Lord of the Isles power base 'to open' for first time in 500 years

Visitors to the headquarters of the ancient Lords of the Isles could soon be able to step onto the site of their parliament for the first time in 500 years.

Friday, 14th April 2017, 6:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:58 pm
Eilean na Comhairle (the Council Isle) at Finlaggan on Islay, where the parliament of Lord of the Isles was held. PIC: Nigel Brown/Creative Commons/Flickr.

Plans are underway at Finlaggan on Islay to connect Eilean na Comhairle (Council Isle) - where chieftains, lords, and bishops met to pass laws and govern - with Eilean Mor (Large Island), where Finlaggan Castle, the seat of Clan Donald, once stood.

A 50-metre bridge is being proposed to span Finlaggan Loch and connect the two to open up access to the historic site and meet demand from visitors.

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A depiction of the Lord of the Isles, powerful rulers of the Hebrides and latterly part of the west coast PIC: Contributed.

Lynn MacDonald, chair of the Finlaggan Trust, said: “We do get a lot of requests to go over to Council Isle. It was an extremely important site for the Lord of the Isles.

“If you go onto the main island, it doesn’t feel very far away. You actually really want to go down there.

“There are a number of logistical issues about getting across, particularly because the site is quite exposed, but what we are trying to do is preserve the integrity of the site as well as make it more accessible.”

Finlaggan was the seat of the Lord of the Isles and Clan Donald between the 12th and 15th Centuries.

A depiction of the Lord of the Isles, powerful rulers of the Hebrides and latterly part of the west coast PIC: Contributed.

David Caldwell, archaeologist and author of Islay, the Land of the Lordship, said it was likely people had not been able to walk between the islands for the last 400 or 500 years.

The new bridge would replace an earlier structure, built between the 12th and 14th Century, which remains submerged under the loch.

Mr Caldwell, who is also a trustee of the Finlaggan Trust, said: “The Council Isle is where the Council of the Isles met in medieval times, the council being a medieval parliament. It was a real power base and an incredibly important site.”

The rulers, who were broadly independent from the Crown and controlled the Hebrides and part of the west coast, took on a kingly quality with Lords of the Isles sworn in at Finlaggan.

Accounts detail a 15th Century inauguration ceremony of John of Islay, 4th Lord of the Isles, who stood on a stone embedded with a footprint, clad in a white robe and holding a white rod and sword.

Meetings were usually held on Council Isle to coincide with such occasions, which drew people from all over the kingdom and were a good opportunity for business, trade, games and sports, according to Mr Caldwell.

Gatherings of the Council of the Isles met in the Council House on the island, which measures around 4.8 metres by 7.5metres.

Four Clan Donald chieftains made up part of the council along with, four nobles, four thanes and the Bishop of the Isles and the Abbot of Iona, according to accounts.

“This Council could be convened to offer advice to the lord wherever he was, but the meetings at Finlaggan were probably more formal, in effect a parliament constituted to give judgements and make laws,” Mr Caldwell said.

Excavations also discovered a hall which was possibly the residence of a keeper or steward who looked after the property when the lord was not in residence.

The Lordship was claimed by the Crown in 1493..

The Finlaggan Trust, which recently won £60,000 from Lagavulin, one of the main whisky distilleries on the island, is now working to develop the proposals.

Discussions will be held with Historic Environment Scotland over the plans.