Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dun Chonnuill of the Garvellachs

There is not much left of The Great Castle of Dun Dunquhonle. It sat atop Dun Chonnuill, the smallest of the Garvelachs, and it's easy to see why this tiny island was chosen for a fort. Its cliffs rise 200 feet above the sea, and the few access points to the top were easily blocked by small defensive stone walls. 

Dun Chonnuill
The landing place is a natural galley slip in the rocky shoreline. From there a short hike around the head of an inlet leads to the base of a steep, and once heavily defended, path to the top.

Landing place seen from the sea
Landing place seen from above
The path zig-zags up the narrow grassy slope. There are five segments to it; the final one passing through a narrow defile to reach the summit. 

Zig-zag path to the summit
Atop the island you'll find a large grassy plateau, about four acres in size where, to quote John of Fordun writing in the fourteenth century, the "great castle of Dunquhonle" once lay. The only signs of this once great castle are several earthen mounds and low stone walls covered with green turf and nettles. 

Summit of Dun Chonnuill
This small piece of ground has seen a lot of history. A Lord of the Isles had been imprisoned here seven centuries ago, and thirteen-hundred years before that it had been the stomping-ground for the warriors of Fingalian legend, led by Conall Cearnach, cousin to Cuchulainn. It was Conall who avenged Cuchulainn’s death by killing ten and seven scores of hundreds of the men of Ireland. If my math is right, that's about 34,000 men.

Grass-grown foundation of a building
Dun Chonnuill is an amazing little island, one with more history per square foot than most others. And the view from this rock in the sea is expansive. To the south lie Scarba and the Slate Islands; to the southwest is Garbh Eileach, the largest of the Gravellachs; Mull spans the view to the north; Colonsay floats off to the west; and to the northeast the sea narrows in to the Firth of Lorne between Mull and the mainland. 

A tale of Dun Chonnuill, one that tells how the Macleans came to rule the isle of Mull, is recounted in Fitzroy Maclean’s West Highland Tales. Maclean describes how, in the fourteenth century, two Maclean brothers, Lachlan (the brains) and Hector (the brawn), abducted John MacDonald, the Lord of the Isles. They brought him to Dun Chonnuill to coerce him into making Lachlan the admiral of his forces. Another concession he was forced him to make was granting Mull, Scarba, the Cairnaburgs, and the Garvellachs to the Macleans. They released him only after he swore to all this while seated on the Black Stone of Iona, a vow that could not be broken.

See this CANMORE page for more on the once Great Castle of Dun Chonnuill.

Dun Chonnuill seen from Garbh Eileach

Garbh Eileach seen from Dun Chonnuill

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