Loch Alsh and Loch Long are within the vicinity and the castles can easily be reached on a single day trip from Inverness or Fort William by car or the services of the coach to and from Skye.It is situated on an island at a point where the three great sea lochs meet and is surrounded by some awesome scenery.
It is now one of the most visited and an important attraction in the Scottish highlands. Eilean Donan meaning Island of Donnan is probably called after the sixth century Irish Saint, Bishop Donan who came to Scotland somewhere in 580 AD.
There were several churches dedicated to Donan in this area and it is presumed that he formed small cell or community during the late seventh century on the island.
The Castle – A Stronghold
The castle which was founded in the thirteenth century became a stronghold of the Mackenzie Clan and their allies, the Clan Macrae.
The first fortified structure was not built till the early 13th century as a defensive means to protect the lands of Kintail against the Vikings who after raiding, settled and controlled most of the North of Scotland as well as the Western Isles between 800 and 1266.
Though it was first inhabited around the sixth century, the first fortified castle was built somewhere in the mid-13th century standing guard over the lands of Kintail and since then at least four various versions of the castle were built and rebuilt as the feudal history of Scotland got unfolded through the centuries.
Restored by Lt. Colonel John MacRae Gilstrap
Eilean Donan was partially destroyed in a Jacobite uprising towards 1719 and was in ruins for the best part of two hundred years till Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and restored the castle to its original glory.
The castle was then re-opened in 1932 after twenty years of labour and toil where one can explore every part of the castle with the opportunity to glimpse and enjoy the history of this castle. The castle now has its own visitor centre which has the Ticket Office, with Coffee and gift shops as well as toilets.
A good spacious area is available for free car park and large groups or parties are most welcome. For those who are unable to manage the large number of steps, can opt for the facility at the visitor centre for a computer based Virtual Tour that is made available on request since they do not have the facility of wheelchair access in the castle.
Castle Garrisoned in 1719
All throughthe centuries the castle had expanded and contracted in size and the medieval castle was probably one of the largest with towers and a curtain wall which covered the entire island where the main keep stood on the highest point on the island.
Towards the end of the 14th century, the area of the castle reduced to around a fifth of its former size and though the reason is unknown, it probably could be the outcome on the number of men needed to defend this structure.By the 16th century, horn work was added to the east wall to provide a firing platform for the newly introduced cannons.
The castle was garrisoned in 1719by forty six soldiers who were supporting the Jacobites and established a magazine of gunpowder who were waiting for the delivery of weapons and cannon from Spain.
The English Government got to know of the intended uprising and sent three heavily armed frigates namely, The Flamborough, The Worcester and The Enterprise to suppress the matter.
The Castle rebuilt to its former plan
The bombardment of the castle lasted for three days but met with limited success due to the large size of the castle walls where, in some places they were up to 14 feet thick. Captain Herdman of The Enterprise finally sent his men ashore and over powered the Spanish defenders.
With their surrender, the government troops discovered the magazine of 343 barrels of gunpowder which was then used to blow up whatever had remained from the bombardment. For the major part of the two hundred years, the ruins of Eilean Donan was left neglected abandoned and open to the elements till it was restored by Lt Colonel John who along with his Clerk of Works, Farquar Macrae dedicated his life in the restoration of Eilean Donan and the castle was once again rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of the earlier phases and finally completed and was open to the public.
The castle is open daily from February to late October from 10 am to 6 pm and from late October to December from 10 am to 4 pm where the last admission is an hour before the closing time.