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Dun Mhuirich

Dun (Prehistoric), Fort (Prehistoric)(Possible), Settlement (Medieval), Settlement (Post Medieval)

Site Name Dun Mhuirich

Classification Dun (Prehistoric), Fort (Prehistoric)(Possible), Settlement (Medieval), Settlement (Post Medieval)

Canmore ID 39122

Site Number NR78SW 3

NGR NR 7228 8441

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes ( - 1977)

NR78SW 3 7228 8441.

(NR 7228 8441) Fort (Dun Mhuirich) (NAT)

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

The outer walls of Dun Mhuirich, up to 9' thick, stand 5'-6' high, with rebuilding at SW. The N entrance leads to a terrace, and thence to a citadel with walls 7' thick x 5' high, enclosing an area of 54' x 38' in which are fitted two rectangular houses, the largest 40' long; steps down into the citadel from the wall lead to these houses. There is also an entrance in the S, which is probably original. Slighter outwork below the terrace on SW point.

M Campbell and M Sandeman 1964.

A dun generally as described. The entrance to the dun, on the S, is 1.1m wide; no check or bar hole are visible, secondary modifications having concealed original features. The entrance to the outwork on the NE has been similarly modified and measures 1.8m in width.

Three outworks exist to the S of the dun, but only remain as turf-covered footings and spread core.

Visited by OS (DWR) 21 May 1973.

A sub-circular dun occupies the summit of a rocky knoll overlooking Loch Sween. It measures 16.0m N-S by 13.0m within a wall standing to a maximum height of 1.5m and varying in thickness from 1.8m to 2.8m. Both faces are visible on all sides except the E where only tumbled core remains. On the SW is a slight irregularity in the curve of the wall faces, probably resulting from a collapse and subsequent rebuilding. The 1.1m wide entrance in the S with no check or bar hole visible, is protected by a hornwork 2.1m wide. The remains of a staircase, 1.5m wide can be seen built against the inner face on the NE.

Within the dun are the ruins of two secondary rectangular buildings.

The dun is protected on all sides except the E by a sub-rectangular outwork. On this E side a near vertical rock face provides sufficient natural defence. The outwork is best preserved on the N and NW where it has an average wall thickness of 2.4m and a maximum height of 1.4m. Both inner and outer faces can be traced along the W side to the SW corner where the wall takes a near right angled turn and joins a large outcrop of rock. The 2.1m wide entrance in the N with no check or bar hole visible has been strengthened on the outside by buttresses, one of which survives to a height of 1.4m, the other being reduced to its foundations. A ruined secondary wall blocks this entrance and another wall at right angles to it connects with large rock outcrop within the outwork to form a later enclosure.

At about 12.0m to the E of the entrance the main out-work wall has collapsed and its stone used to build a modern field wall. Only two short sections of outer facing can be seen on the E, the wall on this side having been of an enclosing rather than defensive nature. There is an additional wall, standing up to eight courses high, outside the main outwork on the SE but its purpose is uncertain.

To the S of the outwork can be seen traces of outer wall facing, enclosing a level area 14.0m square and probably representing an annexe rather than a further defence; there is no entrance apparent. There is a broad scatter of grass-covered stones within this annexe but their purpose is obscure.

To the N of the dun are several small field plots but it is not possible to determine whether they are contemporaneous with the dun or the secondary work.

Surveyed at 1:10 000.

Visited by OS (TRG) 11 February 1977.


Field Visit (9 May 1959)

Included in early work for Argyll Inventories.

[Notes in Alasdair MacLaren's No.3 notebook p.75.]

Field Visit (May 1982)

This interesting complex of structures is situated on the NW shore of the Linne Mhurich, about 420m E of Drimngall farmhouse|(Campbell and Sandeman 1964). The main elements comprise a dun (I on RCAHMS 1988 plan), situated on the rocky boss that crowns the summit of an elongated coastal ridge, series of outer wall (II on plan) drawn round the shoulders and lower flanks of the ridge, and a number of rectangular stone-built houses constructed within the dun; probably associated with the houses is a series of wharves and jetties situated on the shore immediately below the ridge.

The position occupied by the dun is one of considerable natural strength, the flanks of the ridge presenting steep or near-vertical rock-faces, which at the time of visit were thickly overgrown with blackthorn. From the summit. From the summit knoll itself the fall of ground is as much as 25m to seaward and at least 10m on the landward side, where, before the provision of modern drainage, marshy flats would have provided further natural defence.

An irregular sub-oval on plan, the dun measures 15.5m by 12m within a drystone wall about 2.8m in maximum thickness. The wall is best preserved on the SW, where it stands, on average, 1.25m above the level of the interior and at least 2.3m above the debris that has accumulated against its outer face. It appears, however, that in this sector the dun wall has been rebuilt at least once. On the last occasion it seems possible that it was incorporated in the southernmost of the rectangular buildings in the interior, for the inner wall-face here exhibits an otherwise inexplicably sudden intake of about 0.4m, which is accompanied by a comparable inward curving of the line of the outer face, while a little way to the S the inner face of the wall makes a right-angles turn. The quality of construction in this sector of the wall lends support to such an interpretation, for above the level of 1m from the ground the outer face is much less regularly coursed and more heavily battered than in the lower portion of the wall, while, on one side, the poorer work appears to be defined by a straight-joint. Moreover, the inner face at this point, as well as being poorly coursed, gives the appearance of having been built up into the form of a rudimentary gable 1.8m high. Finally, it may be observed that the wall-head hereabouts is more heavily grass-grown than is usual for an upstanding drystone structure of prehistoric date, and in places it is covered with a considerable depth of peaty soil, as if turf had been deliberately laid upon it.

The dun entrance, which is situated on the S, measures 1.05m in average width and does not appear to have been checked for a door. Approach to the entrance has been restricted, possibly in a secondary phase, by a hornwork, also of drystone construction, which springs from the dun wall just to the E of the outer door-jamb and is carried along in front of the entrance on the crest of a rock outcrop, so as to form a passage about 2m in average width and 5m long. The passage is reduced in width by a sharp inturn of the hornwork at its outer end, and the entrance mouth itself has been further constricted by what appears to be secondary blocking. Immediately S of its junction with a dun wall the outer face of the hornwork displays a curious feature; two slabs (a on plan) situated at ground level and about 0.6m apart, project at right angles for some 0.5m beyond the line of the face. The purpose of this feature is uncertain and it cannot be paralleled in any other prehistoric fortified site, but it bears a superficial resemblance to the base of an external garderobe chute, such as was provided in various medieval structures.

The main outer wall (II on plan) lies, for the most part, at a depth of between 1m and 3.5m below the level of the summit and between 5m and 15m distant from the wall of the dun; its purpose, apart from providing additional protection, was evidently to bring an extensive area of relatively level ground within the defences. Following a markedly rectilinear course, it sprang from the dun wall on the E and probably terminated against the base of the summit boss on the S, varying in thickness from about 1.5m to almost 3m. On the SW, in order to protect a series of lower shelves and terraces, it bifurcates, each branch in turn dividing as it approaches the cliff edge on the SE. There is a particularly well-preserved entrance on the N, 1.75m wide, the original passage having been lengthened to 2.7m by the addition of external buttresses; there is no door-check, and the blocking appears to be of recent origin, probably contemporary with the length of walling that abuts the inner wall-face nearby. It is possible that there was another entrance on the S, at the head of the path that obliquely ascends the precipitous SE flank of the ridge from the sea-shore. At various points in the circuit of wall II, but especially in the well-preserved stretch of outer facing to the S of the dun, there is evidence of the use of sand-and-lime mortar, but whether this represents primary construction or secondary repair cannot be determined.

Two further lengths of drystone walling may be seen on the NW and NE respectively: now only a narrow band of stony debris, the former runs from the steep rock face on the shoulder of the ridge to butt against outwork II, blocking the upper end of a natural break in the crest line on that side; the latter, evidently of more substantial construction, ascends in an irregular arc from the shoreline some 50m NE of the dun towards the shelf lying immediately outside wall II. Like the modern boundary-wall that overlies it, it has incorporated rock outcrops in its course and may originally have abutted wall II, thus cutting off approach to the outer defences of the dun along the shore.

In the interior of the dun there are ruined foundations of a number of rectangular buildings of drystone construction, the two that are best preserved being separated from each other by a narrow passage about 1.5m wide. The smaller, measuring about 8m by 4.7m over walls 0.6m in average thickness, lies wholly within the dun; the larger however, measuring about 11m by 5.3m, appears to overlie, or possibly reuse, the inner line of the dun wall on the E, and it is probable, as mentioned earlier, that it was the construction of a third, but even smaller, building to the S of the first that necessitated the reconstruction of the dun wall in that sector. Outside the N gable of the largest building there are the lowest of two treads of a flight of stone steps, but whether these gave access to a reused wall-head, or simply led over the tumbled wall-debris of the abandoned dun, cannot be determined. The much more severely ruined foundations of a fourth rectangular stone building lie immediately to the NE of the N entrance of the outwork, while the outline of another may just be discerned within the angle of the outer wall on the SW.

For a distance of about 60m the shoreline below the defensive work has been revetted with boulders to form a rudimentary wharf, from which three roughly built jetties project; at its S end there is a small boulder-faced recess resembling a boat-noost. It seems probable that these coastal works were broadly contemporary with the rectangular buildings within the dun.

Visited May 1982


Field Visit (August 1994)

Dun Mhuirich NR 7228 8441 NR 78 SW 03 Fort The outer walls of Dun Mhuirich, up to 2.74m thick stand 1.52 to 1.83m high. The north entrance leads to a terrace and thence to a citadel in which is fitted two rectangular houses, the largest 12.2m long. There is also an entrance to the south.

GUARD 1994

Excavation (June 2012)

NR 7228 8441 The excavation and survey of Dun Mhuirich undertaken in June 2012, as part of the Connected Communities: Community Archaeology in Argyll and Ulster Project, has revealed a complex well preserved site. The site probably had its origins in the Iron Age or possibly the Early Historic period, although little beyond the structural evidence was uncovered for this period. The excavation did recover evidence of occupation from the 13th to 17th centuries, suggesting either continuous occupation or periodic use of the site. The longevity of occupation is reflected in the structural development of the site, with perhaps major reconstruction and modifications over time to the buildings and walls of the dun. The archaeological deposits within and around the structures are well preserved, which will allow the understanding and interpretation of the structural sequence, whilst the good perseveration of bone will allow investigation of diet, animal husbandry and the surrounding environment and how this may have developed from the medieval to the late medieval period. The presence of pottery in an enclosed site with several associated structures suggest a habitation of some status, that was probably associated with one of the notable families present in Knapdale from the medieval period, postulated here to be the MacNeils.

Archive: Kilmartin House Museum (intended). Report: Forestry Commission, OASIS, RCAHMS and WoSAS (intended)

Funder: Connected Communities Project

Roddy Regan, Kilmartin House Museum


Excavation (June 2013)

NR 7228 8441 The second season of community work at Dun Mhuirich, undertaken in June 2013, confirmed the presence of a complex multi-phased site, and shone new light on its development. A trench across the robbed out lower enclosure wall revealed a deep sequence of occupation, with layers returning artefacts from the early medieval through to the post-medieval periods. Further excavation of the upper enclosure revealed a cruck-framed structure at the SW of the enclosure, this was modified or replaced when the two more obvious structures that occupy the same enclosure were built, probably sometime in the 15th century, the buildings were then occupied until the mid–17th century. Outside the dun enclosure, a trench examined a late midden at the base of the escarpment, while another trench confirmed the size and extent of a large rectangular structure lying outside the lower enclosure; little dating material was recovered. To the N of this structure a newly recognised building was also investigated, revealing a sequence of floors and hearths, separated by an extensive burnt deposit, suggesting the building or at least the roof had burnt down.

Archive: Kilmartin Museum. Report: Historic Scotland, OASIS, RCAHMS and WoSAS

Funder: The Craigend Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund (Awards for All) and Kilmartin Museum

Roddy Regan, Kilmartin Museum, 2013

(Source: DES)

Note (27 October 2014 - 18 October 2016)

This complex fortification has a long history of occupation, the latter stages of which have been shown by excavation to span the medieval and post-medieval periods (WoSAS Event ID: 4947; Kilmartin House Data Structure Report). At its core, however, there is an oval dun which shows evidence of reconstruction and is overlain by two rectangular buildings, surrounded by a series of more extensive defensive enclosures. In its latest form the dun measures about 15.5m by 12m within a well-preserved wall about 2.8m in thickness, and there is an entrance protected by an outer hornwork on the SSW. The wall of the rectilinear outer enclosure may have sprung from the dun on the E and can be traced around the lip of the steep and precipitous flanks of the hillock, probably returning to the the foot of the outcrops below the dun wall on the S and enclosing an area measuring about 48m from NE to SW by a maximum of 28m transversely (0.12ha) at the NE end, where there is also a well-preserved entrance; the wall varies between 1.5m and 3m in thickness, with well-preserved runs of outer face, and the entrance is 1.75m wide and the length of the passage has been increased to 2.7m by the addition of two external buttresses. An additional wall springing from the W angle of this enclosure takes in a lower terrace at the SW, while other fragments of walls may be seen on the S, NW and NE. While the outer enclosure has been thought to be an addition to the dun, the superficial resemblance to a nuclear fort has lead to its inclusion here

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 18 October 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2448


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