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Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

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Eilean Donan Castle: One of Scotland’s Most Famous Fortresses

Eilean Donan castle is incredibly beautiful – and internationally famous.

Eilean Donan is probably the most photographed fortress in the whole of Scotland, and has featured in movies such as James Bond (as the Scottish HQ of MI6, no less).

The castle guards a small island, deep in the Scottish highlands, at intersection of three tidal lochs.

An arched, grey-stone bridge connects the castle with the mainland.

And hundreds of thousands of tourists stream across the bridge every year to explore this beautiful, misunderstood fortress.

What a lot of visitors don’t realise is that Eilean Donan isn’t an ‘authentic’ Medieval castle. Virtually everything you see today was built in the 1920s-30s, in a mock Medieval style.

Nonetheless, there has been a castle on this island since way back in the 1200s. The modern castle was built upon an enigmatic pile of ruins.

With its stunning good looks, it’s easy to see why Eilean Donan is such a popular tourist-spot. Little of it is truly Medieval, though! Credit: A_Poll_o, CC-SA-2.0.


Contents

The capture of Eilean Donan was a military action of the 1719 Jacobite Rising, a Spanish-backed attempt to restore James Stuart to the throne of Great Britain. [2] It was led by British Jacobite exiles George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, the Marquess of Tullibardine and the Earl of Seaforth, chief of Clan Mackenzie.

On 11 April 1719, the British Jacobites landed near Loch Alsh with 300 Spanish marines and set up base in Eilean Donan this was Mackenzie territory and selected to maximise potential recruits. Although 500 Mackenzies joined Seaforth, the British Jacobites had more arms and ammunition than they could use, they therefore stored the surplus in Eilean Donan with a garrison of 40-50 Spanish marines while the main force of about 1,000 marched on Inverness. [3]

At the beginning of May, the Royal Navy sent five ships to the area for reconnaissance: two patrolling off Skye and three around Loch Alsh, adjacent to Loch Duich. Early in the morning on Sunday 10 May, these latter three, the fifty-gun HMS Worcester, the forty-four-gun HMS Enterprise, the twenty-gun HMS Flamborough, anchored off Eilean Donan on the north side of Loch Duich. [4]

Their first move was to send a boat ashore under a flag of truce to negotiate, but when the Spanish soldiers in the castle fired at the boat, it was recalled and all three ships opened fire on the castle for an hour or more. They then shifted anchorage and waited, the wind blowing a fresh gale. [1]

The next morning (11 May), acting on intelligence from a Spanish deserter, the commanding officer, Captain Chester Boyle of the Worcester, sent the Enterprise up the loch to capture a house being used to store gunpowder but, according to the naval logs, the rebels on the shore set fire to the house as the ship approached. Meanwhile, the other two ships continued to bombard the castle at intervals while they prepared a landing party. [1] [5]

In the evening, under the cover of an intense cannonade, the ships' boats went ashore surrounding the castle on all sides and after scaling the walls captured the place against little resistance. The government forces had captured "an Irishman, a captain, a Spanish lieutenant, a sergeant, one Scots rebel and thirty-nine Spanish soldiers, 343 barrels of powder and 52 barrels of musquet shot".

The Government troops then "burnt several barns etc where they had a quantity of corn for the use of their camp". [1] [2] The naval force spent the next two days demolishing the castle (it took twenty-seven barrels of gunpowder). The Spanish prisoners were put on board Flamborough and taken away to Leith and then Edinburgh. [2] [6]

The rising ended with the defeat of the Jacobites with the remaining Spanish troops on 10 June at the Battle of Glen Shiel. [7]

Eilean Donan would stand in ruins for over 200 years until 1919 when it was rebuilt, restored and finished in 1932 by John MacRae-Gilstrap.


Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland - History With Brendan

If you didn't know already I recently started a new series called #HistoryWithBrendan on my Instagram (@ExploreWithBrendan) which shares a little bit more history about the places I visit rather than just sharing pretty pictures (There's plenty of those too though), so I thought why not transfer that over into a blog format so it's all in one lovely history shaped bundle. The places I visit have such a wealth of information & history about them so I think sharing that with others makes the whole journey worthwhile. One of life's great commodities is being able to learn something new everyday, you will never know it all but it's great to start somewhere.

Down near the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, not far from the bridge that takes you over to the Isle of Skye you'll find the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle which is the focus of this #HistoryWithBrendan Blog. Eilean Donan is a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. Since the castle's restoration in the early 20th century, a footbridge has connected the island to the mainland. The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan MacRae. In the early eighteenth century, the Mackenzies' involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle's destruction by British government ships. Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap's twentieth-century reconstruction of the ruins produced the present buildings. With history dating all the way back to the 6th century this blog is going to delve deep into that history & pick out some interesting facts for you.

It is possible that an early Christian monastic cell was founded on the island in the 6th or 7th century, dedicated to Donnán of Eigg, an Irish saint who was martyred on Eigg in April 617. No remains of any Christian buildings survive, though fragments of vitrified stone, subjected to very high temperatures, have been discovered indicating the presence of an Iron Age or early medieval fortification. The origins of the castle however come In the earlier thirteenth century, during the reign of Alexander II (ruled 1214–1249). A large curtain-wall castle was constructed that enclosed much of the island. At this time the area was at the boundary of the Norse-Celtic Lordship of the Isles and the Earldom of Ross: Eilean Donan provided a strong defensive position against Norse expeditions. A founding legend relates that the son of a chief of the Mathesons acquired the power of communicating with the birds. As a result, and after many adventures overseas, he gained wealth, power, and the respect of Alexander II, who asked him to build the castle to defend his realm.

At a later date, the island became a stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail, originally vassals of William I, Earl of Ross. At this early stage, the castle is said to have been garrisoned by Macraes and Maclennans, both clans that were later closely associated with the Mackenzies. Traditional Mackenzie clan histories relate that Earl William sought advantage from the Treaty of Perth of 1266, by which King Magnus VI of Norway ceded the Hebrides to Scotland, and demanded that his kinsman Kenneth Mackenzie return the castle to allow his expansion into the islands. Mackenzie refused, and Earl William led an assault against Eilean Donan that the Mackenzies and their allies repulsed. The Mackenzie clan histories also claim, that Robert the Bruce sheltered at Eilean Donan during the winter of 1306 to 1307 but there is no real evidence of this. The castle escaped any other involvement in the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Side Note: The Wars of Scottish Independence were a series of military campaigns fought between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The First War (1296–1328) began with the English invasion of Scotland in 1296, and ended with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton in 1328. The Second War (1332–1357) began with the English-supported invasion by Edward Balliol and the 'Disinherited' in 1332, and ended in 1357 with the signing of the Treaty of Berwick. The wars were part of a great crisis for Scotland and the period became one of the most defining times in its history. At the end of both wars, Scotland retained its status as an independent state. The wars were important for other reasons, such as the emergence of the longbow as a key weapon in medieval warfare.

Between the 15th & 17th centuries there was a lot of clan feuding which lead to many deaths of both the earls & wardens that were garrisoned & lived in Eilean Donan, this meant it changed hands many times. During the 17th century though The Rev. Farquhar Macrae, son of Christopher Macrae, was born at the castle in 1580. After attending Edinburgh University and taking holy orders, in 1618 he was appointed constable of the castle and minister of Kintail on the death of Murdoch Murchison. Colin Mackenzie of Kintail was made Earl of Seaforth in 1623. He lived mainly at Chanonry of Ross in Fortrose, but made regular visits to Eilean Donan where the constable was required to entertain him and his retinue of between 300 and 500 retainers, as well as the neighbouring lairds. In 1635 George Mackenzie, 2nd Earl of Seaforth, appointed Farquhar as tutor to his six-year-old son Kenneth, who was subsequently raised at Eilean Donan.

In the civil wars of the mid 17th century, the Earl of Seaforth sided with Charles I. In 1650, after the king's execution, the Parliament of Scotland ordered a garrison to Eilean Donan. The local people did not welcome the garrison. When a party of 30 soldiers came out from the castle to request provisions from the local people, a band of 10 men who opposed their demands met the occupiers. An argument broke out, which led to the garrison men being driven off with several casualties. Shortly thereafter the garrison departed. The following year the Earl's brother, Simon Mackenzie of Lochslin, gathered troops for the royalist cause around Eilean Donan. For reasons unrecorded, he fell out with Farquhar Macrae and demanded his removal from the castle. Farquhar initially resisted, and despite interventions by the young Kenneth, had to be marched out by Lochslin and George Mackenzie (later Earl of Cromartie). He was finally persuaded to leave without violence, stating that he was too old to dwell in the cold castle. Farquhar was thus the last constable to dwell in Eilean Donan until its reconstruction, although he retained the ministry of Kintail until his death in 1662, at the age of 82.

In 1689, King James VII of the House of Stuart was declared to have to forfeit the throne, and the crown was offered to William of Orange, in the so-called "Glorious Revolution". The revolution also established Presbyterianism in Scotland, although the Highlands generally remained Roman Catholic and loyal to the Stuarts. A series of Jacobite risings followed, leading to an increased military presence in Scotland as government forces attempted to penetrate and subdue the Highlands. In 1714 while surveying fortifications for the government, the military engineer Lewis Petit made the only surviving drawing of Eilean Donan. The sketch-elevation and carefully drawn plan show a dilapidated castle, largely roofless but for a small building by the entrance.

A major Jacobite uprising took place in 1715. Led by the Earl of Mar, it was an attempt to restore the exiled James Stuart, the "Old Pretender", to the throne. William Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Seaforth, joined the Jacobite army, leading out men of the Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae. The Macraes mustered at Eilean Donan, and are said to have danced on the roof of the castle before setting out to the Battle of Sheriffmuir where 58 Macraes were among the Jacobite dead. The battle was indecisive and the rising collapsed soon after.

Following the failure of the rising of 1715, the Jacobites found new support from Spain, now opposing both Britain and France in the War of the Quadruple Alliance. The Duke of Ormonde led the main invasion fleet from Spain, while an advance party of 300 Spanish soldiers under George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, arrived in Loch Duich in April 1719, and occupied Eilean Donan Castle. The expected uprising of Highlanders did not occur, and the main Spanish invasion force never arrived. At the beginning of May, the Royal Navy sent ships to the area. Early in the morning on Sunday 10 May 1719 HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough and HMS Enterprise anchored off Eilean Donan and sent a boat ashore under a flag of truce to negotiate. When the Spanish soldiers in the castle fired at the boat, it was recalled and all three ships opened fire on the castle for an hour or more. The next day the bombardment continued while a landing party was prepared. In the evening under the cover of an intense cannonade, a detachment went ashore in the ships' boats and captured the castle against little resistance. According to Worcester's log, in the castle were "an Irishman, a captain, a Spanish lieutenant, a serjeant, one Scotch rebel and 39 Spanish soldiers, 343 barrels of powder and 52 barrels of musquet shot." The naval force spent the next two days and 27 barrels of gunpowder demolishing the castle.

Side Note: The Jacobite risings, also known as the Jacobite rebellions or the War of the British Succession, were a series of uprisings, rebellions, and wars in Great Britain and Ireland occurring between 1688 and 1746. The uprisings had the aim of returning James II of England and VII of Scotland, the last Catholic British monarch, and later his descendants of the House of Stuart, to the throne of Great Britain after they had been deposed by Parliament during the Glorious Revolution.

After nearly 200 years of being destroyed between 1919 and 1932, the castle was rebuilt by Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap. The restoration included the construction of an arched bridge to give easier access to the island. Macrae-Gilstrap also established a war memorial dedicated to the men of the MacRae clan who died in the First World War. The memorial is adorned with lines from John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields", and is flanked by grey field guns from the war. Eilean Donan was opened to the public in 1955, and has since become a popular attraction. In 1983 ownership of the castle was transferred to the Conchra Charitable Trust, established by the Macrae family to maintain and restore the castle, and a purpose-built visitor centre was opened on the landward side of the bridge in 1998.


John MacRae was the second son of Duncan MacRae and Grace Stewart. He was born in the Punjab where his father had served as a surgeon with the East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The family later returned to Scotland, where Duncan MacRae took up residence at Kames Castle in Bute, becoming Deputy Lieutenant of Buteshire his older brother Stuart, though also born in India and Scottish by heritage, later played international football for England in the 1880s. [1] [2] His grandfather, Major Colin MacRae, also served in India with the 75th Highlanders. John's great-great-grandfather was John MacRae of Conchra, one of the "Four Johns of Scotland" who were killed fighting for the Jacobites at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. [3]

In 1883 MacRae joined the 1st battalion The Royal Highland Regiment (The Black Watch) as a lieutenant. The following year he was posted to Egypt where the regiment was engaged in the Mahdist War, and took part in the battle of Tamai (13 March 1884). In September he was placed in charge of a division of boats as part of the Nile Expedition under General Earle. The expedition was unsuccessful in its aim of relieving the Siege of Khartoum, and was attacked at Kirbekan in February 1885. MacRae was mentioned in despatches after the engagement, in which the Mahdists were defeated. [3] He also received the Egypt Medal and a bronze Khedive's Star. [3] The British subsequently withdrew from Sudan, and MacRae was sent with his regiment to Malta, returning to Perth in 1889. The following year he was promoted to Captain, [3] and in 1901 he was appointed to the Royal Company of Archers, the sovereign's ceremonial bodyguard in Scotland. [4]

On 4 March 1889 John MacRae married Isabella Mary Gilstrap, second daughter of the late George Gilstrap of Newark, at St Peter's, Eaton Square, London. [4] Isabella was the niece and co-heiress of Sir William Gilstrap, Bt., a wealthy maltster and philanthropist. On Sir William's death in 1896, under the terms of his will, John MacRae took the additional surname of Gilstrap and assumed a senior role in the family firm of Gilstrap, Earp & Co., then the largest malt-producing business in Britain. [4] [5] In 1897 the MacRae-Gilstraps were living at 65 Northgate, Newark, and in 1899 they purchased Ballimore House at Otter Ferry in Argyll. [6]

John MacRae-Gilstrap was a senior member of the MacRae family of Conchra, descended from Alexander MacRae who in 1677 received a wadset (mortgage) of the lands of Conchra on Loch Long, 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of Eilean Donan. [7] The MacRaes of Conchra are one of several branches of the clan tracing their ancestry back to Fionnla Dubh mac Gillechriosd, the reputed progenitor of the Clan MacRae, the other principal families being MacRae of Inverinate, MacRae of Torlysich, and the Clann Ian Charrich, who claim descent from an even earlier ancestor. [8] Each of these principal families has claimed seniority over the others, and although the Rev. Alexander MacRae's History of the Clan MacRae, first published in 1899, places the Inverinate branch in the senior position, the matter continued to be debated. [8] Regardless of seniority, no MacRae had ever been formally recognised as chief of the clan. The MacRaes were closely allied to the Clan Mackenzie, serving as the personal bodyguard to their chief, Mackenzie of Kintail (later the Earl of Seaforth), and acquiring the nickname "Mackenzie's Shirt of Mail". [9]

In 1909, Sir Colin MacRae of Inverinate submitted a petition to Lord Lyon, the heraldic authority in Scotland, claiming the right to use a historical coat of arms as Chief of the Name of MacRae, and stating that his family had long been unofficially acknowledged as chiefs. John MacRae-Gilstrap had previously placed a "caveat" with the Lord Lyon, requesting that "should any application be presented in the Court of The Lord Lyon for matriculation of arms as Chief of The Clan MacRae", then he would be notified and offered the opportunity to speak. [10]

The petition was duly heard at the Lyon Court, at which Macrae-Gilstrap was challenged as to his right to appear, since he was not the most senior representative of his own family. He responded that "I am here to protect myself and to say that I will not acknowledge the Inverinate branch in any shape or form as the Chief of the Clan MacRae and as my Chief." [10] He continued by maintaining that "all the MacRae families are more or less on an equality", [10] and argued that the MacRaes were a clan "which had no chief other than Seaforth". [11] He also denied the seniority of the Inverinate family despite apparently conceding their seniority on a previous occasion, whereby he was accused by Sir Colin's counsel of picking and choosing his evidence. [10] In coming to a decision, announced in April 1909, the Lord Lyon, James Balfour Paul, confined himself to questions of heraldry. He found that Sir Colin had failed to prove his right to the use of chiefly arms, and did not therefore explore the question of the chiefship itself. [12] Debates continued as to the merits of recognising a clan chief, with Sir Colin continuing to refer to himself as chief, and MacRae-Gilstrap continuing to reiterate his opposition to Sir Colin's claim. [13]

Eilean Donan Castle, probably first built in the 13th century, was a stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail who appointed several generations of the Clan MacRae as constables. The last constable, Rev. Farquhar MacRae who was removed in 1651, was an ancestor of John MacRae-Gilstrap. During the failed Jacobite rising of 1719 the castle was occupied by Spanish troops and was demolished by government forces after the Spaniards surrendered. By 1912 the castle, located on an island in Loch Duich on the western coast of Lochalsh, had been reduced to a few fragments of masonry. [14]

In 1912 MacRae-Gilstrap purchased Eilean Donan Castle from Sir Keith Fraser of Inverinate, becoming the first MacRae for many years to hold land in the traditional clan territory of Kintail. [15] Initially MacRae-Gilstrap intended to preserve the ruins as they were and employed a local stonemason, Farquhar MacRae, to clear the site. He was engaged during the First World War, but returning to Kintail in 1919 he found Farquhar MacRae making preparations for a full restoration of the castle. Farquhar "claimed to have had a dream in which he saw, in the most vivid detail, exactly the way the castle originally looked". [16] MacRae-Gilstrap agreed to go ahead with the reconstruction, and commissioned architect George Mackie Watson to prepare plans. The castle was fully rebuilt between the years 1920 and 1932. In the latter year the bridge to the mainland was completed, and a formal opening ceremony was held on 22 July 1932. The total cost of the restoration was around £250,000, largely funded by the Gilstrap inheritance. [17]

John MacRae-Gilstrap died in January 1937 at Eilean Donan, and was buried at the historic MacRae cemetery at Clachan Duich, at the head of Loch Duich. Isabella lived on until 1949. [4] John and Isabella had five daughters and one son. [3] His estates passed to his son, Captain Duncan MacRae (1890–1966), and then to his son, John MacRae (1925–1988). John MacRae opened Eilean Donan to the public in 1955, and established the Conchra Charitable Trust in 1983 to care for the castle. [18] His daughter Baroness Miranda van Lynden, great-granddaughter of John MacRae-Gilstrap, is the present head of the MacRaes of Conchra. [19]


History of the Eilean Donan Castle

The defensive structure had existed already in ancient times on the rocky island of volcanic origin, washed by the water from Lake Loch Duich. By the end of the 6th century a monastery was erected on the island. St Donan lived there with his brothers. He was a Christian preacher whose name finally stuck to the island and became an inherent name of the castle. In 618 the monastery built at the border between the lands of the Picts and Scotti was destroyed and all its residents were killed. Some historians attribute those crimes to travelling looters, while others believe that the order to burn the monastery was given by the Queen of the Picts who did not like Christians much and was suspicious of Donan himself who came from the Scotti tribe.

The first fortress, about which more detailed data exists, was built on the island in 1220, during the reign of Alexander II, the King of Scotland, who gave order to build Eilean Donan and the Tarbert Castle. These buildings were essential to provide safety and protection for Norway's army supporting the rulers of the Kingdom of Isles &ndash a half independent territory separated from Scotland in the mid-12th century. In 1248 the ruler of the Kingdom of Isles recognised Norway's king as his suzerain of his own will. As a result, Norway actively participated in the war against Scotland. In 1263 a decisive battle took place between the Scots and Norwegians near Largs. Colin Fitzgerald distinguished himself with great courage so later the King of Scotland gave him a title of Baron of Kintail and the Eilean Donan Castle.

The grandson of Fitzgerald, Kenneth McKenzie, gave shelter to Robert Bruce in the Eilean Donan Castle, who hid himself from the English. After Robert Bruce became a crowned Scottish monarch, the lands of Kintail were ruled by his relative, Randolph, who treated all those who loved freedom very severely. So in 1331 a mass execution of plotters took place near the castle. Their heads «decorated» the castle walls for a long time. The Eilean Donan Castle had been an important defensive structure for many years, serving Scotland with faith and truth when the political situation was very unstable and threatened by the outbreaks of aggression.

In 1530 a descendant of the rulers of the Kingdom, Donald MacDonald, sparked off an uprising against the King of Scotland that lasted for several years. In 1539 the army of rebels reached the Eilean Donan Castle which, despite its small garrison, put up strong resistance to the enemies. After the death of the commanding officer, a young soldier, Duncan McRae, was in command. He turned out to be a very accurate shooter as he fatally wounded Donald MacDonald. The rebels, having lost their leader, gave up very quickly to take any further actions, and brave McRae was given by McKenzie the position of the commander of Eilean Donan both for himself and his descendants.

At the beginning of 17th century Clan McKenzie owned enough land, including the castles, but Eilean Donan was thought to have been the biggest and most significant one. At the beginning of the 17th century Clan McKenzie was not only a supporter of the Stuarts but he also actively participated in the Jacobite risings. Several thousands of soldiers under McKenzie clashed in the battles of Sherramuir and Glenshire. At the beginning of the 18th century the Spaniards who supported James Edward Stuart&rsquos ambitions in his aspirations for the English throne established their strategic point in the Eilean Donan fortress with an armoury, a storehouse and a small garrison.

In 1719 the English state army attacked Eilean Donan on three frigates which fired at the castle and the storehouses. The small garrison was imprisoned, the castle was blown out and destroyed. Its host, count William Mackenzie, had to escape to France. The members of Clan McRae, who during the last centuries fulfilled not only the role of the castle commanders but also Mackenzie&rsquos private guards, stayed to supervise the destroyed castle and even came up with an idea to send to their lord charges collected for leasing the land. By the end of the 18th century a member of different branch became the leader of Clan Mackenzie which treated the Leod Castle near the city of Inverness as their family home. After two hundred years of oblivion, the Eilean Donan Castle was given a new life by John McRae-Gilstrap, who bought the island of Eilean Donan with the castle ruins in 1911. He dedicated more than two decades to restore the stronghold to its former appearance according to the sketches remained from past periods. In July 1932 the renovation work ended in the castle. So a stone bridge runs from the castle, over the lake water, to the mainland. Since 1983 the Eilean Donan stronghold is part of a trust fund established by Clan McRae to maintain and remain this wonderful place.


Origins of the clan Edit

The surname Matheson has more than one anglicization of its Scottish Gaelic derivation. [3] The historian Black attributes Matheson to the Gaelic Mic Mhathghamhuin which means son of the bear, and the clan chief's arms carry two bears as supporters. [3] It has also been suggested that MacMhathain means son of the heroes. [3] The Scottish Lowland version of Matheson means simply son of Matthew. [3]

Chiefs of Clan Matheson are descendants of Kenneth the first MacAlpin, king of Scotland. The Mathesons were granted lands by the Celtic Earls of Ross and settled around Loch Alsh, Lochcarron and Kintail. [3] In 1262 a Scottish army led by Alexander III of Scotland invaded the Isle of Skye in order to free the isles from the kings of Norway and one of the leaders of this expedition is recorded as Kjarnac or Cormac Macmaghan. [3] Following the Battle of Largs in 1263 the Western Isles came to be dominated by the Clan Donald whose chiefs were the Lords of the Isles and the Clan Matheson sided with them. [3]

15th and 16th centuries Edit

In 1411 the Clan Matheson fought for Domhnall of Islay, Lord of the Isles at the Battle of Harlaw where the clan chief, Alasdair was captured. [3] The Clan Matheson was then said to have numbered over two thousand warriors. [3] Macmaken supported Alexander of Islay, Earl of Ross who was suspected of treason by James I of Scotland. [3] As a result, the earl was seized by the king at Inverness in 1427. [3] Matheson was also arrested by the king, [4] and was executed. [3]

As the Lords of the Isles lost power so did the Mathesons. [3] The Mathesons then found themselves involved in the feuding between the Clan MacDonald and the Clan Mackenzie. [3] Iain Dubh Matheson was killed defending the Mackenzie stronghold Eilean Donan Castle, of which he had become constable of after marrying the widow of Sir Dugald Mackenzie. [3] Dougal MacRuadhri Matheson sat in Parliament and was Prior of Beauly between 1498 and 1514. [3]

According to the MS Account of the Gunns a historic manuscript, the Clan Matheson fought alongside the Clan Mackay and the Polsons at the Battle of Torran Dubh in 1517 against the Clan Gunn, Clan Ross and the Murrays of Aberscross. [5]

All genealogies of the clan agree that the next chief was the undisputed Murdoch Buidhe (yellow haired) who died in about 1602. [3]

17th and 18th centuries Edit

Murdoch had two sons, Roderick and Dugald. [3] Duglad was styled of Balmacara and he rose to become chamberlain of Lochalsh in 1631. [3] Dugald was the ancestor of John Matheson of Attadale whose grandson, John, was forced to sell their Highland estates. [3]

Another branch of the Clan Matheson who had settled on the north side of Loch Shin had been ballies to the Earls of Sutherland in the late 15th century. [3] Donald Matheson of Shin fought against the Jacobites during the Jacobite rising of 1715. [3] Meanwhile, the chiefship of the clan had descended through a line who were descended from Dugald of Balmacara's elder brother, Roderick Matherson. [3] They acquired lands on the Black Isle that were known as Bennetsfield. [3] Unlike his cousins in Sutherland, John Matheson, second of Bennetsfield was a Jacobite who fought at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. [3] Of the members of the Clan Matheson who supported the British Government during the Jacobite rising of 1745, it is recorded that a Kenneth Mathisom was a lieutenant in the Independent Highland Company that was formed by the town of Inverness and a John Mathison was also a lieutenant in one of the Independent Highland Companies formed by the Clan Mackenzie chief, also to support the British Government. [6]

Bairnson, MacBirnie, MacBurnie, McBurnie, McBurney, MacMahon, MacMath, MacMathon, MacMhathain, Massey, Massie, Matheson, Mathewson, Mathie, Mathieson, Mathison, Mathyson, Matthews, Matthewson, Moannach. [7]

  • Fort Matheson, now a ruin, was the original seat of the Chief of the Clan Matheson. near Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis was built by the family of Sir James Matheson who bought the property in 1846 and was originally the site Seaforth Lodge. [8] was originally held by the Clan Munro but later passed to the Mathesons. [8]
  • Bennetsfield near Munlochy in Easter Ross is the site of a castle or old house. [8] It was held by the Mathesons from the end of the seventeenth century and this branch of the clan became the chiefs. [8] John Matheson, 2nd of Benetsfield fought for the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, although most of his clan supported the government. [8]
  • Shiness near Lairg in Sutherland is the site of a castle or old house. [8] It was held by the Mathesons from the fifteenth century who were ballies to the Earls of Sutherland. [8] Donald Matheson of Shiness fought against the Jacobites in the Jacobite rising of 1715. [8] The property went to the Dukes of Sutherland in 1809. [8]

The current chief Sir Alexander Fergus Matheson, 8th Baronet, who now resides in Norfolk, England.


Highlights at Eilean Donan Castle

Take one look at a photo of Eilean Donan Castle and it’s easy to see why it ranks as one of the most popular things to see in Scotland. When you’re there, don’t miss:

  • The location – picture-perfect, surrounded by brooding sea lochs and majestic Scottish mountains.
  • The interiors – Macrae curated these carefully and they include period furniture (with some particularly fine examples of Sheraton and Chippendale), oil paintings and a collection of weapons.
  • The living quarters – see what makes up some of the finest castle accommodation in Scotland.
  • The Banqueting Hall – also known as the Great Hall, the jewel in the Eilean Donan crown has magnificent beams and decoration.
  • The wildlife – while you’re admiring the views from the castle, keep an eye open for otters, dolphins and porpoises in the lochs and birds of prey in the sky above you.
  • The sea gate – don’t miss the views of Loch Alsh through the sea gate in the courtyard.
  • The shifting tides – if you can, catch the castle at low and high tide to appreciate how the landscape changes.

Eilean Donan Castle fast fact:

The beams in the Banqueting Hall are made from Douglas Fir from British Columbia, gifted to Macrae by his Canadian Macrae relatives.


Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognised castles in Scotland. It is, without doubt, a Scottish icon and certainly one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Highlands. When you first set eyes on it, it is easy to understand why so many people flock to its stout doors year after year. Strategically located on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet, and surrounded by the majestic splendour of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan&rsquos setting is truly breath-taking.

Crossing the bridge to today&rsquos castle, the fourth version, you can clearly understand why Bishop Donan chose the tranquil spot back in 634 AD to settle on it and create a monastic cell. The first castle was later established in the 13th century by Alexander II in an effort to help protect the area from Viking incursions. At this stage in history the original castle encompassed the entire island and is believed to have been constructed with seven towers connected by a massive curtain wall. Over the centuries, the castle contracted and expanded for reasons that still remain a mystery to this day, until 1719 when it was involved in one of the lesser known Jacobite uprisings. When the British Government learned that the castle was occupied by Jacobite leaders along with a garrison of Spanish soldiers, three Royal Navy frigates were sent to deal with the uprising. On the 10th of May 1719, the three heavily armed warships moored a short distance off the castle and bombarded it with cannon. With walls of up to 5 metres thick, these cannon had little impact, but eventually the castle was overwhelmed by force. Discovering 343 barrels of gunpowder inside, the Commanding officer gave orders to blow the castle up following which Eilean Donan lay in silent ruin for the best part of two hundred years.

The castle that visitors enjoy so much today was reconstructed as a family home between 1912 and 1932 by Lt Col John MacRae-Gilstrap, and incorporated much of the ruins from the 1719 destruction. At this point the bridge was added a structure that is as much a part of the classic image as the very castle itself.

Visitors now have the opportunity to wander round most of the fabulous internal rooms of the castle viewing period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, displays of weapons and fine art. Historical interest and heritage are in abundance with informed guides happy to share a wealth of knowledge. Extremely popular with families, a visit to Eilean Donan promises lots of fun for the kids whether it be swinging a Claymore, spying through the spy holes, lifting the cannon balls, gazing at the fearsome portcullis or exploring the ancient battlements. Wildlife surrounds the island too, with regular viewings of porpoise, dolphins, otters and birdlife. For those feeling particularly romantic, weddings can even be arranged inside the beautiful Banqueting Hall.


Eilean Donan History & Facts

Here are a few facts to give you some context when admiring the castle:

  • It was set up that way in the early 13th century as a defensive measure against the Vikings.
  • It was first a stronghold for the Clan MacKenzie
  • Over time the castle has changed a lot, expanding and contracting. During medieval times it was probably at its largest.
  • The Castle of Eilean Donan played a role in the Jacobite risings in the 17th and 18th centuries. And it was destroyed as a result. in 1719.
  • After being left in ruins for 200 years, it was bought by Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap in 1911 and spent 20 years restoring it
  • It is part of the Kintail National Scenic Area


The surname Macrae (and its variations) is an anglicisation of the patronymic from the Gaelic personal name MacRaith. This personal name means "son of grace". [1] The name is recorded numerous times in the Middle Ages, and was used by various unrelated families. [2]

According to the late 19th-century historian Alexander Mackenzie, and Rev. Alexander Macrae in the early 20th century, the main authority for the early history of Clan Macrae is the late 17th-century manuscript account of the clan written by Rev. John Macrae. [3] [4] Alexander Macrae largely based his history of the clan upon John Macrae's earlier account. [5]

According to tradition, the Macraes were originally from Ireland and shared a common ancestry with the Mackenzies and Macleans. The Macraes were said to have originated from Clunes, which is located near the southern shore of the Beauly Firth, and was within the lordship of Lovat. Alexander Macrae stated that these traditions likely refer to a period sometime in the middle of the 13th century. [6] According to John Macrae, after a violent dispute arose between the Macraes and more powerful Frasers of Lovat, three sons of the Macrae chief set off for new lands. One of the sons settled in Brahan, near Dingwall (later the site of Brahan Castle) another settled in Argyll and the other settled in Kintail. [4]

At that time Kintail was held by the Mackenzies, and according to John Macrae's account, there were very few Mackenzies of the chiefly line and thus the chief of that clan welcomed the Macraes because they shared a common descent and could be relied upon. Although John Macrae did not know the name of the Macrae brother who settled in Kintail, he stated that this Macrae brother married the daughter, or granddaughter, of Macbeolan who possessed a large part of Kintail before Mackenzie's rise to power. [note 1] Alexander Mackenzie considered this marriage to be the real reason for the loyalty given by the Macraes to their Mackenzie lords he did not believe the Macraes and Mackenzies to share a common ancestry in the male line as John Macrae had claimed. [4]

Alexander Macrae was of the opinion that these events probably took place sometime in the first half of the 14th century before the Mackenzies became firmly established in the Kintail area. He stated that there didn't appear to be any evidence that the Macraes were in the Kintail area before the time of these events, but noted that it was said that Eilean Donan Castle was garrisoned by Macraes and Maclennans in the late 13th century, during the period when the fortress was first taken into possession by Kenneth, founder of the Mackenzies of Kintail. [6]

According to tradition, one of the prominent ancestors of the Macraes from Kintail was Fionnla Dubh mac Gillechriosd, According to John Macrae, Fionnla Dubh mac Gillechriosd was about two, or three, generations removed from the Macrae who settled in Kintail from Clunes. Alexander Macrae stated that Fionnla Dubh was a contemporary of Murdo Mackenzie, fifth chief of the Mackenzies of Kintail. In 1416, Murdo died and was succeeded by his son, Alexander. [8] According to the traditions of John Macrae, when the bastard uncles of the young Mackenzie chief began oppressing the folk of the district, Fionnla Dubh was instrumental in retrieving him from the south of Scotland upon Alexander's return, the Mackenzie lands were brought back under control. The main line of the Macraes from Kintail, the Macraes of Inverinate, trace their descent from Fionnla Dubh. [8]

The Macraes are known to have been constant supporters of the Clan Mackenzie in recorded times in 1520, and for many years onwards, they were constables of Eilean Donan Castle. [9] In 1539 the Clan Macdonald of Sleat besieged Eilean Donan as part of their attempt to restore the Lordship of the Isles and Duncan Macrae is credited with slaying the Macdonald chief with an arrow which brought the siege to an end. [10] In view of their constant service to the Mackenzies, the Macraes of Kintail became known as the Mackenzies' "shirt of mail". [4]

17th century and civil war Edit

The Rev. Farquhar Macrae, born in 1580, Constable of Eilean Donan, was both an energetic churchman and a great Latin scholar. On his first visit to the Isle of Lewis, he is said to have baptised all the inhabitants under forty years of age, no clergyman having resided on the island during that period. His second son, John Macrae, became minister of Dingwall in 1640 and died in 1704.

During the Civil War the Clan Macrae supported the Royalist cause but under the equivocating Earl of Seaforth firstly fought valiantly on the losing Stateside at the Battle of Auldearn in May 1645 before following Seaforth to support the royalist James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose.

Rev. Farquhar Macrae's grandson, Duncan Macrae of Inverinate was the compiler of the famous Fernaig manuscript 1688-93. [11]

18th century and Jacobite risings Edit

In 1721 a force of men from the Clan Ross, led by chief William Ross 6th of the Pitcalnie line and his brother Robert went on a rent-collecting expedition into the lands of the Mackenzies. They were confronted by a force of 300 men from the Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae, led by a Colonel Donald Murchison. The Rosses were outnumbered and after a short battle, the two sides parleyed and the Rosses withdrew realising that further resistance was useless. The next day the chief's son Walter Ross died of his wounds and his nephew William, son of Robert Ross, was wounded but survived. [12] See main article: Battle of Glen Affric.

The Macraes were split in regards to supporting the Jacobite cause in the Jacobite rising of 1745. A number of Macraes are known to have taken the side of the British government as part of the Independent Companies under Captain Colin Mackenzie. While others would side with the Jacobites under George Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromartie. It is recorded that the Mackenzie Company was at Shiramore in Badenoch in June 1746 and it included over sixty Macraes. [13] It is recorded that John MacRae was an Ensign in one of the Mackenzie Independent Highland Companies that supported the British Government and that was commanded by the aforementioned Captain Colin Mackenzie. [14]

Today, crest badges, clan badges, and clan tartans are all means of identifying clans and displaying members' allegiance to their clan. A crest badge suitable to be worn by a member of Clan Macrae, on a bonnet or upon the chest, contains the crest: A cubit arm grasping a sword, all proper. [15] The motto which circles the crest is: FORTITUDINE, which means "with fortitude" in Latin. [15]

The more authentic clan badges (sometimes called plant badges) are actually plants, of which springs are worn upon a bonnet or upon the chest as a badge. The clan badge of Clan Macrae is club moss. [16] sometimes referred to as staghorn grass. It may refer to the Mackenzie chiefly arms, due to the Macraes' close association with the Mackenzies. [16]

The slogan representing the war cry of the clan Sgurr Uaran refers to a prominent rallying point in the clan's traditional lands, Sgùrr Fhuaran, a mountain near Loch Duich which is one of the "Five Sisters of Kintail". [17]


Watch the video: The Official Eilean Donan Castle Promotional Video (December 2021).