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Castle Sween

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Castle Sween

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Macmillan's Tower; Loch Sween

Canmore ID 39028

Site Number NR77NW 1

NGR NR 71235 78829

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/39028

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish North Knapdale
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR77NW 1.00 71235 78829

NR77NW 1.01 7123 7883 Carved Stone Ball; Flint Arrowhead

NR77NW 1.02 7123 7882 Platforms; Kilns; Building

For industrial remains (including kilns and platforms) towards SE corner of curtain-wall enclosure, see NR77NW 1.02.

(NR 7123 7883) Castle Sween (NR)

Macmillan's Tower (NR) Well (NR)

OS 6" map, Argyllshire, 2nd ed., (1924)

Castle Sween, now ruinous, was probably built in the mid-12th century (S Piggott and W D Simpson 1970). The main structure, a quadrangular enclosing wall, 6'-7' thick, measuring 84' x 70' over all, against the inner face of which three main ranges of timber buildings were originally disposed round a small court, is Norman in appearance. The annexe to the W and its round tower - Macmillan's Tower - were probably added in the early 14th century, while the rectangular keep was probably added to the NE corner in the 16th century. There is also a well, doubtless original, in the NE angle of the courtyard.

The castle was beseiged by Robert the Bruce, and was finally destroyed by Sir Alexander Macdonald in 1647.

S Piggott and W D Simpson 1970; W D Simpson 1967; J G Dunbar 1966.

The castle is as described and planned.

Visited by OS (DWR) 6 June 1973

No change to the report of OS (DWR).

Surveyed at 1/10,000.

Visited by OS (BS) 25 January 1977

Two small-scale excavations within the E half of the courtyard of this castle revealed a sequence of domestic and service ranges, culminating in an elaborate industrial complex, all of which broadly echoed the succession of families associated with the site. The original simple enclosure castle as occupied by the MacSweens until the mid 13th century may have featured some form of tower-like structure in the NE corner of the enclosure. The site was then extensively remodelled under the Stewart Earls of Menteith, who built two towers outside the W wall of the primary enclosure, and a stone-built N range inside (c.1262 to 1362).

When the site was later occupied by the MacNeills of Gigha on behalf of the Lords of the Isles, a substantial E range with first floor hall, was built within the courtyard, to compliment the new NE or 'Macmillans Tower' during the 15th century. Finally, with the discovery of a series of kiln-like structures and ancillary sheds and compounds, it was evident that up to the end of its active life, under the Earls of Argyll c.1650, the E courtyard was largely cleared of major buildings and the area given over to industrial usage, probably metal working.

Sponsor: SDD HBM

G Ewart 1989a.

Architecture Notes

This site has only been partially upgraded for SCRAN. For full details, please consult the Architecture Catalogues for Argyll and Bute District.

March 1998

Activities

Publication Account (1985)

The imposing castle stands on a rocky ridge close to the shore of Loch Sween within the policies of the Castle Sween Caravan Park. The castle is remarkable both for the state of preservation of the main walls and for the sophistication of the original construction. On plan it is a quadrangular castle of enclosure with projecting buttresses at the angles and at the centre of each of the walls; although primarily for defensive strength, the buttresses also give the castle a more pleasing exterior than many of the bare boxes of the west highland castles of enceinte. The gateway is in the south wall where the wall has been made thicker, not only to provide additional defence at door level, but also to make possible a platform above the door. Within the interior of this late 12th century castle, timber ranges round the wall would have provided accommodation, and the lines of support for internal floors and roofmg are clearly visible. There is a well in the north-east angle. The MacMillan Tower outside the north-east angle is of later, probably 15th century date; the basement floor contains kitchen and bakehouse oven with on upper floors, the hall, the lord's apartment and bedrooms. The unadorned narrow windows with pointed arches and simple inner splays are almost the only surviving architectural features of the tower. The round tower at the northwest angle, which appears to be of similar date, contained a prison and has a complex drain arrangement

Little is known of the castle's history but it was probably besieged by Robert Bruce during his campaigns in the west Some impression of the more civilised aspects oflife in the castle is provided by the description of the meeting between John, Lord of the Isles and Earl Douglas in 1483, probably at Castle Sween; the former received 'right great gifts' of clothes,wine, silk, English cloth and silver, and offered Earl Douglas a present of mantles. The castle became ruinous after attack by Colkitto in 1647.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles’, (1985).

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