Eilean Donan’s History
The name Eilean Donan means island of Donan. It was most likely named after the 6th century Irish Saint, Bishop Donan, who came to Scotland around 580 AD. There are several churches dedicated to Donan in the area and he could have formed a small cell or community on the island during the late 7th century.
The first fortified structure was built in the 13th century as a defensive measure, protecting the lands of Kintail between 800 & 1266 against the Vikings who controlled, raided and settled much of Northern Scotland and the Western Isles. From the mid 13th century on, the sea became the main highway with the power of the feuding clan chiefs in this “Sea Kingdom” of the Lord of the Isles. Eilean Donan offered the perfect defensive position.
The castle has changed size over the centuries. The largest was the medieval castle, with towers and a curtain wall that encompassed nearly the entire island. The main keep stood on the island’s highest point. By the end of the 14th century, the castle area was reduced to a fifth of its original size. This was due to the number of men required to defend the castle. Canons were introduced by the 16th century on a hornwork firing platform added to the east wall.
The Jacobite Risings in Scotland
Eilean Donan also played a role in the Jacobite risings of the 17th and 18th centuries which resulted in the castle’s destruction.
In 1719 the castle was garrisoned by 46 Spanish soldiers who were supporting the Jacobites. They had established a magazine of gunpowder, and were awaiting the delivery of weapons and cannon from Spain. The English Government discovered the intended uprising and sent three heavily armed frigates The Flamborough, The Worcester, and The Enterprise to the area. The castle was bombarded for 3 days with limited success due to the enormous thick castle walls which were up to 14 feet thick in some places.
Finally, Captain Herdman of The Enterprise sent his men ashore and overwhelmed the Spanish defenders. Following the surrender, the government troops discovered the magazine of 343 barrels of gunpowder which was then used to blow up what had remained from the bombardment.
For 200 years, the ruins of Eilean Donan lay neglected and abandoned. Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911. Along with his Clerk of Works, Farquar Macrae, he dedicated the next 20 years of his life to the reconstruction of Eilean Donan, restoring her to her former glory. The castle was rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of earlier phases and was formally completed in the July of 1932.
Eilean Donan Today
Eilean Donan has starred in many films including:
Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948)
The Master of Ballantreee starring Errol Flynn (1953)
The New Avengers (1976)
Loch Ness (1996)
James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999)
A more recent movie was Made of Honour, a romantic comedy from 2008 starring Patrick Dempsey & Michelle Monaghan.
Besides movies, weddings are popular at the Castle. It’s well worth a visit if you are planning a trip to Scotland!