|ARDTORNISH CASTLE This castle was a principal residence of the High Chiefs of Clan Donald throughout the whole period of the Lordship of the Isles from the early fourteenth to the late fifteenth century. Situated in Morvem, it stands at the seaward end of a promontory which extends in a southerly direction into the Sound of Mull approximately a mile south-east of the village of Lochaline.
It was here that "Good John" of Isla, the first Lord of the Isles died circa 1386-7 and from where his impressive funeral procession sailed through the Sound of Mull to the sacred Isle of lona where this Head of the Gall Gaidheal was laid to rest in the Reilig Orain, traditional burial ground of the ancient kings of Gaeldom. His son and successor, Donald, second Lord of the Isles granted charters dated at Ardtornish, at least two of which have survived, one in Latin and the other in Gaelic, and it was from here, according to tradition, that his galley fleet sailed on their way to transport the vassals of the Isles to the west coast of Ross-shire where they landed to begin their invasion in support of Donald's claim to the Earldom of Ross which resulted in the indecisive Battle of Harlaw in 1411. Here, too, John's greatgrandson, also named John, the fourth and last Lord of the Isles met the commissioners of Edward IV of England in 1461 to negotiate the well-known Treaty of Ardtornish-Westminster by which, in return for becoming loyal subjects of the King of England, John, his kinsman Donald Balloch of Dunnyvaig and the Glens and the forfeited Earl of Douglas were each to have a third of the kingdom of Scotland with generous pecuniary rewards until the conquest of the kingdom had been completed.
The meaning of the name Ardtornish is obscure, although several authorities have offered suggestions. James A. Robertson (The Gaelic Topography of Scotland, 1874) states that the name in Gaelic is Ard-thor-n'eas, signifying 'the high cliff of the cascade" which he claimed "correctly describes the place." H. Cameron Gillies (The Place- Names of Argyll, 1906) states that "Ardtornish is a mixed name = ard, a height + N. (Norse) Thor's nes" and that "Nes" means "norse or point." W.C. MacKenzie (Scottish Place-Names, 1931) gives the Gaelic as Ard Thoranish and states: "in the name Ardtornish...we find a Norse name (Thor's or Thori's ness), tautologically prefixed by the Gaelic ard." The oid Norse word Noes, rendered in Gaelic as Nis and in English as "Ness" means a nose or cape, while the Gaelic word Ard can mean a point or promontory. James B. Johnston (Place-Names of Scotland,1934), has it as Gaelic, aird = "cape" and Norse, Thorines = "of Thori's ness," i.e. "cape, or nose." Finally, Edward Dwelly's Gaelic-English Dictionary (7th Edition) 1971), gives the Gaelic form of the name as Ard-Torainnis.
The main building, a hall-house, is situated on the summit of a rocky outcrop rising to approximately 32 feet above the level of the promontory, while traces of other buildings, of which mostly only the foundations remain, can be seen on the north side of the hall-house and along the eastern foreshore. There are no traces of any defensive works on the landward side of the promontory. The site is a commanding one as the castle overlooks the whole eastern portion of the Sound of Mull with splendid views of the castles of Duart and Aros on the Mull side. Access was obtained mainly by sea and there are landing places for small boats on the eastern foreshore of the promontory. The hall-house is oblong and measures some 56 feet from west to east by 29 feet transversely within walls approximately 9 feet in thickness. The walls now stand to a height of around 16 feet and the interior is fuil of debris.
The present appearance of the building is largely the result of ill-judged restoration work carried out between 1910 and 1915. The original masonry is of basalt rubble roughly brought to courses with thin siabs of sandstone and well bonded with pinnings. The doorway at the centre of the east wali, by which the hall-house is now entered was formed during the restoration of 1910-15 but appears to supersede an earlier means of entry in the same position. The original doorway probably provided access both to the ground and first-floor rooms, the latter being reached by means of a mural staircase. The ground-floor apartment, probably a cellar, is now featureless. The only surviving traces of window-openings are two sills visible in the extemal facework of the south wall. The first-floor apartment which probably served as a hall was no doubt lit by means of large embrasured windows in the side-walls, but no traces of these survive and the existing window on the south side is a product of the restoration. At the north-west corner of the apartment there are the remains of an original mural passage giving access to an adjacent garderobe which formerly projected westward from the corner of the building. Among the outbuildings there are traces of what appear to have been a barn with an attached corn-drying kiln while another may have been a boat-house.
Article writen by Norman H.MacDonald, Historian and Archivist, taken from newsletter of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh,