KINTYRE - SCOTLAND’S ONLY “MAINLAND ISLAND”
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A Bloody History

People have lived at the head of Campbeltown Loch for many thousands of years, and throughout Kintyre lie the visible signs of the many who have lived and died here, each adding their own bright fragile strand to its history. Many influences are to be found in the names of places and people here, from the Bronze and Iron ages, then early Christians, through the Kingdom of Dalriada, the Norse invaders, the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, and the brutal Covenanters of the 17th Century. All have left their mark carved in the landscape, and today in many places, you can easily see and touch for yourself, the evidence from the Bronze age onwards of those who have ruled, lived and worked the land here.

GravestoneNo relic is perhaps more poignant than the gravestones which mark their passing, among the finest to be found in Europe, and part of a resource of world class quality. Many Churches and Graveyards in Kintyre hold carved crosses and slabs which record Warriors and Saints, Shepherds and Lords, Farmers and Fishermen of past generations. Shown here is one of these, which you can see at Saddell Abbey. The grave of Donald McNair and his father Neil shows a Knight, wearing gauntlets, now dead for six hundred years, yet only yesterday in today”s Kintyre, as McNairs farm land near Saddell to this very day.

Standing Stones, 34 at least in Kintyre, reach back into Neolithic times as far as 2500BC, and burial cairns of Neolithic farmers like that still standing on Blasthill Farm by Southend, emphasise for just how long Kintyre has been a fertile agricultural area. The many Bronze and Iron Age Forts and “Duns” give a hint to how long this land has been fought over too. Kildonan Dun, a few miles south of Saddell dates from perhaps as early as 200BC, built with stone walls, well preserved, on a rocky hill by the shore next to the road. Artefacts from it are to be seen in Campbeltown Museum, and help us to understand how sites like this provided home and shelter for several familes in each, who worked the surrounding land and sea, yet, it had already stood there for 1500 years when Donald MacNair passed away.

By 300AD, the Gaelic-speaking Irish tribe, called Scotti by the Romans, started crossing the North Channel from Antrim to Kintyre, founding a kingdom called Dalriada after their home area in Ireland. By the 6th century they had spread throughout what is now called Argyll - “The coastland of the Gael”. In 843AD Kenneth MacAlpin of Dalriada became the ruler of a joint kingdom of Picts and Scots, and within 200 years Gaelic language and culture had penetrated to almost every corner of the kingdom, now called “Scotland.” By 500AD there were important forts throughout Argyll but including Tarbert, Dunaverty (at Southend), and on some of the islands.

Above the medieval chapel at Southend, on a rocky outcrop, two footprints are carved in the rock. One of them is known to have been carved by a local stonemason in 1856, but the other (nearest Ireland) is ancient and perhaps was used in the inauguration of kings, who would promise to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. St. Columba sailed to Iona in 563AD, and landed in Kintyre at that time to pay his respects to the ruler of Dalriada. The outline of a rectangular building to the West of the footprints may just be all that remains of an Early Christian chapel, possibly established by Columba himself, since the medieval chapel below is dedicated to him. In the distance the island of Sanda reminds us that Columba was not the first to bring Christianity to Kintyre, for there the chapel dedication is to St. Ninian of Whithorn, who died in 422AD.

The great Celtic war-leader Somerled, who freed Argyll from Viking dominance in 1156, founded the Cistercian Abbey at Saddell which spearheaded a flourishing of church-building in Kintyre in the 13th century. One of the churches built at this time is the chapel of Kilcolmkill which lies just to the North of the main road, a mile West of the village of Southend.

Around this time the origins of Tarbert Castle were founded on a Dalriadic stronghold, the oldest surviving parts built for the Lord of the Isles in the 13th Century, but it was enlarged and strengthened by King Robert the Bruce. He repeated the feat of Magnus Barefoot, in dragging his ship over the narrow isthmus, this time to fulfil a prophesy of final victory over the English.

But the darkest deed in Kintyre’s history must be the dreadful massacre at Dunaverty Castle in 1647, when after the Battle of Rhunahaorine Moss, the remnants of MacDonald”s army surrendered at Dunaverty after a siege and were murdered by the Covenanters under General David Leslie. Little was left to bear witness to the destruction of a site fortified for a thousand years.

In more genteel times, Kintyre became so justly famous for farming and its whisky, served for decades until recently by Steamers, like the Waverley, which still visits in Summer, to remind us all of the great seafaring history of the area, and happier times than those which came before.