Home of the Duke of Argyll - Mac Cailein Mor and Chief of Clan Campbell

I live in the North West of England about 300 miles or so from the Western Highlands of Scotland and Inveraray Castle, home of the Duke of Argyll, and Mac Cailein Mor, Chief of Clan Campbell.  I have been fortunate to visit the town and the castle a few times, so I thought I should share the experience with others less able to make the trip.

The road to Inveraray from Oban takes you down the southern end of Loch Etive, through the Pass of Brander and around the north east end of Loch Awe where (at the southern end) on the Isle of Innischonnel, was the original Campbell stronghold until the mid 15th century. The road then is into the quiet and beautiful Glen Aray which on a sunny day is an inviting place to bide a while and enjoy a picnic and the surroundings views. Inveraray is a small town on the shore of Loch Fyne. It is particularly attractive from the seaward view giving the impression that it is bigger than it actually is, but it has an undeniable character in its buildings and general air The old town and castle of Inveraray used to be located on the banks of the River Aray close by the shore . The town was referred to in 1768 as "composed of the most wretched hovels... " and it is to the 3rd Duke, Archibald's credit that when he planned to rebuild the castle in the mid 1700s he swept away the squalor and founded the new town roughly a mile away. Inveraray was originally a burgh or barony under the Argyll family but was given Royal Burgh status by Charles I in 1648.

The town itself has quite a tale to tell. The Parish church for example is unique in having two halls, one for the service in English and the other in Gaelic. There is also the Town Cross which was brought from Iona and inscribed in Gaelic the English translation of which is:

This is the cross of the noble men, namely Duncan MacCom, Patrick his son, and Ludovick the son of Patrick, who caused this cross to be erected.

The main occupation of Inveraray used to be herring fishing and the harbour was anciently called "Sloch a Chopper " - the gullett where vessels barter fish. A curious expression but descriptive of its activities none the less. The town arms is a net with herring, the latin motto "Semper tibi pendeat halec" translated as - may a herring always hang to thee.

The Montgomery Manuscripts gives an explanation of the origin of the Campbell name and there is also an interesting tale told how the land for the first castle was acquired in the fourteenth centry by a little bit of sharp practice. The family had been given a tract of land on the eastern shore of Loch Fyne but coveted land on the opposite shore. Mac Ceilean Mor bargained with the McVicars, who owned the land, for as much land as could be covered by the skin of a foal, and, cutting the skin into thin ribbons and tying them together, measured and took possession of a considerable area. Work on the new castle was commenced in 1745 and finished about 1758 although decoration inside continued for many years thereafter.

The castle was designed by Roger Morris and built of a locally quarried blue - grey chlorite slate which has the particular quality that after a shower it looks quite black, but soon returns to its original blue - grey as it dries off. The building is quadrangular basically two storied with a sunken floor to which there have been additions over the years. There are rounded towers with conical roofs (added by the 8th Duke in 1877-78) and a square tower in the centre. The net effect is an almost fairy tale type of castle and the whole set in spacious park land and meadow through which the River Aray flows under a bridge designed by John Adam. Overlooking the castle is the Duniquaich , a cone shaped hill with a monument on top that was originally said to be a watch tower from which the Dukes could keep an eye on those entering Inverarary.

Within the grounds there is now the memorial to seventeen Campbells, the Martyrs, who were executed locally for having supported the 9th Earl of Argyll and the Duke of Monmouth in their uprisings against James II in 1685. Monmouth was a favourite and General of the Army but was exiled for involvement in a scheme to kill King Charles II and his brother James ( the Rye House Plot). Argyll returned to Scotland as part of a joint rebellion, but failed to raise support;  he was taken and executed as his father before him. Monmouth returned and was defeated at the battle of Sedgemoor soon after he landed, and executed at Tower Hill in London. The memorial used to be in a garden in the town but was relocated to the Castle grounds un 1983. The plaque reads:

This monument was originally erected in 1754 in Inveraray on a site which now forms part of the garden of the Bank of Scotland. The monument commemorates the execution by the 1st Marquess of  Atholl of seventeen Campbell leaders in 1685. It was moved to its present position in order to make it more accessible to the public and where it was unveiled by the 10th Duke of Atholl in 1983.

Inside the castle there are to be seen a wide variety of objects and art to which mere words cannot do justification. As perhaps should be expected of a distinguished family there are many mementoes as in the Armoury Hall where there are displays of arms. These include a selection of 16th and 17th century spears/lances, Brown Bess muskets, the huge war axes, and the equally huge broadswords that must have required a strong arm to wield. Amongst the displays there is also Rob Roy's sporran, belt and handle of his dirk.

The Tapestry Room contains original ( 200 year old) Beauvais tapestries and with it there is a fine selection of furniture from the late 18th century There are decorations, panels, lavishly ornamented ceilings and rich painting everywhere, and many family portraits by leading artists of their day. The China Turret has a splendid collection of Japanese Imari ware as well as Meissen, Worcester and Derby pieces. The Victorian Room includes, amongst other things, a writing desk that Queen Victoria gave to her daughter, Princess Louise on her marriage to the Marquis of Lorne, later the 9th Duke, in 1871.

The inimitable Dr. Johnson, who visited Inveraray in 1773, said to Boswell: "what I admire here, is a total defiance of expense". There are not many places where you can see a designer made castle, designer made grounds and bridge and a designer made town for good measure. I would say idyllic sums it up.

I hope this thumbnail sketch and views give you a taste of what lies ahead should you make a trip to Inveraray. It is a must for any Clansman visiting Scotland.


Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material