Mingary Castle Restoration
Mingary Castle stands by the sea a mile or so to the east of the village of Kilchoan – the interactive map (lower right) shows its exact location. It is a castle with a long and rich history, the seat of the Clan MacIain, a sept of Clan MacDonald and once one of the most powerful clans along the western coast of Scotland.
The name Mingary, or Mingarry, may be the anglicised version of Mioghairidh, but the exact meaning of the word is cause for dispute. A possible translation is that it is derived from two Norse words, mikil, meaning great, and gardhr, a garth or house, so ‘great house’ – though the name has been translated by some to mean ‘great land between machair and moor’.
That its name has a Norse derivation suggests that the site was occupied in the time of the Vikings, if not before, and evolved into a mediaeval castle site, for it is not an ideal defensive position. It stands in a wide bay, between the headlands of Rubha Aird an Iasgaich (Point of the Fishing Height), in the lee of which is the Calmac pier, and, just out of view below the above picture, Rubh’ a’ Mhile (Point of the Mile).
The castle itself is sited on a promontory formed of an igneous sill (see picture right – click to expand), with steep cliffs to south, west and east. A narrow neck of land connects it to the land to the north, which rises slowly, so the site is overlooked by hills. There is a better site: Rubha Aird an Iasgaich would have been far better, with the narrow isthmus connecting it to the land, or Glas Eilean, the next low headland in the picture, which is cut off at low tide and is very similar to the small island upon which Castle Tioram, north of Acharacle, was built.
Today, the stone of the curtain walls blend in to the landscape, but we know from recent archaeological work that the outsides of the walls were harled, and that their colour was a slightly pink shade of white. Like a lighthouse, the castle would have been visible from miles away, and its statement would have been that no-one passes the Sound of Mull without Mingary’s permission.
Whilst some ascribe the original construction of the castle to the MacDougalls, there is some debate here and it seems equally possible that it was a MacDonald castle from its inception. We hope to expose the various strands of evidence and supposition on this in more detail over forthcoming months … however it is clear that Mingary did become one of a chain of castles in the Lordship of the Isles, part of the great MacDonald fiefdom, and the seat of one of Clan MacDonald’s most important and powerful septs, Clan MacIain. The Lordship was almost a kingdom in its own right, for it often operated outside the jurisdiction of the Scottish king.
The longest and thickest wall is to the north, facing onto a neck of land which is cut by a defensive ditch 7.5m wide and 3m deep. There is a sea gate in the south wall, and a rock-cut stairway leads from the beach at the west to a land gate in the NW wall. The walls enclose a courtyard roughly 20m N-S and 18m E-W, within which rise three ranges of buildings. Sadly, the state of decay of this historic castle is such that its interior is inaccessible.
The Mingary Castle Trust, which was set up by Estate owner, Donald Houston has raised funds to bring the castle to it’s formal grandeur. This magnificent structure is now supported by a beautiful luxury hotels, whilst still maintaining it’s century old charm.