24/05/2019
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Lost medieval home of the Lords of the Isles shown in new digital reconstruction - see the video

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A digital reconstruction showing Finlaggan in its 15th-century 'glory days' has been created, based on discoveries made by the Finlaggan Archaeological Project.

Major archaeological work by the National Museum of Scotland has enabled the University of St Andrews’ Open Virtual Worlds Team, and spin-out company Smart History, to digitally recreate Finlaggan on the Isle of Islay - once the administrative and ceremonial centre of the Lords of the Isles.

Who were the Lords of the Isles?

During the Middle Ages the Lords of the Isles ruled the Hebrides and parts of mainland Scotland and Ulster. Traditionally the Lordship was held by the MacDonald family.

However, following disputes in the fifteenth century the Scottish kings sought to curtail the MacDonalds’ influence, and in the 1490s James IV sent a military expedition to sack Finlaggan. Many of the buildings at Finlaggan were destroyed at this time, and over the centuries that followed the site sank into relative obscurity.

The digital reconstruction

In collaboration with the Finlaggan Trust, the reconstruction is based on discoveries made by the Finlaggan Archaeological Project, led by archaeologist Dr David Caldwell (formerly of the National Museum of Scotland), who provided advice to the St Andrews team.

Documentary research and comparison with other late medieval sites has been used to ensure the reconstruction is as accurate as possible.

The digital research in St Andrews was led by Dr Alan Miller of the School of Computer Science, while digital modelling was undertaken by Sarah Kennedy of the School of Computer Science, with additional historical research by Dr Bess Rhodes of the School of History and the School of Computer Science.

The glory days

The reconstruction shows what Finlaggan may have looked like in its glory days when it was the seat of the Council of the Lords of the Isles, and the scene of inauguration ceremonies for the Lords.

It depicts the twin islands of Eilean Mor (or Large Isle) and Eilean na Comhairle (or Council Isle), and their surroundings on Loch Finlaggan. Interestingly, by the late Middle Ages, the Lords of the Isles’ residence at Finlaggan had little in the way of defensive structures – possibly indicating how secure the MacDonalds felt in the heart of their powerbase on Islay.

The reconstruction will be available as an interactive virtual reality experience at the Finlaggan Trust’s visitor centre on Islay. There is also a virtual reality app and an online video.

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(images, report and video courtesy of University of St Andrews)

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