Issue 21 cover (1318K)
19th C. Kintyre Farmhouse and Steading

Taken from
Issue Number 21 Spring 1987


Angus MacVicar

In a historical and cultural sense Kintyre's debt to Ireland is considerable. It has been said that in Southend, at any rate, we are one third Highland, one third lowland and one third Irish.

The most recent "Irish connection" is the Mull of Kintyre Radio Telephone Station. This is the name given to the slendar steel-girder mast erected in 1975 on the Brunerican bluffs. It is owned and operated by the Northern Ireland Electricity Board in Belfast, so that radio messages from Malone Road, which otherwise might be blanked off by the mountains, can be beamed to engineers and linesmen working in the Glynns of Antrim.

Throughout recent centuries there has been a constant coming across the North Channel. In Kintyre we have Irish songs and Irish surnames to prove it, while in Antrim there are similar "Scottish connections." (It is interesting to note that the Clan Donald castle, or "fighting keep" on Rathlin Island is built to exactly the same design as the one on Dunaverty Rock in Southend.)

And we should not forget that Christianity in Kintyre came from Ireland, at a time when fragile coracles were used instead of roll-on ferries and when messages were transmitted across the narrow sea not by radio waves but by means of flaming beacons.

In this area of ancient cross-channel communication I have been struck by an idea concerning the great stone which stands on the golf course near Brunerican farmhouse and within hailing distance of the radio mast. The Royal Commission on the ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland have published a map showing this stone to be the first in a long line of standing stones leading up along the "spine" of Kintyre to Dunadd (near Lochgilphead), once the capital of Dalriada. Could it be that the Brunerican stone was where a fire signal could be received from the "high king" of the Scotti in Ireland and transmitted from standing stone to standing stone to the "subordinate "king" of Dalriada at Dunadd?

As we grope back across the margins of prehistory it becomes evident that even before the Scotti crossed the North Channel ultimately to give us a new country and a new name - our cultural activities had much in common. The dead were buried inchambered cairns - such as those at Blasthill and near Dochorodale in Kintyre - which were built to broadly similar patterns. Tribal chiefs, both in Ireland and Argyll, were confirmed in their chieftainships as they stood on "flat stones engraved with the fealty foot."

In Scotland the Clan Donald seems to have conducted the ceremony of the fealty foot as late as the fourteenth century. In his View of the State of Ireland the poet, Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) wrote: "They were used to place him that shall be their Captain upon a stone always reserved for that purpose, and placed commonly upon a hill: in some of which I have seen formed and engraved a foot, whereon he, standing, receives an oath to preserve all the ancient former customes of the countrey inviolable, and to deliver up the succession peacefully to his Tanist, and then hath a wand delivered unto him by some whose proper office that is: after which, descending from the stone, he turneth himselfe round, thrice forward and thrice backward."

There are several examples of the single fealty foot, both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. The one at Dunadd to mark the spot where Dalriadan "kings" swore faithfulness to their people. Dr. Anne E. Hamlin of the Northern Ireland Archaeological Survey tells me that she has seen a, single "footprint" in Columban territory near Temple Douglas, Donegal.

Tradition is concerned mainly with single footprints. But both in Antrim and in Kintyre there are to be found flat stones carved with double footprints. Did they mark places of unusual importance? or, for reasons which can only be guessed at, were second footprints added to the originals, perhaps centuries later? And why are the two best known double footprint stones - one in Templemore, Derry, the other in Southend Kintyre - both associated with St Columba?

The Kintyre prints, cut into the level surface of a small natural rock outcrop, are found on a knoll to the west of and, overlooking Keil-colm-cille. The northern footprint, aligned north and south, measures 0.28 metres in length, while the southern, which lies at right angles to it pointing due east, is 0.29 metres long. (The northern print at Templemore is 0.30 metres long, as also is the southern foot.)

"Each imprint at Keil," according to the Scottish Survey, "represents the rough impression of a shod right foot, and between the them the figure 564 has been crudely incised in Arabic numerals. Although they are known traditionally as St. Columbs's Footprints, it is recorded that the northern footprint was carved by a local stonemason in 1856, and the Arabic numerals are not likely to be earlier then the 16th century. The date of the southern footprint is uncertain, but it may be as early as the end of the first millenium B.C."

The so-called "record" of the northern footprint being the work of a local stonemason - his name was Daniel McIlreavie - occurs in a pamphlet entitled "The Ancient Chapels and Churches of Kintyre" by T. Rarvey Thomson, M.D., D.P.R. To my mind such a "record" is dubious, to say the least. For one thing, it suggests that both prints were cut out in 1856, which is obviously nonsense. For another, the whole story depends upon the testimony of Daniel McIlreavy's grandson, a Drumlemble man called David McArthur, who said that at the age of five he had sat alongside his grandfather at keil and watched him working on the stone.

It may be that the northern footprint was incised originally by Daniel McIlreavie: the bedrock at the part of it is now chipped and weathered away, making detailed examination difficult. But as there is evidence that both prints have been worked on in recent times, is it not probable that what the small boy saw (during a tea break?) was his grandfather "improving" prints already there and adding an erroneous date "date 564" (St. Colunba is reputed to have landed in Dalriada in 563 A.D.)

I believe that single footprints were in existence centuries before St. Columba was born. Being statesmen as well as churchmen, however, he and his disciples planted their feet in them, as pagan chiefs were wont to do, attempting to build - and succeeding in building - a new faith on the foundations of an old magic.

Single footprints, double footprints, standing stones erected in strategic order; all parts of an Irish communications system, still maintained by the radio mast on the Brunerican bluffs.

Not all members are aware of the existence of the Society's excallent Library. Over the years an attempt has been made to collect books of local interest but there is also a very wide collection of papers and manuscripts relating to local history.
The Manuscript Collection naturally depends on gifts from friends and members and it is to be hoped that individuals and local businesses will not discard old papers without offering them to the Society.
We are recently indebted to the daughters of the late Mr. William Anderson, M.E., for a gift of his invaluable collection of local photographs.
But from Dallas, Texas, has come a most generous donation from Lt. Col. Victor E. Clark, U.S.A.F., Retd. Colonel Clark, a descendant of Gilbert Clark who was born in Jura in 1723, and emigrated with his father Alexander Clark and the first Highland Settlers, to North Carolina in 1739.
Col. Clark has been indefatigable in collecting information regarding this settlement and has been instrumental in founding 'Argyll Colony Plus' a valuable Newsletter which contains a great deal of material of interest to Kintyre and Argyllshire local historians.
In addition to gifting these to the Society the following volumes have been donated by Colonel Clark:
(1) Complete Index to McKerral's Kintyre in the 17th century.
(2) Details of Kintyre Rentals 1505-1710 with a complete index.
(3) Genealogy of the Clark Family (2 vols).
(4) Jura - an Island of Argyll by Rev Donald Budge.
(5) Islay People 1650-1850 by Gordon Booth - an index of Islay, personal names from a great array of sources.
(6)'Tartan for me' by Philip D. Smith
(7) The Highland Scots of North Carolina by Duane Meyer.
(8) Genealogical record of the descendants of Colonel Alexder McAlister (also a 1739 settler who sailed from Gigha with his father, Coll McAlister of Ballinakill and his mother, a Losset McNeill).
(9) Moore County, North Carolina.
(10) 'They passed this way' by Malcolm Fowler.
(11) Moore County, North Carolina 1747-1847.
(12) The Carolina Quaker Experience.

These and other accessions are at present being catalogued by Mr. Norman lfewton, the Secretary's Librarian.

The Editor is much indebted to an unknown friend who sent her the poem below-


The sun was just leaving the top of the mountain -
When appeared with its splendour the bright evening star;
While I carelessly strayed by the clear flowing fountain -
To view the high summits of Island Devarr.

O dear to my soul are the hills of the highlands -
More dear than the treasure which comes from afar!
And sweet are the haunts of our own neighbouring islands;
But thrice dear to me art thou, Island Devarr.

Tho' rough be thy beach when the hoarse waves are breaking,
As white as the Alps, when they're covered with snow -
Tho' the sea-beaten bark, mid the rude storm is wrecking;
Still, my dear Island, thy beauties will show.

Now, farewell Argyleshire, the home of my sire;
I'll mind thee when sever'd, though ever so far,
And bless the sweet hours that I've spent in Kintyre,
Amongst thy gray rocks, beloved Island Devarr.

Campbeltown, 4th February, 1833. - J.C.

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.

CLICK HERE for Correspondence and Subscription Information.

ISSN 0140 0762

To visit some of my index pages,
choose from this drop down list, and click GO:
HTML-Kit Button 161