Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan, Highlands


Dornie 8 miles E of Kyle of Lochalse




IV40 8DX

~ History ~

580 AD - The Irish saint, Bishop Donan, arrives in Scotland. It is from this early Christian holy man that the island of Donan is named. A small community of followers settle on Eilean (Island) Donan.

1220 - Alexander II builds a fortress on the site to protect himself against raids by the Vikings, who for a time control, much of the north Scotland and the Western Isles between 800 AD and 1266.

1270's - By the later 13th century Eilean Donan is held by Kenneth MacKenzie and in turn his successors.

1362 - The Clan MacRae arrive in Kintail from the Beauly Firth where they had given protection to the Clan Fraser. Here they soon became 'bodyguards' the the MacKenzie chiefs and are known as the "Mackenzies Coat of Mail", so beginning a long association between the clans. The MacRae's being infamous for displaying the heads of their foes along their battlements.

1504 - Despite disputes the Mackenzies hold Eilean Donan almost constantly until the 16th century. In 1504 Alexander Gordan, Earl of Huntly attempts to take it on behalf of James IV but his army are quickly defeated.

1511 - As protectors of the MacKenzies, the MacRaes formally become Constables of Eilean Donan with considerable control over the surrounding area.

1539 - A feud between the MacKenzies and the McLeods of Dunvegan, over the disputed claims of the Donald Gorm MacDonald to the title of the Lord of the Isles, comes to a head. MacDonald sails his 50 galleys to Eilean Donan there are only two men in the castle; the Constable John Dubh Matheson and a watchman. Realising their plight, another man Duncan MacRae goes to their aid. The MacDonalds beseige the castle and soon Duncan has only one arrow left. He waits, draws his bow, and hits Donald Gorm in the foot. Impatiently Donald pulls out the barbed arrow but severs an artery in doing so. After he dies his men return to set fire to the castle but with little success.

1618 - The reverend Mr Farquhar becomes Constable of Eilean Donan.

1651 - The Scottish Parliament garrison the castle but soldiers suffer so badly at the hands of the local people that they soon withdraw.

1654 - General Monk, Cromwell's Lieutenant, arrives with an army to take severe revenge on the area, plundering and burning.

1689 - King James VII of Scotland (James II of England) is deposed. Afterwards, his supporters make several attempts to return him to the throne. Later still they continue their fight to return his grandson, Charles Edward 'the bonnie Prince' to the throne.

1715 - The Jacobites meet at Eilean Donan on their way to fight at Sheriffmuir where John MacRae and many of his kin are killed in battle.

1719 - In the late spring of 1719 the castle is garrisoned for the Jacobites by 46 Spanish soldiers. Early morning on the 10th May three Government frigates are ordered to sail into Loch Duich. Whilst the smallest, the Flamborough, lays off, the other two, the 48 gun Worcester and the 44 gun Enterprise, bombard the castle. The Spanish garrison fight gallantly but within hours the ships guns reduce the castle to rubble. Afterwards, Captain Herdman goes ashore to accept the garrison's surrender and sets about to systematically blow up what is left of the castle. The castle remains in ruins for almost 200 hundred years.

Strategically located where three sea lochs meet - Loch Long, Loch Duich and Loch Alsh - Eilean Donan offers the perfect defensive position.

Dwarfed by the brooding hills surrounding the castle, Eilean Donan stands picturesquely on its rocky island which has been fortified for at least eight hundred years, since at least the iron age. Like may other castles positioned on the shores of the long sea lochs which break into the western seaboard, Eilean Donan stood guard here over the lands of Kintail.

From the mid 13th century, the western Highlands and Islands were seperate 'sea kingdoms' of the Lords of the Isles, where the sea was the main highway  of the feuding clan chieftains.