After nearly four hundred years as the stronghold of the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald, Castle Tioram was destroyed. Allan the Red is said to have ordered its destruction rather than have it fall into enemy hands.
Perched dramatically on a precipitous wave washed crag at the end of a curving tidal isthmus in the south channel of Loch Moidart, the impressive remains of Castle Tioram today form an integral part of one of the western Highlands most famous and romantic seascapes.
This once powerful and virtually impregnable dry fortress' was originally built around 1353, probably on the site of an even earlier structure, by Anne MacRuari, the divorced wife of John MacDonald, first lord of the Isles. Although frequently attacked and besieged, throughout its long history the castle was never captured, except on one occasion when the Earl of Argyll was enabled by means of a cunning ruse to occupy it for a brief period of a few hours. Though now ruinous, its curtain walls still enclose an inner courtyard from which a broken spiral staircase leads off to a number of low ceilinged rooms, the whole surmounted by 17th century turrets that were added to the corners of the main structure.
For almost four centuries Tioram was to remain the central stronghold of the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald, whose progenitor and first chief was Anne's younger son, Ranald. At one time this famous clan's mainland possessions alone included the whole of the Garbh Chriochan, Rough Bounds, which comprised the districts of Ardnamurchan, Moidart, Arisaig, Morar and Knoydart, while from the ancient walls of Tioram emerged a succession of mighty chieftains whose bold and frequently predatory exploits were to be writ large in letters of blood and fire on the pages of Scotland's story. Among these were Alan MacRanald, Ranald's son, who in 1411 fought with the Highland army at Harlaw, while in his wake was to appear the swashbuckling freebooter Alan MacRuari, Anne's great grandson, whose troubled chieftaincy saw the disastrous fall of the MacDonald lordship of the Isles.
Undoubtedly the most celebrated of all the Clan Ranald's famous chiefs was the eighth, John Moidartach, who from this remote western fastness successfully defied even the Crown itself in order to lead his people through over half a century of daredevil independence. Succeeding centuries saw no respite in the mostly violent fortunes of Clan Ranald and in 1689 the gallant young 14th chief, Allan the Red, while still barely a boy, led five hundred of his clansmen to fight for the Jacobite cause at Killiecrankie. As a result of the Jacobite defeat he was compelled to seek refuge in France, during which time both his lands and his castle lay in forfeit to the Crown. In 1696 Allan received a royal pardon, and they were restored to him. While in France, Allan had met and married the daughter of Colonel Mackenzie, governor of Tangier under King Charles II. In 1701 improvements began on a mansion at Ormiclate on South Uist where the couple lived.
In the later Jacobite Rising of 1715 Allan was to prove a prime mover in rallying support for the king over the water, but this time he did so with a heavy heart, having little confidence in the leadership of the Earl of Mar. Tradition tells how, in a vision, he foresaw the defeat of the Jacobites and his own death at the impending battle of Sherriffmuir; prior to his departure from Moidart he is said to have personally ordered the deliberate firing of Castle Tioram, his ancestral home, so that it might no longer be of use to his enemies.
History confirms how Allan's terrible vision was fulfilled, for, true to his own prophecy, he did indeed die on the field of Sherriffmuir. From that day to this the ancient castle of Tioram has remained a burned and ruinous shell, noble in its towering decrepitude and redolent of the area's heroic past.
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