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Kilchurn Castle

Argyll and Bute Category Historic Sites
Kilchurn Castle image

Campbell’s kingdom

Kilchurn Castle was built in the mid-1400s by Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glenorchy.

In 1432, Colin, second son of Duncan Campbell (later 1st Lord Campbell), was granted Glenorchy, at the north end of Loch Awe. This grant was designed to ensure Colin’s loyalty following the sudden death of his elder brother, Gillespic.

Colin’s descendants, the Campbells of Glenorchy (later earls of Breadalbane), were the most powerful of the numerous cadets of Clan Campbell. Indeed, there were times when this branch almost rivalled the clan chiefs, the earls of Argyll, for supremacy.

Kilchurn remained their powerbase for 150 years. It was not abandoned until the 1700s.

The charter of 1449

Sir Colin Campbell built the castle on ‘Elankylquhurne’ (island of Kilchurn) before his death in 1475. A charter dated March 1449 ‘apud Castrum de Glenurquhay’ (at the Castle of Glenurquhay) confirms its existence by that date.

The castle comprised a five-storey tower-house at one corner of an irregular-shaped courtyard. The tower house still stands substantially complete, overshadowing the rest of the complex. On the ground level of the tower were a cellar and prison. There was a hall on the first floor and private chambers above.

Colin’s son, Duncan, the 2nd Lord, added the laich (lower) hall in the courtyard before his death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. The 3rd and 4th Lords both died at Kilchurn, in 1523 and 1536 respectively.

Colin, the 6th Lord, added the four fine angle-turrets on the top of the tower house. However, he was also responsible for relocating the Campbells of Glenorchy to their new home – Balloch (now Taymouth), in Perthshire – before his death in 1583. Thereafter Kilchurn played second fiddle to the family’s Perthshire residences.

Garrison stronghold

During the troubled times of the late 1600s, following the overthrow of the Stuart dynasty in 1689, Kilchurn found a new role. In that year Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, 1st Earl of Breadalbane, retired to his ancestral seat. He set about converting it into a garrison stronghold, a project which took the best part of a decade.

The old tower house was converted into accommodation for the officers commanding a garrison of 200 men. For that garrison, a purpose-built barracks was erected along the north side of the courtyard. The barrack block still stands relatively complete, and is the oldest surviving barracks on the British mainland.

Little use was made of the garrison stronghold, other than as an outpost for government soldiers during the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745.

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