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THE ANCIENT CHURCHES AND CHAPELS OF KINTYRE
by T. HARVEY THOMSON, M.D., D.P.H.

The source of information upon which it is based are such works as Captain White's "Archaeological Sketches of Kintyre" and of "Gigha and Cara", "The New Statistical Account of Scotland", published in 1845; "Origines Parochiales" by Cosmo Innes, as well as numerous works, papers, extracts etc. to which I have been able to obtain access.

PARISH OF SOUTHEND Churches-

This comprises the two ancient parishes of Kilcolmkill and Kilblaan, which were united by a Commission of Parlianient in the year 1617. It also originally embraced the old parish of Kilkivan, but this was transferred to the Parish of Campbeltown in the year 1772, not 1671, as is often erroneously stated.

The ruins of the old Parish Church of Kilcolmkill, or at least the last surviving one, are still to be seen, as well as to a less extent, those of eight other chapels or dependent oratories, while the topical nomenclature suggests that a few more religious erections of which no trace now remains, formerly existed in the parish.

KILCOLMKILL

Picturesquely nestling in a quiet sequestered nook under the shelter of the tall bluff of Keil Point, this is situated close to the seashore about a mile from the village of Southend, in view of the coast of Northern Ireland, the old "Scotia" from which the early Dalriadic colonists originally crossed to Kintyre.

Sanda, lacking neither in sarced nor in secular associations of historic importance, the rugged ancient keep of Dunaverty of ghastly memory, the familiar "Paddy's Milestone", Ailsa Craig) raising its obtrusive hump in the middle of the North Channel and, in the south-eastern distance, the coasts of Wigtownshire, from whose ancient monastery of Candida Casa, not merely was the gospel of Christianity promulgated at a yery early date, but which also owned a by no means inconsiderable amount of valuable land and property in South Kintyre.

According to the careful measurements of Captain White, the walls of this ancient church are 73 feet 9 inches long, 19 feet broad, and 2½ feet thick (external measurements). He points out a curious discrepancy in the width of the end walls, the west gable being 4 inches shorter than the east, a discrepancy also strangely enough met with in Skipness Chapel.The building is exceptional in that the length so greatly exceeds the breadth, and about 30 feet from the east end of the north wall there is a very distinct vertical line of junction; the masonry being squared and bonded in more regular blocks and better pointed with mortar, in the eastern third, than in the western two-thirds of this wall.This appearance is almost certainly to be attributed to elongation of the oringinal edifice at some time or another, by adding about 30 feet to its eastern end.

In his "Sketches", Captain White remarks that on a second visit to this interesting spot, he discovered "built into the outside face of the east gable wall, a moulded fragment, which, in all probability had been the head of the now missing east window".It lies near the north end of this gable wall on a level with the top of the railing round McDonald of Sanda's burial place.

It was the couplet arch head of this small window, divided into two by a single pentagonal shaft, and its presence in such a situation implies that this gable must have been built since Reformation times, as only, it is urged, by those hostile or indifferent to the precious relics of mediaeval sculpture could such a degrading solecism in ecclesiological coustruction or restoration have been perpetrated or permitted. The presence of some sculptured fragments of stone at the base of the north wall near its eastern end, fragments obviously of a former erection, also support such a view.

The addition may have been made after the union of the original parishes of Kilcolmkill, Kilblaan and Kilkivan, in 1617, the church being found too small for the combined congregations, and the Presbytery Records indicate that the church continued in use for some 50 years after this date. A similar union, even more distinct, is found in the north wall of the church at Kilchousland, whatever the explanation may be.

The external walls of Kilcolmkill are, comparatively speaking complete, standing about 10 feet high, with obtuse angled gables, whose apices were about 15 feet in height, although the west is now only a little higher than the side walls the church was provided with three little windows. Perhaps the best preserved of these is in the north wall near the east end. With rounded top it is 4 feet high, and 8 inches broad externally, splaying out, however, to a width of 4 feet on the inside. Just opposite to this is a similar window in the south wall, another further to the west being now built up. In these ancient churches artificial lighting was, I believe, largely depended on.To the west of the two windows in the south well, is the single doorway of the church, a round headed one, 2½ feet wide externally, and splayed also to 4 feet within. Its height is now only 4½ feet above ground level, so that now at least one must perforce bend the head or bow the knee on entering the sacred edifice.

The interior, where of old the rude fore-fathers of the surrounding district were wont humbly to stand, while the cure or care of their spiritual affairs was being attended to, is now, like the surrounding graveyard itself, a place of tombs and monuments all bearing terse stories in stone of their silent occupants.

Beside the west gable is a railed off enclosure with tablets commemorative of the old McLartys of Keil, and built into the east wall is a tombstone, sculptured with the cusomary skull and cross-bones of the period, in memory of "Neil McNeil of Carskiey, who departed this lyfe on the 30th October, 1685."

The churchyard itself is enclosed with a well-constructed stone wall, built in the year 1857 by public subscription, and it too is full of tombs and headstones, both ancient and modern.Of ancient sculptured stones, in the enclosure, two are those of ecclesiastics, one garbed in simple alb, the other the Kilblaan Stone, with more pretentious chasuble in addition, and two are memorials of ancient warriors. 4

Outside the east gable wall is the railed-in burial place of the MacDonalds of Sanda, one tombstone bearing their coat of arms, and another adorned with the significant lyhphad or galley, and the long sword of the period.

Towards the west is another enclosure and tombstone, in this instance, adorned will the coat of arms of the original "Ralston of Ralston", who, about the middle of the 17th century, found refuge and peace here, from the persecution then prevalent in his native Renfrewshire.

It is indeed declared that, although now mingled somewhat promiscuously, the Highlanders were originally buried in the eastern, and the "incomers" or Lowlanders in the western portion of the ground, a little stream dividing them, and that, for many years this separation and isolation of the Gael and the Gall, in death as in life was rigorously observed.

In 'The Argyllshire Herald" of March 14th, 1874, we find the further traditional information that. in December, 1838, old Donald Shaw, late tenant of Keil, aged 88, said, "The burial ground at Keil was occupied (presumably in part) by the Lowlanders of the parish of Kilmaurs, who came from Irvine, many Covenanters fled to Scotland.

A Mr Ralston purchased from the Laird O'May of Keil, the burying-ground for the sum of 60 merks."The ground was then the kail garden attached to the houses that were situated close to the old road, running past the Church of Keil (at the back), but which were demolished immediately after the plague, the inhabitants who died of it, having been buried under the ruins.

Tradition says a stranger left his bonnet at either Tonrioch or Killellan, and the plague was spread by the person who found it. When at its height smoke issued from only three houses (in Kintyre), from the Craigs, Cantaie (?) and Keil, thecountry being like a reign of the dead.This plague seems to have occurred shortly after the Massacre of Dunaverty in 1647. This plague seems to have occurred shortly after the Massacre of Dunaverty in 1647.

In "Argyll's Highlands," page 270, the Ralston monument is figured, with its coat of arms, its upper part bearing the inscription, "Erected by Gavin Ralston of that ilk, in memory of William Ralston, his great grandfather, in the year 1799." The monumnent, as was remarked to me by the (present "Gavin Ralston of that ilk," faces, strangely enough, the north, and not, as was common and orthodox, particularly in these old times, the east.

Here, too, we are told that the pendicle of land added to the Cemetery of Southend originated in the difficulty which the Lowlanders encountered in obtaining accommodation for the disposal of their dead when they first settled in the parish.The survivors of the original Highlanders naturally, looked with disfavour on the incomers who had supplanted their deceased friends and relatives, and were entirely ignorant of their beloved language, and the Lowlanders did not fail heartily to reciprocate similar unfriendly sentiments, regarding the Highlanders indeed as semi-barbarians, and their language, as wholly savage.

Thus it was that, at first, the Lowlanders were buried in the western, and the Highlanders in the eastern portion of Keil Cemetery, although happily all this is now a thing of the past.

Kilcolmkill is the anglicised form of the Gaelic "Cill-Chalum-Ghille," meaning the cell or Church of Columba of the cells or churches. Cill or Ceall, corresponding to the Latin cella, means, strictly speaking, a monastic cell, but, coming to be associated with the corresponding church, and the graveyard usually surrounding it, the word has come generally to imply all three.

That the church is called after or in honour of Columba, or, in yhe place, he says, is locally known as Kilport - much in the same way as Fergus Mor McErc did some 60 years earlier, and founded the first of his churches in the desirable spot near by. The tradition indeed is that, about two years before he finally settled in Iona, Columba sojourned in this neighbourhood.

But, while it is unequivocally recorded, that Columba in his epoch making voyage to Scotland, set sail from Londonderry - the Doire or oak copse where in 545 he founded the first of his Irish Churches, the "apple of his eye" as he calls it, recorded history has hitherto been exasperatigly silent or confusing as to the exact place of his landing. It is frequently stated that he sailed direct from 'Derry to Iona. Thus, in Rankin's "Handbook of the Church of Scotland" we read. "Sailing from 'Derry in a currach or wherry, with twelve disciples, all blood relations, he landed at Iona or Hy, where he founded a monastic school, and spent thirty-four years till his death in 597.

Nor is it to be supposed that a voyage of this length was beyond the scope of his missionary bark, for Adamnan, his biographer, informs us that this was not a frail currach or coracle, like that of the Aran Islander of to-day, but a stout vessel, built of a hide covered frame-work it is true, but yet one forty feet long, with keel, mast, oars and sail, and one capable of remaining fourteen days at sea.

And besides Dunaverty at Southend, and the little island of Oransay, to the south of Colonsay, another strong claimant for this honour was Loch Caolisport in Knapdale, where between Achachoish and Ellary House, opposite a little island known as "Eilean na-h-Uamhaidh " (Island of the Cave) there is still to be seen the ruins of Cove Chapel, and just beyond it the very suggestive "Columba's Cave. This has also been claimed as the spot where Columba originally landed and founded his first church in 'Scotland, and he left it, it is alleged, because he soon discovered that, in favourable conditions of weather, he could, from the hill behind, still see the distant loom of Ireland.

Now it is very gratifying to find in Dr Frank Knight's recently published work on the early ecclesiological history of the Scottish Churches, some very welcome arid illuminating references to this subject. He convincingly maintains that, in the year 562, not 563 as is generally stated, Columba sailed from Londonderry direct to "Eilean da Ghallagan" in West Loch Tarbert, where his cousin, King Conal, was in residence. After remaining with him for some time, he again took to sea, and passing north through the Sound of Islay, landed in Colonsay, where he also spent some months.Finding, however, that, in favourable circumstances, the distant loom of Ireland could still be recognised, he once againtook to sea, and reaching Iona on 12th May, 563, and now finding that he was entirely out of sight of his beloved Erin, he settled there and founded his famous monastery in this island, which was already a sanctuary for saints and a cemetery for kings.

Such a view completely negatives the tradition that Columba founded the Church of Kilcolmkill in the course of his voyage from 'Derry to lona, and, if he did found it at all, he must, therefore, have done so at some later period, or at an earlier.

We are definitely informed by Adamnan of only one occasion in the course of his subsequent voyages, in which Columba "was nearing the Land's End" (Mull of Kintyre), and it is not impossible that on that or some other occasion after he went to Iona, he may have landed in the neighbourhood of Southend, and founded this church. On the other hand, the discoveries of Dr Knight, in the course of his exhaustive studies, suggest an earlier visit.

When Columba embarked on his historic voyage from Derry to Eilean da Ghallagan, he did so under sentence of exile from Ireland, because of his impetuous and impious conduct, and it is popularly supposed that this was his first visit to Scotland, then a land of pagans.Dr Knight shows that this is far from true, that, before this, Ninian, Ciaran and scores of other preachers of the Christian Religion, had already crossed from Ireland, and gained many converts here.

He points out, too, that Columba was by no means the novice of a sailor we have been led to suppose. On the contrary, he was devoted to the sea, and well knew the exultant thrill to be felt, when his frail bark, bending to the breeze and leaping like a thing of life frlom wave to wave, sped on through roar of storm and turmoil of tide, till, at length, under his skilful handling, she safely reached port. He further suggests that, in the course of his previous adventures he had probably sailed to Scotland, founding, in those earlier days, Churches in Corsewell, Cumbrae, Kilmacolm, and possibly Kilcolmkill in Skipness. And if Kilcolmkill in Skipness, why not also Kilcolmkill in Southend ?

Here indeed was practically the nearest part of Scotland to Ireland. Some sort of traffic between the two was carried on before the historically authenticated crossing of Fergus Mor in 498, as Dr Knight makes it out to be, and it is most natural that Columba, following in the footsteps of Fergus, and very likely his old friend Ciaran, both of them now dead, should have landed at the very ancient port of Dunaverty, using it (possibly as a headquarters for expeditions further south, and so confirming the ancient tradition, so firmly established in the neighbourhood, that, for two years before he sailed on to Iona, Columba sojourned here, and founded near his so-called "footsteps" as, in spite of the absurdity of the idea, they will, doubtless, continue to be called, one of his earliest cills or cells in Scotland

I have referred to this matter at some unusual length, as it is not merely pertinent to the subject, but also propounds the somewhat novel theory (1) that Columba in his historic missionary journey from Londonderry in 562 (not 563) did not land at Southend, and (2) that possibly, or even probably, he founded the Church of Kilcolmkill at Southend - the original building - when visiting the more southern parts of Scotland at an earlier date.

The outstanding figure of the renowned "Dove of The Churches," in whose honour Kilcolmkill is named, is too well known to require any further reference here.

The Rev. Archibald B. Scott, D.D., Helmsdale, the learned author of "The Pictish Nation, Its People, and Its Church," very emphatically disagrees with many of those views expressed by Dr Frank Knight. He denies that Columba went from Londonderry to Eilean da Ghallagan direct. At that time King Conal (Conaill MacCobgall) was only a "Toiseach" or Chief of a little band of Dalriads, who had been driven into South Kintyre, by Brude, the Sovereign of the federated tribes of North Britain, and was subject to him.He was not then at Eilean da Ghallagan. Nor does he admit of a previous journey of Columba to Alba before 563. The result of a searching scrutiny on these matters he contributed to the Transactions of The Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vol. xxviii, 1912 - 14. "The Gaelic Fabulists," he says, "cursed me for it, but they were not able to contradict a single item in it." This would seem to leave the original place of Columba's landing in Scotland, still elusive and uncertain]

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Nearly a hundred years ago "in 1842 - Dean Howson said lie found lying among weeds in the graveyard of Kilcolmkill, a fragment of a cross Henry, with a hole through the centre. When examining the cemetery, I searched for, but failed to find this cross.

Recently, however, on hearing that a Cross existed somewhere in the neighbourhood of Old Keil House, three members of The Kintyre Antiquarian Society, Mr Latimer McInnes, Mr Jas. H. Mackenzie and myself - visited the spot and found what is obviously the Crown referred to by the Dean, and which is now in the cusody of the gardener at Keil House.

According to the information given me by Mr McEachran of Kilblaan, this was originally placed on the apex of the eastgable of Kilcolmkill Church - the re-erected, not the original gable wall. In "Fragments of Perambulations in Kintyre in The Summer of 1833" by W. Dobie, Beith, it is indeed stated that this east gable was crowned with a "cross fleury pierced in the centre."It appears that when this wall, with its cross fell, many years ago, the gable was re-erected by Mr McLaverty of Keil, but not the cross, this latter being subsequently placed at the apex of a little gothic shaped grotto with well hinside, behind the old buildings of Keil.

Falling from this new and less honourable position, it was not replaced, being now in the gardener's custody.When Dean Howson visited Kilcolmkill Church in 184'2, he mentions that he saw, lying within the church ruins, what seemed to be an "Aspersorium" - another name for the Benitier or Holy Water Stoup. Captain White could not find this, and for long I have been searching for it, hitherto in vain.Quite recently, however, (December, 1934), when on the old road behind the church, a peculiar appearance in the north wall of this, near its west end, caught my eye that this portion of the wall must, at some time have been reconstructed, probably at the same time as the east gable wall, and that there has been built into it (1) stones of the upper part of such another doorway as we have on the south wall, making it appear that the church had at one time a second doorway, probably in this neighbourhood (there are two doorways in Killean Church and three in Skipness Chapel) ; and (2) lying on its side half-way up the wall, a rounded stone with shallow hollowed out basin on its external face. This stone is of a softer and far more easily worked character than the other stones of which this wall is composed, and is, doubtless, the "Aspersorium" referred to by the Dean, which lias been built into this wall for preservation.

I have been for long aware of a gap in the interior of the south wall, a few yards from the doorway, and now only a little above ground level. The remnant of stone here is of exactly the same soft brittle nature as this "Aspersorium," and points convincingly to the conclusion, that it must have been hacked out of its original position here as in Skipness Chapel by post Reformation iconoclastic zeal, and at a later date built into this re-constructed wall for preservation. I am aware of no other reference to this subject.While the present highway lies to the seaward side of the old graveyard, the old road, as depicted in Captain WhitensSketches, ran alongside its eastern and northern walls, and beyond the cemetery, and the little knoll lying to the west,descended by a steep declivity, and passed close to the large cave at the Point of Keil.At the side of this old road, beyond the site of the church, is the "Priest's or Holy Well," with its little cross, 8 inches high, incised on the rock behind, a well from which would be derived, no doubt, the water for baptismal and other sacred purposes, and which is generally to be met with in the vicinity of such a cell or sanctuary

Nor would any account of Kilcolmkill be complete without some reference to the little eminence to the west of the cemetery, and which Captain White in his "Sketches" calls "Guala na Popuill " - the shoulder of the congregation, although as pointed out by the Rev. Mr MacVicar, this more accurately applies to the slope of the hill on its landward side.Here are the remains of the foundations of a small oblong building (20 feel, by 9 foot), the cell or retreat, probably of some monk or saint, in days gone by, and, it might be even, of Columba himself.

On a flat surface of rock near are the impressions of two right feet, commonly referred to as "Columba's Footsteps," but erroneouly so.The perfect one next the sea, it was argued before The Kintyre Antiquarian Society some time ago, is most probably the mark of Fergus Mor McErc, the first King of Scottish Dalriada, "the first chief's foot," when, on crossing over from Ireland, he, in accordance with a well-known and long established practice, took possession of the district, by placing his right foot in this little excavation, which had been prepared for it, the second being probably a well-moaning but quite spurious edition of later date.[At Drumlemble, on 3rd September, 1936, Mr David McArthur informed Mr Latimer Mclnnes and myself that he was a grandson of Daniel Mcllrevie, Stone Mason, residing at Southend, and that he (Mcllrevie) was the man who carved out the second footprint - that away from the sea - at Kilcolmkill 79 years age - in 1856. Another grandson of Mcllrevie, he said, distinctly remembered sitting alongside his grandfather, and seeing him do this when he himself was a small boy 5 years old. His name was Alexander McKinnon, and this story is otherwise corroborated].

Further inland, just at the edge of the old road, is an oblong excavation, 13 inches by 7 inches, which Mr Hunter quite erroneously supposed to be an ancient "holy water stoup," but which is indubitably the socket of an ancient cross, which at one time stood here, and which the late Rev. Daniel Kelly, the incumbent of the parish, in "The Statistical Account of Scotland," 1845, definitely declares (although giving no authority for the assertion) "has been removed from its proper place and now lies neglected at Inveraray.

Although then lying neglected in the former old Burgh of Inveraray, it now forms the well looked after market cross of the modern town, bearing on its northern edge, the names of the three honourable "MacEuGylliChomghnans" (or McCowans) whom it commemorates. As to the age of the church of Kilcolmkill, it is probably not earlier than the thirteenth century. There is a record of it in 1326, before which it was granted to the Canons of Whithorn, by Patrick MacShillingis and Finlach his wife. This grant was confirmed by Robert the Bruce in 1326, and by James II in 1451. Shortly after the union of the parishes of Kilcolmkill and Kilblaan in 1017, in the year 1621, a Commission was empowered to erect a new church for the united parishes, but this old church of Kilcolmkill was, according to the Presbytery Records, in use for Divine Service, for many years after that date.

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