Rev. James Webb

      It is probable that the building of the Castle of Saddell, on the shore and about half a mile from the Abbey, was begun soon after the grant on January 1st 1507/8 of a Charter by James IV in favour of the Bishop of Argyll erecting the old lands pertaining to Saddell Abbey into a Barony and giving all the powers of a feudal Baron to the Bishop. It may be inferred from the fact that a Petition, dated 22nd April 1512, from King James IV to Pope Julius II, proposed the transfer of the bishopric from the island of Lismore to Saddell, and the erection of a new Cathedral at Saddell that the Castle had been completed by that time and was then in a condition for occupation as a Bishop's residence. It may well be that King James' letter never reached Pope Julius, for it is now found in the State Papers among the letters of King Henry VIII, which at least suggests the possibility of its having been intercepted on its way to Rome. At any rate, the transfer of the bishopric did not take place, the new Cathedral was never built, and the death of King James IV at the battle of Flodden on the 9th September, 1513, leaving a son and heir of one year of age, no doubt brought any further negotiations to an untimely end. However this may be, it is probable that the Bishop, David Hamilton, took up residence in the new Castle of Saddell, if for no other reason than to be near his family relations, the Earls of Arran, and their possessions just across the waters of Kilbrannan Sound.

    No records of the fate and fortune of Saddell appear to exist for the period from 1512 to 1556, but in that latter year the Clan Donald, deriving from Donald the grandson of Somerled, makes a surprising and dramatic appearance upon the scene. The last Lord of the Isles and head of the Clan Donald, John of Islay, had been forfeited by King James III in 1475; he had been later partially restored to grace and possession, but was finally forfeited by King James IV in 1493. This John of Islay died at Dundee in 1503 and the title "Lord of the Isles" died with him. All this notwithstanding, it is evident that the family of the Lords of the Isles contrived to remain territorial magnates of rank and importance. In 1556 Bishop James Hamilton, half-brother of the Earl of Arran and Duke of Chatelherault, in return for money advanced to him by the Earl and for crown taxes, conveyed the whole estate of Saddell to the Earl for a payment of 48 merks, 13 shillings, four pence, per annum, the estate lands amounting to 48 merklands of old extent. It was following the above transaction that the Clan Donald re-entered into Kintyre history. James MacDonald of Dun Naomhaig (Dunniveg) in Islay held also certain lands in Arran. An excambion was arranged between him and the Earl of Arran, by which he surrendered his Arran lands and received in return the whole lands of Saddell, on condition that he paid the feudal dues, assisted in the uplifting of rents and teinds in Kintyre, refrained from any interference in the affairs of Arran, and granted the full hospitality of the house of'Saddell to the Earl, the Bishop, and his successors, whenever they should be in Kintyre and require the same. By this double transfer of the estate, first by Bishop James Hamilton to the Earl of Arran and then by the Earl to James MacDonald, Saddell became a secular barony and lost its ecclesiastical status.

     James MacDonald was not long left to enjoy the peace of his new possession, for in 1558, only two years after his entry into Saddell, there took place the raid of Thomas Ratcliffe, Earl of Sussex, Lord Deputy of Ireland under Mary Tudor of England. The story of this invasion can be gathered only from the Calendar of State Papers of Ireland containing the reports sent by Sussex to the Privy Council and Queen in London. The circumstances of the raid were these. England and Spain were in alliance against France; Scotland and France were in alliance against England and Spain. It does not appear that James MacDonald had any part in this continental conflict, but he was taking a very active part in the troubles in Ireland against the English. The Tudor reconquest of Ireland, as it was called, was in full course. It had begun under Henry VIII, continued under Edward IV, Mary I and Elizabeth I, and was not complete until the battle of Kinsale, 1601. The impact of this upon Kintyre seems never to have received more than cursory mention from writers of local history, so it may be well to tell the story so far as it can be gathered from the State Papers of Ireland.

     On May 31st 1558 Lord Deputy Sussex wrote from Kilmainham, Dublin, to the Privy Council in London, stating that James MacDonnell had landed in the North of Ireland with a band of his followers and two pieces of ordnance, and that he had taken measures to counteract him by putting a force of fifty good soldiers into Knocfergus. On June 3rd he wrote again to Secretary Boxoll reporting that James MacConnell had returned into Scotland with his ordnance. He had brought with him 600 men and had intended to leave most of them behind him in Ireland, but they had refused. (It should be noted that in English documents of that period MacDonald is nearly always written "McConnell" - an attempt by the scribes to give a phonetic rendering of the Gaelic form of the name). While in Ireland, James made disposition of that considerable tract of land known as the Rowt or Route, comprising the north-west corner of the modern County Antrim. His brother Colla who had held this territory, had died about the middle of May 1558. James thereupon offered it to his brothers Alexander and Angus in turn, who both refused; and lastly to the famous Sorley Boy (Somhairle Buidhe), who accepted; of whom Sussex says that "he only of all the brethern remaineth in this realm". The descendants of Sorley Boy remain to this day as Earls of Antrim. In that same month of June 1558, Conn O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, wrote to Queen Mary of England desiring letters to be sent to the Lord Deputy of Ireland to ransom or procure the liberation of his Countess, his son Conn O'Neill, and Barnaby the son of the Baron of Dungannon, all of whom James MacDonald had held prisoners in Scotland for two and a half years. Although not stated, it would look as though James were holding these distinguished personages as hostages. He had houses in plenty in which to detain, or entertain, his prisoners; the fortress of Dun Naomhaig and the house of Kilchoman in Islay; the newly acquired Saddell, and Machrimore and Dunaverty in Kintyre. It would be interesting to know if he sometimes gave his unwilling guests a change of air at Saddell, or other of his Kintyre houses. On May 5th 1558 Mary Queen of Scots and Francis her husband issued a charter re-granting to him lands in the barony of Bar in Kintyre, and in Islay, in respect of which the original charters and other writs had been lost by war and fire, in consideration of the notable service tendered to her and to the Realm of Scotland in defence of the said kingdom and its liberties, and in Ireland against our old enemies of England ("contra veteres nostros Anglie hostes"). All this was antecedent to the raid by Lord Deputy Sussex, and the lost writs and charters must have been destroyed during earlier troubles in which the heads of the Clan Donald had been involved.

  The sequence of events in the Kintyre raid appears from the despatches sent by Sussex to Queen Mary of England. On Sept. 13th 1558 he reported the arrival of the ships destined for the expedition against the Western coast and Islands of Scotland. The ships had arrived on Sept. 1st, and Sussex states that he is now ready to sail, "trustyng to accomplysh your Hyghnes commandment yf wynd and wether serve". On Oct. 3rd he wrote again, being then on board the "Mary Willoughby". He states that he set sail from Dublin on Sept. 14th, and arrived in Cantyre on the 19th, "where I landed and burned the hole countrye". He then went on to Arran and the Cumbraes, where he did the same. He intended to go to Bute, but when riding at anchor between Cumbrae and Bute "there rose suddenly a terrybell tempeste in whyche I sustained some losse". On Oct. 6th he was back at Knockfergus and went on to the harbour of Olderflete, now Lame, from which he wrote another letter to Queen Mary Tudor, amplifying the information already given in his previous letters. He states: "The xiiijth (Sept) I imbarked in the Bryttain rode by Dublin, and so having a scarce wynde, arrived the xixth in Lowghe Gilkeran in Kyntyre. The same daye I landed and burned eight myles of leynght, and therewith James McConnelles chief house called Saudell, a fayre pyle and a stronge. The neixte day I crossed over the lande and burned twelve myles a leynght on the other side of the lowghe, wherin were burned a fayre howse of his called Mawher Imore (Machrimore) and a stronge castell called Donalvere (Dunaverty). The third daye I returned another waye to the shipps".

  At Olderfleet Sussex held a council of war "of the capitayns, maisteres and purcers" at which he found that three ships only of his fleet were fit for further service at sea. and that even if the tackle and provisions of the others were put into these three and his own ship, he would not have been able to take more than 500 soldiers for the expedition to the Isles of Scotland, with provisions for only three weeks. The council of war had therefore decided that it was impossible to proceed to Islay and the other islands, and therefore "I was forced to leave parte of your Majesties commandment unexecuted". The expedition was not renewed. Queen Mary Tudor died on the 17th Nov. 1558, and Sorley Boy and his successors in Antrim found it more to their advantage to keep on the side of the new Queen Elizabeth. In June 1559 Queen Elizabeth wrote to McDonnell (Sorley Boy) from Westminster commending his fidelity and diligent service, which had been reported to her by the Earl of Sussex. James Macdonald, whose houses of Saddell and Machrimore were burned by Sussex in 1558, was killed in the Glens of Antrim in 1565 in a battle with Shane O'Neill. His brother, Sorley Boy, was captured by O'Neill but was soon set at liberty. He took advantage of the confusion of the times to seize the Irish estates of James, which together with the Islay patrimony should have gone to Angus, the younger son of James.

  The raid on Kintyre by the Earl of Sussex in 1558 gives rise to certain speculations. To what extent was the "fayre pyle" of the house or castle destroyed? From the account given by Sussex it might appear that he left it a complete ruin. The estate of Saddell remained in Macdonald possession until 1607, when all the Clan Donald lands in Kintyre, including Saddell, were conveyed by James VI to Archibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyll and founder of the Burgh of Campbeltown. There appears to be no evidence either of restoration or of occupation. Nearly a century after the Sussex raid, in 1650, the Saddell lands were given in tack by the Marquis of Argyll to William Ralston of that ilk, with the castle as his house of residence. At that date it was in a condition of complete disrepair, and one of the conditions of Ralston's tack was to make it habitable within two years. The building had not collapsed, but there were breaches in the masonry and it required a new roof; so in absence of other evidence it would seem that the destruction wrought by Sussex had remained untouched and unrestored until the coming of the new era of the Lowland settlers. At least the outward form of the Castle as it stands today on the Saddell shore is probably as it was restored by William Ralston , but a new roof was put on shortly before the second world war by the late Dr. Andrew Campbell of Johannesburg, who was then the owner of the estate.


     The ancient history of Saddell comes to an end with the transfer of the estate to the 7th Earl of Argyll in 1607; the new begins with Ralston's restoration of the Castle and lands in 1650. Saddell remained in Campbell possession from 1607 till quite recent times, and for long was occupied by members of that same family. The first Provost of Campbeltown after its erection into a Burgh Royal in 1700 was John Campbell of Saddell, whose signature can still be seen in the first volume of the Minute Books of the Burgh. The last Campbell owner and occupier was Dr. Andrew Campbell of Johannesburg, who claimed relationship with the original Campbells of Saddell, but whose remains were interred for some obscure reason not in the historic burial ground of the Abbey, but at Brackley.

Footnote: The old castle was carefully restored about ten years ago by the Landmark Trust who rent it to holidaymakers.

A Local Tradition: In the long past of our childhood we were told that there had once been a castle in a certain field of the farm of Machrimore, less than a mile from the well-documented Castle of Dunaverty. It was a pleasant romantic dream, for we had not then heard of Sussex who "burned a faire howse callit Mawher Imore and a strong castell called Dunalvere.  (See above .) A few years ago when that field was ploughed deeper than formerly, a mound of stones was found, some of which had traces of rough carving, but no excavating was done. Tradition had rightly told of the site of a castle!