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History of Dornoch, Sutherland

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This page represents the history of the town of Dornoch. For information about the parish, see:


Dornoch, Sutherland

Dornoch, called Dornach in Scottish Gaelic, is a town in the county of Sutherland. It is located on the north shore of the Dornoch Firth.


The name Dornoch is derived from the Gaelic word for pebbly place, indicating the area contains large pebbles which could be used as weapons.

Dornoch is noted to be the last place a witch was burned to death in Scotland. Janet Horne was executed for witchcraft in 1727.

Dornoch Cathedral

Dornoch Cathedral is a parish church, built in the 13th century, and is associated with the Church of Scotland. Historically it was the seat of the Bishop of Caithness. The cathedral's churchyard abuts Dornoch Castle, which was once the medieval palace of the Bishops of Caithness. This ended in the 17th century, due to the abolishment of the episcopate in the Church of Scotland.

In 1570, the Mackays of Strathnaver burned down the Cathedral during local feuding. The cathedral was not restored until 1835 to 1867, funded by the Countess of Sutherland.

Notable Burials

  • William de Moravia aka Sutherland (1st Earl of Sutherland), was buried in the cathedral in 1248.
  • Adam of Melrose, whose body was relocated from the church of Skinnet in 1239
  • Saint Gilbert of Dornoch - founder of the Cathedral
  • George Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland
  • Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland

Dornoch Castle

The castle at Dornoch was built about 1500 as the home of the bishops of Caithness. The castle was given to John Gordon, 11th Earl of Sutherland, in 1557. By 1570, the castle had burned during a fued between the McKays and the Murrays. After some restoration in the early 1800s, the castle was then used as a school, a jail, a courthouse, and the headquarters for the Sheriff of Sutherland. The castle passed into private ownership in 1922 and became a hotel in 1947.

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Categories: Dornoch, Sutherland