Although the island of Eilean Donan has been a fortified site for at least eight hundred years, the present building dates largely from the early 20th century. Today's castle, which rose from the ruins of its predecessor, was re-built between 1912 and 1932 by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap. Eilean Donan is unique, the product of an incredible fest of determination and devotion to restore the castle for the MacRae family. It is hard to believe that the present castle has yet to celebrate its 100th birthday, but easy to be absorbed by the atmosphere of a place which has stood witness to so much history.
Eilean Donan and its magnificent setting draw visitors from the world over, but for those who have not experienced the magical reality they have almost certainly seen the castle in a myriad of guises on the big and small screens. Most famous, perhaps is the castle's role in Highlander starring Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert. But there is also Loch Ness with Ted Danson, The Master of Ballantrae with Errol Flynn or perhaps you have seen it in a Bond movie? And nationally, for how long will we remember the Avengers, the BBC balloon drifting over the island or the Clothes Show Wedding of the year in 1998? Eilean Donan will undoubtedly continue in her starring role.
One tale, about the origin of the castle, tells of the son of a Matheson chief who could understand the language of birds because his first drink had been from the skull of a raven. When he told his father that the birds said that he would one day wait upon his son like a servant, the boy was banished. After years of travel and adventure he returned home with a fortune made through using his magical powers. No one recognized him but he was offered hospitality by his father who fulfilled the prophesy by serving him a meal. It is said that the son soon found favour with the king, Alexander II, who commissioned him to build Eilean Donan to protect his subjects against the Vikings.
The Canadian Connection:
The war memorial at Eilean Donan Castle is highly unusual as it commemorates all those members of one clan, the MacRaes, who died in the First World War. Included among the columns of names is that of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the Canadian Doctor who penned the lines which now universally symbolise the First World War:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row...
The present Clan MacRae Society was re-formed in Scotland in 1990. It has strong links with branches of the clan in North America, Australia and New Zealand.
By Eilean Donan Castle ~ Official Guide
Published by the Conchra Charitable Trust