Reconstructing the dream: Eilean Donan Castle, cultural tourism histories and a Scottish national imagineering

John A. Burnett, Kathryn A. Burnett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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This paper draws on social and political histories of media and cultural tourism in, and of, Scotland. Examining the socio-historical context of the 1930s Highlands and Islands as bound within the ‘the whirling vortex of modernity’ we draw on both professional and personal knowledges of Eilean Donan Castle, and the highlands and islands region, as the prism for this analysis. In addition, the rich archive resources of popular and specialist publications, screen archive and policy documentation will all be referred to. The castle operates as a rich and complex site of real and imagined histories that interface with a collective of romantic and privileging discourses that position, perform and politicise Scotland more broadly as place, people and culture. In 1911, Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island of Eilean Donan and set about rebuilding the ruined castle. Taking just over twenty years to reconstruct, the castle would become in time an iconic landmark, intensely exacerbated via global mediatization and an enhanced destination tourism policy. The paper proposes to examine two key moments in the castle’s historical imagining. The first is media and cultural tourism narratives surrounding the opening of the ‘rebuilt’ castle in 1932 and the 1930s nation-building context of this seminal timeframe in Scotland’s political and cultural development. The second frame explores the post-1990s film associations of Highlander, The World is not Enough and an intensification of imagineering of the site as ‘Scotland’. Eilean Donan’s promotion and its appropriation speaks to both the hyperbole and hyper-reality of an intense ‘re-branding’ of Scotland that nevertheless continues to ‘romance the nation’ in tandem with an increased collective cultural nationalist confidence of Scotland’s political road to devolution. Carrying a powerful and growing representational energy that resonates down to the present day, Eilean Donan showcases the immense potential of Scotland’s historiography and cultural capital whilst presenting a timely example of competing tensions of Scottish and British nationalist and hybridising configurations and communications.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2021
EventEuropean Social Science and History Conference: Media Histories Session - Leiden University, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 18 Mar 202021 Mar 2020


ConferenceEuropean Social Science and History Conference
Abbreviated titleESSHC 2020
Internet address


  • media history
  • Scotland
  • representation
  • Highlands and Islands
  • cultural tourism
  • heritage
  • Gaelic culture
  • alterity
  • modernity
  • archives
  • castles


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