Seals of the Burghs of Argyll

Seal of the Royal Burgh of Campbeltown, Argyll.

CAMPBELTOWN is built on what was originally the seat of the Dalriadan monarchy. About the middle of the third century Cormac, King of Ireland, quelled a dispute which had arisen between two tribes, and during this civil war Cormac’s cousin, Cairbre-Riada, conquered a district in the north-east of Ireland, which he called Dalriada, or the portion of Riada. About 503 A.D. the three sons of Erc, the then King of Dalriada, named respectively Loarn, Fergus, and Angus, settled a colony on the promontory of Cantyre, which was effected by peaceful means. These three chiefs then each took possession of a separate territory. Fergus took Cantyre, Loarn took what is now known as the district of Lorne, and Angus is said to have taken possession of Isla. When Campbeltown was the seat of the Dalriadan monarchy it bore the name of Dalruadhain. In the sixth century St. Ciarnan landed here, and lived in a cave known as Cove-a-Chiarnan. He became the patron saint of all Cantyre or Kintyre, and having founded a church at Dalruadhain, the place became known as Chille-a-Chiarnan, which has been modernised to Kilkerran. After this the Macdonalds of the Isles took Kilkerran for a capital, built a castle, and rebuilt the town, calling it Kinlochkerran, which means the head of Ciarnan’s Loch. It is said that King James IV. built the castle, and called it his “new castle of Kilkerane in Kintyre.” He seemed to have resided here in 1498. King James V. had many conflicts with the Macdonalds, and as he was unable to subdue them, he granted the place to the Campbells of Argyle, and they, after many fierce struggles, almost depopulated it. On account of this grant the place once more changed its name, and has since been known as Campbeltown.

The town was erected into a Royal Burgh in 1700, and the charter states that this was done at the desire of Archibald, the tenth Earl of Argyll, who was made Duke of Argyll in the following year. Previous to this it had been a Burgh of Barony, and the charter quotes a charter of King James VI., which ordained that “for the better entertaining and continuing of civility and policy within the Hielandes and lies,” . . . “that there be erected and builded within the bounds thereof, three burghes and burrowetowns, in the maist conuenient and commodious partes meet for the samen; to wit, ane in Kintyre, another in Lochaber, and the third in the Lewis.”

The Seal of the Burgh of Campbeltown is as follows: A shield divided into four. In the first quarter a castle; the second quarter gyronny of eight; the third quarter a lymphad, with sail furled and oars in action; and in the fourth quarter a fret. Beneath is the motto, “Ignavis precibus fortuna repugnat,” meaning “Fate is deaf to idle prayers.”

The castle represents the old castle of Campbeltown, the site of which is now occupied by the parish church, which was built in 1780.

The gyronny of eight is the armorial bearings of the Clan Campbell. Nisbet speaks of the gyronny as follows: “The giron is a French word which signifies the lap—one sitting with knees apart if line drawn from one knee to the other the space within makes a giron with the point in gremio. So all girons are of a triangular or conal form, broad at one end and sharp at the other. The first is at the sides of the shield, and the other ends at the naval, or centre point of the shield. They are said to represent triangular pieces of stuff, commonly called gussets, placed in garments and women’s smokes, to make them wide below and narrow above.  . . . This armorial figure is frequent in armorial bearings in Europe, and . . . has its rise in armouries from the robes, gowns, and coats of armour used by the ancients.”

The lymphad, an old-fashioned ship with one mast and oars, is the armorial bearings of the ancient House of Lorne, because in ancient times the Island chiefs held their lands under the tenure of providing one or more ships for the use of the sovereign.

The fret sable is the armorial bearings of Baron Tollemache. At the time of the erection of the Burgh, Lady Elizabeth Tollemache was the wife of the then Earl of Argyll, and the device was adopted by the Burgh in compliment to her. The fret is a figure composed of a narrow saltire or cross and a mascle, which are interlaced. Nisbet says that the mascle “is a lozenge voided of the field—i.e., with the centre cut out. Heralds make it represent different things—the eye or ring to fasten a coat of mail. Others the mesh of a net; others mirrors.” And regarding the fret, he says: “Mr Thomas Crawford, in the fragments of his ‘Manuscript of Heraldry,’ . . . says the fret is . . . a badge of fastness and fidelity, like a knot or tie of ribbons . . . is called by some English heralds the herald’s love-knot, because it is devised by them as an armorial bearing.” In Seton’s “Heraldry” it is said that the origin of the lozenge has been variously accounted for, and Sylvanus Morgan says that while the form of the shield was taken from Adam’s spade, that of the lozenge was derived from Eve’s spindle.

Seal of the Royal Burgh of Inveraray, Argyll.

THE earliest notice of Inverary is in a charter dated 8th May 1472 granted to Colin, first Earl of Argyll, erecting Inverary, or “Inoureyra” as it is there spelt, into a Burgh of Barony. It takes its name from being situated “on the Aray,” and Queen Mary in 1554 “for policie to be hade within this realme, and increasing of vertue within the samyn, created the burgh of the Innerrara a free royal burgh forever—appointed Archibald, Earl of Ergile, customer of the burgh for life, and gave power to the Provost, Baillies, Councillors, community and inhabitants to build a pretorium for the administration of justice.” This “pretorium” was used till about 1754, and was the first of the kind in Argyleshire. Then another court house and prison were built, which is now used by the Chamberlain of Argyll as an office. The town obtained another charter from King Charles I. in 1648.

The Seal bears in the centre a shield, with horizontal wavy lines representing the sea, and with five herrings swimming into a net which is shown suspended at one side. Above the shield is the name Inverary, and surrounding the lower part, the motto “Semper tibi pendeat halec” which may be freely translated “May the fish sauce always be ready for you.”

As the principal industry of the Burgh is the herring fishing in Lochfyne, the design speaks for itself, and is intended to represent a net set in the loch with herrings entering it.

The motto, however, requires a word of explanation, as it seems to refer to the fishing industry being the most important of all industries, and the Lochfyne herrings being the finest of all fish. The Latin word halec or alec is translated in dictionaries as “the sediment of a costly fish sauce called garum; and the meaning of garum is given as “a thick sauce-fish sauce.” This garum was much used by the Romans in almost all their dishes, and seems to have been very expensive. It is said that the most esteemed was that which came from Antipolis and Dalmatia, but Horace praises that made at Byzance, and says that it was considered the best as well as the most expensive. Pliny says that garum is a liquid of a very exquisite nature made from the intestines of fish, and several parts which would otherwise be discarded. These are macerated in salt, and, he says, garum is, in fact, the result of their putrefaction. He also remarks that it was originally prepared from a fish called “garos” by the Greeks. He then proceeds to speak of “alec” which, he says, is the refuse of garum, or its dregs when imperfectly strained. He also tells us that in course of time this alec became a great object of luxury, and that an infinite number of different kinds of it were made, and he adds that garum also became much improved, and was made to resemble the colour of old honied wine, and that it was so pleasantly flavoured as to admit of being drunk as a beverage. Possibly the Romans knew the delicacy of the Lochfyne herrings, and from their indulgence in them, or the alec made from them, the motto may have originated.

From time immemorial this part of Lochfyne has been celebrated for its herrings, and the “Old Statistical Account” says that the harbour of Inverary was anciently called Slochk Ichopper, meaning a Gullet where vessels bought or bartered for fish, and it goes on to say that “anciently the French merchants used to come and barter their wines for herrings, as there is a point of land, about 3 miles south of Inverary, still called the Frenchman’s point; and the tradition of the country is that it was to that particular spot the herrings were in use to be brought, in order to be cured and sold.”

Seal of the Burgh of Lochgilphead, Argyll.

LOCHGILPHEAD came under the provisions of the various previous Police Acts in 1858, and under the Burgh Police Act of 1892 adopted as the Common Seal a design illustrative of the fishing industries of the place. The Seal is—On a shield an anchor with a cable, and across the anchor and in front is a herring. The whole is encircled by a cable. Beneath, as the motto, is the Gaelic word “Dochas” meaning “Hope.”

Loch Gilp, at the “head” of which the town is situated, is said to take its name from the Gaelic Gilb meaning a chisel, from the shape of the loch bearing a fancied resemblance to that tool.

Seal of the Burgh of Oban, Argyll.

THE “Old Statistical Account” tells us that about 1714 the first house of any consequence was erected in Oban by a trading company of Renfrew, which used it as a storeroom. In 1736 a custom-house was erected “Oban being reckoned a proper place for clearing out vessels for the herring fishery.” About 1774 “there were from 20 to 30 vessels registered at Oban which were chiefly employed in the fisheries; but from the decrease of that trade on the N.-W. coast the number of vessels is now much smaller.” In 1811 it was erected into a Burgh of Barony in favour of the Duke of Argyll. But the Court of Session afterwards set this charter aside, and another charter was granted in 1820 in favour of the Duke of Argyll and Mr Campbell of Combie. The town was made a Parliamentary Burgh in 1833.

The Seal of the Burgh is a shield in the base of which is a representation of the galley of Lorn with oars in action, and beneath, in the sea, a fish swimming. In the left hand chief is a lion rampant, the Scottish Arms; and in the right hand chief the Campbell Gyronny. The motto beneath “Air aghart” is in old Celtic characters, and is the Gaelic for “Forward.” The fish refers to the nature of the industry long carried on by the inhabitants of the town before it became famous as a watering-place.

Seal of the Burgh of Dunoon, Argyll.

DUNOON adopted the Lindsay Act of 1862 in that year, and, under the provisions of the Burgh Police Act of 1892, took the following device as the Common Seal of the Burgh.

The lower division of the shield on the Seal bears a representation of the ancient Castle of Dunoon, beneath the shadow of which the town of Old Dunoon arose. The old castle, which crowned a rocky headland between the east and west bays, takes one back into the dark mists of antiquity. Some antiquarians think it was founded by remote Dalriadic chieftains in the early years of the sixth century, and, later on, to have been a stronghold of Scandinavian rovers. Some allege that it was at one time a nunnery, and that the name of the town comes from the Gaelic Dun-no-oigh, meaning “the house of the virgins.” But the origin of the name is uncertain, though Buchanan derives it from the Gaelic dun, a castle, and nuadh, new, and calls it Novio-dunum.

From the reign of Malcolm Canmore the castle was the seat of the Lord High Stewards of Scotland, and when King Robert II., son of Walter Stewart, and grandson of King Robert Bruce, came to the throne, it became a Royal palace, and was placed under the hereditary keepership of the Campbells of Lochow, the ancestors of the Dukes of Argyll. As they lived in it, their vassals and attendants had houses built in the neighbourhood for them to reside in, which houses were the origin of the town, and the ferry between this place and Greenock gave an additional importance to it. Part of the feudal tenure by which one of the proprietors in the vicinity holds his lands is that of maintaining this ferry across the Clyde.

The castle seemed to have covered an acre of ground, and to have had three towers. By Royal charter of 1472, Colin, Earl of Argyll, Lorne, and Campbell, obtained certain lands round the Castle of Dunoon. These lands he held of the crown for a white rose, shown at the bottom of the Seal. In 1544 the castle was besieged and taken by the Earl of Lennox, who had desired to be Regent during the infancy of Mary Queen of Scots, and on 26th July 1563 Queen Mary herself visited it. In 1646 it was the scene of a cruel atrocity perpetrated by the Campbells on the Lamonts of Cowal and Bute. Thirty-six of these were conveyed from the houses of Escog and Castle-Toward to the village of Dunoon and hanged on an ash tree at the kirkyard. “Insomuch that the Lord from heaven did declare His wrath and displeasure by striking the said tree immediately thereafter, so that the whole leaves fell from it, and the tree withered, which, being cut down, there sprang out of the very heart of the root thereof a spring like unto blood purpling up, and that for several years till the said murderers or their favourers did cause howk out the root.” After this the castle was utterly neglected and fell to ruin. Its stones were taken to build neighbouring cottages, and now its outline can hardly be traced, but it is believed there are a vast number of vaults underground.

The upper division of the shield bears a steamboat, indicating that the town received a new lease of life by the introduction of steamers on the Clyde. The shield is surrounded by Scotch thistles, and the recently added motto, “Forward,” shows that continuous prosperity is looked for.

Seal of the Burgh of Tobermory, Mull, Argyll.

TOBERMORY, in the island of Mull, was founded in 1788 by “The British Society for extending the Fisheries and improving the Sea coasts of the Kingdom.” In 1875 it adopted the Lindsay Act, and under the Burgh Police Act of 1892 designed a Common Seal as follows:—

On a background of thistles a shield divided into four. The first quarter bears a representation of the Virgin and Child, the Virgin being the patron saint of the Burgh, hence the origin of the name from the Gaelic Tobar Moire, the Well of the Virgin Mary. This was originally a fountain which, in the days of popery, was dedicated to the Virgin. In the second quarter is a dolphin spouting water; in the third, an ancient galley with flags on the mast and at the stern; and in the fourth, a fish, probably a herring. These three latter devices are emblematic of the scheme for the foundation of the town, and its subsequent development as a fishing centre.

Regarding the dolphin, we are told by Nisbet: “The dolphin is taken for the King of Fishes . . . for his strength and swiftness in the pursuit of other fishes his prey, and is said to be an admirer of men, so as to be humane, and a lover of music, for which he is often used in arms and devices. Ulysses is said by Aldrovandus to have carried the dolphin on his shield. . . . Hopingius says, that Ulysses carried the dolphin on his shield and signet-ring, upon the account of that creature’s humanity for saving his son Telemachus when he fell into the sea.”

The motto “Ceartas” is a Gaelic word, meaning justice or equity.

— Porteous, Alexander, The Town Council Seals of Scotland; Historical, Legendary and Heraldic, Edinburgh: W. & A. K. Johnson, 1906.

One Red Rose

Postcard showing Castle Hill and the Castle Gardens, Dunoon, Argyll.

Charter under the Great Seal by King James III. to Colin Earl of Argyll, of the keeping of the Castle of Dunoon in Cowall.—18 Jan. 1472.

Jacobus Dei gratia Rex Scotorum Omnibus probis hominibus tocius terre sue clericis et laicis salutem. Sciatis quod commisimus, et tenore presentium committimus dilecto consanguineo nostro Colino Comiti de Ergile, Domino Lorn et Cambell, Magistro hospicii nostri, custodiam castri nostri de Dunvne, cum potestate constabularios, janitores, carcerum custodes, vigiles, ac ceteros Officiarios ad dicti Castri custodiam necessarios, constituendi, ac eosdem de suis officiis quotiens opus fuerit remouendi, et alios eorum loco imponendi; ac omnia alia et singula faciendi et perimplendi que ad dicti castri nostri custodiam necessaria fuerunt seu etiam oportuna. Pro cuiusquidem castri nostri custodia concessimus, et per presentes concedimus, et donamus, et pro perpetuo confirmamus eidem Colino, terras nostras de Bordlande cum pertinen, extenden, annuatim ad viginti septem marcas vsualis monete Regni nostri, jacen. in balliatu de Cowale, cum ceteris feodis ad custodiam dicti castri spectan. Tenend. et habend, custodiam dicti castri nostri de Dunvne, vnacum terris de Bordlande pro custodia eiusdem, dicto Colino et heredibus suis, de nobis heredibus et successoribus nostris in feodo et hereditate imperpetuum, cum omnibus et singulis libertatibus, commoditatibus, et asiamentis, ac justis suis pertinentiis quibuscunque, tam non nominatis quam nominatis, ad dictum officium custodie castri, et ad prefatas terras cum pertinen, spectan, seu quouismodo juste spectare valen. in futurum, adeo libere, quiete, plenarie, integre, honorifice, bene et in pace, sine reucatione aut retinemento nostri vel successorum nostrorum quorumcunque. Reddendo inde annuatim dictus Colinus et heredes sui nobis, heredibus, et successoribus nostris, vnam rosam rubeam, apud dictum castrum, pro dictis terris et officio, in festo natiuitatis beati Johannis Baptiste, nomine albe firme, si petatur. In cuius Rei testimonium presenti carte nostre magnum Sigillum nostrum apponi precipimus. Testibus reuerendis in Christo patribus Thoma Episcopo Aberdonensi, &c. Apud Edinburgh, decimo octauo die mensis Januarii Anno Domini millesimo quadringentesimo septuagesimo secundo, et Regni nostri Decimo tertio.—[Reg. Mag. Sig. VII. 189.]

The Campbells and Boar’s Hill Farm

Clach Dhiarmaid, Diarmaid's Pillar, near to Torr an tuirc and Loch Nell, from R. Angus Smith, Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach, London, 1885.
Clach Dhiarmaid, Diarmaid’s Pillar, near to Torr an tuirc and Loch Nell, from R. Angus Smith, Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach, London, 1885.

How the Campbells came into possession of Torr-an-tuirc.

TORR-AN-TUIRC is partly an arable but chiefly a grazing hill-farm,
and is situated at the north-east corner of Lochnell (Loch-nan-eala).
This farm gave its name to a property which comprised several farms—viz., Torr-an-tuirc, Cabrachan, Kilmore (A’ Chill-mhòr), Dailnacàbaig, Kille-choinnich (Cille-Choinnich), Srontoilleir, and Baile-ghobhainn—all lying around Lochnell. This property belonged at one time to a family of MacDougalls, who were called the MacDougalls of Torr-an-tuirc. The last of them was an unmarried man who had no heirs, or at least none to whom he was inclined to bequeath his property. When he was well advanced in years it occurred to him that it was proper for him to settle it on some one. From a feeling of friendship to the Dunollie family, and of loyalty to his clan, he resolved to make it over to the laird of Dunollie’s second son. He went on a certain day to Dunollie (Dunolla) Castle with this object in view, taking with him the title-deeds. On entering the hall he unbuckled his sword and left it there. When he was shown into the room where his chief was, he informed him of the business on which he had come, and handed to him the title-deeds of Torr-an-tuirc. While these two worthies were together settling affairs, some of the idlers (there were generally plenty of such about the mansions of Highland families in the olden time) about the castle bethought them of playing a practical joke on the old laird of Torr-an-tuirc. Taking the sword out of its scabbard, they poured water into the scabbard and placed it against the wall, with the sword beside it. When the laird of Torr-an-tuirc came down to the hall and put the sword back into the scabbard, the water squirted on his hands. Resenting at once what he regarded as an indignity, he returned to the room where the chief was and demanded back the title-deeds, alleging that a clause had been omitted which would require to be supplied. They were given back to him at once. He no sooner received them than he took his departure, mounted his horse, and rode to Inverary (Ionaraora), where he made over the property to the Earl of Argyll’s second son. This was John Gorm, the first of the Campbells of Lochnell, with whom the property has continued ever since.

The date of the subject of this tale is about 1500.

Note.—Cabrachan was given by John Gorm to his son John, who was called John òg of Cabrachan.

— Lord Archibald Campbell’s Records of Argyll (1885).

How the Galley for Lorne Came to the Campbells

Arms of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell; Quarterly, 1st & 4th: Gyronny of eight or and sable (Campbell); 2nd & 3rd: Argent, a lymphad or ancient galley sails furled flags and pennants flying gules and oars in action sable (Lorne).
Arms of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell; Quarterly, 1st & 4th: Gyronny of eight or and sable (Campbell); 2nd & 3rd: Argent, a lymphad or ancient galley sails furled flags and pennants flying gules and oars in action sable (Lorne).

(These notes on the Galley for Lorne are based upon letters which appeared in the ‘Scotsman,’ signed “Ergadiensis,” “T.H.I.S.,” and “Mr H.D. Smith,” all of whom wrote in answer to letters from me in the  ‘Scotsman’ or ‘Glasgow Herald.’ — Ed.)

THE charter […] 1470 was no confirmation of the heiresses’ claim to Lorne, for none of the respective husbands ever made any claim through them; it was the sequel of a long tragedy. In 1463, John Stewart, Lord Lorne, was murdered at Dunstaffnage by a MacDougall, to prevent him legitimising his son Dugald; but he lived a sufficiently long time to marry Dugald’s mother.

For six long years there was a bloody struggle for the possession of Lorne, between Dugald and the Lorne Stewarts on the one side, and the MacDougalls, secretly helped by Argyll and Dugald’s, uncle Walter Stewart, on the other. In the year 1469, Dugald Stewart and the MacDougalls, being both exhausted, Mac Cailein Mòr got from Walter Stewart a resignation in his own favour of the claims of Walter, which he alleged he had in Lorne, and interfered actively in the quarrel. Neither Dugald nor his adversaries were able, after six long years of contention, to resist this powerful opponent, and he had to compromise his right to the whole of his father’s lands for Appin, and became the ancestor of the Stewarts of Appin.

After this compromise only, in 1469, Walter took seisin of Lorne, and granted it in pretended exchange for others to Cailein Mòr; and in 1470 this exchange was confirmed by the minor James III., at whose Court Argyll was supreme.

About the year 1388, the Galley, the family cognisance of the MacDougalls — the “Lords of Lorne of Auld,” as Sir David Lyndsay, Lord Lyon King-at-Arms calls them — a branch of the family of the Lords of the Isles, was quartered by Sir John Stewart on his marriage with a daughter and co-heiress of John MacDougall, Lord of Lorne; and three generations later it was assumed by Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, and Sir Colin Campbell of Lochow, afterwards first Earl of Argyll, some time after their marriage with two of the daughters of Sir John Stewart, Lord of Lorne. Glenorchy, who married the eldest, also assumed the fess “checquy” of the Stewarts.

John of Lorne, having no lawful son (Stewart of Appin being a natural son), some years before his death executed a deed of settlement in favour of his own brothers, the Stewarts of Innermeath, as next heirs male.

The deed was confirmed by charter under the Great Seal, 1452; and on the death of the old chief in 1463, his eldest surviving brother, Walter, claimed and succeeded to the estate and dignity.

Argyll’s seal, appended to a charter dated 17th December 1470, granting to his uncle, Sir Colin of Glenorchy, a part of his recent acquisition of Lorne, in exchange for Glenorchy’s share of the Clackmannan lands, is not charged with the Galley (Laing’s ‘Ancient Scottish Seals’).

The three daughters1 were co-heiresses of the lands of Dollar and Gloom, but not of Sir John Stewart’s great baronies of Redcastle, Innermeath, and Lorne. The actual transaction by which these were transferred to Argyll was this: In 1469 the new chief granted an indenture binding himself to resign the lordship of Lorne in favour of Colin, Earl of Argyll, in exchange for the lands of Kildoning, Baldoning, and Innerdoning, in Perthshire; the lands of Culrain, in Fife; and Cutkerry, in Kinross: the Earl on his part binding himself to use his influence (which was very great) to procure for him another title — namely that of Lord Innermeath — which was done, and within a year the patent passed the Great Seal.

It is scarcely correct to say that the co-heiresses of the Clackmannan lands, one-third of which estates were appointed to each of the three heiresses, inherited only these lands; for the eldest, marrying Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, 1448, carried to her husband a small grant of lands adjoining Glenorchy, extending to somewhat less than six2 merks out of the Lorne estates (Orig. Par. Sc.)

Such is the story of the “blazoning” of the Galley “For Lorne” on the shields of the Campbells of Argyle and Breadalbane.

1 The eldest married Glenorchy; the second, Sir Colin Campbell, first Earl of Argyll; the third, Arthur Campbell of Ottar.

2 Or as another authority says, an eighteen-merk land.

— Lord Archibald Campbell’s Records of Argyll (1885).

Duncan the Fortunate

Duncan Campbell of Lochawe, 1st Lord Campbell, as depicted in the Black Book of Taymouth, flanked by two of his descendants. On Duncan's right stands his grandson Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll -- here wrongly called Archibald -- and on his left, his son, Colin, 1st Laird of Glenorchy.
Duncan Campbell of Lochawe, 1st Lord Campbell, as depicted in the Black Book of Taymouth, flanked by two of his descendants. On Duncan’s right stands his grandson Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll — here wrongly called Archibald — and on his left, his son, Colin, 1st Laird of Glenorchy.

Coeffin Castle

Castle Coeffin is a ruin on the island of Lismore, an island in Loch Linnhe, in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland.
Castle Coeffin is a ruin on the island of Lismore, an island in Loch Linnhe, in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland.

Coeffin Castle was built in the XIII century, probably by the MacDougalls of Lorn. Lismore was an important site within their lordship, being the location of St. Moluag’s Cathedral, seat of the Bishop of Argyll. The first written evidence of the castle occurs in 1469–70, when it was granted to Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy by Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll.

The ruins comprise an oblong hall-house and an irregularly shaped bailey. The great hall is an irregular rectangle, measuring 67 by 34 ft. The walls are from 6 ft 10 in to 7 ft 10 in. thick. The bailey was for the most part built at a later date than the hall. An external stair probably linked the entrance, in the north-east wall, to the bailey. A second door gave access to the sea to the south-west.

Castle Sween

Castle Sween is located on the eastern shore of Loch Sween, in Knapdale, on the west coast of Argyll, Scotland. It is thought to be one of the earliest stone castles built in Scotland, having been built sometime in the late XII century. The castle’s towers were later additions to wooden structures which have now since vanished.

Castle Sween takes its name from Suibhne, who is thought to have built the castle. Suibhne is believed to have been a grandson of Hugh “the Splendid” O’Neill who died in 1047.

In the XIII century the Clan MacSween, or descendants of Suibhne, governed lands extending as far north as Loch Awe and as far south as Skipness Castle on Loch Fyne. In the later half of the XIII the MacSween lands of Knapdale passed into the hands of the Stewart Earls of Menteith.

By the time of the Wars of Scottish Independence the MacSweens took the wrong side, and when Robert the Bruce became King of Scots, he displaced the MacSweens from their lands. After Robert the Bruce had defeated MacDougall Lord of Lorne in 1308, he then laid siege to Alasdair Og MacDonald in Castle Sween. Alastair gave himself up and was disinherited by Robert Bruce who then granted Islay to Alasdair’s younger brother, Angus Og, the king’s loyal supporter, who also received the Castle Sween in Kintyre from the King.

In 1310, Edward II of England granted John MacSween and his brothers their family’s ancestral lands of Knapdale (though by then Castle Sween was held by Sir John Menteith). It is possible that this could be the “tryst of a fleet against Castle Sween,” recorded in the Book of the Dean of Lismore, which tells of the attack of John Mac Sween on Castle Sween.

In 1323, after the death of Sir John Menteith, the Lordship of Arran and Knapdale passed to his son and grandson. In 1376, half of Knapdale, which included Castle Sween, passed into possession of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, by grant of Robert II of Scotland to his son-in-law John I, Lord of the Isles.

During the MacDonald’s century and a half of holding the castle, the castellans were first MacNeils and later MacMillans.

Castle Sween from the loch.

In 1490 Castle Sween was granted to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, by James IV of Scotland.

In 1647, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Castle Sween was attacked and burnt by Alasdair MacColla and his Irish Confederate followers.