Finlaggan Castle and Chapel, Islay
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Home of the Lords of the Isles and Clan Donald
Finlaggan Castle and chapel stood on the largest of the 2 islands, now linked to the shore by a modern causeway and bridge. The castle served as the administrative centre for the Lords of the Isles and Clan Donald from the 13th century until the Lordship was taken over by James IV of Scotland in 1493. The crown then continued to administer the Lordship of the Isles through a tenant. The period of greatest importance was during the Lordship of John, First Lord of the Isles (1329-80).
When the ceremony was finished the Lord feasted his people for 7 days and gave largesse to the clerics, musicians, and bards who took part on the ceremony. After the new Lord was installed he would gather his councillors together and retire to Council Island to go over the most important administrative questions of the day. Here the Lord would judge legal cases, and issue proclamations.
The castle, chapel, and a modern visitor centre are now in the care of a charitable trust. The trust has converted a derelict farm building into a museum, where you can see items found during excavations at the site. Among the range of artefacts on display is a fascinating quilted garment of sheep wool worn under armour. Another artefact is a medieval cross used by the Lords of the Isles. Other finds at the site include a musical instrument pin, a cross-head, and a quern. Finlaggan was excavated for the popular Channel Four television series Time Team in 1995.
From the museum you walk down hill to the loch, where a causeway leads over marshy ground to Eilean Mor (large island). A nearby smaller island called Eilean na Comhairle (Council Island) was traditionally used to hold council meetings, while the larger island housed Finlaggan Castle and chapel. The trail to the castle also passes the remains of 16th century 'lazy beds' used to cultivate crops. The lazy beds were built on top of Bronze Age huts.
The remains of a 14th century chapel occupies the highest point of ground on the island, surrounded by a burial ground. A number of medieval and slightly late grave slabs have been brought together here under protective coverings. The finest belongs to Donald MacGilleasbuig, chief tenant in the 1540s. another, more worn grave slab depicts a 16th century knight. Nearby is the poignant grave slab to a small child.
Nearby are the foundation walls of as many as 7 buildings, possibly signs of a later settlement built after the Lordship was seized by the crown.
The visitor centre is open daily from spring through autumn, but the island itself is accesible at any time. The site is well signposted 1 miles past Ballygrant on the A846 to Port Askaig. Look for a rather large standing stone just outside the visitor centre, looking down on the loch.
I was awed by Finlaggan. There are places where an aura of history clings, and Finlaggan is one of those. To stand on Eilean Mor, with the chapel and council house ruins about you, and realise you stand in one of the most important, even sacred places of an ancient kingdom is truly moving and awe-inspiring. I highly recommend a visit.
Because Islay is an island the 'nearest accommodation' properties listed below may not be on Islay itself but on the Scottish mainland. The best source we have found for accommodation on the island is Isle of Islay.com, a dedicated local website offering a wonderful mix of local information, history, activities, and accommodation information.
About Finlaggan Castle
Address: Finlaggan Road, Ballygrant, Argyll and Bute, Scotland
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: 2 miles north of Ballygrant off the A846
Website: Finlaggan Castle
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Kilmeny Old Parish Church - 2 miles (Historic Church)
Dun Nosebridge - 5.4 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Kilnave Chapel and Cross - 7.1 miles (Historic Church)
Loch Gruinart RSPB Nature Reserve - 7.4 miles (Countryside)
Bowmore Round Church - 7.5 miles (Historic Church)
Claggain Bay Standing Stone - 10.5 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Museum of Islay Life - 10.7 miles (Museum)
Kilchoman Crosses and Old Church - 11.5 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to Finlaggan Castle:
Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from Finlaggan Castle. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.
Nearest Self Catering Cottages
Nearest Bed and Breakfasts
Bowmore (Isle of Islay)
Tourist Information Centre
Isle of Islay
Argyll and Bute
Tel: 01496 810 254