REMAINS OF THE CELTIC CHURCH IN KNAPDALE
St. Columba's Cave and Chapel
On the west coast of Loch Caolisport, south of Ellary, there are a couple of caves, one of which has an alter and rock-cut crosses. The smaller one may have been a hermitage. Traditionally, St Columba worshipped here. In front of the caves is a ruined 12th century chapel. All of this stands at the head of a shallow bay.
The South Knapdale Parish Church, at Achahoish, has a stone baptismal font, probably originally from St. Columba's cave.
Also of interest is the surname, "MacCallum" or its English form, "Malcolm." It derives from the Gaelic "Maolcolm", or "devotee of St. Columba." Malcolm of Poltalloch is an ancient family of the area and from about 1800 to 1950 it was the largest landowner in Knapdale. Today, the Malcolm family seat is at Duntrune Castle, on the west and north end of the Crinan Canal.
If you go here, you will find a biography of Saint Columba.
Kilmaluag ('Chapel of St Moluag")
...or "Cill mo Luaig", or "St Luag's Chapel." This Saint is primarily associated with the Isle of Lismore. If you drive along Loch Caolisport, south of Ormsary and then Druimdrishaig, you will come to Port Cill Maluaig and the site of Kilmaluag. The chapel no longer exists. the remains of a stone house sits there, however. In 1851, Hector McNeil and family lived there. He was a shoemaker, and by 1850 was a pauper. His widow with a McKinnon grandson still lived there in 1861. I took the accompanying photo in 1998.
Saint Moluag (d 592 CE) was the patron saint of the Bishopric of Argyll, and therefore of great importance to the Celtic Church in the days before the Protestant Reformation. St Moluag was a contemporary of Bangor's Abbott, St Comgall, as well as Iona's St. Columba, and made his headquarters north of Iona in 562 CE, on the Isle of Lismore. To our modern eyes, Lismore seems 'out of the way.' But before Scotland's power-centre moved inland to Edinburgh, the Western Highlands was a vital marine entity, and Lismore could easily be central to Argyll's religious world.
We have more information on St. Moluag's Staff (it still exists!); and on a Bell with a strong claim to be Moluag's bell.
THREE Kilmorys in Knapdale named for Saint Maelrubha of Applecross
On the road going south to Tayvallich, there is Loch Coille-Bhar. On the east side of this lake is the empty hamlet of Kilmory Oib. Its inhabitants began to emigrate in 1736 (going at that time to Cape Fear, North Carolina.) There are a couple of ruined stone foundations remaining in the clearing. Most incredible, there the Holy Well remains, marked by a Cross Slab. Rumour says that other sculptured stones of Maelrubha's centre were removed to a Glasgow museum in the 1920s. Holy wells were of great importance to the Celts.
The slab is weathered. However, one can see on the one side a plain cross. On the other side, another cross is surrounded by a sun and moon and birds.
South of Tayvallich, towards Keills, there is a second "Kilmory': Kilmory Ross. It is a farm on Linne Mhuirich. Other than the name, nothing else remains of Saint Maelrubha.
On the road running south and east of Castle Sween, there is a 12th century chapel at Kilmory Knap. It is no longer a 'chapel', of course, but rather an impressive museum, containing a large number of very old crosses and gravestones. Its pride is the lovely "MacMillan Cross" which dates from the 15th century. The stones around the walls range from 8th to 12th century. Interestingly, there are 19th century monument inscriptions within this chapel.
Before the modern Knapdale was divided into two parishes (North and South), it was known as "Kilvicocharmaig." That is, the church of the entire area was dedicated to "St Cormac", which by the 1200s belonged to the Abbey of Kilwinning. After the Protestant Reformation, in 1734, the two parts of Knapdale were 'disjoined'. North Knapdale (population 1,160) subsequently had two parish churches: one at Kilmichael Inverlussa, and one at Tayvallich. South Knapdale (population 884) was also granted two parish churches: at Achahoish, and on Loch Fyne at Inverneill, as well as Tarbert (every 6 weeks.)
Abandoned on Keills peninsula was, of course, the very impressive Keills Chapel, as well as the chapel on the island, Eilean Mor, also dedicated to St. Cormac. However, it must have continued to hold local respect much longer, because burials occurred in its grounds until at least 1900.
Keills, like its daughter structure on Eilean Mor, is no longer a consecrated Chapel, but rather a very useful and impressive museum. It rejoices in an original 7th century cross, of which a copy stands outside in the elements near to the museum. According to Marion Campbell of Kilberry, "The box-tomb in the NE corner is arguably the finest in Argyll: its carving includes a harp and remains of its tuning-key. Latin inscriptions read, “here lie... and Allan his son”, and “Allan... had me made.” The box-tomb at the SE, with a ship, reads, “Here lies Torquil son of Malcolm son of Niall,” probably the McNeill chief who died about 1533. A stone on the S wall reads, “John son of Christian and Aithbreac daughter of Molmalm”; the stump of a mediaeval cross bears an anvil, tongs and hammer on one side, and on the other reads, “Christin and Smith, the son of Celestin Macicui, had this cross made”... " In Campbell's "Mid Argyll, an Archaeological Guide", there is a longer description of Keills, on pages 22 to 23.
For more on St Cormac, or St Charmaig, with sketches made of Eilean Mor, and a photo of the 7th Century cross now in out of the rain at Keills, and etc., go to the page dedicated to that saint.