Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye
Dunvegan Castle is one of the longest lived in castle anywhere in Scotland and is steeped in history of the Isles.
Set within beautiful scenery it is easy to see why this site was chosen to build such an important stronghold.
We were somewhat disappointed visiting this castle that has been understandably commercialised with focus on the house, rather than the ancient castle upon which it has been built, that can just about be seen where the castle meets the loch.
~ History ~
1260's ~ Leod, descendant of the Norse Kings of the Isle of Man, who in turn is descended from the Norse King Harold Hardrada, gains possession of much of Skye, including the Cuillins, Harris and Lewis. Dunvegan is acquired by marriage to the MacRailt heiress and becomes the principal seat of the Clan where the Castle is built.
Leod has two sons, Tormod McLeod who inherits Dunvegan and Harris, and Torquil McLeod who inherits Lewes.
1263 ~ The Battle of Largs between Norse and Scots results in an unexpected defeat for the powerful Norse King Haakan and victory for the young King Alexander III. The established Scottish clans fill the power vacuume created within the lands previously held or controlled by Norse lords.
1300's ~ The MacLeod's of Harris acquired Glenelg on the mainland at the strategic crossing point to Skye. Malcolm MacLeod, 3rd Chief of Harris, builds the keep at Dunvegan.
The MacLeod's of the Lewes acquire Gairloch and Assynt on the mainland and the Isle of Raasay.
Both MacLeod Clans support the MacDonald Lord of the Isle despite lands being lost to the MacDonald's.
1493 ~ Following King James of Scotland forfeiting the Lordship of the Isle, to bring the semi-independent clan to heel, the MacLeod's and MacDonald's begin feuding.
1570's ~ Sir Rory Mor MacLeod, 15th Chief of Dunvegan, fights in Ireland against the English. He rebuilds a great hall at Dunvegan.
Sir Rory brings to an end the feud with the MacDonalds of Sleat.
At the same time, family feuding between the MacLeod's of Lewis with the MacKenzie's of Kintail, who, with their usual guile and force, also acquired Assynt and Gairloch on the mainland. The line of the Chiefs of the MacLeod's of the Lewes did out and remained represented only by the MacLeod's of Raasay, opposite Skye.
1651 ~ In the Civil War, the MacLeod's of Harris support King Charles and lose 1,000 men at the battle of Worcester.
1745 ~ During the Jacobite Rising, though Bonnie Prince Charlie had some hopes that the MacLeod's would join him, the chief instead raises 700 men to fight for King George and the Hanoverian cause.
At the skirmish at Inverurie, though the chief behaved gallantly, his men ran back to Elgin. The Chief's piper, Malcolm MacCrimmon is made prisoner.
1746 ~ Norman MacLeod, accompanying Lord Loudoun and his troops, are routed at Moy, south of Inverness, where the Prince had been staying. Donald MacCrimmon, the Harris piper, is killed.
The MacLeod's of Raasay, however, joined Bonnie Prince Charlie and fight at the battle of Culloden. After the battle, Raasay House is burned and the island ravaged from end to end.
1772 ~ Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 22nd Chief, dies at St Andrews, leaving huge debts. He is succeeded by his grandson, Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 23rd Chief.
1776 ~ Norman MacLeod who had by this time became a soldier within the Black Watch, he is captured entering Boston Harbour. He is later posted to India where he becomes a major general. He amasses a fortune but spend much of it attempting to get elected to Parliament and in restoring the keep at Dunvegan Castle.
~ Legend ~
The ancient laws of hospitality in the Highlands and Islands were of great cultural significance. It was the custom that any stranger passing should not only be given food, shelter and a bed, but would be under the protection of the host during his stay.
Rory Mor MacLeod was sporadically fighting the MacDonalds, specifically Donald Gorm MacDonald from Uist.
On one occasion Donald Gorm was heading for Uist in his birlinn when the weather forced him to seek the nearest safe anchorage, which happened to be Loch Dunvegan, with the castle of his enemy looming over it.
At first Rory Mor doesn't realise who his unexpected guest is, for he sent a man out in a boat to give his greetings to the crew and invite them the full hospitality of Dunvegan Castle. After some discussion amongst Donald Gorm and his crew as to the wisdom of accepting this offer, as both clans were at with feud with one another, Donald's considers it beneath him to refuse the offer of custom Highland hospitality by a fellow chief, and so he and his men make their way to the castle. A surprised Rory Mor greets Donald and his men at his castle gate. 'I welcome you and your men to the hospitality of Dunvegan. Would you like to come and dine with me in my own apartment?'. Custom, honour or not, Donald Gorm was going to play safe and dine with is own men. He declines.
'Och, they will be well looked after in the main hall', replied Rory Mor, 'come sit at my table'. Donald again declines the offer.
Rory Mor tried further to convince his guest that he is showing him due honour, but Donald will have none of it.
At last, seeing he would not get his own way, Rory Mor allowed Donald's entire crew to accompany Donald to his apartment.
Rory Mor brings along an armed group of his own clansmen to join the feasting.
Following much drinking, Rory Mor addresses his guest.
'Now, Donald Gorm, let's be having the truth now, did you or did you not kill my father?'
'Well, it has to be said of me that I killed three despicable Highlanders', Donald snapped back, 'and I have no fears of adding a fourth this night if necessary'.
At this insult the MacLeod's would happily have fallen on the MacDonald's, but Rory Mor, kept calm and remembering the rules of Highland hospitality, called for more drink. Soon afterwards it was time to retire for sleep. Rory Mor offered Donald Gorm a fine bed with lined sheets in one of the private apartments in the castle. Again, Donald Gorm declined the offer to be with his men, especially being mindful of just how much he had just offended his host.
It had been decided that Donald's men would sleep in the thatched wooden kiln, used to dry out harvested corn.
Despite Donald having consumed a fair amount of whisky, he had no intention of sleeping a wink, not trusting Rory Mor.
It was just before first light when he heard somebody approaching the kiln. He stood just inside the door, dirk in hand, and looked through a gap between door and the frame as a figure loomed out of the dark.
'Donald, Donald Gorm, are you awake?' came a soft voice. It was an old friend, Duncan MacAskill.
'Aye Duncan, how are you, old friend?' came the reply.
'Och,I am fine but it is yourself and your men that will not be unless you get yourself and your men back to your birlinn, quickly', whispered Mac. 'There is no time to waste; move now', and with that he disappeared into the night.
Donald Gorm moved quickly among his men, waking them and signalling that they should move out. This they did, quietly shutting the door behind them, so that it would appear they were still in the kiln. They swam out to their birlinn, raised sail, and quietly sailed out of Dunvegan Loch. Donald looked back just in time to see the kiln in flames. Rory Mor thought he had got his revenge on Donald Gorm, but instead he ended up burning down his own kiln, after laying on a good night's feast and drink for his arch enemy.