The small Argyll town of Inveraray, located on the edge of Loch Fyne, is inextricably linked with the long history of the Dukes of Argyll and the Clan Campbell.
Today with that link, still strong and active, Inveraray is a popular tourist destination with its 19th century jail, now a living museum and its Bell Tower with the second heaviest ring of ten in the world.
Since the first Earl of Argyll was created in 1457 until the Union of Parliaments in 1707, the Clan Campbell, perhaps more than any other Scottish clan, took an active role in the development and government of their country.
In 1472, James III, created Inveraray a Burgh of Barony giving it the authority to hold a market, administer justice and deal with certain types of crime, In 1648, it was made a Royal Burgh by Charles I, which meant that a member in the Parliament of Scotland could represent the town.
The area has a rich and important archaeological legacy particularly at Kilmartin Glen, only a few miles from Inveraray, where some of the most important archaeological treasures in Britain were found.
These remains have allowed a real insight into early life in Argyll. Retreating further into history, the ancient kingdom of Dalriada, home to the original Scots, who probably came from the northeast of Ireland, grew to cover much of modern Argyll.
Its hill-fort capital Dunadd, only a short distance from Inveraray was, 500-900 AD, was one of the most important places in Scotland. For a Campbell, tracing their ancestors can be an uncertain art, for at times they have claimed a Dalriadic descent, a Norman origin, a mythical Celtic founder and an ancient British source.
When looking for the Campbell’s first foray into Argyll, historical records mention tradition, legend and myth and it is in that vein that writer and historian Donald Omand said, “Tradition often claims, probably correctly that the Campbells came to Argyll as part of a royal army bent on bringing this fringe area into the ambit of the Scottish crown.” He also argues that an exploration of early Campbell history would suggest that one Archibald Campbell also known as Gillespie or Gilleasbaig of Menstrie was in 1263 the first Campbell to be recorded Before the 12th century it was difficult to pinpoint the location of the Campbell’s base in Argyll but later it’s generally agreed it was the fortress of Innis Chonnel built on a small island in Loch Awe, only a few miles from the present Campbell castle in Inveraray.
In Inveraray the Campbell’s fortunes continued to improve with new titles and lands coming to the family. Colin Campbell was created the 1st Earl of Argyll in 1457. Backing a political winner, then as now, was essential for survival and the Campbell Clan consistently supported the Royal House of Stewart following the demise of the dominant Lordship of the Isles at the end of the 15th century.
The story of the Glencoe Massacre and the role the Campbells played in it is perhaps one of the best known, yet least glorious of Scottish stories. The town of Inveraray played a central role. King William had demanded that all Scottish clans sign an oath of allegiance to him before the 1st of January 1692.
Each clan chief was to make the journey to Inveraray and sign the oath before a magistrate. It was unfortunate, to say the least, that MacDonald clan chief MacIain of Glencoe went to Inverlochy near Fort William realising his mistake he hurried to Inveraray, arriving on the 6th of January, it was too late. The rest of course is history.
While the Clan Campbell will be forever associated with and blamed for the massacre at Glencoe, it’s worth reflecting on the part played by the king and other senior Scottish nobles.
Marquis of Montrose
As powerful as they were other Campbells who were not always on the winning side. During the years of the English Civil War which spilled over into Scotland the Marquis of Montrose during 1644 captured Inveraray Castle driving out the Duke and the following year defeated a Campbell army at Inverlochy near Fort William.
As Scotland laboured under the disastrous effects of the failed Darien expedition and moved towards Union with England, the 10th Earl was granted the first Dukedom in 1701. Communications and travel had for centuries been difficult in such a remote part of Scotland and those who wished to travel or indeed fight in the region were forced to ride or walk across very difficult territory.
Drove roads in Argyll
However there were a number of drove roads across Argyll, which allowed cattle to be taken to markets in Central Scotland. They came, for example, from Mull and from the north end of Jura by way of high ground south of loch Etive, across Loch Awe, Inveraray and on to cattle markets in Crieff and Falkirk.
Many of these routes around Scotland had been in use since the 16th century travel in Argyll and throughout the Highlands remained a problem until General George Wade who was the military commander of North Britain built nearly 250 miles of road essentially for getting soldiers quickly to deal with those clans with Jacobite sympathies. Although Wade was succeeded in 1740, building continued under a succession of military commanders.
The Jacobite rising of 1745 brought a temporary halt to the road-building programme but by the end of the 18th century 600 miles of roads were in some sort of repair including one which allowed Inveraray contact with other parts of the country.
The daily lives of the people who lived around Inveraray on land leased from the Duke of Argyll during the 17th and 18th centuries are well documented. For most working as a tenant farmer was the only way to earn a living, although some would have worked in the castle or on the surrounding estates.
Auchindrain Township Museum
It is now possible to take a glimpse into that world. Only six miles from Inveraray is the Auchindrain Township Museum, which has restored and re-created many of the buildings. In pride of place a restored traditional Black House, built with stone walls packed with earth, a turf roof, packed earth floor and a central fireplace with no chimney and used by humans and their animals.
Growth of Gaelic writing
Argyll was an area of great importance to the growth of Gaelic writing and its development owed much to the patronage of the Campbells. The first Gaelic printed book available in Scotland was published in Edinburgh in 1567, but crafted in Kilmartin Glen, by clergyman John Carswell. Local Inveraray man Neil Munro (1863 – 1930) is the town’s most famous writer. His best known work, the Para Handy tales, told the gentle, humorous story of the Vital Spark, a River Clyde puffer (small steamboat) as it plied its trade along the west coast of Scotland.
In 1744, the 3rd Duke decided to demolish his dilapidated castle and build a splendid new one. He wanted space for extensive landscaped gardens; he also wanted it to be out of sight of the town.
To make way for the new building, the town, which boasted a church, tollbooth, school and 43 taverns, was over the course of 23 years slowly demolished and the residents moved to a new site where it remains today.
Today visitors to the castle will find an eclectic mixture of Baroque, Palladian and Gothic architecture, which is dominated by “four imposing French influenced conical spires surmounting the stone castellated towers.”
Inside an unpretentious entrance leads to a stunning Armoury Hall, which boasts a ceiling of 68 feet, the highest in Scotland. It has an outstanding display of Brown Bess muskets, 16th and 17th century pole-arms, Lochaber axes and Scottish Broadswords all mounted on wall displays. To the left of the entrance is the State Dining Room, decorated in 1784 by two French painters Girard and Guinard whose work now only survives at Inveraray. To the right the Tapestry Drawing Room where further decorations by Girard and an exquisite set of Beauvais tapestries greet the visitor.