Other Names: Caisteal Dhùn Stadhainis
It is believed that Dunstaffnage Castle was built by Duncan MacDougall sometime before his death in 1240AD, and is one of Scotland's earliest stone castles. It's possible Dunstaffnage may have been the site of an earlier 7th Century stronghold, but this is uncertain. It sits atop a rocky outcrop, overlooking the entrance to Loch Etive and guarding the sea lanes of the west coast.
Dunstaffnage Castle was built at a time when Scotland and Norway were struggling for control over Argyll and the Western Isles. This contest came to an end following the Treaty of Perth in 1266AD, when Alexander III forced the Norwegians to cede control of The Isle of Mann and the Western Isles.
Around 1308AD, during the Wars of Scottish Independence, Robert Bruce defeated the Clan MacDougall and took control of Dunstaffnage Castle. The crown retained control of the castle until 1470AD, during which time it passed through the hands of a number of appointed keepers. Eventually, in 1470AD, James III granted Dunstaffnage to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll.
Dunstaffnage Castle was an important base during the period that followed, being used by government forces to launch attacks against the MacDonald's, Lords of the Isles, and other rebellious factions. It was attacked during the civil war in 1644AD, and again during the Argyll rebellion in 1685AD, at which time it was torched.
Dunstaffnage Castle was garrisoned by government forces during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745AD. In 1746AD, following the Battle of Culloden, Flora MacDonald was imprisoned there after she aided Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the Redcoats. Disguised as her serving girl, he fled across the sea with her to the Isle of Sky, as immortalised in the Skye Boat Song, later reworked by Robert Louis Stevenson:
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul;
Where is that glory now?
Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that's gone!
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.
The Campbells constructed a new house over the west range in 1725AD, but the rest of the castle was already falling into decay. The Duke of Argyll carried out restoration work in 1903AD. In 1958AD, the castle was handed into the care of the state.
Today, the walls of the castle survive in good condition. Although the courtyard buildings are ruinous, the gatehouse is intact, and is still used on occasion by the Captain of Dunstaffnage (a historic title and position for the individual responsible for the castle's defences, that survives in ceremonial for to the present day).
Dunstaffnage is a charming little castle, benefitting from a pleasant setting within some tranquil woodland. It's walls offer evocative views out towards Dunstaffnage Bay, adding to the appeal. Also not to be missed are the ruins of the13th Century chapel that lie hidden in the trees a short distance from the castle.