Taken from
Issue Number 3 June 1078

Bruce's Broach


An extract from"Kintyre in the seventeenth Century" by Andrew McKerral, C.I.E., M.A., F.R.S. (Scot); By kind permission of his executors.


The peninsula of Kintyre is the forty-mile-Iong breakwater of the Firth of Clyde, which extends from the isthmus of Tarbert in the north, to the rocky headland of the Mull in the south, and which, in the quaint phraseology of Camden's Britannia, "thrusteth itself greedily towards Ireland." From the point of the Mull to the nearest point on the Antrim coast, the distance is less than twelve miles. Across these narrow waters of the North Channel there must have been a traffic in both men and merchandise long before the age of recorded history, and no part of Scotland has had such a close connection with Ireland, a connection exhibited in the place-names and personal names of Kintyre, and in its folk-songs and folklore.

The discovery of a Neolithic flint workshop at Campbeltown, some forty years ago, has disclosed the fact that this was the first known locality on the Scottish mainland to receive human colonisation, and the district has most probably been peopled uninterruptedly from that far distant time down to the present day. The name Kintyre is from Gaelic ceann, a head, and tir, land, and the meaning of the word is accordingly obvious. Adamnan, the biographer of St Columba, called it Caput Regionis, a name which has the same meaning of "headland." To Ptolemy, the Greek topographer of the second century, it was Epidion Akron, that is, the nose or promontory of the Epidii, an ancient British tribe who inhabited it at the time he wrote. The root of this tribal name is the ancient Celtic epos, a horse, and the Epidii were probably so called because they had taken the horse to be the badge or totem of their tribe, or because they were horse breeders or trainers. The word epos is Brythonic Celtic, and would appear to indicate that these people spoke a form of Celtic more akin to Welsh than to Gaelic which, in fact, is the view now held of the language of the ancient Britons by such scholars as Watson and MacBain.

From a reference in Tacitus it is probably the case that the district was visited by the Roman general, Agricola, in the summer of A.D.82. He is supposed to have gone on a tour of reconnaissance, but, on finding the west coast unsuitable for the passage of his legions he returned, and Kintyre knew no Roman conquest or occupation, and so exhibits no Roman remains.

The Ancient Britons, or Picts, as they came to be called, were most probably the people who have left material remains in the shape of the duns, or stone hill forts, of which there are more than forty in Kintyre, including one specimen in excellent preservation at Borgadale, near the Mull. They were also most probably the people who erected the many standing stones found in the district.

The Scots, a Gaelic-speaking people from Ireland, had begun to colonise Kintyre during the early centuries of the Christian era, and about the year A.D. 500 they came, under their leader Fergus, and founded the small kingdom of Dalriada in the west of Scotland. Two important results followed on their coming. The first was the introduction of the Gaelic form of Celtic, which gradually replaced the Brythonic form previously spoken by the older inhabitants, and which became later the language of the court and the people allover Scotland. The Gael and the Gaelic both came from Ireland, most probably to Kintyre in the first instance. W.J. Watson, basing his conclusions on a study of the language of our oldest placenames, makes the remark, "I hold with Kuno Meyer that no Gael ever set foot on British soil, except from a vessel that had put out from Ireland."

Another result of the coming of the Scots, and one of the greatest importance, was the introduction of Christianity. The Scots themselves were at least nominally Christians on their first arrival, and it is possible that Kintyre may have been visited by Christian missionaries before St Columba arrived in A.D. 563. The considerable number of its place names beginning with Kil, from Latin cella, a cell or church, testifies to the activity of these early missionaries, some of whom came from Ireland and some from lona.

During the period of the Kingdom of Dalriada, Kintyre formed one of its tuaths, or tribal territories, others being Cowal and Iona. The tuath of Kintyre was possessed by the tribe of Gabran or Gowran, the grandson of King Fergus, and it saw a good deal of civil war and tribal dissension. In the year A.D.712 it was attacked by Sealbach, leader of the tribe of Lorne, who in that year as the Irish annals disclose, besieged Aberte, the principal stronghold of Gabran; this being the first mention in history of the famous Kintyre fortress of Dunaverty. From the tribe of Gabran was descended Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of the united kingdom of the Picts and Scots, and ancestor of the long line of subsequent Scottish kings. Kintyre may thus justly claim that it was the cradle of the Scottish monarchy. The Scots, unlike their predecessors the Picts, have left no material remains in the district.

Copyright belongs to the authors unless otherwise stated.

The Kintyre Antiquarian & Natural History Society was founded in 1921 and exists to promote the history, archaeology and natural history of the peninsula.
It organises monthly lectures in Campbeltown - from October to April, annually - and has published its journal, 'The Kintyre Magazine', twice a year since 1977, in addition to a range of books on diverse subjects relating to Kintyre.

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