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History of the Eilean Donan Castle

The defensive structure had existed already in ancient times on the rocky island of volcanic origin, washed by the water from Lake Loch Duich. By the end of the 6th century a monastery was erected on the island. St Donan lived there with his brothers. He was a Christian preacher whose name finally stuck to the island and became an inherent name of the castle. In 618 the monastery built at the border between the lands of the Picts and Scotti was destroyed and all its residents were killed. Some historians attribute those crimes to travelling looters, while others believe that the order to burn the monastery was given by the Queen of the Picts who did not like Christians much and was suspicious of Donan himself who came from the Scotti tribe.

The first fortress, about which more detailed data exists, was built on the island in 1220, during the reign of Alexander II, the King of Scotland, who gave order to build Eilean Donan and the Tarbert Castle. These buildings were essential to provide safety and protection for Norway's army supporting the rulers of the Kingdom of Isles – a half independent territory separated from Scotland in the mid-12th century. In 1248 the ruler of the Kingdom of Isles recognised Norway's king as his suzerain of his own will. As a result, Norway actively participated in the war against Scotland. In 1263 a decisive battle took place between the Scots and Norwegians near Largs. Colin Fitzgerald distinguished himself with great courage so later the King of Scotland gave him a title of Baron of Kintail and the Eilean Donan Castle.

The grandson of Fitzgerald, Kenneth McKenzie, gave shelter to Robert Bruce in the Eilean Donan Castle, who hid himself from the English. After Robert Bruce became a crowned Scottish monarch, the lands of Kintail were ruled by his relative, Randolph, who treated all those who loved freedom very severely. So in 1331 a mass execution of plotters took place near the castle. Their heads «decorated» the castle walls for a long time. The Eilean Donan Castle had been an important defensive structure for many years, serving Scotland with faith and truth when the political situation was very unstable and threatened by the outbreaks of aggression.

In 1530 a descendant of the rulers of the Kingdom, Donald MacDonald, sparked off an uprising against the King of Scotland that lasted for several years. In 1539 the army of rebels reached the Eilean Donan Castle which, despite its small garrison, put up strong resistance to the enemies. After the death of the commanding officer, a young soldier, Duncan McRae, was in command. He turned out to be a very accurate shooter as he fatally wounded Donald MacDonald. The rebels, having lost their leader, gave up very quickly to take any further actions, and brave McRae was given by McKenzie the position of the commander of Eilean Donan both for himself and his descendants.

At the beginning of 17th century Clan McKenzie owned enough land, including the castles, but Eilean Donan was thought to have been the biggest and most significant one. At the beginning of the 17th century Clan McKenzie was not only a supporter of the Stuarts but he also actively participated in the Jacobite risings. Several thousands of soldiers under McKenzie clashed in the battles of Sherramuir and Glenshire. At the beginning of the 18th century the Spaniards who supported James Edward Stuart’s ambitions in his aspirations for the English throne established their strategic point in the Eilean Donan fortress with an armoury, a storehouse and a small garrison.

In 1719 the English state army attacked Eilean Donan on three frigates which fired at the castle and the storehouses. The small garrison was imprisoned, the castle was blown out and destroyed. Its host, count William Mackenzie, had to escape to France. The members of Clan McRae, who during the last centuries fulfilled not only the role of the castle commanders but also Mackenzie’s private guards, stayed to supervise the destroyed castle and even came up with an idea to send to their lord charges collected for leasing the land. By the end of the 18th century a member of different branch became the leader of Clan Mackenzie which treated the Leod Castle near the city of Inverness as their family home. After two hundred years of oblivion, the Eilean Donan Castle was given a new life by John McRae-Gilstrap, who bought the island of Eilean Donan with the castle ruins in 1911. He dedicated more than two decades to restore the stronghold to its former appearance according to the sketches remained from past periods. In July 1932 the renovation work ended in the castle. So a stone bridge runs from the castle, over the lake water, to the mainland. Since 1983 the Eilean Donan stronghold is part of a trust fund established by Clan McRae to maintain and remain this wonderful place.