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Mull, Dun Ara

Castle (Medieval), Fort (Period Unassigned), Harbour (Period Unassigned), Township (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Mull, Dun Ara

Classification Castle (Medieval), Fort (Period Unassigned), Harbour (Period Unassigned), Township (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Dunara; Dun Ara Castle

Canmore ID 22069

Site Number NM45NW 1

NGR NM 4271 5771

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilninian And Kilmore
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NM45NW 1 4271 5771.

(NM 4271 5771) Dun Ara (NAT) Fort (NR)

OS 1:10000 map (1976)

Dun Ara: The summit of a rock stack, measuring 44m by 18m, is enclosed by a wall drawn round its rim. This wall is bounded with mud and sea-shells, which may represent a rebuilding. In the interior are the foundations of later buildings. As suggested by Fairhurst (1960), this could be a medieval hall-house.

Surveyed at 1:10,000.

Visited by OS (DWR) 13 May 1972

Dun Ara Castle occupies the summit of a prominent rock outcrop; beneath the summit there are the remains of other buildings, some at least of which were probably associated with the castle. Access was probably by sea, though there is now an estate track leading to the site.

The castle was fortified by enclosing the entire area of the rock summit with a curtain-wall of stone and lime. This varies in thickness from about 1.3m to 1.8m, being best preserved on the NE side, where it rises to a maximum height of 1.8m. Only a few fragments remain on the SW and SE sides. As far as can be seen all the masonry is of similar character, although much of the coarse lime-mortar has washed out of the facework, giving it the appearance of dry-stone walling. It is possible, however, that in places the lower courses of masonry antedate the medieval castle and belong to an earlier fort, occupying the same site. The entrance is on the SE side.

In the interor are the footings of three buildings, of which the most considerable (A on plan) appears to have been a hall measuring 12.3m from E to W by 5.7m transversely; its W end has been divided off from the remainder of the building by means of a stone partition- wall. This may be a secondary construction. The ruins of three other buildings (B - D on plan) of drystone construction except where they abut the curtain- wall are also visible in the interior.

Beneath the E face of the rock there may be seen fragments of a dry-stone wall of indeterminate width enclosing a segmental-shaped area of sloping ground centred on the castle entrance (E). This probably formed an outer defence-work, but in view of the massive character of the masonry, and the existence of similar outworks in may stone-walled forts, this wall may well be of Iron Age date. At a somewhat lower level there are traces of what seems to have been a heavy dry-stone revetment bounding an approach track (F).

Scattered round the base of the rock are the remains of eight dry-stone buildings of sub-rectangular plan (G - O) with associated cultivation strips and field clearance heaps, the whole forming a small township which probably originated some time during the period when the castle was occupied. the buildings vary a good deal in size; 'G' may have been a combined barn and corn-drying kiln. None of these building stand to a height of more than 1.0m, and most are reduced to turf-grown footings. On the SW side of the castle there is an artifically constructed harbour incorporating a small jetty (R), and a quay and boat-landing (Q), at the upper end of which are two boat-noosts (P). It is hard to say when this harbour assumed its present form, and some of the existing masonry may be of comparatively recent date, but the main features probably go back to the period of occupation of the castle.

Almost nothing is known of the history of this castle which is not mentioned either by Fordun or Dean Monro and does not appear in an official, list of castles in the Western Isles drawn up in 1613. It is probable, however, that Dun Ara was a stronghold of the MacKinnons, who appear to have held lands in Mull at least as early as 1354. In 1616 Sir Lachlan MacKinnon of that Ilk was ordered to reside at Kilmorie, in Strathordell, but according to family tradition his son and successor, John, died and was buried at Dun Ara.

RCAHMS 1980, visited 1973.

Scheduled as Dun Ara, fort, castle, harbour and depopulated settlement.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 11 November 2003.


Field Visit (8 June 1934)

Medieval Keep, Dun Ara, Sorn Pt.

A rect. medieval keep on isolated rock.

Visited by VGC 8 June 1934

NB This note by VGC from 1934 was incorporated into the RCAHMS Emergency Survey 1942-3 (RCAHMS GFG 2013).

Field Visit (29 July 1942)

This site was included within the RCAHMS Emergency Survey (1942-3), an unpublished rescue project. Site descriptions, organised by county, vary from short notes to lengthy and full descriptions and are available to view online with contemporary sketches and photographs. The original typescripts, manuscripts, notebooks and photographs can also be consulted in the RCAHMS Search Room.

Information from RCAHMS (GFG) 10 December 2014.

Note (11 November 2014 - 23 May 2016)

The castle of Dun Ara, which occupies a ridge of outcrop close to the shore on the N coast of Mull, possibly stands on the site of an earlier fort, the defences of which may survive in places in the lower courses of the curtain enclosing the summit (RCAHMS 1980, 200, no.340). If so it would have measured up to 45m from NW to SE by 15m transversely (0.04ha), and was probably likewise served by the entrance via a narrow cleft on the E. Apart from the curtain, four rectangular buildings with rounded corners are visible on the summit, the largest of which is thought to be a hall house.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 23 May 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2514


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