The Estates - A Colourful History

Ardnamurchan may appear, today, to be rather a peaceful, quiet and remote corner of Scotland. However, the fact that it is a peninsula on the west coast with poor land access made it ideal for the "power barons" of the past. A base on this peninsula could be a highly important strategic fortification for overseeing activities in Mull, Skye, the Argyll coast and even as far as the Western Isles.

This is why the Vikings landed here and stayed for over 500 years - the names Placaig, Acarsaig, Ormsaig and Grigadale are all Norse in origin. But they were not the first settlers on the peninsula - there is evidence of ancient settlers going back 4,000 years.

The Vikings finally left Ardnamurchan in the mid 13th century having been challenged by a Scot called Somerled. The Vikings, once settlers, now became invaders and their rule came to an end with the assassination of the tyrannical ruler Muchdragon MacRi Lochlunn in 1266. He was slain on the slopes of Ben Hiant by one of his vassals Evun Cleireach. There are a few local landmarks to the north and west of Ben Hiant whose origins come from Evun's name.

With the demise of Viking rule, Ardnamurchan became part of the feudal holdings of the Scottish King David II. Mingary Castle was built around this time (circa 1400) and it served the needs of the Lords of the Isles against the wishes of the Crown. Feuding was common and the Crown found Ardnamurchan difficult to control. 3 expeditions tried to quell these feuds but all failed. When Angus, Lord of the Isles was assassinated in 1490, John MacIan, the new Chief of the MacIans, decided to favour the Crown and King James IV visited the Castle in 1493. However, John MacIan soon fell out of favour but managed to redeem himself and was finally given the lands of Ardnamurchan in 1499 - redeeming himself in the eyes of the Crown but falling out with the other Islanders!

In 1513, King James IV was killed at Flodden leaving a very young son as King. As a result of the Crown's perceived weakness, feuds again enveloped the highlands and islands. Mingary Castle was besieged in 1515 and again in 1517 when it was eventually destroyed by Sir Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh. The Castle was re-built by MacIan but a further battle just south of Craig-an-Airgid (GR 474665) in 1519 put paid to MacIan and his two sons who are buried near this spot.

MacIan's grand-daughter, Mariada, finally disposed of Ardnamurchan to Archibald, the 4th Earl of Argyll in 1540. In 1588, however, we find another, older, John MacIan residing at Mingary. The Castle was again besieged for 3 days by the MacLeans of Mull. Common sense seems to have broken out at this stage and the feuding families appear to have come to an agreement to end this particular feud but it was the start of another, with the Campbells this time, who eventually dispossessed the MacIans in 1626. The MacIans were hunted down and most of them killed in Morvern after a spate of piracy!

In 1628 the Castle passed into the hands of Sir Donald Campbell but nothing of note appears to happen after 1644 although the structure was still inhabited in 1838.

In July 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie landed at Loch nan Uamh near Arisaig and immediately set off for Kinlochmoidart. Being a Hanoverian, Campbell, stronghold, his presence in this parish was not welcome by the local minister in Kilchoan although it was by many of his parishioners. He very quickly broke the news to the Sheriff in Inveraray. Dalilea was the nearest the Bonnie Prince came to Ardnamurchan preferring to hide in the more welcoming realms of Lochaber.

After the '45 rising and to a certain extent, as a result of it, the Highland Clearances took hold in the Highlands and Islands and Ardnamurchan was not spared. In 1828 the townships of Coire-mhuilinn, Skinod, Buarblaig and Tornamona were cleared and in 1853, the Swordle townships.

Since then the estates have been sold several times, sometimes in parcels until today when the estates now consists of the central third of the peninsula instead of the whole peninsula as in the mid 19th century.

The history of this remote area of west coast Scotland is fascinating, sometimes harsh and violent and often sad but, above all, it has been highly prized not only by the power barons of medieval times but by the people it has housed, sheltered and sustained over the centuries.

 Mingary Castle is currently being restored by the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust - click here to visit their website.

A Viking boat burial site was also uncovered on the Peninsula in October 2011 – click here for more details. Several universities continue to carry out regular archaeological field trips to further investigate this unique historic site.

Read more about the estates.

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