Ancient past of island castle to be revealed

Archaeologists will start work at Dunyvaig Castle this weekend. PIC: Contributed.
Archaeologists will start work at Dunyvaig Castle this weekend. PIC: Contributed.
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The ancient past of Dunyvaig Castle on Islay is to be revealed with archaeologists due to descend on the former naval fortress of the Lords of the Isles this weekend.

The ruin, in the south of the island near Port Ellen, was a coastal headquarters for the chiefs of Clan MacDonald who ruled the Hebrides and parts of the mainland from the 13th to 15th Century.

While the remains of Dunyvaig today mostly date from the 16th Century, it is believed that the foundations are far older with the castle possibly built on a prehistoric dun or fort.

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It is hoped that the research will reveal rich details of the site’s long history with plans to turn Dunyvaig into a vibrant visitor attraction for the island.

Ground will be broken at the castle, which sits on the southern coast of Islay, on Sunday.

The dig will be led by Professor Steve Mithen, Trustee of Islay Heritage, following an award from drinks giant Diageo, who donated a significant sum to the project as part the 200th anniversary of the Lagavulin distillery.

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Dunyvaig was forfeited to the crown in 1493 but decades of wrangling over its ownership followed between the MacDonalds and their rivals.

The Campbell’s of Cawdor eventually took up residence in 1647 but it was demolished 30 years later by its final occupant, Sir Hugh Campbell, when he moved into Islay House.

Islay Heritage has been planning the excavation at Dunyvaig for a year with a large number of community events surrounding the dig, which is expected to last for a fortnight.

It is hoped to improve public access to the site and better illuminate its long history for visitors.