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Islay's other castle - Loch Gorm Castle

Not many people who visit Islay for the first time are aware that Islay had more than one castle in the early days and for some it comes as a suprise that there even is a castle on Islay, although in ruins now. The latter is Dunyvaig Castle, situated proudly on the entrance of Lagavulin Bay. Other "Castles" are Dunlossit castle near Port Askaig and Kildalton castle near Ardbeg, although these castles are more often referred to as houses. Dunlossit castle is inhabited by Bruno Schroder, the son of Helmut Schroder who bought the house and estate in 1939. Kildalton Castle is sadly enough in a ruined state.

Loch Gorm castle has an interesting history and was described by Thomas Pennant in 1776 as follows: 'A regular fort of the MacDonald's ... now in ruins: the form is square, with a round bastion at each corner; and in the middle are some walls, the remains of the buildings that sheltered the garrison: beneath one side, between the two bastions, was the place where MacDonald secured his boats: they were drawn beneath the protection of the wall of the fort, and had another on their outside, built in the water, as an additional security.'

Martin Martin, another explorer in 1703 describes Loch Gorm as follows: 'The fresh-water lakes are well stocked with trouts; eels, and some with salmons: as Loch-Gorm, which is four miles in circumference, and hath several forts built on an island that lies in it.'

The earliest written reference of Loch Gorm castle, dated 1549, comes from an explorer by the name of Donald Monro and he referred to it as follows: 'the castell of Lochgvrme, quhilk is biggit in ane Isle in the said fresch water loch far fra land perteining to Clandonald of Kintyre of auld, now usurpit be Megillane of Doward...'

The surviving remains of this fortification, which date mainly from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, stand upon a small natural island a few hundred meters from the south-east shore of Loch Gorm. The island measures 48m width (maximum) and the fortification is located more or less centrally on the island. A quote from the RCAHMS Database: "In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when the island-refuge acquired prominence in the MacDonald-MacLean conflict, the (remains of) the castle became a base of active operations during the well-documented rebellion of Sir James MacDonald in 1614-15. The castle was included in successive attacks issued in favour of the MacDonalds of Dunivaig and the Glens in 1564 and 1584, but was occupied temporarily by Lachlan MacLean of Duart who was besieged there in 1578 by the MacDonalds with the assistance of the Earl of Argyll. Later accounts of 1586 and 1596 briefly describe it as 'a ruynous castle' and 'ane strenthie castell', whilst Lord Ochiltree and the royal forces in 1608 claimed to have 'demolishit and kaist doun to the ground the house of Lochgorne'. Upon the recrudescence of rebellion in 1614, the site once again witnessed military activity. By April 1615 the island-fortress had been retaken by Sir James MacDonald. The garrison left there when Sir James MacDonald finally surrendered to the Earl of Argyll in the following October, but upon the collapse of the rebellion the site did not immediately lose its military value. A private garrison was still maintained there in 1639-40."

Unfortunately the ruined castle, situated on the island of Eilean Mor in Loch Gorm, is in a decayed state and vegetation covered. Wouldn't it be great to go back in time and see what life was like so many years ago, and to see how the castle actually looked like back then. All that remains now is a small island in Islay's largest fresh water loch, inaccessible, remote, very exposed and unable to tell it's wonderful stories.

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