Kirkwall Castle – Only Remaining in History

Kirkwall Castle does not exist; but in the fourteenth century it did stand at the present junction between Albert Street, Castle Street and Broad Street. All one can see today is a commemorative plaque on a building on Castle Street in the lovely city of Kirkland on Orkney, Scotland. In the 13th century the islands were ruled by Norse kings and Henry Sinclair, (or St. Clair) a well known sailor was offered the Earldom of Orkney by King Hakkon of Norway.

He built the Kirkwall Castle on the shore of the harbor in Kirkwall in order to look after his new fiefdom. It was built using imported wood from Sinclair’s Rosslyn barony, an impressive battle fleet of thirteen ships. The castle was a rectangular structure, surrounded by a larger curtain wall 55 feet long and 11 feet thick.

By the time Kirkland Castle was completed in 1383 the Bishop of Moray, one of Robert the Bruce’s staunchest supporters had taken refuge in Orkney. This divided the town of Kirkwall between Sinclair and the Bishop. The castle lay to the north-west of the Cathedral and the land around it was split up. The Bishop administered ‘Laverock’ the church land, while the Burgh was under the Earl Sinclair’s control. The common area in front of the Cathedral was known as the Kirk Green.

Kirkwall Castle remained with the Sinclairs till 1470 when King James III forced William Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, to take Ravenscraig Castle in exchange for Kirkwall Castle. The castle was destroyed in 1615 but there are two versions of how it happened. Robert Stewart son of Patrick in 1614, after his father’s imprisonment, rose in rebellion and seized the Earl’s Palace and Kirkwall Castle. The castle is supposed to have been destroyed in the siege that ended the uprising.

Another version is that Kirkland Castle was destroyed during the Battle of Somersdale, when two competing branches of the Sinclair family fought for control of portions of Orkney, Shetland, and Caithness. It is also said it was destroyed when Sinclair earl and his son rebelled against King James IV of Scotland. The castle’s ruins were finally demolished in 1865.

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