The History Of Eilean Donan Castle In Scotland

The island of Donan is a tidal island in the Western Scottish Highlands. At approximately one kilometre from the small village of Dornie there lies the picturesque, spectacular, and mesmerising Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most reputed medieval landmarks of Scotland. The island’s Scottish name (Eilean Donan) literally translates as ‘Island of Donnán’, a denomination given as a tribute to Donnán of Eigg, a saint in Celtic Christianity martyred in the year 617.

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It is believed that the Irish saint Donnán of Eigg built a monastery on the island sometime during either the 6th or the 7th century, but no solid archaeological evidence can support this claim, in spite of the fact that fragments of stone (possibly part of a vitrified fort) were subjected to very high temperatures, showing thus that an Iron Age or early medieval stone citadel might had been erected on the island during this timeline.

Eilean Donan Castle in the Western Highlands of Scotland (August 2016). Image source:

Regardless of the stone citadel’s existence during the said period of time, the recorded origins of the present-day Eilean Donan Castle begin with the rule of King Alexander II of Scotland, who, in the early 13th century, constructed a large wall around the island.

At the time, the area where the contemporary fortification lies stood on the boundary between the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles (a Norse-Gaelic kingdom of the Viking Age and the early Middle Ages) and the Earldom of Ross. Given the castle’s strategic location, it prevented subsequent interventions in the area on behalf of the Norsemen.

Panoramic view of the Eilean Donan Castle in March 2016. Image source:

Subsequently, the castle became the stronghold of the Mackenzie clan and their allies, the Macrae clan. It is important to note the fact that in the early 14th century, according to the tales of the Mackenzie clan, Robert de Bruce might have found shelter behind its walls. However, apart from this episode, the castle was no further involved in the Wars of Scottish Independence (late 13th century-early 14th century).

Eilean Donan Castle in January 2017. Image source:

During much of the late Middle Ages and early Modern period, the castle was subject to various feuds between several Scottish clans. Along with the Jacobite uprising (17th century) the castle was captured by the British forces and eventually destroyed with gunpowder. Nonetheless, throughout the early 20th century the castle’s ruins undergone a series of restorations, resulting as such in the present-day reconstructed buildings.

View inside the castle (January 2004). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Documentation sources and external links:

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6 Responses to The History Of Eilean Donan Castle In Scotland

  1. Michelle Simeunovich says:

    I enjoy your blog very much. Thank you for this, and all of your interesting writings. I’ve learned so much!

  2. Jane Napier says:

    I’m in love……. Just beautiful.

  3. Dennis McCrae says:

    Love anything to do with Eilean Donan’s history, the place of my ancestors.

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