Historians speculate that the small island of Eilean Donan—which means “Island of Donan” in modern English—was first populated around the 6th century by an Irish saint of the same name. Donan is believed to have built a small church on the island. The final remnants of Donan’s church were washed away by the sea long ago.
In the 13th century, Eilean Donan featured a fortress that protected the surrounding areas from pillaging Vikings who were steadily gaining control of Northern Scotland. Various Scottish clans and Vikings constantly fought for control of the islands and the sea that surrounded Scotland. He who dominated the sea dominated trade and had a guaranteed military advantage. The fortress at Eilean Donan proved to be one of the most important defensive outposts of the era.
Through the centuries, the castle at Eilean Donan has experienced many reincarnations. The castle was reduced to ruins on numerous occasions, only to be rebuilt larger than before. During the Middle Ages, the castle took up nearly the entire length of the island. In the 16th century, the castle at Eilean Donan was modified to include a platform from which canons could be fired at potential invaders.
In 1719, several Catholic Scottish clans participated in a Jacobite uprising that resulted in powerful English retaliation. The Jacobites believed that deposed King James II was the rightful heir to the British throne, and continually fought for King James and his descendants to regain power. As soon as the English heard rumor of a Jacobite rebellion, they sent three warships to sack the castle at Eilean Donan. In the wake of a fierce battle, English troops ruthlessly used a stockpile of the castle’s own gunpowder to reduce every structure on the island of Eilean Donan to smothering ruins.
The castle at Eilean Donan remained a pile of rubble for nearly 200 years. In 1911, Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap purchased the island of Eilean Donan, and devoted 20 years to restoring the castle. Today, the castle features a visitor center, gift shop, and coffee shop. The picturesque castle at Eilean Donan—which was rebuilt using a 19th century floorplan—has been featured in countless advertisements, and popular films such as _Highlander. _John MacRae-Gilstrap resurrected the battered castle of Eilean Donan to serve as a symbol of Scottish strength, resilience, and independence. Enduring proof that not even the heartiest band of pillaging Vikings can crush Scotland‘s spirit.