Eilean Donan


Eilean Donan from Skye Road

Eilean Donan, like so many other 'contemporary' castles and ruins, rises from some ancient settlement and/or fortification. Eilean Donan, the Island of (Saint) Donan, a contemporary of St. Columba beheaded with 52 of his companions when a raiding party set upon them on 17 April 618, whose well still runs with fresh water while the castle itself is set atop a tiny islet surrounded by the three deep blue-green salt water lochs of Alsh, Duich and Long. For nearly 800 years a strong hold and keep have been sited here at the edge of the Kyle of Lochalsh on the Mainland with a view toward the Isle of Skye. Her tumultuous past, innumerable guardians and secrets lie as securely beneath her foundations as the sculptured foot marking her precursor Iron Age Pictish settlement still stands opposite. Beautifully sited with the Kintail Mountains providing a sweeping backdrop, Eilean Donan rightfully has starred in movies (Golden Eye, The Highlander, Loch Ness) and graces shortbread tins, CD covers and post cards alike, it is (almost) universally agreed to be the most photographed castle in Scotland.

In 1714, as one of the Jacobite Risings was brewing, Brigadier General Lewis Des Etans (1665-1720) was sent north by the Crown to secure information about the strength of Highland defences. Amongst Des Etans reconnaissance were exceptionally detailed plans of Eilean Donan taken some five years before Colonel Donald Murchison (a Highland Scot) allegedly lit the powder magazine blowing up the castle. Murchison had come to the conclusion that if the Crown were to gain possession of Eilean Donan and a garrison were to be planted there that it would impossible to defend Scotland from the Red Coats. She lay in ruins for the next 200 hundred years until a descendant, Lt. Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap, purchased her in 1912. In turn MacRae-Gilstrap would employ Farquhar MacRae, a highly skilled stone mason, to clean up the site he intended to keep it as a ruin. But Farquhar claimed to have had a dream in which he saw, in precise detail, the way the castle originally looked and was given the nod to go ahead to rebuild. Clan MacRae Societies the world over joined in her 250,000 pounds rebuilding over a 12 year period (1920 and 1932) providing contributions such as the oddly mismatched stones, and the timbers (you might recall Catherine Zeta-Jones doing gymnastics on these as Sean Connery looks on during the movie Entrapment) from her Great Hall. Following the completed restoration Des Etans plans for the castle were discovered in the archives of Edinburgh Castle and it's said that the measurements are within mere centimeters of the Eilean Donan which Farquhar MacRae had dreamt.