Follow this history timeline of Argyll & The Isles, where Christianity originated and castles stand guard on the coastline. Learn about the birthplace of Scotland, the Wars of Independence and the romantic life of Scotland’s National Bard, in a region which has inspired writers for generations.
Discover the origins of a proud nation at the remains of the ancient Dunadd Fort in Kilmartin Glen. This is where the ‘Scots’ tribe from Ireland settled in the sixth century, and where the Dalriadic kings were later crowned, forging the early Scottish nation.
As you explore the heart of the Kingdom of Dalriada, consisting of Crinan, Knapdale and Kilmartin, you can uncover a remarkable 600 ancient monuments within a 6 mile radius. In particular, Kilmartin Glen is home to Europe’s densest concentration of primitive rock art and the area’s rich prehistoric past can be further explored at Kilmartin House Museum.
In addition to being known as Scotland’s birthplace, Argyll & The Isles also has connections with the beginnings of Scottish Christianity. St Columba arrived in Iona in AD 563 with a mission to spread the religion among the northern Picts, founding Iona Abbey which you can visit for yourself today.
From the 12th to the 15th centuries, the Lords of the Isles ruled a western sea-kingdom. It was founded by the Donald, the progenitor of the Clan Donald, and the grandson of Somerled, a great warrior, half-Gael, half-Norse. He came from Islay and the story is told today at the Finlaggan Centre on the site of their former island power-base.
The 14th century saw the eruption of the Wars of Independence between Scotland and England. Dunstaffnage Castle near Connel was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1309, and the castle also has links with the Jacobite Rising, becoming the temporary prison of Flora MacDonald in 1746.
On the eve of the Protestant Reformation in 1559, John Carswell was granted the lands of Carnasserie by the Earl of Argyll and went on to become Bishop of the Isles. He is remembered for his translation of John Knox’s Book of Common Order, the first book printed in Scots Gaelic, and is associated with his home at Carnasserie Castle in Kilmartin.
The hard-fought civil wars between England and Scotland dominated the 17th century, with political and religious differences becoming bitter. Admire the ruins of Dunollie Castle in Oban, the seat of Clan MacDougall which was captured by the Marquis of Argyll in 1664.
In 1761, Lachlan Macquarie was born in Ulva off the west coast of the Isle of Mull. He became known as the ‘Father of Australia’ for his work as General of New South Wales, transforming it from a penal colony into a thriving area. Today, Macquarie's Mausoleum in Mull is maintained by the National Trust for Scotland on behalf of the National Trust of Australia.
By the late 18th century, Argyll & The Isles was of interest to the early tourists due partly to the works of Thomas Pennant, a traveller and writer who in 1772 set off by sea from Helensburgh and investigated Bute, Gigha, Jura, Islay and Iona. The island of Staffa was discovered one month later by Joseph Banks, who named the island’s beautiful rock formation 'Fingal’s Cave', which was immortalised by Mendelssohn in his Hebrides Overture after he visited the island in 1829.
Argyll & The Isles also has connections with Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns. Overlooking Dunoon is a memorial to Burns' 'Highland Mary' Campbell, who died in October 1786 and has been a source for romantic speculation ever since.
Described as the best non-professional architect of his generation, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute was born in 1847. In addition to his involvement with the restoration of Rothesay Castle from 1872 to 1879, he is most famous for commissioning architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson for the construction of Mount Stuart, a spectacular Gothic house on the Isle of Bute which can still be visited today.
Oban played an important part in the Second World War when Australian, Canadian and US aircrew and RAF flying boats operated from the bay. Learn more about this intriguing past with a visit to the Oban War & Peace Museum, where highlights include exhibits about the construction of McCaig’s Tower – a prominent architectural structure – as well as local sports and the first transatlantic telephone cable link.
Other notable highlights from 20th century Argyll & The Isles include George Orwell living in Jura from 1946 to 1948 to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, scenes from the second Bond movie From Russia with Love (1963) being filmed out on Loch Craignish near Crinan, and the release of Sir Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre in 1977 which went on to sell six million copies world-wide. Visit Cambeltown Museum where you can see a bronze statue of the late Linda McCartney in the memorial garden in addition to an interesting collection of artefacts from the area’s fascinating history.
From 2002 to 2005, Tobermory and its colourfully-painted houses was the setting of the famous children’s TV series Balamory. You can walk along the pretty harbour and visit Mull Museum, where you can find out more about life on the island.