Dunscaith Castle

An often-forgotten MacLeod castle, Dunscaith is today a ruin on the Isle of Skye.

Ruins of Dunscaith Castle

Ruins of Dunscaith Castle

It is in Sleat, the traditional lands of MacDonald of Sleat. It was their main seat in the 1400s-1600s. It was probably built in the 1200s on the site of an earlier fort. At that time, MacLeods would have possessed all of Skye through inheritance from the Norse vicecomes (Latin for Viscount or Sheriff, but really just meaning he was the  Lieutenant of the Crovan Dynasty Hebridean King, Olaf) Pal Balkison.

The older fort may have been  the location where the character Queen Sgathaich in the Irish Ulster Cycle trained the hero Cuchulainn on Skye. The origin of the name Dunscaith (which means Fort of Shadow) probably comes from the story, as the Castle in Gaelic is called Dùn Sgàthaich.

At some point in the 1400s, when the MacDonalds expanded onto Skye, the castle was taken from the MacLeods by the MacDonalds. A few times it changed hands between MacDonalds and MacLeods, including some time being garrisoned or belonging to the MacAskills, before it was eventually forfeit to the King.

If you do go to visit the ruins on the Isle of Skye, the drive is rather exciting. It begins by coming off the main road up a small side road, becoming very narrow singletrack with many hills and blind corners. At times, we could not see over the hood where the road was, and only the cliffs and sea ahead. Driving on Skye is worthy of a post of it’s own, but this was exceptionally memorable. There are sheep in the road often, and they know they have right of way.

Traffic on the way to Dunscaith

Traffic on the way to Dunscaith

Read more about Dunscaith at the official site of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Another source about many of the castles in the area is The Mediaeval Castles of Skye and Lochalsh by Roger Miket and David L. Roberts.

The Massacre at Trumpan Church

On the 1st Sunday in May of 1578, a retaliatory event in an ongoing feud led to one of the most well-known MacLeod stories, and one with ruins that can be still visited today– The massacre at Trumpan Church.

Trumpan Celtic Cross Gravestone Waternish

Grave Marker in Trumpan Churchyard, Waternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The year prior, again in retaliation for an earlier event, the MacLeods had killed a large number of the MacDonald of Clanranald inhabitants of the Isle of Eigg, who had hid in a cave. Clanranald was set on revenge, landing several war galleys on the beach, seen in the background of the previous picture, on a Sunday, when most of the MacLeods of this part of Waternish would be gathered in the church.

Ruins of Trumpan Church and Yard

Ruins of Trumpan Church and Yard

They barricaded the door, trapping the worshipers inside, then set fire to the thatch roof. The story goes that one woman was able to escape out the very narrow window, but other accounts claim she came out through a portion of the roof that had not caught fire yet.

Trumpan Church Window

Trumpan Church Window

Whatever the manner of escape, she fled to Dunvegan Castle and was able to inform the Chief, who immediately gathered a party to meet the invaders. The MacDonald retreat to their home on the Isle of Uist was prevented by the tide, which left the ships high and dry on the beach.

Trumpan View

When the two armed groups met, there was a huge slaughter, and the MacDonald of Clanranald force was wiped out. The fight was called “The Battle of the Spoiling of the Dyke”, as burying all the dead would be a huge task so a dam was breached to wash the bodies out to sea instead.