Notes: Despite its remote location, Skipness Castle is relatively easy to find. It is accessed via a single track road (signposted for the castle and marked 'No Through Road') off the B8001 at Claonaig. There is a dedicated car park at Skipness followed by a short walk to the castle. Visitors are warned to take care around the fearless poultry!
1. Suibhne, Lord of Knapdale is believed to have been the builder of nearby Castle Sween - the oldest stone castle in Scotland - and was also their primary MacSween seat in Kintyre. Lochranza Castle on Arran was also built by the MacSweens.
2. In August 1646 Gilleasbuig MacColla, brother to the Royalist-Irish General Alistair MacColla who was besieging the castle, was killed at Skipness.
Tower House. The Tower House was built over an existing two storey structure by Colin Campbell, Earl of Arygll.
Overlooking the Kilbrannan Sound, Skipness Castle was originally a simple two-storey Hall House before being substantially rebuilt by the MacDonalds in the late thirteenth century. Following their downfall in 1493, the castle passed into the hands of Clan Campbell. It was attacked but not taken during the War of Three Kingdoms.
HISTORY OF SKIPNESS CASTLE
Skipness Castle was built in the early thirteenth century either by Suibhne (later anglised to Sween), Lord of Knapdale or his son, Dugald. At this time Argyll was not part of Scotland but was under Norse control. Its location, on the shores of the Kilbrannan Sound in the Firth of Clyde, provided sheltered waters and natural harbours for the Norwegian warships. The original structure was a basic two-storey Hall House surrounded by a small curtain wall.
By the mid thirteenth century the MacSween's had control of huge swathes of territory which stretched from Loch Awe in the north to Loch Fyne in the South. But Norway's control over Argyll was lost with the defeat of Haakon IV at the Battle of Largs (1263) and his successor, King Magnus, was compelled to agree to the Treaty of Perth (1266) in which the domain was ceded to Scotland. Thereafter the MacSweens, who had supported the defeated Hakon, were driven out of Kintyre. By the 1290s Skipness was owned by Clan MacDonald.
The MacDonalds assumed the title Lord of the Isles and they substantially rebuilt Skipness Castle. The Hall House itself was retained but a new curtain wall, enclosing additional structures, was built bristling with arrow slits. The upgrades may well have been partially funded by the English as, with the outbreak of the Wars of Scottish Independence in 1296, they had initially supported Edward I but soon switched sides as the fortunes of war shifted in favour of Robert the Bruce. They held Skipness, as well as many other territories within Argyll, until the late fifteenth century when the power of the MacDonalds was broken by James IV. When John MacDonald surrendered to the King in May 1493 the castle passed into Royal ownership and was briefly garrisoned by Royal troops. Thereafter it was granted to Colin Campbell, Earl of Argyll.
Shortly after coming into possession of the castle, the Campbells made significant modifications. Re-using a two storey building that dated from the early MacDonald era, they built the Tower House that still dominates the site to this day. As was the norm for the period, the structure provided the Lord's accommodation.
The castle saw action during the War of Three Kingdoms. In 1646, the Royalist-Irish General Alasdair MacColla (also known as Sir Alexander MacDonald) invaded Kintyre and advanced along the peninsula towards a rendezvous with James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. Skipness was not only a former MacDonald property but was also owned by the Covenanter Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll who was the principal opponent of the Royalist forces. The castle held out and, following MacColla's defeat at the Battle of Rhunahaorine Moss on 24 May 1647, his army was forced back south towards Dunaverty.
The castle was abandoned as a residence by the early 1700s and later its buildings were used as a farm. By the late nineteenth century though it was being appreciated as a picturesque ruin and was eventually taken into State care.