retakes the castle before the King's eyes, and with it the dead body of the King's castle governor is hung over the castle walls in full sight of the King and his departing entourage.

Sir John Macdonald is later captured, tried and hanged on the Burgh Muir near Edinburgh.

1539 ~ The castle is repaired by the Crown.

1544 ~ The castle and Lordship of Kintyre is granted to Archibald Campbell, Fifth Earl of Argyll who adds artillery to the site.

1588 ~ The castle is attacked by the Earl of Surrey during the War of the Rough Wooing by King Henry VIII of England. No damage is inflicted on the castle

1647 ~During the Civil War and following the Battle of Rhunahaorine Moss, the remaining MacDonalds and MacDougall Royalist army flee to Dunaverty in order to be transported to Ireland and Dunyvaig Castle. About 300 men who could not be transported or did not wish to leave Scotland prepare to defend the castle.

When the Covenanter Army, supporters of Cromwell, finally arrive, they lay siege to the castle and make small raids against the forces inside. Once the attackers have captured the stronghold's water supply, the defenders,by now running out of water, request a surrender on fair terms. After agreeing to the terms of surrender, having laid down their weapons and leaving the castle, the men, women and children are all massacred at the request of Reverend John Naves and Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll.

Aside from the devastation caused by their actions, the Covenanter army of General Leslie also bring the plague to Kintyre which decimates the population. Archibald Campbell seizes the opportunity to import lowland settlers more likely to be loyal to him than the former Highlanders and clan rivals.

Thereafter the ruinous castle is abandoned and forever known as Blood Rock for the massacre which took place there.





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The remains of Dunaverty Castle stand on a rocky head land on the south east corner of Kintyre, Scotland. The headland it was built on forms a natural stronghold with the sea on three sides and is only approachable from the north. It is attached to the mainland only by a narrow path. It is known that the castle itself was accessed by a drawbridge.

Dunaverty is derived from a Gaelic name, the Fort of the Abhairtach tribe.

Dunaverty Castle is of such important interest in the history of Argyll, that I decided to break a golden rule to include only castles or fortifications to this site that still had some visible masonary that could be explored by castle-finders.

Tragically this dramatically set and important castle no longer has any ruins to explore and can be viewed only from a safe distance.

Having said that, the historical events that surround this once strategically important castle, ending in one of the most awful massacres in Scottish history, more than makes up for the lack of masonary.

Access to the castle like many can be made via the golf course. Follow the track which takes you across a small bridge within the course towards the sand dunes. Despite appearances the track does continue until you get to a grass area popular with camper vans. Here you can park with a short easy walk to the castle headland and also the lovely beach.