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Southend Community Council, Argyll

Dunaverty Rock

Fortification and Castle.

As a fortification, Dunaverty has had a long and interesting history. It is first mentioned in 'The Annals of Ulster', which record that Aberte was besieged there by Sealbach, King of Dalriada, in AD712. About 1250, the castle was stormed by John Bisset in the service of King Henry III of England. In 1263, it was garrisoned by King Alexander III of Scotland against the invasion of King Haco. It was, however, surrendered to Haco, who placed it under the command of a fellow-Norwegian, Guthorm Backa-Kolf.

Robert the Bruce

The castle, a little later, was taken over by Angus Og MacDonald of Islay and Kintyre, who there entertained Robert the Bruce for three days in the Autumn of 1306. It was captured, soon after, by the English, who had expected to find Bruce there; but he had already made his escape.

Angus Og – Young Angus – advanced the fortunes of the powerful Clan Donald by backing Bruce at the decisive Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, commanding the men of Kintyre and Islay. Clan Donald, however, as Lords of the Isles – and Kintyre – was to come increasingly into conflict with the Scottish Crown, and was finally dispossessed of its lands in 1493 by King James IV.

Kings Governor Hanged

In the following year, King James stayed at Dunaverty Castle, which he re-fortified with cannons and in which he installed his own governor. In an astonishing act of defiance, Sir John Cathanach MacDonald, who had expected his Kintyre lands, and the castle itself, to be restored to him, took the castle by surprise, with only a small body of men, and hanged its newly-appointed governor over the walls in full view of the King, who was offshore in his boat. MacDonald then fled to the Glens of Antrim in Ireland – a customary bolt-hole for Clan Donald renegades – but was subsequently betrayed by a kinsman and hanged along with other members of his family.

The Massacre of 1647

But the most horrific episode in the castle's bloody history was still to come – the infamous massacre which took place there in June of 1647, when both England and Scotland were being torn apart by civil war.

The Royalist army of the legendary warrior, Lieutenant General Sir Alexander MacDonald – in Gaelic, Alasdair MacColla – being pursued and harried by the Covenanting force of General David Leslie, split in two at Rhunahaorine in North Kintyre.

MacColla and many of his men escaped to Islay in boats, while the remainder continued south, under the command of Archibald Mor ('Big') MacDonald of Sanda. They went as far south as they could, which was Dunaverty Castle, and there awaited their fate.

It was to be a hard fate. Leslie and his army laid siege to the castle and immediately cut off its water-supply by capturing an outer ditch or defence. When the garrison surrendered, a few days later, it was massacred with few exceptions. Most of the estimated 300 men who had been holed up in the tiny castle were from Kintyre and other parts of Argyll, and included many MacDougalls.

Flora MacCambridge

The young grandson of Archibald Mor MacDonald, according to local tradition, was smuggled to safety by his nurse, Flora MacCambridge. The infant's father, Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Og ('Young') MacDonald, was killed later that year in the Battle of Knocknanuss in Munster, Ireland during which Alasdair MacColla himself was also slain. Dunaverty Castle is thought to have been demolished in 1685, thus ending a long and distinguished history. Visible remains are scant, but on the south-western face of the rock a small section of lime and rubble wall, probably built to block a potential route of ascent, can be plainly seen.