Gaelic, "Tairbeart": an isthmus;
a place over which a boat can be drawn, ie in Canada, a "portage."

Excellent and detailed history of Tarbert Castle, in pdf form.

The Revival of Dunderave Castle
an ancient stronghold of the McNachtan Clan

Skipness Castle, south of Tarbert on Kilbrannon Sound, was originally - like Castle Sween itself - a stronghold of the Sweens.

The Oldest and most important Castle in Knapdale:
Castle Sween

A Map of the Castles in Argyll

Link-page to
All the "KnapdalePeople" Maps


Knapdale People
Home Page


A few years ago, a Tarbert Academy class on Computing hosted a website about their community. A part of it, about Tarbert Castle, was produced by Iain Gray and Ian MacKinnon. Unfortunately, it has disappeared from the web. The history was a short and snappy one, covering all the most important points of the building which is why I reproduce it here: " The oldest structure visible today is the tower house. This is the part which everybody takes to be the actual castle. This plan is similar to that of other stone castles and dates to the 13th century. The castle was visited by the late Robert the Bruce in 1325 when he had it strengthened and enlarged. The last time he visited it was in 1329 because he died that year. Then in 1494, James IV came to the castle and had it repaired and had the tower house built. He then in 1499 made Archibald, Earl of Argyll, keeper of the castle. In 1685, 1800 men and horses came to the castle in support of the Earle of Argyll's ill-fated rebellion against James VII (of Scotland) and II (of England). After this the Earl's head was cut off and his land was lost. All that was left of the building is a hall, a chapel, houses, workshops, a brewhouse on on the outside a mill and a mill-lade."

Much more information on the castle can be found in the attached pdf, "History of the Royal Castle of Tarbert". Most of the building itself has disappeared, which is a pity, as it must once have been a magnificent sight on that hill overlooking Tarbert's harbour.

Castle Tarbert Ruins To place Tarbert in the context of Scotland's history, it is necessary to understand the continuing effort of the King to establish Scotland's Royal power in the Western Highlands. To quote Stephen Boardman, in his book, "The Campbells, 1250 - 1513", pages 44 and 263:
"...In or around 1321 the king (Robert the Bruce) instituted a new sheriffdom of Argyll, centred on a proposed burgh, port and castle at Tarbert in Kintyre. Tarbert was the most important part of an interlinked military and judicial system that covered much of Argyll through dependent constabularies at Dunoon and Dunstaffnage. By 1326 Dugald Campbell was sheriff of the newly constituted Argyll sheriffdom, and responsible for the collection of royal revenues from the area.... In May 1494, James IV made a swift visit to the Isles, but a much more prolonged and serious campaign was launched in in July-August 1494. The expedition concentrated in and around the Firth of Clyde and saw the reconstruction of the strategically vital royal castle of Tarbert which dominated the narrow isthmus between Kintyre and Knapdale...."

Tarbert West Loch Harbour 500 years have passed, and the British archipelago (aside from Southern Ireland; and maybe a newly evolved Scotland) is united under one government. The chain of forts in the highlands and along Loch Fyne are redundant. What remains, aside from the evocative hilltop ruin, is the harbour and the town of Tarbert. The photo of this harbour was taken by me, in 2002 (as was the photo of the ruins).

At this point, it is best to quote the travelling judge and enthusiastic tourist, Lord Cockburn, back in 1843:

" But Tarbert! East Tarbert! How is it that I had never even heard of that curious little bay? I can't recollect that I ever saw it mentioned in any tour. I was never more surprised than in sailing into that quiet sort of a natural wet dock, apparently not containing above 10 or 20 acres. There it lay, calm and silvery, deeply set all round, except at the narrow entrance, in ridgy hills of hard rock; a curve of about 20 or 30 small houses drawn round the upper end, all comfortable looking, and, except for three houses and seven hovels, all bright with fresh white-wash; a great number of herring-boats floating at anchor, with their brown, tanned sails hanging to dry; the ruins of an old castle standing on a rocky knoll at the left side of the entrance, and the whole scene of peaceful and secluded industry crowned by a respectable church, which looks down on it from a little eminence behind the rim of habitation, - a striking and beautiful spot like a scene in a theatre."

And so it is today (except for the hovels: they have disappeared).


Stephen Boardman. The Campbells, 1250 - 1513. Edinburgh, John Donald, 2006.

Lord Cockburn. Circuit Journeys. Edinburgh, David Douglas, 2d edition, 1889.

Thomas Pennant. A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772. Ed by Andrew Simmons. Edinburgh, Birlinn, 1998. (First published by John Monk, Chester in 1774-6).