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Clan Seats of Scotland – Clan MacDonald – Finalggan – Scotcrest Blog

Finlaggan, Islay – Clan MacDonald

Finlaggan - Clan MacDonald

Now no more than a few pieces of stone on a deserted island, Finlaggan was once the home of the Lords of the Isles and one of the most powerful places in Scotland.

The traditional seat of the important Clan MacDonald, the islands of Loch Finlaggan have been used as a stronghold since the stone age and were first documented in written history as being occupied by Saint Findlugan (the man who gave the Loch its name) when he set up a church there during the 7th century.

Saint Findlugan would eventually be followed Somerled, an ancestor of the MacDonalds and the first ‘Lord of the Isles’, who is said to have constructed a timber castle on the isle of Eilean Mór during the 12th century and from here, the importance of Finlaggan would grow until it became the centre of power for Somerled’s sea kingdom which stretched from the Outer Hebrides to the Mull of Kintyre. Somerled would be killed while fighting against Malcolm IV of Scotland in 1164 and his inheritance would be divided equally among his relatives with his grandson, Donald, receiving Islay and the stronghold of Finlaggan.

The stronghold itself would be predominantly based over two islands; Eilean Mòr, which housed the main residence and a chapel, and Eilean an Comhairle, which was the meeting point for the ‘Council of the Isles’ to discuss matters of law. The descendants of Donald would quickly rise to become the strongest of Somerled’s relatives and would go on to construct a more modern stone castle at Finlaggan with the surrounding area said to have been a ‘small urban centre of paved streets and stone buildings’, something which was unheard of in rural Scotland at the time.

The family would continue to rule over the west of the country for the next two hundred years largely uninterrupted by the Scottish monarchy, until, after gaining control of the Earldom of Ross in the northern part of the Scottish mainland, their relationship would become fractured with the Scottish Crown who were reluctant to grant these lands.

Despite a fragile peace remaining between the King and the lords, any remaining goodwill would be eradicated by John II, fourth Lord of the Isles, when he pledged to support King Henry VII as the English King planned an attack on Scotland. The Scottish monarchy would take this pledge as a declaration of war and would duly attack the MacDonalds and remove their title with the lordship disappearing forever from the family’s titles in 1493.

This would be an ignominious end for a family who had effectively ruled the western islands of Scotland as a separate Kingdom for two centuries from their humble base on the banks of Loch Finlaggan in Islay. Finlaggan would then be held by the MacGillespie family after the lordship collapsed and would eventually come under the control of the Campbells, who owned Islay in its entirety.

In more recent times, while the site of the former castle is now no more than a few ruined stones, Finlaggan is maintained by the Finlaggan Trust who have converted a nearby cottage into a comprehensive museum with numerous artefacts which have been discovered during various archaeological digs around the site. It is open to visitors and is a worthwhile place for any MacDonald to stop on a pilgrimage to Scotland!

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Learn more about the famous Clan MacDonald HERE.