IN THE 1986 film Highlander, clansmen are seen marching and riding to and fro across the bridge connecting Eilean Donan Castle to the mainland.

Eilean Donan is probably the most photographed castle in Scotland apart from Edinburgh and Stirling, but all the pictures of Eilean Donan never tell the whole story, and certainly Highlander – the scene is set in 1536 – is very misleading.

For not only was there no bridge of that sort to Eilean Donan in the 16th century, there was no castle there at all for several centuries and the original castle bore only a slight resemblance to that which now stands there.

That is because in this week in 1719, the Royal Navy blew the original castle to smithereens. They did so because Eilean Donan, parts of which dated from the 13th century, was playing a central role in the failed and often forgotten Jacobite Rising of 1719.

After the failure of the 1715 Rising, James Stuart, the Old Pretender, had returned to exile. In 1718, Britain joined with France, the Holy Roman Empire and the United Provinces of the Netherlands and went to war against Spain, the Royal Navy smashing the Spanish fleet at Cape Passaro.

Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, chief minister of Spain, came up with the idea of another Jacobite Rising to distract the British and their allies.

He paid exiled Irish Jacobite the Duke of Ormonde to draw up the plan for James Stuart to take charge of 7000 Spanish troops that would be landed in south-west England. The plan called for a simultaneous rising in Scotland with Swedish troops led by General George Keith, the Earl Marischal.

The Jacobites were unlucky. In November, 1718, Charles XII of Sweden died and Swedish support ended. The Spanish decided to go ahead anyway and promised troops for Keith.

Early in 1719, James joined Ormonde in Spain and prepared to invade England. The fleet set sail in late March, but a storm off Cape Finisterre sent all the ships back to Cadiz. Had they not gone home, they would probably have been wiped out by a Royal Navy force waiting for them as a result of intelligence gained in Spain.

General Keith did make it to Scotland with two frigates full of about 300 Spanish soldiers.

Landing at Stornoway in April, they were joined by around 1000 Jacobite clansmen led by Cameron of Lochiel and William Murray, the Marquess of Tullibardine. The joint force then sailed to Kintail on the mainland and occupied the castle on Eilean Donan. Its name means the Island of Donan, a saint and martyr of the Celtic Church, and it was for long the stronghold of the MacKenzies who appointed clan Macrae to be its hereditary constables.

The island held a good strategic position, standing as it does at the meeting of three lochs – Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long, not to be confused with the loch of the same name in Argyll and Bute.

In early May, the Jacobites and Spaniards marched out of the castle, leaving a garrison of 46 Spanish troops and a magazine of gunpowder to supply the Rising. The Royal Navy was on the hunt for Keith’s force, and three heavily armed frigates – HMS Flamborough, HMS Worcester and HMS Enterprise – sailed towards the castle and arrived off it on May 10, 1719, 300 years ago on Friday.

With their total of 118 guns, the trio duly bombarded the castle for three days, but to little effect, as in places its walls were 14 feet thick. Eventually Captain Herdman of the Enterprise ordered a daring assault by his crew who rowed ashore and besieged the castle. Outnumbered, the Spanish garrison surrendered.

Herdman then ordered his sailors to make use of the magazine of 343 barrels of gunpowder which they duly used to blow up Eilean Donan Castle. Very little remained – except for one corner, which stood aloft as if to mock the ruination around it.

The Rising ended in failure at the Battle of Glen Shiel on June 10, 1719, when the Jacobites and their allies were smashed by mortar fire before melting back into the Highlands, the Spaniards surrendering.

Back at Eilean Donan, the MacKenzies and Macraes surveyed the ruins of their castle and concluded it could not be rebuilt.

Then, almost two centuries later, someone did decide to rebuild the castle and add a bridge. It would take 20 years and cost £250,000 – about £30 million in today’s money. In the words of the official history: “For the best part of 200 years, the stark ruins of Eilean Donan lay neglected, abandoned and open to the elements, until Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911.

“Along with his Clerk of Works, Farquar Macrae, he dedicated the next 20 years of his life to the reconstruction of Eilean Donan, restoring her to her former glory. The castle was rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of earlier phases and was formally completed in the July of 1932.”

So, there you have it. The fairytale “ancient” castle of Eilean Donan seen in so many films is less than 90 years old. But doesn’t it look braw?