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Islay, Kilnaughton, St Nechtan's Chapel And Burial Ground

Burial Ground (Medieval), Chapel (Medieval)

Site Name Islay, Kilnaughton, St Nechtan's Chapel And Burial Ground

Classification Burial Ground (Medieval), Chapel (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Kilnaughton Chapel; Cill Neachdain; Mechtan's Church

Canmore ID 37608

Site Number NR34NW 5

NGR NR 34429 45224

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2023.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kildalton And Oa
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR34NW 5 34429 45224

(NR 3442 4522) Chapel (NR) (In Ruins)

OS 6" map, Argyllshire, 2nd ed., (1900)

The remains of a Medieval chapel, almost certainly 15th century although the east end may date from the early 13th century and the name Kilnaughton, for Cill Neachdain, Mechtan's Church, probably commemorates the saint of that name who died in 679 and suggests an early foundation. The building, which was half buried in sand in 1895, measures 37ft 8ins by 15ft 2ins internally. The west end is blank and there is a small, narrow window in the east end. Graves occur both inside and outside the building and there are at least 4 sculptured slabs, proabably all 15th century in the interior.

Air photographs appear to show the original outline of the burial ground.

R C Graham 1895; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896-7; W J Watson 1926; Information contained in letter from W D Lamont 2 October 1957; W D Lamont 1972.

The remains of this church stand a little above the shore of Kilnaughton Bay about 2 km W of Port Ellen. Although

roofless, the building rises almost to its original height, but the exterior of the S wall is now concealed beneath the

accumulated soil of the surrounding burial-ground while the ground-surface of the interior lies more than 1m above the

original floor-level. Two burial-enclosures of 18th- or 19th-century date adjoin the E end of the N wall. The original

masonry is of uncoursed local rubble and beach boulders laid in lime mortar, the quoins and dressings, so far as these

remain, being of the same materials; the fabric appears to have been considerably patched and repaired within the past

century or so.

The building is of simple oblong plan and measures 11.7m from E to W by 4-5 m transversely within walls about 1m in

thickness. There are two doorways placed more or less opposite to one another in the side-walls towards the W end of

the building. There are also traces of an opposed pair of splayed windows situated towards the E end of the church

and of a third splayed window in the N wall. All these openings appear to be original, and the same is probably true

of a smaller window placed high up in the E gable, which also incorporates a large L-shaped aurnbry; both gables are inset internally at sill-level. The interior of the NE angle of the building is bridged by a series of stone lintels to provide

corner shelves. The height of these shelves in relation to the adjacent windows suggests that the E end, or chancel, of the church was floored at a higher level than the nave, an arrangement also found at Kilchiaran (RCAHMS 1984, No. 365). At the W end of the building the existence of a pair of opposed socket-holes in the side-walls may indicate the former existence of a gallery or laird's loft. The church is probably of late medieval date.

This church appears to have originated as a dependency of the parish church of.Kildalton (RCAHMS 1984, No. 367) and there is no record of the existence of a separate parish of Kilnaughton before the Reformation. In an account of Islay compiled in about the second quarter of the 17th century, however, mention is made of 'two parish churches in this part calld Largki, called Kildaltan and Kilnachtan', and when proposals for building a new church at Lagavulin were made in 1651 it was agreed that 'the twa old paroaches of Kildaltan and Kilnachten be the paroache of the said new kirk'. (Cowan 1967; Islay Bk; Argyll Synod Minutes) It was not until about the end of the 17th century, however, that services were begun at Lagavulin (RCAHMS 1984, No. 367, n.4) and the church at Kilnaughton may have continued in use until that time. By 1794 the walls of the church were 'very much decayed' and both church and burial-ground were threatened by the encroachment of blown sand. In 1828 a Parliamentary kirk was erected in the Oa (p. 35) and in 1849 a parish of this name was disjoined quoad sacra from Kildalton. (Statistical Account 1790; Islay Stent Bk.; Highland Churches, 6th Report; Scott et al 1915-1961)

The dedication was to St Nechtan, a Scottish saint of the 7th century. (Watson 1926)

Funerary Monuments and other Craved Stones


The following stones are inside the church, except numbers 4 and 6, which are at the Museum of Islay

Life, Port Charlotte.

(1) Lower part of a tapered slab with bevelled edges, 0.91m by 0.40m at the foot. It presumably bore a foliated

cross on a thin central shaft which rises from a foliated semicircular base. The blade of a sword survives to the right,

and a plant-scroll to the left. lona school, 14th century.

(2) Tapered slab, 1.88m by 0.65m, bearing in relief the full-length effigy of a man in armour. The slab is bordered by

a roll-moulding, and the bottom left corner is chamfered. The figure wears a conical bascinet, an aventail or coif of

mail, and a knee-length aketon with elbow-straps. His left hand rests on a sword with lobated pommel and inclined

quillons, which is suspended from a waist-belt. Above his left shoulder there is a small robed figure, with long hair and

wearing a cap with a prominent roll at base, together with a pair of shears and a ?book (Graham, 1895). lona school, 14th-15th century.

(3) Tapered slab with bevelled edges,1.73m by 0.40m. At the top are a pair of shears and a small cross with rounded

armpits. The remainder of the slab is decorated with an overall pattern of intertwined plant-stems. (Graham, 1895). lona school, 14th-15th century.

(4) Tapered slab with pointed head, 1.74m by 0.55m in maximum width; the bottom right corner is damaged, and

the surface of the top left corner is preserved as a detached flake. Within a roll-moulding, a foliated cross incorporating

oak-leaves is followed by a sword similar to that on numb 2, flanked by circling plant-scrolls linked to the cross, lona

school, 14th-15th century.

(5) Tapered slab with pointed head, 1.83m by 0.52m in maximum width, now much worn. The arrangment is similar

to that on number 4, except that the plant-stems flanking the sword are of undulating type, and above the cross there is a mounted figure. The border consists of double roll-mouldings enclosing a row of nail-head ornament. (Graham, 1895). Probably lona school, 14th-15th century.

(6) Fragment of the foot of a slab with roll-moulded margin, 0.43m long by 0.37m wide. At the centre there is the

tip of a sword-blade flanked by plant-stems, 14th-early 16th century.


The following stones are in the burial-ground.

(7) A recumbent slab inscribed at the head D MCL/1694. The third numeral has been altered from '6' to '9'.

(8) Tapered slab of late 17th-century character containing marginal inscription commemorating Donald Orr (date

broken off).

(9) Tapered slab inscribed CD/l684at the head.

( 10) Slab inscribed A McI /1725 and with plain margin.

(II) Coped slab commemorating Peter Campbell, youngest son of Archibald Campbell of Askomil, who died

in 1747.

(12) A much-worn recumbent slab bearing an almost illegible five-line inscription containing the date 1733.

Beneath the inscription there is an armorial in relief, the shield being charged for Campbell, quarterly: 1st, a castle

embattled; 2nd, gyronny of eight; 3rd, a chief cheeky (?in error for a fess cheeky); 4th. ?a hunting-horn.

(13) A recumbent slab commemorating Archibald Campbell of Askomil, the stone bearing a heraldic shield

charged gyronny of eight; the crest is a galley with sail furled.

(14) A much-worn slab of sandstone, now broken into three pieces, bearing a virtually illegible inscription and ai

armorial, the shield being charged quarterly for Campbell 1st, gyronny of eight; 2nd, a stag's head cabossed; 3rd, on a

fess three ?buckles; 4th, a galley with sail furled.

RCAHMS 1984, visited September 1975.

The roofless chapel, dimensions as stated, has east and west gable ends standing to full height and tumbled north and south walls to an internal height of 1.3m. Two later burial enclosures are built against the north wall. There are several recent burials in the undivided interior, as well as the suggested 15th century carved slabs in the eastern half.

The burial ground is still in use and has been extended westwards. Its original size is indicated only by built up undulating ground around and against the chapel, with 17th century and possibly earlier grave slabs.

No evidence of a pre-Medieval structure or enclosure was found.

Surveyed at 1:10000.

Visited by OS (JRL) 10 June 1978.


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