Dunkeld “the Fort of the Celts”

Dunkeld its early history and the Cathedral.

Dunkeld "the Fort of the Celts", is situated on the southern bank of the River Tay in a location rich in natural resources, and has had a settlement since ancient times.

Dunkeld guarded one of the main passes from Lowland into Highland Scotland making it an attractive location from a strategic point of view and there is evidence that both the Romans and the Picts occupied the location of today's Dunkeld.

Dunkeld became one of the centres of Christianity in Scotland during the 7th Century, when St Columba made it a religious centre, having come from the Island of Iona. His work was carried on by his successors.

In the 9th Century, Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scots, made Dunkeld head of the Celtic Church and the capital of the newly-formed Scottish nation, created as a result of the union of the Scots and the Picts. King Kenneth MacAlpin, built a church here in 850AD and then had the relics of St Columba transferred here from the Island of lona. Dunkeld remained centre of the Celtic church for the next hundred years until St Columba's relics were taken to St Andrews.

The Church at Dunkeld grew in power and wealth, with work starting on the Cathedral in 1325. Dunkeld remained as an extremely important centre in ecclesiastical terms, until the Reformation in the 16th Century, when it was destroyed.

The Choir of Dunkeld Cathedral was re- roofed in 1600 to serve as the parish church, and there was relative peace, until 1689, when there was a short, but extremely violent Battle of Dunkeld between the Jacobites (supporters of King James VII of Scotland and James II of England) and the Cameronians (a newly-raised regiment supporting William and Mary the joint monarchs in the absence of King James VII and II, the English parliament formally offered them the throne.) Most of houses in Dunkeld were burned to the ground.

Up until 1689 the town of Dunkeld was built around the Cathedral.The Dukes of Atholl made sure the new Dunkeld town was not built around the Cathderal, so they could enjoyed clear uninterupted views from their house to the Cathedral.

The architectural history of the Cathedral was recorded by Abbot Alexander Myln in 1555, so it is better documented- than many churches in Scotland.

As you enter Dunkeld Cathedral grounds today, the information plaque beside the gates tell you that the gates were originally cast for the gates to Dunkeld House in 1730 and moved here in1832. Dunkeld House, which was the property of the Dukes of Atholl lies on the other side of the Cathedral. It is now a resort hotel.

By the advent of the industrial revolution and the opening of the railway to the north, Dunkeld went into decline and many people moved away to the larger cities in the south. By the late 1940s the town centre was in a sorry state of decline and decay. The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) took over many of the buildings (they now administer 20 houses and 2 shops) and together with Perth and Kinross Council began a major restoration project. This was completed in the late 1950s, and due to all this work we can enjoy the architecture of Dunkeld today.