THIS ancient castle, remarkable for being one of the first seats of the Scottish princes. is situated on a promontory almost insulated in that beautiful arm of the sea called Loch-Etive, in Argyleshire; and if romantic and magnificent scenery and the pleasing interchange of mountain and valley, – wood and water, – sea and land, – island and continent, – conjoined with all those recollections, borrowed from the earliest ages of our history, which are most gratifying to national feeling, – be viewed as inducements in selecting the site of a royal residence, it might well be questioned whether Scotland could present one more desirable than the vicinity of Dunstaffnage. On the west, Dunstaffnage fronts the beautiful and fertile island, fitly denominated Lismore, or Leasmore, – ‘the Great garden,’ – beyond which towers the bleak and rocky Mull. The prospect terminates, towards the north, with the lofty mountains of Morvern; while the view is enriched with a cluster of small islands scattered in various directions. Behind it lies that fortress, celebrated in our ancient chronicles under the name of Berigonium, and also the ruined priory of Ardchattan.
“The builder of this castle,” says Grose, “and time of its construction are unknown. It is certainly of great antiquity, and was once the seat of the Pictish and Scottish princes. Here, for a long time, was preserved the famous stone, the Palladium of Scotland, brought, as the legend has it, from Spain. It was afterwards removed by Kenneth II. to Scone, and is now in Westminster abbey, brought thither by King Edward I. On it was the following inscription:
‘Ni fallat fatum, Scoti quocunque locatum,
Invenient lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem.’ “
According to Wyntoun, Fergus, the son of Erc, brought this “stone of power” with him from Ireland into Scotland; but, before it reached Dunstaffnage, it had visited Icolmkill in its way. He, indeed, altogether omits the mention of this palace in the history of its peregrinations, which might almost vie with those of the cottage of “our Lady of Loretto.” For, according to his account, Fergus
Broucht this stane wytht-in Scotland
Fyrst quhen he come and wane that land,
And fyrst it set in Ikkolmkil,
And Skune thare-eftir it wes broucht tyle,
And thare it wes syne mony day,
Qhyll Edward gert have it away, &c.
Leslie asserts that it was brought from Argyle to Scone by Kenneth Macalpine.
The castle is of a square form, eighty-seven feet within walls, having round towers at three of the angles. The average height of the walls is sixty-six feet; and they are nine in thickness. The external measurement of the walls amounts to two hundred and seventy feet. It has its entrance from the sea by a staircase; but it is supposed that, in former ages, this was by means of a drawbridge. Only part of the building is habitable, the rest of it being in ruins. The masonry is considered as very ancient. At the distance of about four hundred feet from the castle are the remains of a chapel formerly appropriated to the religious services of its inmates. It is said, that some of the ancient regalia were preserved here till the eighteenth century, when, in consequence of the infirmity of the keeper, they were embezzled by the servants, who could not withstand the temptation excited by the silver that adorned them. As, according to all the slender remains of our national history, the fatal chair of royalty was transferred to Scone, after the union of the Scots and Picts under the son of Alpin, it might naturally enough be supposed that Dunstaffnage lost much of its former importance. Being no longer – as it had been under the Dalriadic kings – the regal seat, nor, from the far greater extent of dominion, in a situation adapted for this pre-eminence, its name scarcely appears in our annals for some centuries. Indeed, it seems highly probable, that very soon after it had been deserted by its royal possessors, it had become a stronghold of the Norwegians. We lose sight of Dunstaffnage for several centuries, till it again rises up to view during the eventful reign of Robert Bruce. It was then possessed by Alexander of Argyle, father of John, whom Archdeacon Barbour calls the Lord of Lorne. Bower, in his continuation of Fordun’s Chronicon, says that Alexander rendered the castle to Bruce; but that, refusing to do homage to him, he received from the king a safe-conduct for himself and all who wished to retire with him, and fled into England, where he died. This account is more credible than the other; as the father certainly died in England, and John his son fled by sea, continuing, as we learn from Barbour, in his rebellion. It is in relation to this interesting period of our history that Sir Walter Scott has introduced the following notice of this palace, in that beautiful poem the scene of which is laid in this enchanting district of our country: