Argyll and Bute

Barcaldine Castle

There is a black castle built by a ‘black’ man on the shores of Loch Creran. It is 110 miles from Edinburgh, in Argyll and Bute, on the west coast of Scotland, nine miles north of Oban, near Benderloch, off the A828 Oban to Fort William road. This is Barcaldine Castle, today a castle with bed and breakfast accommodation and sought place for castle weddings.The name “Barcaldine” comes from the Gaelic words “Barr a challtuin” meaning “ hazel knoll”.

Barcaldine Castle

Photo of Barcaldine Castle – Courtesy of Richard

Between 1591 and 1601, Sir Duncan Campbell built Barcaldine Castle. He was the 7th Knight of Glenorchy, a chief of great power and character from the Campbells of Breadalbane. He was known as Black Duncan. There is no precise data confirming whether his appellation comes from the color of his skin or the color of his heart.

There is an abundance of data, though, concerning dark deeds which fill the pages of the history of Barcaldine Castle. One such incident took place in 1692. It is called the Massacre of Glencoe. Glencoe Mountain is the lofty highland which can be seen from Barcaldine Castle.

Glencoe Massacre

The Campbells and the MacDonalds were neighbors. They were also actively involved in keeping each other’s population under control. In 1501, the MacDonalds captured a Campbell castle on an island in Loch Awe. As a result, both clans made raids on each other’s lands for the next 150 years. On one raid, 30 MacDonalds were caught and hanged in Glen Lyon.

In August 1691, King William II offered a pardon to all the clans who had fought against him in the past. The only condition was that they took an Oath of Allegiance before January 1, 1692. Alistair Mac Ian, the chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds, like many other clan chiefs, did not take up the offer immediately. They waited for permission from the deposed King James VII. James took his own sweet time to come to a decision. When he finally announced his approval of the pardon, it was already mid-December and the highlands were already bogged down in a severe winter.

Nevertheless, on December 31 1691, Alistair Mac Ian, the 12th Chief of Glencoe, set forth to take the Oath of Allegiance. He went to Fort William and requested the Governor, Colonel Hill, to administer the oath. Colonel Hill declined, giving as reason that he was not authorized to receive the oath. He told Mac Ian to hasten to Inverary to take the oath before Sir Colin Campbell, the Sheriff of Argyll.

Three days later, Alistair Mac Ian arrived in Inverary. The delay was partly because of the difficult in traversing the winter terrain. The other reason was that he was detained for one day in Barcaldine Castle. This was done on purpose by Captain Drummond, the commander of the 1st Company of the Duke of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot.

At Inverary, Alistair Mac Ian had to wait another three days because Sir Colin Campbell was away celebrating the New Year with his family on the far side of Loch Fyne. When he returned, Sir Colin reluctantly accepted Mac Ian’s Oath of Allegiance.

There was a powerful player behind the scenes who preferred to have the previously rebellious clans exterminated rather than pardoned. This man was John Dalrymple, “The Master of Stair”, the Secretary of State of Scotland. He was a Lowlander and a Protestant. He had no love for the Highland clans. He believed that the Highlanders were a dispensable hindrance which blocked the way for Scotland to be united with England.

Alistair Mac Ian’s delay in taking the Oath of Allegiance gave The Master of Stair a very good excuse to carry out his “ethnic cleansing” of the Highlanders. In late January, or early February, the 1st and 2nd Companies of the Duke of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot were billeted under the traditional Scottish hospitality of the MacDonalds of Glencoe. This force was commanded by Captain Colin Campbell. This captain was related, by marriage, to Alistair Mac Ian. Alistair Mac Ian’s youngest son, Alexander MacDonald, was married to Colin Campbell’s niece, who was the sister of Rob Roy MacGregor.

On February 12 1692, Captain Drummond arrived. He was the Captain of the Grenadier Company and, therefore, the ranking officer. Yet he did not take charge. The Master of Stair wanted to make a Campbell take the blame for his evil scheming. Accordingly, Captain Drummond came just to give explicit orders to Colin Campbell.

The orders were to kill every MacDonald male under the age of seventy. Specifically, Alistair Mac Ian, the chief and his sons must be terminated, so to say. The orders also included an explicit description of what awaited Colin Campbell should he fail to carry out his orders to the letter.

The Glencoe Massacre began at 5 am on February 13. The chief was shot in his bed. However his sons and his wife escaped. In total, out of the approximately 200 MacDonalds in the vicinity of Barcaldine Castle, only 38 were killed. Apparently, the soldiers involved had tried their best to thwart the purpose of their orders. Had they used swords and daggers, more MacDonalds would have been killed. Instead, they chose to use their muskets and pistols so that clansmen in the nearby hamlets would be warned of the ongoing murder. Two officers, Lt. Francis Farquar and Lt. Gilbert Kennedy, even went so far as to break their swords rather than carry out their orders.

Eventually, the entire evil plot was brought to light and The Master of Stair, the mastermind, was brought to justice. However, relations between the Campbells and MacDonalds were never brought any closer. Oddly, those murdered so treacherously on that day did not come back to haunt the castle. Perhaps with so much feuding and killing between the two clans, the shades of the slain just took it in their stride and went on to their afterlife peacefully.

Donald Campbell’s Ghost

However, the ghost of Donald Campbell did not just take it lying down, so to say. Donald Campbell was the Laird of Barcaldine. He was the sworn enemy of Stewart of Appin. Stewart settled the matter by killing Donald with his sword. Then the wily Stewart thought of a way to escape the wrath of the Campbells. He had killed Donald at Barcaldine Castle. Before news of the killing leaked out, he hastened to Inverawe. There he stayed with Duncan Campbell, Donald’s brother. Duncan, following Highland tradition, provided his guest with food and board, not knowing the evil that he had wrought.

The ghost of Donald Campbell kept haunting his brother. It chastised Duncan for giving shelter to its murderer. Duncan was perplexed for he had not heard the news yet. By the time, the news reached him, Stewart had fled. Duncan could not avenge his brother’s death.

Frustrated, Donald Campbell’s ghost returned to Barcaldine Castle. It has been sighted by some visitors. There is no precise data as to where and when it will make its next appearance. So visitors to Barcaldine Castle, which today is operated as castle bed and breakfast hotel, will just have to leave it to their paranormal luck while they enjoy the Scottish hospitality offered by their gracious hosts.

Further information on Barcaldine Castle:

Barcaldine Castle on Wikipedia
Castle’s Website