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Kilcavan chapel and enclosure 265m east of Kelsay

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

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Latitude: 55.7162 / 55°42'58"N

Longitude: -6.4688 / 6°28'7"W

OS Eastings: 119446

OS Northings: 656027

OS Grid: NR194560

Mapcode National: GBR BFDL.ZRN

Mapcode Global: WGYH3.LLV7

Entry Name: Kilcavan chapel and enclosure 265m E of Kelsay

Scheduled Date: 30 May 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13217

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel

Location: Kilchoman

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument comprises the remains of an early Christian chapel and surrounding enclosure, which is most likely a burial ground. The site probably dates to the 10th-12th centuries, possibly earlier. The chapel is visible as turf-covered foundations with internal dimensions of 7.8m E-W by 4.4m N-S. Its walls are approximately 2m thick and there is evidence of an entrance in the S wall. The burial ground measures approximately 28.8m ENE-WSW by 22m transversely. The D-shaped enclosure comprises a turf-covered stone dyke, which stands up to 1m in height and width. To the N of the enclosure is a low rocky ridge. The monument is at 70m above sea level, within rough grassland on ground sloping to the S.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan. It includes the remains described above and an area around them in which evidence relating to their construction and use may survive, as marked in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The chapel and enclosure are in very good condition. The foundations of the chapel and the enclosing wall of the burial ground are clearly visible and survive as a low turf-covered earth and stone banks; the walls may be clay-bonded.

The chronology of early chapel sites such as this is unclear. Although this example probably dates to the 10th-12th centuries, it may be earlier in origin. Excavation of the site would allow us to gain a better understanding of its dating and development sequence, and of the relationship between the chapel and the surrounding enclosure, which is likely to be a burial ground. The interior of the enclosure is uneven, with occasional stones visible beneath the turf, but there are no clear signs of grave markers.

Excavations of similar sites elsewhere in Scotland and Ireland have revealed varied but rich archaeological remains. The chapel and enclosure at Kelsay have not been disturbed by excavation or later alterations and survive largely intact. It is therefore highly likely that important early Christian, and possibly medieval, deposits survive which could contribute towards our understanding of early church construction, burial practices, and the origins, nature and duration of use of early ecclesiastical sites. Any skeletal remains could also reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death and possibly occupational activities. There is also potential for the survival of carved stones on the site. These could help us to refine the dating sequence for the site, as well as contribute towards our understanding of early Christian art and sculpture. The monument has the potential to enhance our understanding of the organisation and spread of Christianity in Argyll.

Contextual characteristics

This is a fine example of a small early Christian chapel and burial ground. Small rural chapels with surrounding burial grounds are particularly common on Islay, with at least 15 known examples. Such sites provide distinctive evidence for Irish influence in Scotland during a crucial period in Scottish history and can help us to understand early politics as well as the origins and spread of Christianity. Study of this site, in comparison with similar examples in Islay, could also help us to gain a better understanding of the nature of religious provision for the lay population and the evolution and development of Christian centres.

Associative characteristics

The chapel is mentioned in 16th- and 17th-century rentals, in which the settlement of Kelsay is associated with the place-name Kilcavan, which is most likely the name of the chapel. The name suggests that the chapel was dedicated to St Kevin, a 6th-century Irish abbot and monk who founded the monastery and church of Glendalough. This dedication reinforces the chapel's connection with the Irish Church and supports the suggestion that it is an early chapel. It is uncertain when the chapel went out of use, but there is little evidence for its continued use as a burial place during the Reformation. The exact location of the chapel was unknown until its recent rediscovery. It is shown as an unroofed building within an enclosure on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1882).

National Importance

The monument is of national importance as the remains of an early ecclesiastical site. The place-name indicates that a church and burial ground was constructed at the site to serve the lay population. Important archaeological remains relating to the origins, use and development of the site in the early Christian period are expected to survive, including burials and, possibly, additional carved stones. Its significance is enhanced by its capacity to be compared with similar sites in Islay. The likely 10th- to 12th-century date for this site is particularly important as it may provide rare evidence for the Norse period in Islay. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our ability to understand and appreciate the origins and nature of secular worship and the development of early Christian sites in Islay and more widely in the west of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Maceacharna, D 1976, The lands of the Lordship.

RCAHMS 1984, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, Edinburgh, p. 26-29.

Smith, G G 1895, The Book of Islay.

Waters and MacPhee, G and DJ 2009, 'Kilcavan, Kelsay, Argyll and Bute (Kilchoman parish), postgraduate research - Early Christian Chapels of Islay', Discovery Excav Scot, p. 38.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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