The Lord of Isles alludes to a unique parcel of medieval history – with the title belonging to a particular branch of the Scottish nobility who claimed descendence from both Gaelic and Viking (Nordic) forebearers. Over the course of the proverbial Middle Ages, these Lords of the Isles commanded a strong fleet of birlinns (galleys) and were counted as autonomous vassals of the Kings of Norway, Ireland, and Scotland during specific periods of time. Their stronghold and administrative center was established on Finlaggan, a historic site on the island of Eilean Mòr (‘The Large Island’), along the region of the Inner Hebrides of southwest Scotland. And the good news for history enthusiasts is that a collaborative effort of the researchers from University of St Andrews, Smart History, and Finlaggan Archaeological Project has resulted in the reconstruction of this long-lost medieval seat of the Lord of Isles.
The reconstruction project recreates the apical stage of Finlaggan in the early 15th century, during the time when the Lords of the Isles, from the Macdonald clan, held sway over the Hebrides and even parts of mainland Scotland and Ulster. In terms of scope, the endeavor, based on the archaeological discoveries unearthed by the Finlaggan Archaeological Project, focuses on the twin islands of Eilean Mor (or Large Isle) and Eilean na Comhairle (or Council Isle), and their surroundings on Loch Finlaggan.
Reverting to history, evidence has suggested how Finlaggan had very little defensive structures, which alludes to the confidence and high morale of the Macdonald lords in their own stronghold. Unfortunately, this proved to be a false sense of security, with James IV, King of Scotland, sending his forces to confront the Macdonalds who had sided with the English (to underline their independence from the Scottish crown). The expeditionary force sacked Finlaggan during the 1490s, thus resulting in the destruction of most structures on the islands, thereby almost erasing them from the annals of history.
But on a fortuitous note, modern digital technology has come to the rescue of the late medieval legacy of Finlaggan. Furthermore, the recreation will be made accessible to visitors as an interactive virtual reality experience at the Finlaggan Trust’s visitor center on Islay. Dr. Bess Rhodes, from the University of St Andrews, said –
Finlaggan was an amazing place to recreate digitally. Even today the islands of Eilean Mor and Eilean na Comhairle are beautiful places, and in the Middle Ages they were the site of a remarkable complex of buildings which blended local traditions with wider European trends. The work by Dr David Caldwell and the Finlaggan Archaeological Project has transformed our understanding of this site – giving us a glimpse of the relative comfort in which the Lords of the Isles and their followers lived, pampering their dogs with decorative collars, and enjoying music, imported wine and board games.
Source: University of St Andrews