Scotland's earliest stone castle, built in mid-12th century.
Stronghold of the MacSween family; destroyed in 1647. Ruins
retain their original proportions.
Sween stands guarding the mouth of Loch Sween and set upon a low
rocky point beside a sandy beach facing south. The low ground
between the site and the hills leaves the castle highly visible
to those farther up Loch Sween. The view southwest from the castle
looks past nearby islands and down the Sound of Jura towards Ireland,
the ancestral home of the builder. The strand would have been
convenient for beaching galleys, there being no natural anchorage
original castle appears to have been built in about 1100 to 1150
and is one of the earliest stone castles in western Scotland.
Four massive walls surround a courtyard which was originally lined
with lean-to structures, probably of wood and thatch. The walls
are strengthened at the angles and in the center of each side
with broad buttresses in the Norman style. In the middle of the
south wall, the entrance gate is an arched opening in a ten foot
thick section of masonry.
at some time in the 13th century, the northeast corner of the
courtyard was opened up and a three-story Hallhouse built in the
form of a great squat corner tower. The lower floor contains the
remains of a kitchen and bake-house. The Hall itself was presumably
on the second floor, set on a wooden floor and with a timber beamed
western wall of the courtyard was set upon a low cliff above the
sea. Shortly before the castle passed into the hands of the Earl
of Argyll in the late 15th century, this was broken out and a
round tower, known as the MacMillan tower, was built at the northwest
corner. Adjacent to the round tower and in the courtyard to the
south, a new rectangular building would seem to have been added
at about the same date, perhaps as a barracks.
early history and siting of the castle have much to do with the
emphasis upon sea power which still dominated western Argyll in
the twelfth century, a legacy of the Norse invaders.
about 1100 and Irish prince of the O'Neill royal line established
himself in western Argyll where he founded the families of Lamont,
Gilchrist and MacLachlan among others. One of his sons, Suibhne,
was probably the builder of Castle Sween. (Note, `bh' is sounded
as a soft `v' in the Gaelic). In the 13th century the MacSween
lands extended as far as Lochawe in the north and Skipness in
the south. The family would appear to have joined with the MacDougall
Lords of Lorne against Robert the Bruce, for, following his accession
to the throne of Scots, he granted Castle Sween to his loyal supporter
Angus (MacDonald) of Islay.
son of `Syfyn', granted lands in Knapdale to Sir John of Menteith,
and Castle Sween was among the Knapdale properties granted by
John of Menteith to Sir Archibald Campbell of Lochawe, father
of Colin Iongantach, in charters dated 1353.
long this period of Campbell influence lasted is not clear, for
some authorities believe that title of the castle had passed to
the Lords of the Isles and was held by them until the forfeiture
of John Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles in 1475. During the
century and a half of their tenure, the castellans were first
MacNeills and later MacMillans.
a decent interval in royal hands, the castle was granted to
Colin, first Earl of Argyll by James IV in 1490. Duncan Campbell,
younger brother of Dougall Campbell of Auchinbreck and great-grandson
of Duncan first Lord Campbell, was Captain of Castle Sween in
1546. He was killed at the battle of Glenlivet in 1594 and was
succeeded in Castle Sween by his son Duncan whose son Dougald
became the first baronet of Auchinbreck. The castle was attacked
and burned in 1644 by Alasdair MacColla and his Irish of Clan
Donald during his vindictive ravaging of Argyll in the Civil
War. Like most places which enjoyed the attention of MacColla,
it has been a ruin ever since.
you would like to visit this area as part of a highly personalized
small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:
to Scottish Castles