HISTORICAL LORDS OF THE ISLES CASTLE EXCAVATED IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIRST
One of Scotland’s earliest historical sites is to be explored for the very first time this month with an excavation of Dunyvaig Castle on Islay.
Archaeologists from across the UK have converged on Lagavulin Bay to take part in the ground-breaking project to uncover the history of the castle which was once a strong-hold of the Lords of the Isles, the chiefs of the Clan MacDonald, and is considered the most majestic archaeological monument on Islay.
The castle sits on a peninsula adjacent to Lagavulin Distillery and the excavation is being undertaken by Scottish charity Islay Heritage following a donation as part of the Lagavulin 200th Legacy fund.
After a year of planning, the excavation, which began yesterday (12 August) will assess the preservation and potential of underground structures and deposits and explore the surrounding landscape. This is the first step in what will be a long-term project to establish what life was like when Dunyvaig Castle was an operational fortress in the middle ages and the scene of renowned battles between the MacDonalds and the Campbells before being demolished in 1677.
An open evening for local residents around Lagavulin Bay and members of Islay Heritage was held on Friday (10 August) at Lagavulin Distillery providing an opportunity to meet the archaeologists and learn more about the plans for the excavation. This was followed by a public lecture about the project for the whole Islay community on the Saturday evening. A further event is planned for Thursday 30 August at Ramsay Halls, Port Ellen, where the archaeology team will share findings and results of the dig.
The project will see a team of 40 spend three weeks on the island, led by some of the best field archaeologists in the UK and with experts including geophysicists, archaeological scientists and palaeo-environmentalists to reconstruct the medieval landscape. The excavation will help train 30 university students in survey and excavation methods and Islay Heritage are hoping to secure additional funding to hold at least four more seasons of excavation up until 2023.
Professor Steve Mithen, Trustee of Islay Heritage, said: “The Dunyvaig excavation will be the flagship project of Islay Heritage, addressing key research questions, training the next generation of archaeologists for Scotland and making many contributions to the Islay Community. We are excited about finding what secrets remain hidden underground about this iconic monument.”
Dr Nick Morgan, Diageo Head of Whisky Outreach, who led the Lagavulin 200 Legacy project, said: “Islay is famous as the world’s greatest whisky island, but it is also one of Scotland’s most important historical locations and we are thrilled that the Lagavulin Legacy project has been able to support Islay Heritage in its mission to raise the island’s archaeological profile for both the local community and visitors to the island.
“This excavation at Dunyvaig Castle is the culmination of hard work and commitment from Islay Heritage, Lagavulin Distillery and the wider community. We’re looking forward to seeing what interesting discoveries will be uncovered over the next few weeks.”
Georgie Crawford, former Lagavulin Distillery Manager, who led the Lagavulin 200th anniversary project, added: “We have worked closely with Islay Heritage and the local community for a number of years to reach this point so it’s very exciting to see work officially start at Dunyvaig Castle. We’re very proud to see the legacy of Lagavulin’s 200th anniversary celebrations being realised just a short distance from the distillery.”
John Raven, Deputy Head of Casework at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), said: “We warmly welcome this innovative project to raise money to support Islay Heritage and its aims of raising the profile and condition of, and increasing access to, Islay’s spectacular and unique archaeology, history and culture. It is a fantastic opportunity for heritage to make a greater contribution to the island’s economy.
“Dunyvaig Castle holds a deeply important place in Gaelic culture, and the excavations should help us better understand Medieval Gaelic culture and inform the castle’s conservation, so that it can be preserved and access opened up in the future. We can’t wait to see the results.”
The Lagavulin 200th anniversary legacy funds were raised through the sale of a special bottling of a Lagavulin 1991 Single Malt Scotch Whisky cask which was carefully selected by the distillery team and Diageo Chief Executive Ivan Menezes. Just 522 bottles were put on sale, 521 of the bottles via a special ballot on The Whisky Exchange at a price of £1,494 – a price set to acknowledge the historic year of the first recorded distillation of Scotch Whisky – with bottle no.1 then auctioned by The Whisky Exchange, raising a further £8,395.
The Lagavulin Legacy project raised a total of £588,395 for local community causes on Islay. As well as Islay Heritage, these included the RSPB, Islay Festival Association, Islay Arts, Finlaggan Trust, McTaggart Cyber Café and Islay Jura Community Enterprises Limited for McTaggart Leisure Centre.
Local records suggest that Lagavulin was already a centre of whisky production in the early 18th century. There had almost certainly been many other illicit stills before John Johnston founded the ﬁrst legal distillery at Lagavulin Bay in 1816. As with all Scottish distilleries, it passed through the hands of different owners, including the celebrated Sir Peter Mackie, whose company became White Horse Distillers, forever associated with Lagavulin. White Horse joined The Distillers Company Ltd. (eventually Diageo) in 1927. In 1989, Lagavulin, now normally bottled at 16 years rather than the original 12, became one of the six Classic Malts of Scotland™.
Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol with an outstanding collection of brands across spirits, beer and wine categories. These brands include Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, JεB, Buchanan’s, and Windsor whiskies, Smirnoff, Cîroc and Ketel One vodkas, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Don Julio, Tanqueray and Guinness.
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About Diageo in Scotland
- Scotland is one of Diageo’s largest spirit supply centres responsible for producing nearly 50 million cases of leading brands of Scotch whisky and white spirits and over four million cases of Ready To Drink brands annually.
- Around 85% of Diageo’s production in Scotland is sold overseas.
- Diageo in Scotland currently employs around 3,500 people.
- Diageo currently operates 28 malt distilleries and one grain distillery and has a 50 per cent share in a further grain distillery.
- As well as engineering and technical support functions, there are extensive warehousing and packaging operations in Scotland and the company’s Scottish headquarters are in Edinburgh.