Eilean Donan Castle is said to be the most photographed castle in Scotland, and it's easy to see why. (I certainly have taken more photos of this castle than any other.) The castle stands in one of the most beautiful locations imaginable, on a tiny island where three lochs converge at Dornie. This island has served as a fortified site for over a thousand years, but the current castle is not yet a hundred years old. It was rebuilt between 1912 and 1932, with great love and determination by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap.
The name Eilean Donan means Island of Donan and was probably named after the 6th century saint, Bishop Donan. It is said he traveled from Ireland to the Dornie area of Scotland to spread Christianity. Several churches in the area are dedicated to Donan so it is likely he and his followers had a cell or community here on the island.
Another legend implies that the name comes from Cu-Donn, an otter, called the "brown dog" in Gaelic. It says when the King of the Otters died, his 'glittering robe of silver' was buried on the island beneath where the castle sits.
Eilean Donan is surrounded by three lochs--Loch Duich, Loch Alsh and Loch Long. It is easy to see whether the tide is in or out, depending on the level of the water under the bridge. The castle is most beautiful and picturesque when the tide is in and the castle reflects in the water. Even though it is surrounded by saltwater, there is a freshwater spring on the island. There is evidence that the island has been inhabited at least since the Iron Age. A castle was probably first built here in the early 1200s to defend the surrounding areas from Viking invasions. The fearsome Norse had raided, settled in and controlled a large portion of the north of Scotland and the Isles between the years 800 and 1266.
A fortified castle occupied the small island by the middle of the 13th century and was likely defended by a large garrison of men from land and sea invasions.
The castle here has taken on many forms over the centuries. The remains of the 13th - 14th century castle shows foundations of towers and a certain wall which are still visible. The wall enclosed about 3000 square meters, larger than any other subsequent time, and enclosed almost the whole island. The keep stood on the island's highest point. But a massive northern tower with 3 – 4 meter thick walls dominated the site. The wall also contained smaller towers and sea gates.
The castle is in a perfect strategic location at the meeting of the three lochs, to defend the Kintail area because they could monitor the comings and goings of boats, galleys or birlinns. These vessels were the main mode of transportation for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland during medieval times. After the Vikings ceased to be a threat, there was the conflict of feuding clans. Chiefs showed their strength by the number of men and birlinns they had. The boats were defended by archers and slingers. Birlinns had square sails to take advantage of the abundant wind in Scotland and most had between 12 and 40 oars. These boats were shorter than the similar Viking longships and more maneuverable.
|Click to Enlarge|
|A Birlinn Model (Click to Enlarge)|
|Eilean Donan as viewed from where Loch Long comes in.|
I'll continue my post about Eilean Donan Castle next week.