The Butter Castle or "Caisteal an Ime"

This castle is on Morvern, on the west edge of Scotland, just across from the Isle of Mull. The castle occupies a commanding position atop a rocky summit at the head of Loch Aline, overlooking a small peaty stream called Gear Abhain, or short river. The stream runs by the castle into Loch Aline then finally into the Sound of Mull. The area at one time had long been occupied by Clan MacInnes. Clan MacInnes was keeper of the castle, which may have been used as a hold for supplies. Clan MacInnes and MacMaster's remained as keepers of the castle after the lands were granted to MacLean by charter.
Dubh Chal close up
Dubh Chal in the kitchen
The kitchen
It was said that one of the Clan women, Dubh-Chal (Lady of the Black Veil), paid the architect an amount of butter equal in size to the castle, thus the name Caisteal an Ime or castle of butter. The main fireplace has a carving of a woman holding an object in one hand that some assume is Dubh-Chal. The new owners had the carving painted in the same style as it may have been originally. Dubh-Chal is buried at the Kiels (Kiel Church) along with (reported) several Chieftains and the mother of St. Columba.
The salmon
The outside entry
Salmon from Somerled fame?
The entrance, fish over the door
The castle is noteworthy in the size of the boulders that were used to construct its walls. The castle is four stories tall, measures 43 x 34 feet and has walls which are ten feet thick. Most of the stones in the walls are composed of Lias limestone which contains fossils, very rare in Scotland. Because of its size, it is not known for sure if the castle was actually occupied or used as a hold. The ramparts were made for pouring boiling oil with the unique feature of firepits in the ramparts.

The outside holds a carving of what appears to be a fish, a salmon. Some have theorized that this is the salmon that Somerled wanted the MacInnes men to catch for him before he led them to oust the Norsemen that were terrorizing the settlement.

John Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles, was the great-great-grandson of Somerled. Chief MacInnes of Ardgour was a foster father, advisor and councilor to John. MacInnes had advised John to divorce Amy MacRuari in order to marry Margaret Stewart, the daughter of future King Robert the Second of Scotland. In 1358, Amy got revenge by telling John that MacInnes had complained that when he stayed at John's house his quarters did not smell well because it was used as a dog's kennel. John was enraged by this slur and ordered Donald, son of Lachlan MacLean, to kill MacInnes. Donald did, and "having killed his five sons, got himself possessed of Ardgour". The Clan never recovered, and many were scattered. The Clan has not had a Chief since. The Castle was still occupied by MacInnes and MacMasters afterward. Please note that the MacInnes' of that area were also known as MacMaster, and MacInnes/MacMaster are used interchangably. There is also some debate on the dates mention, it may have been as late as 1410.
The murders were committed in Ardtornish Castle, a few miles from Kinlochaline. The MacLeans were given the land of Ardgour and the castle. Ardtornish is now in ruins. In 1997, Sir Lachlan MacLean of Duart and Morvern offered an apology to Clan MacInnes President William MacInnis.
Ardornish Castle
Ardtornish Castle on the Sound of Mull

The castle was burned in 1644 when it was besieged by Coll Kitto of Colonsay during the wars of Montrose. The last attack on Kinlochaline was by the Earl of Argyll in 1679, during a feud. Kinlochaline was abandoned about 1690. Several restorations have occurred since that time, most noteworthy in 1890. The property is now privately owned and has undergone extensive renovation. See the Kinlochaline Project link for more details. The new family has made Kinlochaline Castle home again after many years.

Notebien: The castle is a private residence not open to tours or viewing. Please respect the privacy of the residents.


Williams, Ronald The Lord of the Isles. House of Lochar, 1997

Clan MacInnes Society The Thistle and the Bee August 2000