CASTLES, Cathedrals, Abbeys and Stately Homes 


Eilean Donan Castle

Historically, the castle, like most in these parts, has had a rather chequered past. Originally built in 1220 by Alexander II as a defence against the Vikings, it subsequently became a stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail (later the Earls of Seaforth) who installed the MacRaes as hereditory keepers. Then in 1719, it was destroyed whilst acting as a garrison for Spanish troops fighting for the Jacobite cause on behalf of the 5th Earl of Seaforth. Restoration work was only started two hundred years later and not completed until 1932. 

This century it has become one of Scotland most photographed castles thanks to its picturesque setting on an islet in Loch Duich by the main road to Kyle of Lochalsh (gateway to the Isle of Skye).


In 1984 it featured in the movie Highlander with Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. In the Billeting Room there are 3 b/w photographs taken of the set during filming and these can be bought in the visitor centre. Other movies have featured the castle since it is so picturesque.

The origins of Eilean Donan stretch way back in time. The remains of a Pictish fort were found in vitrified rock when excavations once took place on the island. Opposite the castle is the sculptured impression of a human foot in a stone. These have been found in other parts of Scotland at the entrance to Iron Age settlements.

The name Eilean Donan is Gaelic for Island of Donan, a 7th century saint who is thought to have lived here as a religious hermit.

Information boards displayed at the castle state that:

The missionary work of Abbot Donan (who was reputedly a contemporary of famous Saint Columba) took him from SW Scotland through Ayrshire northwards and into Sutherland. Presumably he then passed westwards for churches bearing his name exist in Loch Carron, Loch Broom, Kildonan in Skye and at Eilean Donan where a small oratory or cell stood. He then moved to a monastic foundation on Eigg where while celebrating the Holy Eucharist on Sunday 17 April 618 the monastery was raided by a band of marauders and Abbot Donan together with 52 of his companions were beheaded.

"...and there came robbers of the sea on a certain time to the island when he was celebrating mass. He requested of them not to kill him until the mass said, and they gave him this respite; and he was afterwards beheaded and 52 of his monks along with him."
Extract from the Martyrology of Donegal.

There is another interesting story about the origins of the castle's name. A local legend speaks of the King of Otters who made his home on this islet and was distinguished by his coat of pure silver and white. When the creature died, he was buried on the spot where the castle now stands. Since the Gaelic for otter is 'Cu-Donn' (brown dog) some believe that this is how Eilean Donan got its name. A good story, but unlikely to be true!

The castle at this time may well be that whose outer defences are now only faintly visible in part around the island well beyond the contracted defences of its successor. Traditionally, it is believed that in the early part of the 14th century, Robert the Bruce, out of favour with many of the clan chiefs as well as being hunted by the English, was given refuge in Eilean Donan Castle by John MacKenzie, Second of Kintail. Later in 1331 the fortunes of Robert the Bruce had changed. He had defeated his enemies and established his position as King of Scotland. He sent his nephew Randolph, Earl of Moray and Warden of Scotland, to Kintail.



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