Skye - Dunvegan Castle
Dunvegan has remained the home of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 700 years. In fact, the castle has been occupied continuously by the same family for longer than any other in Scotland. The MacLeods are allegedly descended from Leod, son of Olaf the Black, King of the Isle of Man and the North Isles, who in 1237 inherited the island of Lewis and Harris and part of Skye, by marriage. The stronghold of Dunvegan, established on a rocky peninsular at the head of a sea loch, facing Harris, is said to have been built by Leod himself, and has remained the ancestral home of the MacLoeds (meaning son of Leod) ever since.
When Leod constructed Dunvegan Castle, the landward side, being more vulnerable to attack than the lochside, was built as a sheer wall with hardly any window space. Thus it remained until the 18 th century when, after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, a landward entrance was cut into the stone fortifications. Up to this period the only means of entry was through a sea gate guarded by a portcullis, which Leod had established before his death in 1280. Between 1340-60, a strong keep was built by Malcolm, the 3 rd chief of Dunvegan, and in about 1500 the Fairy Tower was constructed. Two centuries later landward entries were created, but the most extensive restoration was undertaken in the 19 th century when the entire castle was modernised, and the corner turrets and battlements were introduced. Between 1938-40, a serious fire destroyed much of the south wing and a further rebuilding programme was undertaken.
Dunvegan Castle could never be classed as an impressive fortress, but its attraction lies rather as an emotive symbol of Highland heritage, and as such is a veritable treasure trove of clan history. Among the many arcane treasures the most famous is the fabled Fairy Flag, to be unfurled only when extreme danger threatens. Legend has fairies presenting the flag to the MacLeods, but research dates it to between AD400-700 and of Byzantine origin, perhaps the famous silk banner Landoda brought back from Palestine by Leod's ancestor Harald Haardraade. The great clan chief Alasdair Crotach is alleged to have unfurled the flag twice during desperate and bitter conflict with Clan Ranald in the early 16 th century.
Another powerful clan, the MacDonalds, was also based on Skye, and became the traditional enemies of the MacLeods. Although Dunvegan saw very little action in its long history, it was besieged early in the 15 th century by the MacDonalds of Sleat. In the 16 th century the castle was actually captured when Iain Dubh, uncle of the incumbent MacLeod chieftain, aspired to the seat of power in 1557. Through the early decades of the 17 th century the MacLeods supported the Stewarts, that is until the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when three-quarters of the 700 men provided for the Stewart cause were killed on the battlefield. After this disaster no MacLeod chief fought for the Stewarts again. In 1745, despite the presence of Bonnie Prince Charlie on the Scottish mainland, the MacDonalds of Sleat also denied him their assistance. Of interest, it was MacDonald of Kinsburgh on Skye to whom Flora MacDonald brought the defeated prince for succour after the catastrophe at Culloden. The MacLeod chieftain actually raised a company to fight for the Hanoverian George II, although many MacLeod clansmen did rally to the doomed Jacobite cause.
After 1745 the MacLeod Clan dwindled in number and became scattered, so that although Dunvegan still remained their ancestral home, it never again became the powerbase it once was. Some two hundred years later, in 1935, Dame Flora MacLeod became chief and revived the spirit of the clan. Today, Dunvegan Castle is the scene of an annual gathering when MacLeods from all over the world gravitate to the Isle of Skye to celebrate their long-standing heritage.