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Islay, Loch Gorm Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Islay, Loch Gorm Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Eilean Mor

Canmore ID 37391

Site Number NR26NW 19

NGR NR 2350 6549

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/37391

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilchoman
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR26NW 19 2350 6549

(NR 2350 6548) Castle (NR) (In Ruins) (NAT)

OS 6" map, Argyllshire, 2nd ed., (1900)

'A regular fort of the MacDonald's ... now in ruins: the form is square, with a round bastion at each corner; and in the middle are some walls, the remains of the buildings that sheltered the garrison: beneath one side, between the two bastions, was the place where MacDonald secured his boats: they were drawn beneath the protection of the wall of the fort, and had another on their outside, built in the water, as an additional security.'

T Pennant 1776.

The castle or 'hous' was attacked in 1578 and destroyed in 1608, but in 1615 Sir James MacDonald was 'fortiefeing the eylann of Ellan-lochgorme' with a 20ft broad earthwork, and it was garrisoned in 1639. The castle which is rectangular, measuring about 17 1/2ft by 30ft, was regarded as being of key importance in the control of Islay.

F Celoria 1959; 1960; G G Smith 1895.

The surviving remains of this fortification, which date mainly from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, stand

upon a small natural island some 0.35 km from the SE shore of Loch Gorm. The island is of an irregular but roughly

circular shape, measuring 48m in maximum extent from NE to SW, and is circumscribed by a boulder-strewn shore-line.

The fortification occupies the central area of the island and stands to a maximum external height of about 2.4m.

As can be seen from the plan, it is of an overall roughly circular bastions at each of the four angles. The enclosure measures 20.5m from N to S across opposing faces of curtain-wall by 17m transversely, and the drum-bastions

vary between 5.5m and 6m in average diameter. The curtain-walls and towers are of drystone boulder construction, and

portions of the walling are much wasted and reduced to debris or a rubble core. A depression towards the S end of the

E wall may mark the approximate position of an original entrance, and there is a corresponding gap in the outer arc of

1.0m-thick walling which fronts the E quarter. The re-entrant angles of the SE and sw bastions contain additional fragments of walling, probably vestiges of an earlier phase of building around which reconstruction has subsequently taken place.

On each side of the NE bastion the main wall-head incorporates short lengths of an upstanding wall or parapet,

measuring 1.3m in thickness and rising to a height of about 0.5m; the E parapet is situated above a stretch of curtain-wall which has a pronounced batter.

The curtain-wall is turf-backed and the interior of the enclosure is generally of the same level as the wall-heads and

bastions. The principal building (A), however, is floored below the mean level of the interior and is reached by a

sunken stepped approach towards the N end of the E wall. The building is rectangular on plan, measuring 7-5m in

maximum length from NW to SE by 4m transversely within drystone walls just over 1m in average thickness. The walls

survive to a maximum internal height of 1.8m, and there are three cruck-slots in the W side-wall with the visible remains of two corresponding slots in the opposite wall. The crucks formerly sprang from a point about 0.8m above the existing

floor-level and formed bays varying in length between 1.7m and 2.25m. One cruck-slot adjoins the N jamb of the

doorway, and there are traces of what appears to be a drawbar-slot in the S jamb of the doorway-opening. The

building otherwise preserves no identifiable mural features, and the absence of fireplaces in the end-walls may be an

indication of the former existence of an open hearth.

Adjoining the NW angle and sharing part of the W side-wall of this structure is a smaller building (B), which appears to be floored at a higher level and is thus probably a later annexe. It is aligned on the same axis and is of rectangular plan, measuring 5.7m in length by 2.2m transversely within low turf-covered drystone walls 1.0m in maximum thickness and 0.75m in average height. There is a narrow entrance-doorway in the S end-wall.

Building C also appears to be floored at a higher level and is aligned NE-SW, roughly parallel to the s curtain. It is of

elongated rectangular plan and measures 8.25m by 2.4m internally; the walls, which are of turf-covered drystone

construction, survive to a maximum height of 1m and measure about 0.7m in average thickness. There is an

entrance in the N side-wall, opening into what must have been a narrow passage between buildings A and C, and there are slight indications of a possible second opening in the W end-wall.

This site first appears on record in 1549 when Dean Monro referred to 'the castell of Lochgvrme, quhilk is biggit in ane

Isle in the said fresch water loch far fra land perteining to Clandonald of Kintyre of auld, now usurpit be Megillane

of Doward...' The visible remains, however, probably date from the later 16th and early 17th centuries when the island-refuge acquired prominence in the MacDonald-MacLean conflict, and subsequently became a base of active

operations during the well-documented rebellion of Sir James MacDonaldin 1614-15.

The castle was included in successive tacks issued in favour of the MacDonalds of Dunivaig and the Glens in 1564 and 1584, but was occupied temporarily by Lachlan MacLean of Duart who was besieged there in 1578 by the MacDonalds with the assistance of the Earl of Argyll. Later accounts of 1586 and 1596 briefly describe it as 'a ruynous castle' and 'ane strenthie castell', whilst Lord Ochiltree and the royal forces in 1608 claimed to have 'demolishit and kaist doun to the ground the house of Lochgorne'. Upon the recrudescence of rebellion in 1614, the site once again witnessed military activity and a report of 23 September stated that the MacDonald rebels had 'biggit ane new forthe in ane logh, which they have manit and victualat'.* The fort or fortalice in question, as it then usually appeared in the records, was that of Loch Gorm where the garrison surrendered on the following 21 January.' By April 1615 the

island-fortress had been retaken by Sir James MacDonald, and a letter of about July 1615 reported that the rebels 'ar all

bissie fortiefeing the eyllan of Ellan loch gorme with ane baoune offeall (bawn or enclosure of turf) of ane greit breid,

as the reportis, tuanttie foote bread. Sir James is bissie about it [with] sex scoir of men euerie day'.* The garrison left there by Sir James MacDonald finally surrendered to the Earl of Argyll in the following October, but upon the collapse of the rebellion the site did not immediately lose its military value. A private garrison was still maintained there in 1639-40.

RCAHMS 1984, visited May 1976.

The ruined castle situated on Eilean Mor is in a decayed state and vegetation covered. It measures 18.5m by 17.0m with 4.6m diameter round towers at each corner. The interior is level with the top of the 1.6 high external revetment. The position of the entrance cannot now be identified.

Three rectangular structures, which probably post date the main work, lie below the general ground level in the interior. The largest is 8.5m by 7.0m and 1.4m deep with crudely built walling and a 1.3m wide gap on the NE side. The other structures which are poorly preserved measure 7.0m by 6.0m and 7.5m by 2.5m both are 1.0m deep.

An outwork on the NE side of the castle comprises a 11.0m long, 1.0m wide and 0.5m high ruinous wall. Its purpose is not clear but it may be a small boat shelter.

Surveyed at 1:10 000.

Visited by OS (T R G) 28 May 1978.

(Cruck-slots noted).

G Stell 1985.

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