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.