Cailleach nan Cruachan

The Witch of Ben Cruachan.

On the top of Ben Cruachan is the spring from which Loch Awe was filled, and this is how they say the event happened:–Aged Bera lived in the cave of the Great Rock. She was a daughter of Grenan the Wise. For many ages her ancestors inhabited that country–a princely family, hospitable and powerful. Bera was the last of that renowned family. She owned as her inheritance each fair grassy glen all around Ben Cruachan, and the many flocks that fed in every dell and strath around. To Bera was entrusted that secret spring of many virtues, hid from the knowledge, and beyond the ken of the world. That became the spring of woe to Bera, and to her father’s race! There was a great flagstone on the mouth of the spring, and it was Bera’s duty to place the flagstone over the spring about sundown and to lift the same stone away as soon as the beams of the morning light began to gild the horizon. There were words graven on this flagstone, like ancient writing, but no eye ever beheld the stone that could read the secret letters. One of those days, Bera happened to be out hunting the deer among the rugged steeps of Ben Cruachan, and, being faint with the weariness of the chase, she no sooner returned home at night, and set herself on her bed of rashes under the leafy shade, then she fell asleep and neglected to place the flagstone over the mouth of the spring! The water quickly poured forth like a great river which could not be stayed! Swiftly streamed the flood, like a torrent or great waterfall, down the side of the mountain, from rock to rock, till the waters filled the glen, which from that time is called Loch Awe. On the third day poor Bera awoke. She looked down the glen, but instead of that green and most beautiful and lovely glen, nothing could be seen but water. Bera gave forth a dreadful scream which was echoed by every crag and grove and dell, and Ben Cruachan quivered to its centre! Bera left this poor world! She ascended to the lofty halls of the great princes from whom she sprung–far far up beyond the vision of created eyes, among the thin white clouds of heaven. Up there her scream may still be heard, and is the dread of the shepherds and hunters of Ben Cruachan. On dark clouds she is seen hovering around the top of the Ben; there oft-times may be heard her song of sorrow, and often she is abroad amid the roar of the tempest. On the dark skirts of the black clouds of the sky she is often seen sporting in wild fury. Like a tall pillar of the whitest mist she is seen hunting the deer on the hill, with her bow and her quiver of arrows! In white foam she is seen on the flood ; from cascade to cascade, from pool to pool, till at length she reaches Loch Awe, on which she may be seen swimming like a calm, white swan from island to island. From the broken ruins of Kilchurn, from the old abbey of Innisfail and of Inniswraith, are often heard her dismal wail. And on the peaks of Ben Cruachan she is often seen on a summer’s morning rising in her airy robes of mist to welcome the sun, till she is quickly lost from view amid bright and joyful birds of the air.

Continue reading “Cailleach nan Cruachan”

Description of Kilchurn Castle

Lintel above the entrance doorway of the tower-house of Kilchurn Castle, dated 1693 (when it replaced the original), and displaying the arms of John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane, along with his initials and those of his second wife, Countess Mary Campbell, daughter of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll and Lady Margaret Douglas.
Lintel above the entrance doorway of the tower-house of Kilchurn Castle, dated 1693 (when it replaced the original), and displaying the arms of John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane, along with his initials and those of his second wife, Countess Mary Campbell, daughter of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll and Lady Margaret Douglas.

Kilchurn castle is situated on a peninsula at the north end of Loch Awe, and is well protected by water and marsh, while the buildings stand on a rocky platform of irregular shape, but with perpendicular faces, about 15 feet high, on three of its sides.

The plan of this keep has some peculiarities. The entrance door is in the north-east wall on the ground floor, and the stair to the upper floors starts from the opposite corner of that floor. The stair is unusually easy, being a square stair, so arranged that small vaulted rooms are provided on each side of it at the east end of the keep. The exterior is of the usual plain style and is built with granite rubble-work. The corbels carrying the corner bartizans are all cut out of the hardest gneiss or granite.

The additions were built in 1693, this date being carved on the work in two places, viz., the entrance door and the door to the stair turret on the south side of the keep. The first of these inscriptions is rather remarkable, and might be misleading. The original lintel of the entrance door of the keep has been removed, and a new lintel inserted, bearing the date 1693, and the initials and arms of John, first Earl of Breadalbane, and of his second wife, Countess Mary Stewart1 or Campbell.

Plan of Kilchurn Castle from <em>The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal</em>, Vol. XII, No. 70, February, 1913; reproduced from David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, <em>Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland</em>, 1887.
Plan of Kilchurn Castle from The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, Vol. XII, No. 70, February, 1913; reproduced from David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, 1887.

Another curious circumstance connected with this door is, that it is the only entrance to the castle, so that to get into the quadrangle one has to pass through the narrow entrance door and cross the ground floor of the keep.

The additions made in 1693 convert this keep into a castle surrounding an irregular quadrangle.

The additional buildings have been very extensive, and would accommodate a large garrison, but they are not built with a view to resist a siege. The round towers at the angles and the numerous square loopholes on the ground floor would, however, suffice to defend the garrison against a sudden attack by Highlanders, which was probably what was to be chiefly apprehended in that inaccessible situation. Although this castle presents a striking and imposing appearance at a distance, it is somewhat disappointing on closer inspection. The interior walls are much destroyed, and the internal arrangements of the plan can scarcely be made out. The buildings have more the appearance of modern barracks than of an old castle. There are two kitchen fireplaces, and probably there were officers’ quarters and men’s quarters, while the keep and some additional accommodation adjoining would be set apart for the lord and his family.

— David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, 1887.

1 The identification with Stewart would appear to be an error. Lady Mary Campbell was born after 1634. She was the daughter of Archibald Campbell1st Marquess of Argyll and Lady Margaret Douglas. She married, firstly, George Sinclair6th Earl of Caithness, son of John SinclairMaster of Berriedale and Lady Jean Mackenzie, on 22 September 1657 at Roseneath, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. She married, secondly, John Campbell of Glenorchy, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland, son of Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, 4th Bt.and Lady Mary Graham, on 7 April 1678. She died on 4 February 1690/91.

St. Conan’s Kirk

Innis Chonnel Castle

Innis Chonnel Castle is a ruined XIII century castle on an island on Loch Awe near Dalavich, Scotland. It was once a stronghold of Clan Campbell.

Innis Chonnel was one of the earliest Campbell strongholds, certainly from as early as 1308 until the present day.

The massive walls of Innis Chonnel crown the rocky southwestern end of a small island half way down the eastern shore of Lochawe. The island and the adjacent shore are now heavily wooded, as they would not have been in the time when the castle was occupied. The trees screen the view of the island from the road and also screen the view of the castle down the loch from the north. The island runs northeast to southwest and is less than an hundred yards from shore.

In the first half of the XIII century, a square defensive structure of high stone walls about eight feet thick was built on solid rock on the southwestern end of the island. The wall enclosed a courtyard and had one or more square towers at the angles. In Norman fashion these were of very shallow projection and mainly served as reinforcing buttresses to the corners which faced the northwestern end of the island, the direction most vulnerable of attack. Within the enclosed courtyard, lean-to buildings of wood and thatch originally lined the walls, as at Castle Sween.

For the first 150 to 200 years after construction, Innis Chonnel appears to have remained much as it was when first built. During the first half of the XV century, most likely in the time of Duncan, first Lord Campbell, the whole castle was fundamentally remodelled.

The one existing stone building standing out from the original walls into the courtyard at the eastern corner was altered at ground level to provide a new adjacent gateway and was also extended upwards to provide more accommodation. A new tower was constructed at the southern corner and outside the original walls. Along the full length of the southwest side of the courtyard a new range was built with vaulted cellars and store rooms on the ground level and a spacious Great Hall above, likely with a roof of timber trusses. At one end the Hall adjoined a Chamber in the southern tower, and at the other, a pantry and Kitchen. Access was by an outside stair in the western corner of the courtyard. A hatch in the floor of the Chamber gave access to a dungeon. The Hall had a gallery over the pantry or ‘screens’. Heating for the Hall appears to have been by a central hearth as there is no evidence of a fireplace such as is found in the Kitchen and Chamber.

Northeast of the castle and outside the main entrance door, there is a ‘middle bailey’ or open entrance court which is similar in size to the plan of the castle itself. Beyond are the ruins of a Gatehouse, outside of which the defensive walls of the `outer bailey’ can still be discerned, skirting an oval plateau now clothed in trees.

Western approach to Innis Chonnel.

The survey of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments reports: “The castle has little recorded history. It was probably built by a founding member of the Campbell family on Loch Awe, of whose origins little is known prior to the appearance of Sir Colin (Mor) Campbell at the end of the 13th century. The castle itself was first specifically mentioned in October 1308, when it was being held by John of Lorne on behalf of Edward II (of England), but it was almost certainly one of three MacDougall castles mentioned, but not named, by John in a well-known letter written to Edward probably in the Spring of the same year.”

“Following the defeat of the MacDougalls, the Lordship of Loch Awe reverted to the Campbells, being confirmed in free barony to Sir Colin Campbell, son of Sir Neil Campbell, by Robert I (the Bruce) in 1315. Thereafter Innis Chonnel seems to have remained the chief stronghold of the family until the time of Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll (1453-93), who made Inveraray his principle residence.”

Ruins of Innis Chonnel Castle.

Despite the conclusion by historian David Sellar that the Cambels were ‘great territorial lords’ by the end of the XIII century, the question has been raised as to whether it was the ancestors of the Lochawe Cambels or the MacDougall Lords of Lorne who first built Innis Chonnel. The construction of such a massive fortification clearly required extensive resources.

The Cambel Lordship of Lochawe is said to have been based upon the northwestern shore of the loch about Kilchrenan. However their hosting-ground, presumably an indication of their earliest establishment, was on a point jutting into the western shore of the loch immediately opposite Innis Chonnel at Cruachan Lochawe. This place gave rise to the clan war cry “Cruachan!”

The relationship between the early Cambel ancestors and the (MacDougall) Lords of Argyll may well have been amicable initially. The killing of Sir Cailein Mor in 1296 may only have been the initiation of conflict. Certainly, as has been mentioned, the castle was in the hands of the MacDougalls by 1308, but whether it came into their hands following the death of Sir Cailein Mor at their hands in 1296 or was already in their possession is not clear.

There is some evidence that Fraoch Eilean castle at the northern end of Lochawe was a royal initiative started in 1250-75. Had the Cambel ancestors had such backing for the construction of Innis Chonnel, the resources needed could more easily have been found.

Sir Duncan Campbell who was Sir Cailein Mor’s great-great-great-grandson and the 1st Earl’s grandfather, was no doubt responsible for the extensive reconstruction and additions to the castle. He was raised to the peerage as first Lord Campbell in 1445 and died in 1453.

During the following two centuries, the Earls used Innis Chonnel as a place of confinement for political and criminal prisoners. The earliest recorded Captain was of the family of the MacArthurs of Tirevadich, but from 1613 the privilege passed to the Lorne MacLachlans. They survived until the early years of the last century when they still owned Craigenterve.

The castle is still owned privately by the Argyll family and is not open to the public. However it can be viewed from the shore road along the east side of the loch.

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.