Summer Warrior, which begins in 1135, tells the story of Somerled, the Norse-Gael who forged the Kingdom of the Isles. Once he sends the Norse pirates fleeing, he knows he must build strongholds to keep the sea lanes free. In one visit to Rushen Castle on the Isle of Man, Ragnhild, King Olaf’s daughter asks him about his goal:
“It is told you mean to chase the Norse pirates from the Isles. That will be a difficult task. They are a vicious lot.”
“Indeed, they are. Yet the tide has turned, my lady. We were once few in number. Now we are many. My men have become bold warriors. Were I not a believer in the one true God, I would say the fates are with us.”
Inwardly, Ragnhild smiled. So, he was no pagan. “Is your goal merely to drive the Norse from the Highlands and the Isles? Back to the Orkneys mayhap?”
“Or farther. And, no, I do not merely seek to be rid of them. I imagine a new kingdom in which the sea lanes are protected by castles at strategic places, assuring we live free of invaders and foreign rule.”
She studied the determination in his expression, the set of his jaw. He did not appear to be bragging. Rather, he merely stated what he believed to be fact, what he would one day accomplish.
By 1158, Somerled’s kingdom covered 25,000 square miles and more than 500 islands. North to south, his control extended 200 miles from the Isles of Lewis and Skye in the north to the Isle of Man in the south. His kingdom was unified by the broad roads of the sea and protected by his many castles of which there were fourteen in his time (errors in Internet sources notwithstanding).
Of the 40+ books in my research collection for this series, one that I found most useful was Somerled: Hammer of the Norse by Kathleen MacPhee. It is well-researched and excellent in its historical detail. She provided a map of the castles in Somerled’s time.
Somerled’s fortifications were on coastal heights and deep in lochs where his galleys could be beached and his warriors protected as they kept the sea lanes open. Some were timber castles to be later fortified in stone, which may be why some Internet sources wrongly attribute the dates of their original construction to later centuries when that fortification took place. I thought to show you four of them.
Castle Tioram, Moidart, Argyll
Dunaverty Castle on the Mull of Kintyre
Duart Castle is on the Isle of Mull
Ardtornish Castle in Morvern, Argyll
1. Castle Tioram, Moidart, Argyll
Castle Tioram stands on a promontory that juts into Loch Moidart and is connected by a neck of land that submerges at high tide. The site was well connected as the lochs and rivers of Scotland were the primary means of movement through otherwise impassable terrain. Tioram benefited from being located near the confluence of Loch Moidart and the River Shiel, which provided access far inshore, plus the site was also on the main line of trade from the Hebridean islands. The shallow gradient of the shore made it ideal for beaching small ships.
2. Dunaverty Castle on the Mull of Kintyre. This is an artist’s rendering as it likely looked at one time.
The ruined Dunaverty Castle is located at Southend at the southern end of the Kintyre peninsula in Argyll. The site was once a hillfort (timber castle) belonging to
Somerled and Clan Donald. Little remains
of the castle today, although the site is protected as a scheduled monument. The castle has a long and fascinating history. Robert the Bruce stayed here in 1306 while on the run from Edward I of England. Over the following centuries it was often the
scene of conflict. In 1647 in the Battle of Dunaverty some 300 people, mainly MacDonalds and MacDougalls, were killed in a massacre.
3. Duart Castle is on the Isle of Mull, the second largest isle in the Inner Hebrides and the fourth largest isle in Scotland.
Today, Duart Castle is home to the MacLeans but the castle was first built by Somerled and held by Clan MacDougall that takes its name from Dougall, one of Somerled’s sons. After Somerled’s death at the Battle of Renfrew in 1164, Dougall held most of Argyll as well as the isles of Mull, Lismore, Jura, Tiree, Coll and others.
Duart Castle became the home of the Macleans in 1367 as part of the marriage settlement between Mary MacDonald, daughter of the Lord of the Isles, and Lachlan, Chief of Clan MacLean.
4. Ardtornish Castle in Morvern, Argyll looks into the Sound of Mull with the Isle of Mull in the distance. It was a strategic location for the Lords of the Isles and one of the main seats of Clan Donald. The castle was probably abandoned around the end of the seventeenth century, by which time Ardtornish had been taken over by the Campbell Earls of Argyll.
Somerled’s reflections in Summer Warrior when standing at this point:
From here, he could see down the entire length of the sound in both directions. No ship could pass without his knowing of it. Whoever held this point would control the main routes to the Hebrides and much of Argyll’s jagged coast so favored by the pirates. Control of this place would allow Somerled to strike fast at the Norse raiders who had dominated the sound before he had risen to challenge them.
“Walker’s superb storytelling makes history come alive!”
– Danelle Harmon, NY Times Bestselling Author
Somerled’s parentage was noble, of the Kings of Dublin, the
royal house of Argyll and the great Ard Ri, the High Kings of Ireland.
But when the Norse invaded Argyll and the Isles, his family’s fortunes fell
with those of his people. All hope seemed lost when he rose from the mists of
Morvern to rally the Gaels, the Scots and the Irish.
Sweeping across Argyll and the Isles like a fast-moving storm, brilliant in strategy and fearless in battle, Somerled began retaking his ancestral lands, driving away the invaders and freeing the people from the Norse stranglehold. In doing so, he would win the title Somerle Mor, Somerled the Mighty, Lord of Argyll, Kintyre and Lorne and, eventually, Lord of the Isles.
This is the unforgettable story of the Norse-Gael who forged the Kingdom of the Isles and won the heart of a Norse king’s daughter.
Summer Warrior on Amazon US