Panoramic photograph of the Finlaggan site in spring

Why Finlaggan?

Why Finlaggan

A question often asked by the casual visitor is why the Lords chose Finlaggan as their headquarters. Various ideas have been put forward to explain this choice, including the fertility of the limestone landscape in this part of Islay, not to mention its wealth of minerals, silver and lead having been the principal ores mined. Another important factor was accessibility by sea, and it may seem surprising that this site is not on the coast, but there were several harbours reasonably close to Finlaggan, notably the head of Loch Indaal where numbers of galleys could be drawn ashore.

Great Seal of Islay and the Isles
as modified by Angus Mor and Angus Og (1249-1329)

It was also a site which had been of significance for a very long time before the Lordship existed and perhaps would have had some attraction on that basis. The recent discoveries of Stone Age remains on both island and mainland sites at Finlaggan point to the length of time man has lived there.

This place of significance and ancient seat of power would have attracted St Findlugan to set up his chapel on the island which later bore his name. He was followed by the Celtic and Norse progenitors of the Lords of the Isles. Seafaring men such as Somerled would be well aware of the existence of an established stronghold with a stockpile of building materials.

These points may help to answer the question that has puzzled historians who have long wondered why a dynasty whose power depended on a mastery of the sea built its administrative centre on an inland loch.

Then Islay lay at the heart of the "great peace and wealth in the Ilis throw the ministration of justice" by the Lords of the Isles and their Council. This tribute to the Lordship was paid by a Gaelic-speaking visitor to Finlaggan in 1549, Dean Monro, and was widely publicised some thirty years later by the much respected historian George Buchanan, who improved on the sentiment -"Fourteen of the most worthy of the countrie did minister justice (on the
Council Isle) .,.. whose great equitie and discretion kept peace both at home and abroad; and with peace was the companion of peace, abundance of all things."

There is a genuine sense of loss in the great contemporary poem of almost 500 years ago by the MacMhuirich bard and friend of Angus Og, Giolla Coluim Mac an Ollaimh, in the Book of the Dean of Lismore.

Ni h-eibhneas gan Chlainn Domhnaill,
ni comhnairt bheith 'na n-eagmhais;
an chlann do b'lhearr san gcruinne
gur dhiobh gach duine ceatach

I dtosach Clainne Domhnaill
Do bhi foghlaim 'ga faithneadh
Agus do bhi 'na ndeireadh
Feidhm is eineach is naire

Uaithne ana Alban uaine,
clann as cruaidhe ghabh bhaisteadh;
'ga roibh treas gacha tire,
Seabhaig lie ar ghaisgeadh,

Clann gan uabhar gan eadcair,
nar ghabh acht eadail chogaidh;
'gar mheanmnach daoine uaisle,
Is agar bhuaine bodaigh,

Ni h-eibhneas gan Chlainn Domhnaill

It is no joy without Clan Donald,
It is no strength to be without them;
The best race in the round world;
To them belongs every goodly man

In the van of Clan Donald
Learning was commanded
And in the rear were
Service and honour and self respect,

Brilliant pillars of green Alba,
A race the hardiest that received baptism;
A race who won fight in every land,
Hawks of Islay for valour,

A race without arrogance, without injustice,
Who seized naught save spoil of war;
Whose nobles were men of spirit,
And whose common men were most steadfast,

It is no joy without Clan Donald