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Skipness Castle and Kilbrannan Chapel

A Scheduled Monument in Kintyre and the Islands, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 55.768 / 55°46'4"N

Longitude: -5.3364 / 5°20'11"W

OS Eastings: 190805

OS Northings: 657779

OS Grid: NR908577

Mapcode National: GBR FF6G.ND9

Mapcode Global: WH1LW.0940

Entry Name: Skipness Castle and Kilbrannan Chapel

Scheduled Date: 7 February 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13225

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel; Secular: castle

Location: Saddell and Skipness

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument comprises the remains of Skipness Castle and Kilbrannan Chapel, both of medieval date and surviving to wall-head height. The castle is situated on gently sloping ground around 10m above sea level, overlooking the Sound of Kilbrannan, the entrance to Loch Fyne, and the Isle of Arran. Kilbrannan Chapel lies 330m SE of the castle, close to the shore. The monument was originally scheduled in 1962, but an inadequate area was included to protect the remains and the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present scheduling rectifies this.

The medieval castle consists of a rectangular castle of enceinte (enclosure) with massive rubble walls that survive almost to their original height. The walls rise from a plinth and there are projecting towers in the SE corner and in the W wall (the latrine tower). Entrances leading into the courtyard are located in the N and S walls; that on the S is a complex gatehouse with a portcullis chamber above it. The curtain walls, built in the late 13th or early 14th century, incorporated two earlier buildings: a hall-house on the N side of the enclosure, and a chapel on the S side, both dating from the first half of the 13th century. Kilbrannan Chapel was built around the same time as the castle was reconstructed, in the late 13th or early 14th century. It consists of a single rectangular chamber, measuring 25m x 8m, of coursed rubble masonry with red Arran sandstone dressings at the doors, windows, quoins and skews. It is lit by narrow splayed lancet windows in the nave and chancel and a larger, Y-traceried window at the E end. It was entered through two doors in the S wall (one now blocked) and one in the N wall. Within the chapel and surrounding graveyard is a significant group of five, late medieval, recumbent tombstones.

The area to be scheduled is in two parts, both irregular on plan, to include the remains of the castle and chapel and an area around each of them in which evidence for their construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes all active burial lairs and the above-ground elements of all burial monuments of 19th-century or later date. It also excludes the above-ground elements of all modern walls, fences and signage.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is a fine example of a medieval castle and associated chapel, with upstanding remains dating from the 13th to the 16th centuries, and alterations and reconstruction dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. The castle survives in excellent condition and has high potential for the study of its architectural form and development sequence. Limited excavations and geophysical survey in and around the castle have uncovered pockets of medieval occupation deposits, Christian burials and evidence of foundations and earthworks relating to the construction and development of the castle. Despite landscaping and clearance during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is highly likely that archaeological deposits associated with the monument's earlier phases, construction, use and abandonment survive within and around the upstanding remains.

Skipness Castle is the product of a long and complex development sequence and it has excellent potential to add to our understanding of major changes in architectural form in Scottish castles between the 13th and 16th centuries. The architectural evidence indicates that the first buildings on the site were a hall-house and chapel, built in the first half of the 13th century, and enclosed at that time by an earth and timber rampart. At around the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, the hall-house and chapel were incorporated into an enlarged and strengthened castle, enclosed by a high curtain wall, with gatehouse, portcullis and defensive features, including crosslet arrow slits, projecting towers and crenellated wall-head. The original chapel was secularised and it was replaced by Kilbrannan Chapel, built some 400m to the SE. The massive curtain wall enclosed an oblong courtyard with ranges of buildings against the S, N and E walls, while the W wall was lined with a timber gallery. The northernmost part of the E range of courtyard buildings was altered in two phases to form a tower-house. It was first heightened by three upper storeys, and the upper portion of the adjacent section of the E curtain wall was rebuilt and provided with a battlemented parapet walk. The transformation to a tower-house was completed later in the 16th century by the reconstruction of the upper portion of the tower, and the removal of the remainder of the E courtyard range, to leave the tower freestanding on its S side. The castle was abandoned by the end of the 17th century and, despite later farm use and the impact of repairs in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a remarkable level of survival of medieval masonry.

The chapel is particularly well preserved. It survives to wall-head height throughout and much of the architectural dressed stonework of the doors and windows is still in place. It has seen little change or disturbance and retains much of its original form. The surrounding graveyard has excellent potential for the survival of important archaeological remains of medieval and post-Reformation date. Excavation and geophysical survey around the chapel suggest there is high potential for the survival of Christian burials over a long period of time and, possibly, the remains of an earlier church. The five West Highland graveslabs within the chapel and surrounding graveyard survive in good condition and can inform us about medieval iconography and artistic form, secular patronage, and the ways that people expressed their religious faith and devotion. There is excellent potential for the survival of burials, both within the castle around the site of the earlier chapel, and surrounding the later Kilbrannan Chapel. Such evidence has the potential to enhance understanding of burial practices over a long period and scientific analysis of the skeletal remains could reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death and, possibly, the occupational activities of people directly associated with the castle.

Contextual characteristics

The castle occupies a commanding position. Situated on open ground, it takes advantage of a natural gravel terrace, which was artificially enhanced and extended. There are wide views to the S, SW and E out to sea, a reminder of the castle's strategic location and the importance of the sea during the medieval period. It is one of many medieval castles in Argyll and is comparable with broadly contemporary sites such as Castle Sween, Dunstaffnage Castle and Rothesay Castle.

Kilbrannan chapel is considerably larger than other examples of medieval chapels in Kintyre and its position, separate but clearly associated with the castle, adds to its interest and significance.

Associative characteristics

Skipness Castle was the administrative centre of a considerable barony, one of the great medieval lordships of Kintyre. The site has considerable potential, therefore, to inform our understanding of the nature of lordship and wider medieval society. The site also has considerable potential to enhance our understanding of medieval castles and the daily lives of the people who occupied them, as well as medieval warfare and specific historical events. The site has a long and complex history, as demonstrated in the upstanding and subsurface archaeology, as well as by the documentary evidence. As such the site has the potential to provide information about changes in society over a period of several hundred years.

The castle is first recorded in 1261 when it was part of the lordship of Knapdale and in the possession of the Dugald MacSween, by which time he had probably built the hall-house and chapel and enclosed the site. Walter Stewart, Earl of Mentieth, acquired it in 1262. The castle changed hands during the Wars of Independence and it is unclear whether the enclosure walls were rebuilt and enlarged to the present layout by Sir John Stewart of Mentieth, possibly funded by King Edward I of England, or by the MacDonalds. The castle and lordship passed to the MacDonald Lords of the Isles in 1325 and remained in their ownership until their forfeiture in 1493, when the castle and barony reverted to the Crown. The castle and its history contribute towards our understanding of English political and architectural influence in Scotland during the 13th and 14th centuries.

Archibald Campbell, second Earl of Argyll, was granted the estate in 1502 and it remained in the Campbell family until the mid 19th century. There were repairs in the mid 17th century, soon after it withstood a siege by the MacDonalds during raids in Kintyre. A warrant was issued for 'razing down the castle' soon after Argyll's Rebellion in 1685. The laird successfully petitioned against carrying this out, although the castle was abandoned soon after. It was then converted into a farmstead, which meant the removal of the early courtyard buildings except the tower-house, and the erection of lean-to sheds and offices against both sides of the curtain wall. These farm buildings were removed in 1898 and steps taken to preserve all that remained of the castle. Much of the form of the present castle mound is a result of 19th-century landscaping associated with Skipness House and its policies. Concern about the stability of the castle in the 1950s and 60s led to it being taken into care in 1973, after which a major campaign of repair and consolidation continued until 1995.

Kilbrannan Chapel, dedicated to St Brendan, is clearly of medieval date, but the name 'Kilbrannan' and the presence of early burials suggest there is a longer tradition of worship and burial at this site; there may have been an earlier chapel here. The chapel continued in use as the local church after the castle was abandoned. The use of the graveyard for burials has given it strong associations with the local community; indeed, it is still in use as a burial ground today.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance as one of the major medieval fortresses on the western seaboard of Scotland, together with its associated chapel. The monument has a long and complex history and has an inherent potential to contribute to our understanding of the past, in particular, the construction techniques, defences and domestic life of a medieval castle. Kilbrannan Chapel is a fine example of a medieval chapel. Its importance is enhanced by its direct association with Skipness Castle and the presence of a significant collection of late medieval carved tombstones within the surrounding graveyard. In addition to the impressive upstanding remains, there is high potential for the survival of important archaeological remains relating to the use and development of both the castle and the chapel. The good state of preservation of both of these buildings, and the survival of historical records relating to occupation of the castle, enhance this potential. The loss of the monument would seriously impede our ability to understand the medieval architecture of Argyll and Bute, the history of the Lords of the Isles, and the nature of medieval warfare and religion.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the castle as NR95NW 5 and the chapel as NR95NW 6. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service (WoSAS) Sites and Monuments Record records the castle as 4385.


CBA, 1976, Archaeology in Britain 1975-76, Report No. 26 of the Council for British Archaeology for the Year ended 30 June 1976 London pp. 61.

Ewart and Sharman, G and P 1996b, 'Skipness Castle (Saddell and Skipness parish), watching brief', Discovery Excav Scot, pp. 25.

Ewart and Sharman, G and P 1997a 'Skipness Castle (Saddell & Skipness parish), watching brief', Discovery Excav Scot, pp. 23.

Ewart, G 1993h, 'Skipness Castle and Kilbrannan Chapel (Saddell & Skipness parish)', Discovery Excav Scot, pp. 77.

Fawcett, R 2002, Scottish medieval churches: architecture and furnishings, Stroud, pp. 104, 290.

Kahane, A M 1975b 'Skipness Castle', Discovery Excav Scot, pp. 11.

RCAHMS (1971a) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the ancient monuments, volume 1: Kintyre, Edinburgh, pp. 112-120 No. 277, 165-78, No. 314 fig. 166.

Ritchie and Harman, J N G and M 1985, Exploring Scotland's heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland's heritage series Edinburgh, pp. 87-8, no. 33,

Ritchie and Harman, J N G and M 1996, Argyll and the Western Isles, Exploring Scotland's Heritage series, ed. by Anne Ritchie Edinburgh, pp. 44, 85, 86, 98-9, 102.

Sharman, P 1998b, 'Skipness Castle (Saddell & Skipness parish), watching brief', Discovery Excav Scot, pp. 24.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Skipness Castle
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Skipness Chapel
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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