The Mingary Castle restoration blog was written by Jon Haylett, who lives in the local village of Kilchoan. Now that restoration is almost complete Holly and Chris Bull will take over to report on bringing the Castle back to life.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Who Built Mingary Castle?

View from South, Mingary

There's a very simple answer to the question "Who Built Mingary Castle?": we don't know.  This isn't for want of trying to find out: one of the first actions of the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust was to commission Richard Oram, Professor of History at Stirling University, to carry out preliminary research on the history of the castle.  He begins his report with the words, "Until its first emergence into the historical record in 1485, Mingary is a silent presence in the background of the long and complex history of the lordship of Ardnamurchan and, especially, its fourteenth- to early seventeenth-century MacIan owners."

Part of the trouble is that few written records were kept, or have been preserved, from the time of Mingary's early years.  In the internecine warfare between the clans of western Scotland, there seemed to be little inclination to write things down, though stories would have been passed on orally.  To make matters worse, in this struggle for possession of the lands of the west coast, the clans had a habit of rewriting history in their favour: the MacDonalds, for example, attempted to write out the inheritance of the MacDougalls in the pre-1300 period.

Castle Tioram

Most attempts to date the castle have therefore had to fall back on its architecture and, in particular, to its similarities to some of the other castles of the west coast: Kisimul on Barra, Dunstaffnage near Oban, and the nearby Castle Tioram in Moidart.  Yet, on the basis of this, three families are suggested by recent historians as the builders of Mingary: the MacDonalds of Islay, the MacRuaris, and the MacDougalls of Lorne.

Lancet windows, Mingary

When Ardnamurchan is first mentioned as a distinct territory in 1293, it was under the lordship of Alexander MacDougall, lord of Argyll, and had obviously been MacDougall land since at least the 1240s.  On the basis that the castle shows distinct 13th century features, such as form of its battlements and the lancet windows in the north curtain wall, above, and that the MacDougalls lost their lands during the first decade of the 14th century, it seems likely that the castle was built by them.  A charter dated just before 1320 is evidence that King Robert (Bruce) assigned Ardnamurchan to Angus Og MacDonald, through whom it passed to his great-grandson, John, the first of the MacIains, the family which then held Mingary, and Ardnamurchan, for the next three hundred years.

Kisimul on Barra

Much of what I have written here is drawn from Professor Oram's paper - and I apologise in advance for any mistakes I have made.  The Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust has now published his paper in full.  To access it, click on 'History' in the menu at the top of this webpage, and select 'Analytical and Historical Assessment', or click here.

Picture of Castle Tioram courtesy Dave Wilkie on Flickr, here,
and of Kisimul, Barra courtesy of Jan Smith on Flickr, here.

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