Rebuilt in 20th century
Eilean Donan (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Donnain) is a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh, in the western Highlands of Scotland. A picturesque castle that frequently appears in photographs, film and television dominates the island, which lies about 1 kilometre (5⁄8mi) from the village of Dornie. Since the castle's restoration in the early 20th century, a footbridge has connected the island to the mainland.
Eilean Donan is part of the Kintail National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland. In 2001, the island had a recorded population of just one person, but there were no 'usual residents' at the time of the 2011 census.
Eilean Donan, which means simply 'island of Donnán', is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. Donnán is said to have established a church on the island, though no trace of this remains.
The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan MacRae. In the early eighteenth century, the Mackenzies' involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle's destruction by government ships. Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap's twentieth-century reconstruction of the ruins produced the present buildings.
It is possible that an early Christian monastic cell was founded on the island in the 6th or 7th century, dedicated to Donnán of Eigg, an Irish saint who was martyred on Eigg in April 617. No remains of any Christian buildings survive, though fragments of vitrified stone, subjected to very high temperatures, have been discovered indicating the presence of an Iron Age or early medieval fortification.
In the earlier thirteenth century, during the reign of Alexander II (ruled 1214–1249), a large curtain-wall castle (wall of enceinte) was constructed that enclosed much of the island. At this time the area was at the boundary of the Norse-Celtic Lordship of the Isles and the Earldom of Ross: Eilean Donan provided a strong defensive position against Norse expeditions. A founding legend relates that the son of a chief of the Mathesons acquired the power of communicating with the birds. As a result, and after many adventures overseas, he gained wealth, power, and the respect of Alexander II, who asked him to build the castle to defend his realm.
At a later date, the island became a stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail, originally vassals of William I, Earl of Ross. At this early stage, the castle is said to have been garrisoned by Macraes and Maclennans, both clans that were later closely associated with the Mackenzies. Traditional Mackenzie clan histories relate that Earl William sought advantage from the Treaty of Perth of 1266, by which King Magnus VI of Norway ceded the Hebrides to Scotland, and demanded that his kinsman Kenneth Mackenzie return the castle to allow his expansion into the islands. Mackenzie refused, and Earl William led an assault against Eilean Donan that the Mackenzies and their allies repulsed.
The Mackenzie clan histories also claim (with little, if any, supporting contemporary evidence), that Robert the Bruce sheltered at Eilean Donan during the winter of 1306 to 1307; the castle escaped any other involvement in the Wars of Scottish Independence. In 1331 Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, sent an officer to Eilean Donan to warn the occupants of his forthcoming visit. In preparation 50 wrongdoers were rounded up and executed, their heads being displayed on the castle walls to Moray's approval. By the middle of the 14th century the Mackenzies are said to have been on the losing side in the ongoing feuding with the Earls of Ross. William III, Earl of Ross granted Kintail to Raghnall Mac Ruaidhrí in 1342. With the assistance of Leod Macgilleandrais, the Earl allegedly apprehended Kenneth Mackenzie, 3rd of Kintail, and had him executed in 1346 at Inverness. Through this period Eilean Donan is said to have been held by Duncan Macaulay for the Mackenzies, against the Earl and his allies. Kenneth's young son Murdo Mackenzie supposedly evaded the Earl's attempts to eliminate him, and on the return of David II from exile Murdo Mackenzie was allegedly confirmed in the lands of Kintail and Eilean Donan by a charter of 1362 (of which, however, no trace survives to the present day). At some point in the earlier 14th century it is thought that the Clan Macrae began to settle in Kintail as a body, having migrated from the Beauly Firth, and there gained the trust of the Mackenzie lairds through possible kinship and an advantageous marriage. The Macraes began to act as Mackenzie's bodyguards, acquiring the soubriquet 'Mackenzie's shirt of mail'.
James I, determined to pacify the Highlands, journeyed to Inverness in 1427 and invited the principal chiefs to meet him there. Allegedly among them was the young Alexander Mackenzie, 6th Earl of Kintail. James then arrested him, along with the other chiefs, on their arrival. Mackenzie clan histories relate that, although several chiefs were executed or imprisoned, Alexander, due to his youth, was instead sent to Perth to attend school. Alexander's uncles attempted to seize control of Kintail, but the constable Duncan Macaulay continued to hold Eilean Donan on his behalf. Fionnla Dubh mac Gillechriosd, considered by clan historians to be the founder of the Clan Macrae in Kintail, was dispatched to fetch the young laird back. During his lairdship Alexander appears to have supported the monarchy against the MacDonald Lords of the Isles and was allegedly rewarded by another charter of Kintail in 1463. Alexander died in about 1488 at a great age, and was succeeded by Kenneth Mackenzie, 7th of Kintail who won the Battle of Blar Na Pairce against the MacDonalds. Kenneth died a few years later and was succeeded first by his eldest son, then on his death in 1497 by his second son, John of Killin, who was still a minor. His uncle, Hector Roy Mackenzie, attempted to usurp the Mackenzie lands and installed his own constable in Eilean Donan, Malcolm Mac Ian Charrich Macrae. Hector's lawless activities caused the Mackenzies to be branded rebels, and in 1503 the Earl of Huntly offered to deliver Eilean Donan to the king, and to hold it on his behalf. James IV supplied a ship to support the enterprise. Eventually, John compelled his uncle to relinquish his claim, and Hector agreed to hand over Eilean Donan. The constable refused however, and John's supporters laid siege. Malcolm Mac Ian Charrich was eventually persuaded by Hector to relinquish the castle, after which he was dismissed as constable and Christopher Macrae (Gillechriosd Mac Fionnlagh Mhic Rath) was appointed in his place in around 1511. John of Killin obtained a further charter of Kintail and Eilean Donan in 1509.
In 1539, Donald Gorm Macdonald of Sleat ravaged the lands of MacLeod of Dunvegan on Skye, and then attacked the Mackenzie lands of Kinlochewe, where Miles (Maolmure), brother of Christopher Macrae, was killed. After a series of retaliatory raids, Donald Gorm learned that Eilean Donan was weakly garrisoned and launched a surprise attack. In fact, only two people were in the castle: the recently appointed constable Iain Dubh Matheson and the warden. Duncan MacGillechriosd of the Clan Macrae, son of the former constable, arrived at the start of the attack and killed several MacDonalds at the postern gate. Arrows launched by the attackers killed Matheson and the warden, but MacGillechriosd managed to hit Donald Gorm with his last arrow, fatally wounding Gorm, and the Macdonalds retreated. Duncan MacGillechriosd expected to be appointed as the new constable but was considered too headstrong: the local clergyman John MacMhurchaidh Dhuibh (John Murchison) was appointed as a compromise between rival Macrae and Maclennan interests. Furious at this treatment, MacGillechriosd left Kintail and joined th...