1st ed OS Ardlui to ArdleishYle Eunlich (photo Mitchell Fotheringham)boarding the ferrybridge requireddig teamhappy dig directordrone's eye view (photo Mitchell Fotheringham)team day 1investigating the floor layers

Ardleish Excavations

At the very northern end of Loch Lomond is a promontory of land, which effectively becomes an island after prolonged or heavy rain.  The 1st ed. OS map (left) shows the obvious remains of 2 buildings on the promontory. Interestingly, Timothy Pont's map (around 1596) marks 'Ylen Eunlich' here, and the notes accompanying the maps say "...hard upon the head of the Loch is Ylen Eaunlich of a flight shot long, with a dwelling upon it, ...". This suggests that the current remains might date to at least the 16th century, or might overlie older remains from that period.

(The notes are published in A. Mitchell (ed.), Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland made by Walter Macfarlane (Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1907), Volume 2.)
 
Place name expert Dr. Simon Taylor from Glasgow University suggested that the name 'Eunlich' might be related to the Gaelic word 'eun', meaning bird, as in the modern Gaelic word  'eunlach', defined as ‘fowls about a house'. The marshy nature of the area and abundance of ducks might support this interpretation.
 
We're delighted that Clan Macfarlane Worldwide (CMW) funded an excavation of the site, managed by archaeologist Heather James (Calluna Archaeology), in September 2018, and have allowed us to share the following interim report of this investigation, written by Heather:
 

An excavation was carried out on behalf of Clan Macfarlane Worldwide on Yle Eunlich (Island Eillich), Loch Lomond, Argyll, Scotland for three weeks in September 2018. The low remains of two rectangular structures had been identified on the summit of a tree covered knoll on a narrow promontory at the north end of the loch.  Members of Clan Macfarlane Worldwide were keen to see whether this site had been important in the medieval period, perhaps acting as a stronghold for the clan chiefs, lying as it did at the northern end of their territory. One large trench investigated Structure 1 and four other smaller trenches examined deposits in the vicinity with the help of several members of ACFA, local volunteers, students from York and Glasgow and a volunteer all the way from France.

Structure 1 had walls up to 1.0m thick constructed of earth and stone with slightly rounded external corners and an off-centre entrance to the NE. The remains suggested that the roof had been supported on internal timber crucks sitting on bedrock or in stone settings. A possible floor layer contained medieval pottery dating to between the 14th and 16th centuries (pers. comm. George Haggarty), as well as fire-flints, iron nails and slate fragments. There was a spread of ashy material towards one end of the building and two possible post-holes were recorded, but there was no formal hearth or substantial evidence for internal divisions. Only two courses of the outer stone wall survived, and there was significant tumble in the vicinity suggesting that the walls would have been higher, although perhaps topped with turf. The building is thought to have been hip-roofed which was the style in the west of Scotland prior to the 19th century rather than to have had high gable ends. There was no evidence for any earlier structures beneath the walls of Structure 1.

Trench 2 was located on a flat area to the SE of Structure 1, next to an ancient yew tree. There were three features cut into the subsoil, but the shape and full extent of these could not be seen. The features were devoid of datable finds apart from two small fragments of slate. These features were sealed by a deposit that contained medieval pottery (14th – 16th century), a possible fire-flint and a small number of rounded white quartz pebbles.

Other significant finds included a flattened lead ball that had hit something hard and a fragment of unmarked clay pipe stem from Trench 3. There was tumble from Structure 2 and a medieval pot sherd in Trench 4 and large roof slates that had probably originated from the roof of Structure 2 in Trench 5. There were some modern finds in the upper layers that probably date to the 20th and 21st centuries, but there was no evidence that the site was occupied between the 17th and 19th centuries.

It was interesting to see that significant amounts of quartz fragments were found in all of the trenches and many of these fragments showed signs of being worked (pers. comm. Torbin Bjarke Ballin). The quartz outcrops on the knoll were clearly being worked, however, it is uncertain whether this activity was taking place in the prehistoric or medieval period.

The site was referred to as Yle Eunlich by Timothy Pont in the late 16th century, and as Island Eillich by William Roy in the early 18th century. It is possible that these were earlier forms of ‘Ardleish’ and a precursor to the 18th century farm of that name which lies further east. Documentary evidence indicates that in the early 16th century Ardleish was occupied by Walter of Ardleish, a close relative of Duncan Macfarlane of Arrochar, the 13th clan chief.  It is said that Duncan and Walter both perished at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. The 14th – 16th century date for occupation of Yle Eunlich/Island Eillich would therefore be consistent with the site being abandoned after 1547 and a new, more accessible farm being built nearby within the farm extent.

This excavation has shown that this site was not a castle like Inveruglas or Eilean I Vow, but was still an important site occupied in the 14th to 16th centuries, probably by a close relative of the clan chief. Both structures were stone built and had slate roofs,which would have differed from the lesser tenants houses which were probably turf-walled and thatched.

Thanks go to all the volunteers who included in no particular order Ian Marshall, Libby King, Margaret Gardiner, Ailsa and Ed Smith, Katherine Scott, Fiona Jackson, Sue Furness, Kieran Kenny, Alison Blackwood, Carla Glaser, Dugie MacInnes, Dylan Millar, Katherine Price, Irene Wotherspoon and Christine McDiarmaid.