The early history of the castle is obscure, but there is no reason to suppose that it was originally a broch site as is often claimed from an antiquarian statement of dubious authority. The castle is thought to date from the fourteenth or fifteenth century and was built in response to the feud between the McLeods of Dunvegan and MacDonalds of Sleat [Dunscaith] for the northern Skye Trotternish peninsula.  Fighting for the peninsula had no doubt been going on for generations and the grant of Trouternes in Sky to Hugh Ross by King Robert Bruce in 1309 may have exasperated matters.  On 23 October 1370, King David II granted the lordship of Skye to Count William of Ross (1333-71) with all of its lordships and lands.  Later, in May 1373, King Robert II (1371-90) noted the death of Earl William of Ross, lord of Skye.  The lordship was then confirmed on his daughter, Euphemia and her husband, Earl Alexander of Buchan (d.1405), on 25 July 1383.  Naturally this area became a part of the rivalry between the earls of Ross and the MacDonald Lords of the Isles. 

In 1498 the last MacDonald Lord of the Isles had his lands, including Skye seized by the Crown.  The same year Alexander MacLeod (d.1542), the son and heir of William John MacLeod of Dunvegan (Dunbegane), was granted the office of baillie with the entire Trotternish lying in Skye in the lordship of the Isles which had previously belonged to William MacCloud under Lord John of the Isles.  With this grant would have gone the land and castle of Duntulm.  The same month, presumably under the baillieship of his elder brother, Alexander (d.1542), Torquil MacLeod of Lewis and his wife Katherine Campbell, the sister of Earl Archibald of Argyll (d.1513), was made baillie of Trotternish together with 4m (£2 13s 4d) of the land of Duntulm (Duntullyn) which had been forfeited by Lord John of the Isles.  There then followed many grants of Trotternish to a variety of people, one of whom, Gilleasbuig Dubh, the son of Hugh Macdonald of Sleat, was baillie by 1510.

The first certain mention of the fortress only comes in 1549 when the castle of Donntwyline was recorded as belonging to Donald Gromsone MacDonald of Sleat.  In the period 1577 to 1595 a survey of Scotland described Skye.  This found that it was an island 40 miles long and as much wide, being once the land of the McConneill, but now being split between many lords.  The central land was called Trouternes, while the southern part was called Slait

    There was a castle in Trotternish called Duncolmen, whereof the walls stand yet.

Meanwhile to the south in Sleat lay the castles of Chammes and Dunskeith.  These were held by Donald MacDonald of Sleat.  It is obvious from this that either the MacDonald's had allowed the castle to decay or it had been destroyed some time earlier.  In 1617/8 the Privy Council ordered Duntulm castle to be rebuilt by Donald's son, Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald of Sleat.   He was to make his residence at Duntillum castle and if it was derelict ‘with all convenient diligence to prepare materials to build a civil and comely house, or if his house is decayed he shall repair and mend it'.  Additionally he was to pay compensation to the MacLeods of Dunvegan for their loss of Duntulm.

In the seventeenth century it was recorded that Trotternish contained a castle called Dun Tuylim, which was built upon a high rock in the sea not far from the promontory which bears the name of Trointerness, it being the most northern part of the whole isle.  However, already little of it remained.  Near it was an eminence styled Cnok-an-eirick - the hill of Pleas, which was equivalent to the moothill of the Lowlands.  Despite any renovations, by the early 1730s the castle was abandoned and Alexander MacDonald stripped stones from the site to help build his new residence, Monkstadt House, about 5 miles to the south-west.

The castle occupies a rectangular site some 45' above sea level on an outcrop of pillared basalt.  It is surrounded by cliffs on all sides but the south where it is protected by a rock cut ditch, originally over 15' deep.  In the centre this was breached by a causeway of uncertain origin.  To the south-west the ditch turned towards the sea at right angles.  This left the bulk of the fortress a berm about 25' wide.  Within this was an irregular rectangular ward which used the cliff face for the bulk of its defence to north and east.  To the west a 25' scarp ran down to the ditch and then the cliff towards the northern end of that front. 

The first masonry fortification on the site would seem to have been the entire enceinte of which the south-west corner contained an internal sub-rectangular tower of 4 storeys.  This was built with local basalt and some at least must have been excavated from the ditch.  The tower walls seem about a third thicker at about 7' than the curtain wall of the rest of the enceinte at about 5'.  The tower was about 30' north to south by about 25' east to west.  Now little but the once vaulted basement remains with a loop to the south.

A little over half way along the north front of the ward was an interned sea gate which led to a cleft in the rock leading to the sea.  This bears comparison with other sea gates mentioned under Dunvegan.  At the north-east corner of the ward was a small D shaped tower some 12' in diameter.  The more vulnerable south-east corner appears to have had no flanking, just a right angled corner, although this has been described as an angular bastion.  The rest of the south front, where any gate would have been, has disappeared, although one large fragment of masonry lies on its side half way from the rock cut ditch to the site of the south curtain.

The first castle has been overlain by a second which follows the same lines as the first, only the north-east corner tower is now a sharp shaped bastion.  In the north-west corner a house some 42 north to south by 18' wide was built.  This had internal walls only 2' thick, while its north-western corner is corbelled out over the cliff, possibly once having been a garret.  A further tower, about 17' square, was built between this and the great tower.  A large portion of this collapsed in 1990, while the castle's condition was noted as bad in 1928 when much of its structure was recorded as having fallen in recent years.  Quite clearly another range stood along the southern enceinte at the same depth from the curtain as the great tower.  The interior of the ward is most uneven and there are indications of vaults of lost buildings here and there.

Why not join me at Duntulm and other Great Scottish Castles this Spring?  Information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


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