Dunyvaig Castle

Dunyvaig Castle, Isle of Islay

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Lagavulin Bay,

2.5 miles from Port Ellen





Dunyvaig is located on the southern coast of Islay, and is one of Islay‚Äôs  most important historic sites. It was once the naval fortress of the Lords of the Isles, the chiefs of the Clan MacDonald. Although the current remains of the castle are predominately of the 16th century, its foundations are undoubtedly much earlier and it may have been constructed on top of a prehistoric dun or fort.

~ History ~ 

1270's ~ Donald, grandson of Somerled the mighty, Lord of the isles, builds a stronghold 'Dun of the little ships' to protect the sheltered bay of Lagavulin on the southern end of Islay, for his fleet of nyvaigs (little ships). The stronghold is later referred to as Dunyvaig.

1400 ~ John Mor Tanister, second son of John MacDonald Lord of the Isles, and his second wife Margaret Stewart, is styled Lord of Dunyveg and Glennis, with his estates covering both MacDonald's Islay and Antrim in Northern Island through marriage. He also receives from his father 3,600 acres in Kintyre in addition to his 1,800 acres on Islay. His family later become known as Lords of Isla and Kintyre.

1493 ~ John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, forfeits his kingdom to King James IV of Scotland, and with it Dunyvaig Castle. The castle passes to the MacIans, despite the castle's keeper rebelling against the Crown.

1515 ~ The MacDonald's return and attack the castle, laying siege to the MacIan garrison.

1519 ~ Dunyvaig castle is leased back to the MacDonald's.

1543 ~ The MacDonald's arch-rivals the Campbells manage to get their hands on Dunyvaig castle which generates further disputes between the clans. They eventually lease it back to clan MacDonald.

1580's ~ The castle is besieged during clan fued between the MacDonald's and MacLean's.

1596 ~ The castle is taken into Royal custody.

1598 ~ The last MacDonald of Dunyvaig defeats the MacLeans of Duart at the Battle of Gruinart.

Despite the Isle of Islay having belonged to Clan MacDonald for many centuries, their leader Sir James MacDonald, 9th of Dunnyveg, the son of Clan chief Angus MacDonald, who he had recently imprisoned, had his claim to the island challenged by Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean, his uncle.

Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean lands 800 men at Loch Ghruinneart to force this issue. James MacDonald offers his uncle half of the island for MacLean's lifetime only, but he refuses unless he received the entire island.

Despite James MacDonald having fewer fighting men, they are all well trained. Allies to the Clan MacDonald are sent men from Kintyre and Arran, including Clan MacAlister, which are led by Angus MhicMhuirich of Arran.

MacDonald's forces feign a retreat toward the setting sun then turn around to fight with the sun in the eyes of their enemy.

The MacDonalds supported by the allies are victorious and the MacLeans are defeated.

dwarf named Dubh Sith (Black Fairy) is hidden in a tree and he kills Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean with a shot through his eye after he had removed his helmet revealing his identity.

With Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean and 280 of his men killed in battle, the rest are chased to their boats and some seek refuge in the chapel of Kilnave. The chapel is burnt down, killing all but one of the men inside.

Sir James MacDonald is seriously wounded after being shot through the body with an arrow. He is found after the battle amongst the dead MacDonalds, which also includes Angus MhicMhuirich of Arran.  About 30 MacDonalds are slain and 60 wounded.

Afterwards King James VI  of Scotland, awards the MacDonald lands to their bitterest enemies Clan Campbell, leading to an extension of centuries old feud.

1612 ~ Clan MacDonald's reign in Islay finally comes to an end  when Angus MacDonald, 8th of Dunnyveg, the father of Sir James, sells his land holdings to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor Castle. However, Alasdair Colkitto MacDonald captures the castle, only for it to be retaken by the Campbells three years later. Although Alasdair escapes, the rest of his men are either slain or later hanged.

1614 ~ The MacDonald's forcibly repossess the castle before being expelled after days of bombardment by Campbell canons.

1621 ~ Sir John Campbell of Cawdor receives ratification for his ownership of Islay, together with Dunyvaig Castle.

However the bitter fued with the MacDonald's continues.

1647 ~ Dunyvaig is besieged and taken by Colkitto MacDonald. The castle is finally retaken by a Covenanter army led by David Leslie who force the garrison into surrender when its water supply fails. Colkitto is finally captured and hanged from its walls.

1661 ~ Sir HighCampbell received ratification ofhis ownership of Islay & Dunyvaig Castle.

1667 ~ The Campbells abandon Dunyvaig castle, demolishing it before leaving.