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Kilcalmonell, Clachan and Dunskeig

Mr. T.P. White was a surveyor working in Argyll a hundred years ago. In 1873 he published
a volume entitled ' Archaeological Sketches of Scotland, District of Kintyre ' In it he describes many
of the ancient Celtic gravestones which he saw in the cemeteries. He also gives an account of the histories of the parishes. He describes Kilcalmonel as follows:

Kilcalmonell consists of a long strip of the western coast line of the peninsula ( of Kintyre ) and also a small extent of the eastern, to the southward of East Loch Tarbert. The west side of Kilcalmonell is charmingly wooded, and the views obtained in the drive along the shores of the estuary are among the most beautiful in the county. ( of Argyll ) Of the original church of the parish nothing now remains. It stood, in the seventeenth century, at Clachan - a village near the coast about twelve miles from Tarbert on the Campbelton ( sic ) road. The existing church was not erected till as late as 1760. The situation is sheltered, the " Clachan " lying in a hollow, with a ridge intervening between it and the coast. ( Footnote - The Gaelic term " clachan " ( place of stones ) is applied as a rule, in the Scottish Highlands to villages or small hamlets where a parish church is situated with its burying ground. Its original application was to pre-historic, or so-called Druidical, circles of stones. ) The modern churchyard contains some rude slab-carvings of a curious and distinctive type, besides three of the more ornate later mediaeval kind. ( After describing the stones in detail, he goes on.) One oddly-worded epitaph I noticed here seems worth transcribing from my note-book. It begins with three lines in Latin, and then proceeds thus,-

" Here lies Mulmorich Darroch, Person, was in Kilcalmonell who died 10th March 1638, aged 63, and served the cure. "

The tablet is a renewal, so it tells us, by two name-sakes, and I suppose descendants, of this long-deceased parson.

The present building is scarcely above a century old. It has a porch or small offset on the west side, with a large arched aperture taken at ground - level underneath the staircase admitting to the gallery. The history of this aperture is curious. When the church was being built, an old soldier, whose forebears were buried at this particular spot, refused to allow the masons to build over it, and with loaded gun and sword, mounted guard over the place for several days and nights without stirring, swearing to despatch the first man who should lay a finger to the work. The result was that the church-builders gave in, agreeing to throw an arched recess over the spot in dispute, and the old warrior retired mollified, and was ultimately laid peacefully himself in the spot he had contended for. The story would hardly be worth telling but that the aperture in the wall strikes one a something very peculiar and requiring explanation.

( There is no trace of it today ). I was also told of some current notions among the villagers respecting rthe supposed church fabric of ancient days. It was, say they, made of wattles like a sheep-pen, and left unroofed to let the people's prayers ascend better. And the priest was wearing a sword, and when the folks would be putting the stone or tossing the caber on the Sabbath, then he would draw his sword and drive them into the church like sheep. Not improbably the sword and basket-work patterns of the tombstones, interspersed as they often are with religious emblems, may be at the bottom of this jumble of fact and fiction, which is dignified, I suppose, with the name of tradition.

The dedication ( of the parish ) is associated with S. Colman Elo or Ela, also called Columbanus and Colmanmus ( fillius Beogni ). Like Columba, with whom he was contemporary, this Irish saint claimed descent from the royal race of Niall of the Nine Hostages, whose name held so high a place in the pedigree of these early times. S. Colman received his surname of Eala, by which he is called in the Irish calendar, from a stream in King's County, Ireland, which also gave its name to his monastry of Lynally. He was the founder of Muckamore in the county of Antrim. He was born in Tyrone A.D. 555 and died at Lynally in 611, aged 56.

There is nothing traditionally or otherwise to show any connection of S. Colman Ela in his lifetime with the site of his Kintyre church, and the first written announcement respecting the church only dates from the thirteenth century. In the year 1247, note is made of a transaction which brings into light the existence of two individuals in the district - namely, the rector of the church of S. Colmanel, and a certain Dufgall, the son of Syfyn, or Sweyn, then laird of the adjoining lands of Skipness. The transaction was about a small grant of land presented by the proprietor of the church, which Pope Innocent IV was duly called upon to ratify. Another donation follows shortly after - that is in 1261 - this time to the monks of Paisley. ( Mr. White described the holders of the lands for the next 300 years, which can also be found in the ' Origines Parochiales Scotiae ' 1854. Suffice to say that the monks got the money from the parish

By the end of the sixteenth century, the family of Argyll comes into immediate connection with the church, but only as lessees of its fruits. This was in 1581, the parties named being William, Commendator of Paisley, Lessor; Colin, Earl of Argyll, Justice-General of Scotland; and dame Agnes his Countess. Finally in 1632, all rights in the church appear to have passed to the Campbells, in the person of Archibald, Lord Lorne, who acquired them in exchange for other similar property from sir Dugal Campbell of Auchinbreck and his wife - these last having got them from the barional family of Paisley, which again had succeeded to the abbey's proprietory rights at the break up of the monastaries. Thus with regard to much of the ancient church property of Kintyre the Argyll family is in the position of legal representative of the old Paisley monks.

Thus Mulmorich Darroch was obligated to the Campbell Earls of Argyll for his position as minister in the church of Kilcalmonell in Clachan, and also in the church of Kilberry across West Loch Talbert which he served at the same time. He was probably buried under the floor of the church that was torn down about 1760. Sometime in the seventeenth century burial in the floors of churches was forbidden for sanitary reasons. People presently in the village tell of the scores of skeletons that were unearthed when the ' new'" church was built 200 years ago. They were piled in the corner of the churchyard and remained there for many years until they were interred in a common grave. The present church is entirely surrounded by gravestones, many worn down to a foot or so in height and leaning in all directions. A new cemetery has been established a few hundred yards down the road and burials are seldom made beside the church anymore.

Clachan, when viewed from the hillside of Dunskeig, must be one of the prettiest villages in Scotland. The main street was originally the road from Tarbert to Campbeltown. Now the highway by-passes the village. On either side of the street is a row of houses about fifty yards in length containing about ten houses all joined together. Behind one row of houses a short road runs alongside the burn, that divides the village, to the church. About a hundred years ago the congregation of the village was split and the ' Wee Frees ' built another, quite substantial church with the help of Sir William Mackinnon, the laird of the time. It is now unused and stands at the fork of the road in the middle of the village where one way leads to the present main road and the other crosses the burn to houses on the hillside. Some of these houses appear to be as old as the two rows on the main street, others are more modern and lately a few new 'council houses ' have been built. These last are jammed together on a rocky hillside with no gardens and poor parking. Better sites could have been chosen. Good running water is obtained from Loch Ciaran a mile or so south in the hills. Sewage is carried to the sea by a pipe that runs alongside the burn. A new two-roomed school was opened in 1972 and the pupils are supplied with noon meals. In olden times there may have been a dam with a water-wheel and a mill on the north bank of the stream. The burn, to-day, would not produce much power. The flow, while steady, is only a few feet wide and a few inches deep. Possibly this part of the hamlet gores back much earlier than the rest because it was apparently called Sheanakill ( the ancient cell ). This is some evidence of the antiquity of its inhabitance.

Like the Rock of Gibraltar, Dunskeig guards the entrance to West Loch Tarbert and looms over the village of Clachan. The sides to the east and south are sloping and fairly easily climbed, but the sides toward the Loch and the sea are precipitous, almost vertical. On the summit are two duns and a not easily discerned fort. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland in its report on Argyll, Part I, Kintyre, points out that a fort was large enough to protect a whole village, while a dun was usually only large enough for a family. Both duns and forts varied in size. These structures are described in the report of the Commission in general in an introduction and later each fort and dun in Kintyre is described in detail.

An abbreviated account of Dunskeig is as follows:-
A remarkable group of remains accupies the summit of Dun Skeig, an isolated hill which rises from sea-level to a height of 143m. ( 470 feet ) on the south side of the entrance to West Loch Tarbert. Three successive structures can be distinguished: the first a fort measuring about 113 m. by 36.5 m. ( 370' x 120' ) within a single stone wall: the second an oval dun with a vitrified wall which partly overlies the SW end of the fort: and the third, a well-preserved dun whose wall contains pieces of vitrified material presumably taken from the ruins of the earlier dun.

The fort wall which originally enclosed the whole of the summit of the hill has been severely robbed. There are no signs of any internal buildings associated with this initial phase of occupation.

The larger dun consists of an oval enclosure measuring about 26 m. by 18.5 m. within a stone wall the core of which has been completely vitrified.

The smaller dun which stands at the NE end of the summit area on the highest point of the hill, measures 14.6 m. by 12.8 m. within a wall varying from 3.0 m. to 4.6 m. in thickness. The facings of the wall consist of large blocks of stone, well laid and occasionally under-pinned with smaller stones. The entrance in the NE is well defined, measuring 1.2 m. in width on the outside, it widens to 1.5 m. at the door-checks.

The only other item of archaeological interest is a small area of living rock, bearing three plain cup-marks, which lies about 2.1 m. outside of the wall of the vitrified dun on its NNE arc.

These structures are supposed to date from the Iron Age, 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. In the case of the fort and duns on Dunskeig the occupation of the successive buildings may have covered several hundreds of years. The walls were of dry stone and often occupied together about half of the total outside diameter. A vitrified wall consisted of two walls several yards apart, with the intervening space filled with rubble. This internal material was laced with timbers to strengthen it. When the wooden beams or branches were fired, either deliberately or accidentally, the rubble and walls were fused to some degree.

The forts on Dunskeig indicate strife and the need for protection 2000 years ago. Whether the attacks of those days came from nearby families, neighbouring tribes, or from invading foreigners, no one can tell to-day. For most of its 2000 years this part of Argyll has been the central point of important events in Scottish history. West Loch Tarbert was a natural waterway for commerce in peace and war between the islands and the mainland. Clachan, nestled in its little valley behind Dunskeig, appears peaceful enough to-day. It is to be hoped that its position saved it from some of the marauders who preyed on the coastal settlements down through the ages.

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