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Kilchoan, Mingary Castle

A Category A Listed Building in Fort William and Ardnamurchan, Highland

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Latitude: 56.6927 / 56°41'33"N

Longitude: -6.0802 / 6°4'48"W

OS Eastings: 150274

OS Northings: 763101

OS Grid: NM502631

Mapcode National: GBR CCC1.3S6

Mapcode Global: WGZCS.K1XM

Plus Code: 9C8MMWV9+3W

Entry Name: Kilchoan, Mingary Castle

Listing Date: 20 July 1971

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 330845

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB527

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Ardnamurchan

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: Fort William and Ardnamurchan

Parish: Ardnamurchan

Traditional County: Argyllshire

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Mingary castle is a medieval castle dating to around the late 13th century with late 16th and 17th century alterations, further early 18th century additions and 21st century alterations. It consists of an irregular polygonal enclosure, or curtain wall, with a wall walk and two corbelled turrets at the southwest and southeast corners. It is built in random rubble with distinctive horizontal coursing. The enclosure follows the outline of a rocky outcrop sitting above the shore with a rock-cut defensive ditch to the north. There is a seaward entrance through the south curtain and a landward entrance which is approached from the north over a causeway crossing the defensive ditch, although evidence survives for an earlier drawbridge arrangement.

Within the enclosure, a 3-storey and attic range is built against the north wall. It is largely 18th century in its form, having been adapted from an earlier medieval building. This range has two rooms of unequal size on each floor accessed from a new timber scale-and-platt staircase within an existing stair well. There are further ranges against the west and east walls. The range against the west wall has a single-pitched roof and is of two storeys with a single basement chamber at its south end accessed from the courtyard. Again it a medieval or early modern structure adapted in the 17th or 18th century although much of the west wall dates from 2014-15 when the castle was brought back into use. The east range is again a single-pitched lean-to structure and appears to be an addition built in the 18th century.

The castle was brought back into use during a reconstruction project undertaken in 2013-16 having been a roofless ruin since the mid-19th century. This project saw the insertion of a flat-roofed boiler house in the castle ditch and new roof and floor structures, interiors, windows and doors, and services within the castle itself.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: the flat-roofed boiler room within the castle ditch, all interiors and the glazed timber-and-slate link between main block and east range, all part of the 2013 conversion.

Statement of Interest

Mingary Castle is a particularly rare and well-preserved example of a 13th century west coast castle. It remains one of the most complete examples of its type. The massive enclosing curtain wall unmistakeably evidences its function and purpose through its architectural treatment.

While retaining many early features, it also demonstrates how such castles were adapted to respond to military developments such as the coming of gunpowder and changes in domestic requirements. The castle also had a role in several events of national importance including the suppression of the Lord of the Isles by James IV and the campaign of Alasdair MacColla as part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Castles have a fascination for the public and Scotland is known internationally for its medieval castles. Those such as Mingary built on the western seaboard can be seen as physical evidence for the encroachment of Anglo-Norman structures and institutions into what was a Norse-Gaelic cultural zone, and a demonstration of this growing influence of the Scottish Crown that followed the Treaty of Perth in 1266 with the recognition of Scottish sovereignty over the Hebrides and the Isle of Man.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: the flat-roofed boiler room within the castle ditch, all interiors and the glazed timber-and-slate link between main block and east range, all part of the 2013 conversion.

Age and Rarity

Mingary Castle has a complex development history and retains evidence of several building periods. There are no records of its construction and it is first documented in a Great Seal charter from 1495. However, the architectural features of the curtain wall with its distinctive horizontal coursing, rounded corners and lancet windows indicate that the castle was most likely constructed from the mid to late 13th century, although Stell has suggested that it may date as late as the mid-14th century (Stell 2014).

Mingary is one of a group of early masonry castles located along the western seaboard of Scotland which shared a number of characteristics such as commanding coastal locations, high curtain walls and irregularly-shaped or rectilinear enclosures. These include Castle Sween, Argyll (probably late 12th century), Castle Tioram, Highland (late 13th century to early 14th century) Duart, Mull (13th century), Dunoon, Argyll (early 13th century), Dunstaffange Castle, Argyll (early-to-mid 13th century), Duntrune, Argyll (late 13th but perhaps as late as 15th century) and Rothesay, Bute (early 13th century). Dunstanffanage, Castle Tioram and Mingary have been considered as a distinct group because of their polygonal enclosures. Although some of the similarities in overall design will be due to the nature of the irregular and steep-sided summits sites that were chosen for these castles, the similarities in the distinctive coursed masonry, the lancet windows at Mingary and Dunstaffanage, and the rounded corners at Mingary and Castle Tioram, point to a similar date-range for these sites. Mingary Castle is therefore part of a small but significant group of west coast castles dating to around the mid-to-late 13th century, which help us to understand the nature of medieval lordship in this part of Scotland.

Interpretations of Mingary have focused on the polygonal enclosure as the earliest phase of construction and have identified the internal buildings as a wholly dating to the late 17th and early 18th century. However, the castle is now considered to retain more early fabric than thought and has a number of important features for understanding the development of castles in Scotland, particularly along the west coast.

Mingary Castle has extensive remains of its original parapet and crenallation surviving, embedded within later masonry on the north, east and northwest perimeter. This is a rare survival of this period with other examples at Rothesay Castle, Castle Tioram and Skipness Castle, all contained within later masonry. The later alteration of the northern wall head dates to the late 16th century when the parapet was both widened and heightened and a new wall-walk was constructed at a height of about 2m above the parapet. These changes created two levels for firing muskets as the 13th century crenells were remodelled to serve as musket-loops. This is an important example of the adaption of medieval defences for the use of firearms.

The castle has two entrances: a seaward entrance from the south and landward entrance from the north. The existence of a seagate is an unusual feature. Both have been altered, probably in the late 16th century. However, the landward entrance retains evidence of the original drawbridge arrangement in the form of three large stone corbels which would have taken a pivot beam. The discovery of mouldings within the ditch of the castle suggests that in the late 16th century the entrance was altered with the insertion of a new door surround. This had a broad quirked roll moulding combined with the semi-circular arched head, with a double-rebate indicating both a door and a yett, suggesting that the drawbridge was replaced at this time by a causeway. The mouldings within the ditch were damaged by fire probably in the siege of 1644 (see below) which led to the replacement by a simple square-headed doorway, which was subsequently robbed. The present entrance, although devoid of its dressings, does retains evidence of its 17th century arrangements. The landward entrance therefore contains evidence of multiple changes over a long period of time. This is a rare survival as early entrance arrangements at other west coast castles are either very simple or have been removed by later alterations. The later changes are also of significance as they provide evidence of the damage caused in the siege of 1644.

The lancet windows in the north and east curtains indicate the location of the principal accommodation of the castle in its first phase. This location takes best advantage of the limited space within the enclosure. The first floor windows pierce the entire thickness of the curtain wall and there is evidence that they would have originally had bench seating, suggesting they served a first floor hall/ or hall and chamber arrangement. The upper level of lancets lit a chamber within the thickness of the north wall which is reached by a staircase within the thickness of the east curtain. This chamber has a low, stone-built bench situated along the base of the west wall of the chamber. This area by the bench is lit by the paired lancet window, the only example in the castle. This may indicate that this space was a private chapel with the bench supporting the altar stone (although the possible altar structure is orientated to the west rather than the east as one would expect). If an oratory, this would be a rare feature to identify in a castle of this date. This space was later filled with rubble to increase the strength of the landward curtain. The rubble was removed as part of the 2013 scheme to bring back the castle into use and is now a bathroom.

The original hall structure located against the interior of the north curtain may have been of timber or masonry. This original structure was at some point replaced by the present north range. This structure has previously been dated to the 17th or 18th century but more recent analysis has suggested that it is an earlier structure, probably late-medieval, that was adapted by the insertion of windows and crosswalls. The parapet wall head of the range retains multiply drainage spouts, a detail which is likely to be from the late-medieval phase of the structure. There is no evidence in the ground floor vaulting that might be expected in a medieval structure of this form. However, in the context of western seaboard castles the lack of vaulting is not unusual, particular for halls. The conversion of the medieval hall into an 18th century house, or barracks block as some have interpreted the structure, demonstrates how such medieval castles sites were adapted in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The castle was brought back into use during a reconstruction project undertaken in 2013-16 having been a roofless ruin since the mid-19th century. This project saw the insertion of a flat-roofed boiler house in the castle ditch and interiors and services within the castle itself. These insertions from 2013 are excluded from the listing.

Architectural or Historic Interest


The interiors of the castle entirely date from 2013 onwards and are excluded from the listing.

Plan form

The plan of the castle shares similarities with other west coast castles of this date, particularly Dunstaffanage and Castle Tioram. The plan form was dictated by the nature of the irregular and steep-sided rocky outcrop chosen for the site of the castle. The location would have been chosen because of its defensive capabilities and commanding position above seaways.

The original plan form of the buildings within the curtain wall is uncertain. However, the identification of the north range as containing medieval fabric and the location of the lancet windows and mural chambers, suggest that there was a first floor hall, perhaps with a chamber beyond which would have access to a possible oratory within a wall chamber. Such plan arrangements are typical for medieval halls across western Europe, but Mingary is significant in the context of the western seaboard of Scotland. The changes to this structure in the late 17th or early 18th century demonstrate how such medieval structures were adapted to serve changing domestic requirements.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

As described in the Age and Rarity section (see above) the fabric and form of the castle evidences the various building periods in which the castle has been construction and adapted.


The castle stands upon a low sea-grit promontory about 2km southeast of Kilchoan. As with many castles along the western seaboards, its location should be understood in the context of sea-borne communication; it commands the northern entrance to the sound of Mull and the mouth of Loch Sunnart. The shale-beds beneath the castle walls would have provided a convenient landing-point in reasonable weather.

Regional variations

Mingary Castle is one of a small but significant group of west coast castles dating to around the 13th century, which help us to understand the nature of medieval lordship in this part of Scotland.

Close Historical Associations

It is not known who constructed the castle. However, from the late 13th century, the lordship of Ardnamurchan is documented as being held by Alexander MacDougall of Lorne (Brown K M et al, 2007-2012 1293/2/17). The castle is therefore likely to have formed a northern extension of the MacDougall domains reflecting the progressive expansion of their powerbase north and west from their core lands in mainland Argyll.

The castle was first documented in 1495 when James IV issued a Great Seal charter to John Stirling, son of Sir William Stirling, in respect of the lands and barony of Keir in Perthshire. The bestowal of the charter took place when all parties were at the 'Castle of Meware in Ardnamurchan'. This visit was part of an organised royal campaign into the Isles following a number of uprisings in 1493-4 by the MacDonalds following the suppression of the Lord of the Isles in 1493. The expedition was not just to demonstrate the royal power but also to reward the Crown's supporters in the region, which included John MacIan, Lord of Ardnamurchan and owner of Mingary Castle. John MacIan remained a stalwart supporter of the Crown and was rewarded through gifts and lands including a second charter 1499 granting him the lands of Ardnamurchan with the 'castle and fortalice of Mingary'. Following James IV's death, John MacIan was one of the principal targets of a rebellion raised by Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh and Alexander MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the Glens, who had ambitions to restore the Lordship of the Isles. Mingary was besieged by MacDonald forces in 1515, and again in 1517 when it was reported that the Mingary had been 'destroyed' and the surrounding area laid waste by Alexander MacDonald of Dunyvaig. The castle was plainly not destroyed at this time but must have suffered some damage.

The hostility between the MacIan's of Ardnamurchan and the MacDonald's of Dunyvaig was resolved by marriage and during the bitter feud that developed between the MacLean's of Duart and the MacDonald's of Dunyvaig, the MacIan's supported the MacDonlad cause. In 1588, after capturing John MacIan, the MacLeans besieged Mingary with the aid of Spanish troops drawn from a large Armada galleon which had taken refuge in Tobermoray Bay, probably the San Juan de Sicilia. The siege was unsuccessful and the San Juan sank in Tobermory Bay as the result of an explosion which may have resulted from sabotage by John Smollett. It may have been in response to this siege that the north curtain wall was raised in height.

In the early 17th century the Campbell family as earls of Argyll successful challenged the MacIan's possession of Ardnamurchan and Mingary Castle. In 1612 the 7th Earl of Argyll granted a commission to his brother-in-law Donald Campbell on Barbeck-Lochow 'to take and receive the castle and place of Mingarry and, upon the Earl's expenses, to put keepers therein'. In 1644, Ardnamurchan and Mingary Castle became caught up in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and is an important building in understanding the conflicts between the anti-Campbell Highland clans and the Covenanters during the 1640s. In early July 1644, Major-General Alastair MacDonald, also known as Alasdair MacColla, had landed in Scotland, having been dispatched by the Supreme Council of Confederate Ireland with around 2000 men in support of Charles I. MacColla landed in Ardnamurchan on 7 July and on 14 July took control of Mingary Castle from Convenanter forces after a brief siege. The event is well-documented and provides important information on how a siege would have been undertaken. The account tells of how MacColla's forces, who were without siege artillery or scaling ladders, fired the main gate of the castle.

On 29 July, MacColla set off with most of the army to campaign within Argyll lands, in revenge for previous actions taken by the Campbells against the MacDonalds in the Highlands. At the same time, Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, had begun advancing on Mingary to attempt to retake his castle. Argyll arrived by sea on 7 August 'with 5 ships and mani boats' and immediately began the siege by bombarding the castle. The wreck of a 17th century ship approximately 700m to the southeast of the castle (Historic Marine Protected Area 2) probably dates from this episode, as does a cannonball embedded high in the castle's east curtain wall. Mingary Castle is therefore an important example of a coastal castle subject to a naval attack and demonstrates the growing vulnerability of coastal castles to attack by seaborne artillery during the 17th century.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2017. Previously listed as 'Kilchoan, Mingary Castle'.

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