Carnasserie Castle

  • Near Kilmartin, Argyll



A bishop’s residence

The Earl of Argyll granted the lands of Carnasserie to his ‘familiar servant’ Master John Carswell, rector of Kilmartin, in 1559, just before the Protestant Reformation. Master John soon after became Superintendent of Argyll in the new Church of Scotland, and in 1565, he was made Bishop of the Isles.

Carswell built Carnasserie for his noble patron, drawing on the earl’s wealth and connections. It incorporated an earlier building on the site. As custodian of the castle, Carswell was its main resident.

The castle reflects the power and status of the Earl of Argyll. It marks the fusion of the medieval tower and great hall into one integrated layout. It’s also well defended, featuring:

  • a parapet walk
  • corbelled angle turrets
  • gun-loops and pistol holes around the building

The masonry matches the design – take a look at the carved string-courses and rainwater spouts.

God be with the Campbells

The most elaborate carving is for the frame and panel over the front entrance. Its Gaelic inscription reads ‘DIA LE UA NDUIBHNE’ (‘God be with Ó Duibhne’). Duibhne was progenitor of the Campbells, and Ó Duibhne was how their clan chief was designated.

Carswell used the same motto when dedicating his magnum opus to his lord, Earl Archibald. Carswell’s translation of John Knox’s Book of Common Order was the first book printed in Scots Gaelic.

After the bishop

Carswell died at a great age in 1572. He had divided local opinion, but enough people thought well of him that they carried his coffin 23 miles in bad weather to be buried at Ardchattan Priory.

Carnasserie was captured and partly blown up by Royalist forces during Argyll’s rebellion against James VII in 1685. Although it was still regarded as one of the finest houses in Argyll, no attempt was made to renovate or repair the castle.

Opening times

1 Apr to 30 Sept:
Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm
Last entry 5pm

1 Oct to 31 Mar:
Daily, 10am to 4pm
Last entry 3.30pm

Historic Scotland


Download our visitor app

Discover more on the go – the Historic Scotland app lets you find out about Scotland’s most iconic places wherever you are.

Plan your visit

More than 20 of our sites are now open. Please book your tickets in advance.

Become a member

Join Historic Scotland to visit our properties free of charge for a full year and support our work at the same time.

Hire a site for filming

Use one of our fantastic locations on your next shoot for an awe-inspiring backdrop to your work.

Learning visits

Our 300+ historic places serve as creative inspiration for all sorts of learning activities – and for learners of all ages.

Search our events

See the past brought to life by the imaginative year-round programme of events at our properties.