An Inveraray Castle has been standing on the shores of Loch Fyne since the 1400s, although the impressive castle we know today was inspired by a sketch by Vanbrugh, the architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard and started in 1746 by the 3rd Duke of Argyll. The castle was 43 years in construction and cost in excess of £300,000.
Inveraray prior to the reconstruction of the castle was little more than a collection of humble cottages, church, school and some forty three taverns but well enough established to become a burgh of barony in 1472 and a royal burgh in 1648. To ensure that the grounds around the new castle could be properly landscaped it was planned to move the town less than half a mile to Fernpoint. As early as 1747 by order of the 3rd Duke the renowned architect William Adam had drawn up plans for the creation of a new Inveraray. By 1770, however, little had been done, and it was the fifth Duke who set about rebuilding the town in its present form.
At that time Inveraray was isolated and the nearest road fit for a carriage was forty miles away. This was to change for military rather than social reasons. Following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, it had become obvious that to control the clans, it was vital that troops should be able to move quickly throughout the Highlands.
General Wade was sent north to undertake the task, and set about creating a network of roads and bridges which would ensure that troops could be rushed from strategic bases in Fort William, Fort Augustus or Fort George to tackle any insurrection. Thus it is that the approach to Inveraray along Loch Fyne on the A83 actually follows one of Wade's old military roads; Aray Bridge, just before the castle, dates back to 1775 and is one of wade’s famous military bridges.
Part of the new Inveraray were completed by John Adam including the Argyll Hotel on Front Street as well as the Town House. The rest of the new Inveraray, however, was the creation of Robert Mylne, another celebrated architect of the period. The end product was an attractive town which included houses for estate workers, a woollen mill, and a pier to exploit herring fishing. This was to boom in later years and play a major role in the town's economic prosperity.
The finished product is one of the best examples of an 18th century new town in Scotland. The celebrated essayist Doctor Johnson, himself no fan of Scotland, was moved to comment on the new Inveraray: 'What I admire here is the total defiance of expense".
Inveraray became more accessible, both by land and sea and like many other towns on the Clyde, it was a popular destination for passengers after the coming of the steamship. Although regular shipping services have long since ceased, rendered extinct by the motor car, the paddle steamer Waverley still makes occasional calls.
Inveraray and the surrounding area provided a training ground for combined operations in the Second World War, being used extensively for amphibious landing exercises prior to D-Day, and for the training of commandos in the rugged terrain in the area. The combined training centre at Inveraray trained around a quarter of a million forces personnel in just 4 years. This was undoubtedly the largest training operation mounted in the history of the United Kingdom. A casualty of the war was the church steeple, which was regarded as being unsafe. It was removed in 1941. Each stone was carefully numbered and stored in the old quarry at Bealach an Fhuarain, with the intention of rebuilding the spire at the cessation of hostilities. The fate of these stones has long remained a mystery, but suffice to say that, by the end of the war, they had disappeared!
On the 27th June 1941, the Right Honourable Winston Churchill, Prime Minister and War Leader, visited the Inveraray Training Area. In the Autumn of 1941 His Majesty King George VI also visited the Inveraray Training Area. Other war time visitors included General Eisenhower, Major-General Thorne, G.O.C. Scottish Command and Mr. Winant, U.S. Ambassador to Britain.
Famous Sons and Visitors
One of the town's most famous sons was the author Neil Munro (1863 – 1930), who under the pseudonym Hugh Foulis created the puffer Vital Spark and her doughty crew of mariners. Munro's birthplace in Inveraray is commemorated by a plaque on the outside of the building.
Rob Roy Macgregor (1665-1734) lodged some time in a house on Benbui Farm Glen Shira; and here his son was born, who was hanged for the abduction of Jean Key from Balfron parish. Claudins Buchanan, D.D. (1766-1815), the Indian missionary, spent most of his boyhood at Inveraray.
Robert Burns neglected at the inn of Inverary in 1787, on account of the presence of some northern chiefs, and overlooked by His Grace of Argyll, the poet let loose his wrath and his rhyme: tradition speaks of a pursuit which took place on the part of the Clan chief, when he was told of his oversight, and of a resolution not to be soothed on the part of the bard.
Whoe'er he be that sojourns here,
I pity much his case,
Unless he's come to wait upon
The Lord their God, his Grace.
There's naething here but Highland pride
And Highland cauld and hunger;
If Providence has sent me here,
T'was surely in his anger.