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Finlaggan Visitor Centre

25 September 2021 (Online)

26 September 2021 (Online)

Argyll & Bute

A few miles to the south-west of Port Askaig on the island of Islay lies Loch Finlaggan, a place of great importance in Scottish history. In the loch are three islands, two of which lie close to the north shore. 

These are Eilean Mòr (the Large Island) and Eilean na Comhairle (the Council Island), which contain fragmentary remains of buildings. Here the inauguration of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles took place. The Lords of the Isles were descended from Somerled, a 12th century “prince”, and these lords, the chiefs of Clan Donald, chose Finlaggan as their home and the centre of their Lordship, so that Islay is often referred to as the Cradle of Clan Donald.

The Lords of the Isles ruled mainland Argyll and the Glens of Antrim, but at its height MacDonald territory stretched up the Great Glen to Ross-shire, beyond to Buchan and the Mearns, and south to Greenan in Ayrshire—all of this virtually independent of royal control. The heir to a strong Gaelic and Norse tradition, the Lord of the Isles (ill Innse Gall) was one of the most powerful figures in the country with the small islands in Loch Finlaggan a centre of symbolic and administrative importance.

Once confirmed in his island Lordship, the Lord of the Isles, in company with his privy councillors, would retire to the neighbouring Eilean na Comhairle to discuss the great questions concerning the government of the Lordship. Here he issued land charters, of which two survive to the present day, and delivered his judgement on legal matters.

The Finlaggan Trust was formed in 1984, its main aims being to stabilise and preserve the ruins on Eilean Mor and Eilean na Comhairle, to protect and preserve the carved stones on Eilean Mor and to create and maintain an interpretive centre for visitor use and archive for information about Finlaggan.

One of the first projects undertaken by the Committee of the Trust was the rebuilding of a derelict cottage close to the northern shores of the loch and to the islands. This is now a small museum and interpretive centre, opened by one of the Trustees, Mr Bruno Schroder, on 22nd August 1989. The late Pipe Major Donald MacArthur, a descendant of the MacArthurs of Proaig, hereditary pipers to the Lordship, played The Pibroch of Dunyveg’ at the ceremony.

In January 1990 a meeting took place in the cottage which was of great significance, as it led to the excavations on the site which began in June of that year, led by Dr David Caldwell of the National Museums of Scotland. Trustees, representatives from the Museums, from Historic Scotland, from Islay Estates, who own the site, from the Clan Donald Centre in Skye, and other experts on the history and background of Finlaggan, came together to discuss the future of the site, Very little has been written about Finlaggan and so only excavation can fill the gaps in our knowledge of what life was like in this interesting place in the past. Among the few written accounts are those of Dean Monro who, in 1549, found it “well biggit in palace work according to their auld fassoun”, and of Martin Martin, who in 1695 found the place in ruins.

Digital Resources

Finlaggan Virtual Tour!

This tour will take you back to Islay during the height of the Lordship’s power in the fifteenth century. The tour will feature a digital reconstruction of the site, drone footage of Finlaggan and related locations around Islay, and photogrammetrical reconstructions of key artefacts discovered during the past excavations.

Go on a virtual guided tour!

Key Information

  • The Finlaggan Visitor Centre
  • Ballygrant
  • Isle of Islay
  • PA45 7QT