Ardnamurchan wasn’t always the peaceful corner of Scotland it is today. The fact that it’s a westerly peninsula with poor land access made it a highly desirable strategic stronghold for the ‘power barons’ of the past. With evidence of human habitation that goes back around 4,000 years it’s always been an ideal base for overseeing activities in Mull, Skye, the Argyll coast and Western Isles.
It’s no wonder the Vikings stayed here for over half a millennia, their reign coming to an end in the mid 13th century after the assassination of their tyrannical ruler, Mhuchdragain Mac Righ Lochluinn, in 1266. Mhuchdragain’s life came to a dramatic end when he was slain on the slopes of Ben Hiant by one of his vassals, Eoghan Cleireach. Visitors might notice the local landmarks around Ben Hiant whose names stem from Eoghan’s. Other more tangible remnants still remain – a Viking boat burial site was uncovered in October 2011. We’re regularly visited by various universities who continue to carry out archaeological field trips to further investigate this unique historic site.
Shortly after the dramatic events of the 13th century, Ardnamurchan became part of the feudal holdings of the Scottish King, David II. Mingary Castle was built between 1265 and 1295 by the MacDouglas of Lorne to serve 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. Three expeditions failed to quell this disquiet. 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. John MacIan was finally given the lands of Ardnamurchan in 1499 – redeeming himself in the eyes of the Crown but falling out with the other Islanders!
After the death of King James IV at Flodden, feuds once again erupted all across the Highlands and Islands. Mingary Castle suffered badly during this time; besieged in 1515 and again in 1517 when it was eventually destroyed by Sir Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh. Although it was rebuilt by Maclan shortly after, a further battle saw him and his two sons lose their lives. Their burial site lies nearby.
The torch was passed on to MacIan’s granddaughter, Mariada, who finally disposed of Ardnamurchan to Archibald, the 4th Earl of Argyll in 1540. This was not the end of the turmoil, nor the Maclans presence in the area though. In 1588 we find another, older, John MacIan residing at Mingary. Again, the Castle was besieged for three days by the MacLeans of Mull.
Although the two parties seem to have found reason, yet more trouble was brewing, this time between the Maclans and the Campbells. The Campbells won out and the Mclans were eventually dispossessed in 1626. Most of the MacIans were hunted down and killed in Morvern after a spate of piracy! Sir Donald Campbell took control of Mingary in 1628.
In July 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie landed at Loch nan Uamh near Arisaig and immediately set off for Kinlochmoidart. Being a Hanoverian and Campbell stronghold, his presence in this parish was not welcome by the local minister in Kilchoan (although many of his parishioners disagreed with this stance). The news of this controversial visitor quickly reached the Sheriff in Inveraray. The more welcoming realms of Dalilea in Lochaber was the nearest the Bonnie Prince came to Ardnamurchan.
After the ’45 rising, and to a certain extent as a result of it, the Highland Clearances took hold and Ardnamurchan was not spared. In 1828 the townships of Coire-mhuilinn, Skinnid, Bourblaige and Tornamoine were cleared and in 1853, the Swordle townships.
Since then the Estates have been sold several times, sometimes in parcels. Today they consist of the central third of the Peninsula (instead of the its entirety, as in the mid-19th century). Mingary has been restored (beyond its former glory!) thanks to the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust– and of course you can now book a stay in this striking piece of history. We imagine you’ll find it much more luxurious than visitors of centuries past would have!