Local History

A few brief notes to whet the appetite.

Kintyre, the peninsula, runs for approximately forty miles, from the harbour village of Tarbert, to Dunaverty, near the Mull of Kintyre at the southern tip, and is eight miles across at its widest point. Sometimes described as a mainland island, it is joined to Knapdale by an isthmus, with West Loch Tarbert on one side and Loch Fyne on the other. Legend has it that when King Magnus ‘Bareleg’ of Norway was intent on acquiring lands on the west of Scotland, a treaty was agreed between the Viking king and the local chief to avoid mayhem and bloodshed. This allowed Magnus to take all the islands which were separated by water which was navigable by a ship with its rudder set. Accordingly he sat himself in a small boat and had his men drag the boat across the narrow neck of land on rollers, claiming Kintyre for himself. The name Tarbert is said to be derived from the term ‘towboat’, and is a name which is found in similar isthmus locations around Scotland.

History is an account of evidence of life, and there is much evidence of life in Kintyre long before Magnus Bareleg in the late eleventh century. Dunskeig, at Clachan, is a hillfort, situated in a commanding position between the village and the mouth of West Loch Tarbert. A little to the south lies a smaller dun at Ronachan [the Place of the Seals], and further south still, Corriechrevie, a bronze age cairn, each of which provides a high point from which to monitor the comings and goings on the water. Until comparatively recent times the seas and lochs were the highways, especially on the western side of the country, where the mountains made travel difficult and dangerous. Archaeologists suggest that parts of these structures date from some four thousand years ago, and no doubt they have been altered and adapted over the centuries.

A little further, at Ballachroy, is a group of standing stones with a burial cist. There has been much speculation regarding the significance of these, including suggestions that they may have a connection with the position of the setting sun, as it sinks over the Paps of Jura on a midsummer evening;always a fascinating and dramatic scene.

Throughout Kintyre there is much evidence of past lives, and there are several extremely informative books and documents available on the subject. It is easy to forget that in earlier centuries, along with most of Scotland, this was a highly populated land, from which ordinary people eaked out a hard-won meagre living. The crumbled remains of sheilings on the hillsides above, are evidence of this, and many of them were abandoned from choice, when they could no longer survive the subsistence living below.

In 1689 a battle was fought at Loup Hill, to the north-west of the village, between government forces and the supporters of the deposed James the VII of Scotland, [James the II of England], hoping to overthrow the usurper, William of Orange. The names McDonald, McAlester and McNeill can be found in the Kilcalmonell parish church.

It is recorded that in 1455 the Lords of the Isles granted a charter for the building of a church, to the monks of Paisley, who had control over much of the area around Clachan. By 1695 the building had fallen into disrepair and the present building was erected around the year 1760. Dedicated to Kilcalmonell, the church is listed Category B and is in regular use today.

At the core of the village are three groups of terraced cottages, positioned alongside the two burns that discharge into the West Loch. With time, further dwellings have appeared. The old school has been replaced by a more modern building in a different location, and we have a thriving shop and filling station.

Balinakill House, now a hotel, was once the home of Sir William Mackinnon, a Scottish ship-owner and businessman. Mackinnon was born in Campbeltown in March 1823 and became very successful by trading in India and Africa. He is remembered for his commitment to the elimination of the slave trade, his opposition to trade monopoly, and his support for the equal treatment of all nations.

In 1856 he married Janet Jameson, but died without issue in June 1893 and is buried in the village churchyard. In 1867 he had bought his house at Balinakill, which he rebuilt in 1887. The present house may be a combination of original and additions, and is listed Category C. The nearby Balinakill Steading is listed Category B, and the estate gate-lodge, now in poor condition and separated from the estate by the A83, is listed Category C.

These notes can only scratch the surface of a fascinating subject, and further contributions, comments or corrections will be happily considered. clachaninkintyre@gmail.com