May 8, 2023

Ardtornish Castle

The slab hunters were off again this morning to view one of the best collections of medieval grave slabs we have seen on the trip at Keil Church near Lochaline. The intricacies of the carvings are fascinating and sadly some of the slabs were re-purposed by the Victorians who carved inscriptions over the original artwork and used them for someone else.  I wondered if the warriors and clerics who commissioned these works for themselves expected to be remembered forever.  Did they have them created to show their wealth or as legacies? Suppose we will never know. Also interesting to note that one does not find any graves or mention of burials of the women. 

Second stop of the day was Ardtornish castle, an amazing ruin requiring a 3 mile hike to reach it.  According to the website “The castle served as a residence and strong hold for the Lords of the Isles (chiefs of the Clan Donald) in 14th and 15th centuries. John of Islay (6th chief of Clan Donald) is reported to have died at Ardtornish Castle. The castle has served as a backdrop to ambition, greed, intrigue, political alliance and treason. For example, the Treaty of Westminster-Ardtornish is believed to have been negotiated at the castle, offering allegiance to the King of England (Edward IV) in return for the acquisition of considerable land (north of the Forth) and money to John of Isla (4th Lord of the Isles) and his kinsmen Donald of Balloch of Dunnuyvaig and Earl of Douglas. The treaty, signed in 1462, was later to herald the downfall of John of Isla and the forfeiture of many of his titles and vast lands of Clan MacDonald, when James III (of Scotland) heard of the treachery. John retained the title of Lord of the Isles, but the title was stripped of its inheritance legacy.

These events led to John being challenged and eventually overthrown as chief by his son, Angus Óg. James IV of Scotland later stripped John of Isla of his title in 1493.

The castle was eventually acquired by Clan MacLean, only later to be abandoned in the late 1600s. The land and castle were eventually lost to the Campbells.”