Eilean Donan Castle (Eilean Donnain)

Eilean Donan Castle


Location: Scotland  Map

Open: 10am - 6pm
(Last Admission 5pm)
13 Mar- 15 Nov daily





(Students, OAPs, UB40)


(2 Adults + 3 Children)


Under 5s


Group Rate (min 12 persons)



Description of Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan is a small island in the United Kingdom located in Scotland, administered by the Council Area of Highland. It is connected to the island of Great Britain by a stone bridge which leads to a fortified castle occupying a good part of the island. This building, built and remodeled many times from the beginning of the 13th century, was abandoned in ruins in 1719 following a battle which severely damaged it. Bought by the MacRae clan, it was rebuilt between 1912 and 1932 preserving the architectural style. Since then, it has welcomed many visitors who consider it Scotland's most romantic castle. It is also one of the most photographed castles in Scotland and has also served as the setting for many films.



Eilean Donan is also called Ellandonan in English and Eilean Donan, Eilean Donnáin, Eilean Dhonnain or Ellendonan in Scottish Gaelic. The castle is called Eilean Donan Castle, Castle Donnan or Ellandonan Castle in English or Caisteal Eilean Donan and Caisteal Eilean Donnáin in Scottish. These toponyms mean “Isle of Donan” and “Castle of the Island of Donan” in French.



Eilean Donan is located in the North of the United Kingdom, in the North West of Scotland. The nearest town is Kyle of Lochalsh located eight miles, or about thirteen kilometers, to the west on the A87 road, near the Isle of Skye. Administratively, the island is part of the Council Area of Highland, in the former district of Skye and Lochalsh.

The island of Great Britain surrounds Eilean Donan to the north-northwest with Ardelve Point to the south-west, as well as to the east where the two islands are closest. It is here that the two islands are linked artificially by a bridge but also naturally when the tide is low. Eilean Tioram, another small uninhabited island, lies to the northwest. Eilean Tioram and Eilean Donan are both part of the Inner Hebrides, an archipelago of islands stretching along the western coasts of Scotland. Eilean Donan is washed by the waters of Loch Duich coming from the southeast, where it joins Loch Long coming from the northeast to form Loch Alsh heading west. This set of three maritime lochs communicates with the Atlantic Ocean via The Minch, a bay in the North of Scotland, as well as by the Sea of the Hebrides located further south.

Eilean Donan is an oval-shaped island, oriented in a north-south1 direction and covering an area of only half a hectare, or 0.005 km. The highest point of the island does not exceed ten meters above sea level, excluding constructions. Its only vegetation consists of moorland and lawns from which a few rocks emerge. This outcropping rock is part of the Lewisian complex composed of metamorphosed continental crust dating from the Precambrian. Despite its small size, the island has a source of fresh water6. Its climate, common to the rest of Scotland, is oceanic. It is characterized by high rainfall of 1,500 millimeters annually distributed throughout the year and cool temperatures ranging from 4 to 10.5 ° C on average but which do not experience great seasonal variability.

The southern part of the island is occupied by a fortified castle surrounded by a path connected to the rest of the British road network by a stone arched bridge. This bridge leads to a visitor reception center surrounded by a car park stretching between the coast and the A871 road. This road makes it possible to reach the Isle of Skye to the west via Dornie, the nearest village to the island located a few hundred meters to the north1, or the east of Scotland via the Great Glen, a valley partly occupied by Loch Ness. The island has had only one inhabitant since 2001 according to Statistics Scotland.



Installation of a religious community

The history of Eilean Donan is intimately linked to that of its castle. Before its construction, the island, probably discovered in prehistoric times like the rest of Scotland, was uninhabited and very little is said about it. Eilean Donan probably takes its name from Donan d'Eigg, an Irish bishop who arrived in Scotland around 580. He evangelized the Celtic population there and lived as a hermit on the island before dying in 618. Many churches in the area are dedicated to Donan and a religious community was founded on Eilean Donan in the late seventh century. The island is chosen in particular because of the stay of the monk, but also because it has a source of fresh water. The future of this community until the construction of the castle remains unknown, but a Pictish fortress would have been built on the island.

Construction and alterations of the castle
Eilean Donan Castle began to be built from the early 13th century, possibly in 1220 or 1230, possibly by King Alexander II to help strengthen the defenses against the Norwegians or by Farquar II, Earl of Ross. At this time and since the 9th century, the Vikings raided Scotland to the point of controlling and settling parts of the country. These Viking possessions in the British Isles did not gain complete independence from the Kingdom of Norway until the middle of the 13th century and were then ruled by the Lords of the Isles. Anxious to defend his lands, the Scottish King Alexander II chose Eilean Donan, located at a strategic position at the crossroads of three maritime lochs, to install a defensive work there. He died in 1249 fighting the Vikings, but his son Alexander III was victorious in 1263 and recovered all the Scottish lands they held. According to Scottish folklore, a son of a chief of the Matheson clan would have acquired the power to communicate with birds and, after being hunted by his father, traveled and became rich in distant countries; his talents and his knowledge of the world won him the favor of King Alexander II who entrusted him with the mission of building a castle on Eilean Donan to defend the kingdom.

Eilean Donan Castle was expanded many times after its construction to the point of occupying the entire island. The fortified castle was then surrounded by a walkway reinforced by towers which encircled a high keep at the highest point of the island. The dimensions of the castle will finally be reduced to a fifth of this maximum size at the end of the 14th century for obscure reasons, perhaps to adapt the work to the number of soldiers available to defend it. Its redesign continued with the addition in the 16th century of a platform in the eastern part of the castle in order to receive cannons, the new firearm of the time.

The future King of Scotland Robert I would have taken refuge in Eilean Donan while he was pursued by the English and it would be from the castle that he would have left to reconquer his throne, recovering it a few months later. The defensive work was thus used on many occasions against foreign enemies but also during the struggles between Scottish clans such as those of the MacRaes and the MacDonalds. The castle was inhabited for a long period by men of the Clan MacKenzie who acquired it in the 14th century and it is managed by a Constable. This title, one of the most prestigious in Kintail at the time, returned to the MacRaes following an act of war when Duncan MacRae, then a simple scout at the castle, managed to defend it alone against an attack by the Clan MacDonald in 1539. During the First English Revolution in the mid-17th century, Royalist troops were temporarily stationed in the castle as the Clan MacKenzie opposed the Republicans.


Jacobite resistance and destruction

At the end of the 17th century, the Glorious Revolution opposed the people and British parliamentarians, supported by the Dutch army and more than 3,000 French Huguenots, to the supporters of King James II of England, who was overthrown in 1688. Spain, which supports the claimant Stuart in opposition to the British crown during the War of the Quadruple Alliance, sends in 1719 to Eilean Donan a garrison of 46 or 48 Jacobite soldiers who entrench themselves in the castle. They have a gunpowder factory at their disposal and are waiting for arms and cannons from Spain. This armament of the castle triggers hostilities between the Jacobite garrison and the British government which came to power with the revolution. On May 10, 1719, he dispatched three frigates, The Enterprise, The Flamborough and The Worcester, which bombarded the castle for three days. The latter resists quite well thanks to the thickness of its walls, which in some places reach fourteen feet, or more than four meters. The final assault is led by the infantry who regain control of the castle and discover there 343 barrels of gunpowder assembled with the aim of blowing up the castle.

Following this episode which greatly damaged the castle, it was abandoned in ruins and the island remained uninhabited and unused for nearly 200 years.


Restoration of the castle

In 1911, John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island and undertook the restoration of the castle there from 1912 with the help of Farquar MacRae who played the role of works supervisor. First, the site is cleared of scattered blocks to reveal the structure of the castle6. According to Macrae family lore, on his return after World War I John MacRae-Gilstrap found that Farquar had overstepped his role and started to rebuild the castle because, he said, he had had a dream where he had it. seen in detail in its original state6. It was not until 1920 that the actual construction began, ending in July 1932, after twenty years of work. At a cost of 250,000 pounds sterling, this rehabilitation is the fourth major overhaul of the castle since its construction. The reconstruction of the buildings and the restitution of their architecture are done solely on the basis of the ruins still visible on the site6. It was not until the work was completed that plans for the castle were found in the archives of Edinburgh Castle. By comparing the old and the new appearance of the castle, it turns out that the reconstruction was very faithful to the original style.

The ruins make it possible to guess the general organization of the castle3. This consists of an interior courtyard with the dungeon in its northeast corner, 57 feet (17 meters) long, 43 feet (13 meters) wide and the walls 10 feet (3 meters), as well as in its southern part another rectangular building. Outside the courtyard is a seven-sided tower 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter and whose base is located below the inner courtyard. This structure, which may be an ancient freshwater cistern, is connected to the eastern walls by two walls that are 5 feet (1.5 meters) thick and could have reached a height of 15 feet (4.5 meters). The surrounding walls of the courtyard are pierced by two gates. The main one, fortified, in the south wall as well as a smaller one in the west wall which presumably allowed direct access to the castle from Loch Duich with a small boat. The guard room, with fourteen feet (4 meters) thick walls and a vaulted ceiling, the kitchens, where meals are prepared without modern equipment, or the banquet room with its exposed beams, are the rooms the most remarkable of the castle, which is entirely furnished and decorated in the style of the Middle Ages12. Erected on the occasion of the rebuilding of the castle, a stele in memory of Canadians, Australians and members of the MacRae clan fallen in combat during the First World War, stands outside the walls.


The castle remained family owned throughout the 20th century, even when the Conchra Charitable Trust was established in 1983. This charitable society was set up by members of the Clan MacRae to ensure the management, maintenance and restoration of the castle. Thus, among the recent developments carried out in the castle and its surroundings, there is the creation of six bedrooms on the third floor in 1996 as well as the renovation of the roof and the exterior walls of part of the castle in the early 2000s. Road access to the island and the castle was redeveloped in 1997 and 1998 by creating a central lane on the A87 road, the layout of which was redesigned, as well as the expansion and redevelopment of the car park and the center of visitors. This visitor center includes the point of sale of tickets for the castle, a souvenir shop and an exhibition center on the renovation of the castle. It also allows anyone who cannot climb the many steps of the castle to take a virtual tour of the place.