Duart Castle or Caisteal Dhubhairt in Scottish Gaelic is a castle on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, within the council area of Argyll and Bute. The castle dates back to the 13th century and is the seat of Clan MacLean. In 1350 Lachlan Lubanach Maclean of Duart, the 5th Clan Chief, married Mary, daughter of John of Islay, Lord of the Isles and Duart was part of her dowry. The tourist who takes shipping at Oban with the intention of passing through the Sound of Mull cannot fail to observe the picturesque ruins of Castle Duart, which stand on a promontory of the island of Mull, immediately opposite Lismore. The situation occupied by these remains exhibits the chief characteristics of Highland maritime scenery, and would be worthy of attention even were there no historical memories connected with it. The Point of Duart has been formed by the wash of the Atlantic Ocean rushing through the Sound of Mull, and the rugged peak which it exposes to the confined course of this current diverts its energy northwards to the indented shores of Loch Linnhe, to the coast of Morven, and to the islets around Lismore. The channel between this point and the nearest land is about four miles wide; and as the Castle is exposed to all the fury of the northern gales which swoop down upon it from Loch Linnhe, the wildness of the surrounding scenery may be easily imagined. The hundred peaks of Argyllshire stand out boldly against the horizon, while the shore on either side of the Sound of Mull is dotted with the remains of ancient Keeps and Castles, the relics of the stern feudal system which once obtained in the district, the deserted strongholds of some of the Highland Clans that are now scattered throughout the wide world. And as the rude rocks which line the shores tell the story to him who can read aright of volcanic upheavals and commotions which have altered the face of Nature in pre-historic times, so these silent ruins speak eloquently of fierce revolutions in the history of man, and, like enduring monuments, indicate the progress and development of civilization. They tell of times :— "When sullen Ignorance her flag displayed, And Rapine and Revenge her voice obeyed."
It is impossible to give an accurate date for the erection of the oldest part of Duart Castle. There probably was an original Keep on the site of the present Castle, a portion of which, still in existence, has been adopted in the later erection. This part has high and massive walls, varying from 10 to 15 feet thick, which enclose what is now the courtyard. The Castle was probably founded by Lauchlan Maclean, surnamed Lubanach, about the year 1366, in which year he married Margaret, daughter of MacDonald, first Lord of the Isles. As Maclean of Duart, he and his successors for a long time were heritable Keepers of many Castles in the district, and had many possessions both on the mainland and in the Western Isles. The first reference to the Castle in documents is dated 1392, but the building was not completely finished till the time of Hector Mor Maclean, about 1560, and this Chief also married Mary, daughter of Alexander Macdonald, then Lord of the Isles, whose seat was at Isla. From a comparison of the architecture of different parts of the Castle, it appears that the Great Tower was erected by this Hector Mor Maclean. The MacDonalds had made common cause with. the Macleans against the rising power of the Campbells of Argyll, but their alliance was short-lived. The Chief of the MacDonald’s had formed an expedition along with Maclean of Duart, and they had ravaged some of the richest territories belonging to the Campbells. But the son of the Chief of the MacDonalds afterwards married a daughter of the second Earl of Argyll, and he thus became the enemy of Maclean. A curious complication arose later, when Sir Lachlan Mor Maclean sought to end the contest with the Campbells by wedding Lady Elizabeth Campbell, another of the daughters of the second Earl of Argyll, and sister of the third Earl.
The ambition of Maclean was unbounded, and though his alliance with the House of Argyll ensured to him the peaceable possession of his heritage, he was not content with it. When Sir Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh sought to have himself proclaimed as Lord of the Isles, Maclean threw up his connection with his brother-in-law Argyll, and against the latter’s advice, he stirred up an insurrection in the Hebrides. The powerful influence of Colin, third Earl of Argyll, whose first duty after his accession was to take up arms against his relative Maclean, at length quelled the turmoil. Maclean, however, seems never to have forgiven Argyll for his share in the affair, and determined to wreak his vengeance upon his own wife. History is not very clear as to the character of Lady Elizabeth; for whilst one account makes her to appear almost in the light of a martyred saint, the other asserts that she had twice attempted to take away her husband’s life. On thing is certain—that the misfortune of barrenness was magnified into a crime by the lawless Highland Chief, and he determined to effect her destruction. The method which he adopted exhibited the refinement of savage cruelty. Off the coast of Mull, as already explained, there is still shown the bare and solitary rock which her lord determined should make her pathway to heaven. Fringed with sea-weed, and ever moist with the lapping waters which cover the surface entirely at flood-tide, this lone rock might well scare the high-born lady, whose brutal husband led her here to endure the agonies of a slow and torturing death. One may imagine the fearful forebodings of the Lady Elizabeth as the advancing waters by their resistless march bore her nearer and nearer to her doom. At length, when despair had all but seized her, she noticed a little boat upon the waters, whose occupants replied to her frantic signals of distress. They drew near, and to her infinite joy she beheld the faces of some of her own clansmen, whom Providence had sent to her rescue when in extremity. They bore her swiftly away to her brother’s house, and restored her, weeping, to the shade of the paternal roof-tree.
The Campbells arose in a body to demand retribution, but the politic Earl did not care to press his brother-in-law too severely. The task of revenge fell therefore upon Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, whose courage kept pace with his impetuosity. Not long after, having heard that Maclean was in Edinburgh, Campbell hastened there, entered his lodgings, and slew him as he lay in bed, scorning to give him even the privilege of defence, since his intended murder of his wife had disgraced him as a Knight. As might have been foreseen, this rash deed at once drove the two clans to arms, and only the interposition of the Government prevented much useless bloodshed.
In 1631 the clan chief was made a Baronet by Charles I of England and there followed a century of Royalist loyalty which resulted in the loss of the MacLean lands. In 1647, Duart Castle was attacked and laid siege to by the Argyll government troops of Clan Campbell, but they were defeated and driven off by the Royalist troops of Clan MacLean. In September 1653, a Cromwellian task force of six ships anchored off the castle, but the Macleans had already fled to Tiree. A storm blew up on the 13 September and three ships were lost, including HMS Swan. In 1678, Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, son of the Marquess of Argyll, successfully invaded the Clan MacLean lands on the Isle of Mull and Sir John Maclean, 4th Baronet fled the castle and withdrew to Cairnbulg Castle, and afterward to Kintail under the protection of the Earl of Seaforth. In 1691 Duart Castle was surrendered by Sir John Maclean, 4th Baronet to Archibald Campbell, 1st Duke of Argyll. The Campbell clan demolished the castle, and the stones from the walls were scattered. Donald Maclean, 5th Laird of Torloisk used some of the stones to build a cottage for his family close to the site of the castle. By 1751 the remains of the castle were abandoned. Descendants of Archibald Campbell, 1st Duke of Argyll sold the castle in 1801, to MacQuarrie, who then sold it to Carter-Campbell of Possil who kept it as a ruin within the grounds of his own estate to the north, Torosay Castle. He later sold his Torosay Estate which now included the ruins of Castle Duart to A. C. Guthrie in 1865. On 11 September 1911, the ruin was separated from the rest of the Torosay Estate and was bought by Sir Fitzroy Donald Maclean, the 26th Chief of the Clan MacLean and restored.
The clan name Mac'Lean means 'Son of Gillean', and it takes this from the Thirteenth-Century warrior, Gillean of the Battle-Axe, who was related to the Kings of the Ancient Province of Dalriada. The Great Hall is magnificent. Adjacent to the Sea Room the walls are 10 to 23 feet thick (3m to 7m) and over looks the Courtyard. The Hall boasts Family Portraits and the Coats of Arms. The Keep was built by Chief Lachlan Lubanach Maclean and on the vunerable landward side is 29 feet (9m) high and 10 feet (3m) thick. The walls facing the sea are less thick ranging from 5 to 9 feet (1.8m to 2.4m). The State Bedroom and Dressing Rooms and other adjacent rooms offer a collection of family photographs dating from the mid nineteenth century to the present day. The collection includes Military Uniforms and Dresses dating from 1750. The Exhibition area at the top of the Castle is dedicated to the History of the Chiefs of the Clan through the ages. Also in this room, there are wall hangings and memorabilia dedicated to The Scouting Association and their history and links with the Macleans. round the Castle there are many more things to enjoy and discover. From the Castle down to the waters edge, there are marked walks and pathways which take you around the Castle, past the canon and the jetty and back to the Tearoom. There are benches along the way where you can stop and enjoy the views across the Sound of Mull.
There are accessible toilets located at the Castle. Most of the castle is wheelchair accessible. The grounds are wheelchair accessible and offer stunning views. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Duart Castle, Isle of Mull , Scotland, PA64 6AP
Transport: Oban (National Rail) then ferry + Duart Coach. Bus Routes : Duart Coach from the ferry landing.
Opening Times : April 1st to October 18th, 10.30 to 17:30
Tickets : Adults £6.00; Concessions £5.40; Children (4 - 15) £3.00
Tel : 01680 812309