Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Dunvegan Castle

Located 22 miles (33 km) west of Portree on a basalt promontory on the eastern shore of Loch Dunvegan in the northwest of the island of Skye, Dunvegan Castle is the ancestral home of the Clan MacLeod. Claimed to be the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland, parts of this castle date back to the 9th century, though additions and renovations have been undertaken in each subsequent century. By the 14th century, the castle was a substantial tower enclosed by a curtain wall. The Fairy Tower was built as a guest-house c.1500 and other ranges were added in the 17th century to connect this to the original tower. The Pipers' Gallery dates from 1664. Until 1748 there was no access to the castle from its landward side, the entrance being by steps leading from the loch up to the sea gate. By 1840, Dunvegan had evolved into a Georgian castellated mansion, with fine public rooms and mock battlements concealing genuine antiquity. The modern drawing room lies above the pit dungeon within the old tower. The building is now Category A-listed.

The castle houses many Clan MacLeod artefacts including paintings, furniture, books, weapons and trophies. The most famous of the artefacts is the Fairy Flag, a sacred banner that legend states will bring success to the clan chief who unfurls it in times of need. Another is the mediaeval Dunvegan Cup, gifted by the O'Neils of Ulster to thank one of the clan's most celebrated Chiefs, Sir Rory Mor MacLeod (1573 - 1626), for his support against the forces of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1596. Also on display is Rory Mor's Horn, which prospective Clan Chiefs must drain of claret as a rite of passage. There are family portraits by artists including Allan Ramsay (1713-84), Sir Henry Raeburn (1756 - 1823) and Johan Zoffany (1733 - 1810), together with memorabilia from the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.

The castle itself has featured in many paintings, but perhaps most notably in 1770 by Alexander Runciman (1736-85) held by the National Gallery of Scotland and in 1815 by William Daniell (1769 - 1837), with the resulting aquatint print forming part of his Voyage Round Great Britain.

James Boswell (1740-95) and Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-84) visited Dunvegan during their tour of the Highlands and Islands in 1773 and Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) followed in 1814. The castle has been opened to the public since 1933.

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