Eilean Donan Castle

Castle, Fort, War Memorial (20th Century)

Site Name Eilean Donan Castle

Classification Castle, Fort, War Memorial (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Castle Donnan; Ellan Donnan; Loch Duich: Clan Macrae War Memorial

Canmore ID 11823

Site Number NG82NE 3

NGR NG 88127 25836

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2015
View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Kintail
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Skye And Lochalsh
  • Former County Ross And Cromarty

Recording Your Heritage Online

Eilean Donan Castle

Former stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail, destroyed by government fire in 1719 and by 1900 little more than a few fingers of shattered masonry. It was recreated, 1912 -32 , for Maj. John MacRae-Gilstrap by George Mackie Watson and stonemason/carpenter Farquhar MacRae of Auchtertyre, who is said to have forseen the appearance of the rebuilt castle in a dream. The result - now the Macrae Clan Centre - is a romantic reincarnation in the tradition of early 20th-century castle revivals. It follows, more or less, the plan of the earlier castle as it was in its later phases, but uses much Picturesque licence. The main tower is a rebuild of the 14 th century tower house. This was the dominant structure of the tightly composed 15th century defensive enclosure built over part of a much larger 13 th century enceinte (visible now only in fragmentary outline). The castle¿s appearance in 1714 was recorded in plans and elevations drawn by Lewis Petit for the Board of Ordnance, but was not used as a source in the rebuilding. Only part of the L-plan block was recreated - as an austere crowstep-gabled house - while the south east building was altered and extended. Mackie Watson introduced a much more elaborate version of the 17th-century entrance, and invented machicolations, bartizans, crude gothic-style windows, verandah, a seagate in the west curtain, and a threearched bridge to the mainland. He ignored the plain early 18th century aesthetic, yet omitted decorative mouldings where they were known to have existed. Inside the tower, the style is Edwardian baronial, with oak beamed ceilings, unplastered walls and a canopied 15th-century-style chimneypiece in the first floor banqueting hall. Two of three narrow loops are original. For more information on the Mackenzies and Eilean Donan, see p.194.

[From the late 13th century, the Mackenzies held Eilean Donan as hereditary constables of the Earls of Ross, but by the mid-14th century they had lost control of the castle. Expanding east and westwards over the next two centuries, they re-acquired Eilean Donan in their own right in the later 15th century, receiving a charter for the castle and lands of Kintail in 1509. The castle is strongly associated with their devoted allies, the Macraes - 'Mackenzie's shirt of mail' - who populated this region from the mid-14th century and became hereditary constables under the Mackenzie Earls of Seaforth. The involvement of Eilean Donan in a Jacobite plot of 1719, and its disastrous finale at the Battle of Glenshiel, spelt its downfall. While harbouring a small Spanish garrison, the already damaged castle was bombarded to smithereens by Hanoverian frigates, and remained an uninhabitable ruin until the 20th century.]

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press http://www.rias.org.uk

Archaeology Notes

NG82NE 3 88127 25836

See also NG82NE 8.

(NG 8811 2581) Castle Donnan (NR) (Ruins of)

OS 6" map, Ross-shire, 2nd ed., (1905)

This castle is said to have originated as a vitrified fort, the remains of which were visible on the landward side of the island in 1912, in the form of a wall of considerable dimensions (T Wallace 1921) and part of the later castle wall is built over the remains of a shell-heap.

This fort was replaced in the 13th century by a castle consisting of a great wall of enceinte, the outline of which can still be traced. A narrow passage between two walls seems to have formed the entrance from the loch on the west. It was probably originally a steep staircase, but is now only a slope of stones. A keep was erected on the NE angle of the enclosure probably in the 14th century, its N and E walls superimposed on the older wall. The foundation of the tower, 57' x 43', with walls 10' thick, exist all round and fragments of the N and S walls still stand to a considerable height.

An unusual feature is a heptagonal water tower lying to the east of the castle, but connected to it by walls, about 5' thick and probably originally about 15' high, which enclose a long sloping court.

In 1719 a body of Spanish troops were beseiged in the castle which was battered and ruined by three English men-of-war. It has been restored by Lt-Col MacRae-Gilstrap during the years 1912-1932. (D MacDonald, A Polson and J Brown 1931)

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1889; T Wallace 1921; D MacDonald, A Polson, J Brown 1931.

Castle Donnan, a 13th century keep, formerly ruined and now restored, as described above, built possibly on the site of a vitrified fort. All that remains is some heaped close by the water cistern.

Visited by OS (N K B) 29 September 1966.

Castle Donnan (NR) (restored)

OS 1:10,000 map, (1972)

Castle Donnan is generally as described. A straight length of collapsed walling some 55.0m long lies close to the shoreline on the NW side of the bridge. This is what Wallace refers to as "a wall of considerable dimensions", and loose pieces of vitrification occur amongst the debris. Despite this, however, it may be relatively modern but there is little doubt that a vitrified structure formerly occupied the island.

Visited by OS (A A) 19 June 1974.

Architecture Notes

ARCHITECT for Restoration: c.1912 - 32 George Mackie Watson

with Farquar MacRae, Carpenter-in-charge

Transcribed from Architecture Catalogue slip:

This Castle has been referred to under the names of Donnan, Donan, and Eileandonan, and latterly by MacGibbon and Ross as Ellandonan. It stands at theWest extremity of the Parish of Kintail, Ross-shire, and Loch Duich. At full tides this Castle, consisting of a Tower and Rampart, and with a built well, became isolated from the Mainland.

According to Statistical Accounts, it was demolished in 1719, after the Battle of Glensheal, by a warship.

In the National Library of Scotland is a series of Military Maps and Drawings of the Board of Ordnance (Reference MSS.1645-1652), and in Case, or Volume, No.1648 is this Drawing numbered Z.3/26 : -

"Plan of the Castle of Island Dounan", scale 10 Feet to every Inch, with Profile or View. It is indicated as 'Surveyed & deliver'd' by Lewis Petit. There is no date, but there is a copy dated 1741.

It is recorded in the Index Volume No.1652 of the series mentioned above that the Castle of Island Dounan has been restored as a dwelling by Major Macrae Gilstrap, who purchased the ruins.

MacGibbon and Ross, in "The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland", Vol.111, page 82, give a small Plan and a Sketch in pen and ink. They say that unfortunately its Architectural features were almost entirely destroyed and on the Plan the buildings seem to have been in a ruinous state. The Keep is shewn as a rectangular building some 57 Feet long and some 43 Feet wide, with walls 10 Feet in thickness. What they call an heptagonal Tower 20 Feet in diameter internally and placed at a considerably lower level that the Courtyard of the Castle, they presume to have been a Water Cistern.



MSS 1645 - 52 Military Maps and Plans transferred from Bord of Ordnance

has view of castle and plan by Lewis Petit No.1648

(NMRS has photographic copy & negative of this view and plan)

& sketch by A. Rollo 1949


Old Statistical Account, Vol VI. Kintail Parish (1793), page 253

Footnote descibing history of Eilean Donan Castle and how the 'oldest inhabitant of the parish' recollects seeing Kintail 'men under arms', dancing on the leaden roof...setting out for battle of Sherrif-muir...' etc.

Wanderings in the Western Highlands & Islands, Miss M Donaldson (1923), pages193 - 5

Hostile description of Restoration

The NMRS holds copies of Miss Donaldson's prints (negatives in Inverness Museum box 63 No.s 759, 760, 762, 766) which show the early stages of restoration (work which was possibly substantially altered)

'Eilean Donan Castle, Ross-shire'

Antony Woodward

Country Life, 13th January 1994, pages 50 - 53



MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions