Duntulm Castle is now a ruined shell of its former glory as a MacDonald stronghold, its walls disintegrating year by year against the constant onslaught of the Atlantic winds. The site traditionally has a long precedence as a defendable stronghold: there may have been an Iron Age, and a Viking presence here, situated on the rocky promontory of steep cliffs overlooking the sea. Evidence of a ditch where the outcrop joins the main landmass would have made it a very strong defensive position indeed.
The main part of the castle ruins that remain today were started in the 14th and 15th centuries (James the V visited the castle in 1540) and the castle expanded on in the 17th century. The castle was first owned by the MacLeod Clan and then passed (most likely by force) to the MacDonalds who owned the castle until it was abandoned at the beginning of the 18th Century.
The castle has a number of ghostly traditions that are likely folklore given that the castle has not been occupied since 1730; however the stories may well have contemporary origins. One of MacDonald Clan Chiefs – a hell-raiser in life – is said to haunt the ruins drinking and fighting with other spectres of his clan. Another ghost is Hugh MacDonald, walled up in a tower after he tried to usurp his siblings (or in some versions imprisoned in the dungeon) and given salted beef to eat to bring about death by de-hydration.
The sad weeping spectre of Margaret MacDonald who was related to MacLeods of Dunvagan, is said to wander the castle. Married to Donald MacDonald he spurned her after she lost an eye in an accident. She was reputedly driven from the castle on a one eyed horse accompanied by a one eyed servant and a one eyed dog.
The MacDonalds eventual abandonment of the castle is sometimes blamed on a careless nursemaid who accidentally dropped one of the Clan Chief’s babies from a castle window. She was set adrift on the sea in a boat as punishment, and the MacDonalds left what was then a cursed home. She is also reputed to haunt the ruins.
Whether there are any kernels of truth in these stories is open for debate or further research, but it does add colour to what is a dramatic location. The site is potentially hazardous however, as the ruin is in a dangerous state. A large section of the castle disappeared into the sea as late as 1990, so take great care not to follow it. A cairn on the site commemorates the MacArthurs who were the pipers to the MacDonalds.