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Cill Chomhan, chapel and burial ground 480m north east of Stremnishmore, Islay

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

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.5897 / 55°35'22"N

Longitude: -6.2634 / 6°15'48"W

OS Eastings: 131473

OS Northings: 641148

OS Grid: NR314411

Mapcode National: GBR BFXY.9WG

Mapcode Global: WGYHS.RRNQ

Entry Name: Cill Chomhan, chapel and burial ground 480m NE of Stremnishmore, Islay

Scheduled Date: 3 June 1965

Last Amended: 21 June 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2335

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel

Location: Kildalton

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a small chapel and surrounding enclosure, likely to date from the early Christian period. The chapel and enclosure are visible as low turf-covered stone walls standing to a height of about 1m. The chapel measures 6.3m E-W by 3.1m transversely, within walls about 1m thick. There is a probable entrance, 0.6m wide, towards the middle of the N wall. The surrounding enclosure is sub-rectangular in shape, aligned NW-SE, and has a straight NW wall and a rounded SE wall. It encloses an area measuring around 24m by 10m, which is apparently sub-divided by a slighter wall in line with the E end of the chapel. The monument is located in Islay at 70m above sea level, on a shelf part way down a slope that faces SE towards the rocky coast 300m away. The site offers very long views to Kintyre to the SE and Rathlin Island and Ireland to the S. The monument was first scheduled in 1965, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is rectangular on plan, measuring 45m by 32m, centred on the centre of the burial ground. The scheduling includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown 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 turf and heather-covered walls of the chapel and enclosure survive in good condition. Areas of the masonry wall-faces remain visible, particularly on the enclosure wall, but there are no traces of mortar suggesting drystone or clay-bonded construction. Towards the E end of the site the enclosure wall runs along the edge of a scarp and is supported by substantial stone revetments. There is a local tradition that the site was a monastery, and the visible remains are consistent with an early origin, perhaps in the 8th century or soon after. Potential future excavation of the site would give a better understanding of the origins, use and development sequence of the structures. Excavations at similar sites elsewhere in Scotland and Ireland have revealed varied, and often rich, archaeological remains. It is likely that deposits survive here that could contribute towards our understanding of early ecclesiastical sites, as well providing evidence for the date and duration of use of this chapel And enclosure. The surrounding enclosure is likely to represent a burial ground and there is high potential for the presence of graves, either within the footprint of the chapel or outside. Any skeletal remains could reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death and possibly occupational activities. There is also potential for the survival of carved stones, which could help to refine the dating sequence for the site, as well as contribute towards our understanding of early Christian art and sculpture.

Contextual characteristics

This is a fine example of a small chapel with probable burial ground. It has particular value as part of a group of similar small rural chapels in Islay; at least 15 examples are known. These sites may 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. Two small chapels lie nearby on the Oa peninsula: Cill Eathain which lies 4km to the WNW; and Tobar an-t Sagairt, 6km to the N, both located close to but not on the coast. Little is known at present of the distribution of early medieval and medieval settlement in the immediate vicinity of this chapel. A freshwater spring emerges from an opening in a drystone-walled surround, about 70m W of the chapel. Immediately behind the spring, researchers have identified a large levelled platform. It is possible that the spring is associated with the chapel, but it may relate instead, or as well, to a post-medieval farmstead, the ruins of which lie 50m further to the west.

Associative characteristics

The site is depicted on the first edition Ordnance Survey map and is labelled 'Cill Chomhan, Chapel (In Ruins)'. The place-name 'Cill' is Gaelic, meaning 'church' or 'burial ground', and supports its identification as an early place of worship. Watson states that the chapel's name commemorates St Comg√°n, possibly an 8th-century saint from Leinster. This association suggests a possible early foundation here, associated with the spread of Irish Christianity. This saint may also be represented by dedications elsewhere, for example in Ardnamurchan, on Loch Melfort, in Skye and in North Uist. He was also the saint of Turriff in Aberdeenshire, which may have been the site of an early monastery mentioned in the Book of Deer.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance as an early ecclesiastical site that can enhance our understanding of the construction and use of early church buildings in Argyll. Important archaeological remains relating to the origins, use and development of the site before AD 1200 are expected to survive, including burials and possibly carved stones. Its significance is enhanced by the opportunities for comparison with similar sites in Islay, including two on the Oa peninsular. Its potentially early date is particularly important and the monument may provide rare evidence for the pre-Norse and Norse periods in Islay. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our ability to understand and appreciate the origins, nature and spread of early Christianity in Islay and more widely across the west of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record the site as NR34SW 4. The West of Scotland Archaeology Service SMR reference is WOSASPIN 2240.

References:

RCAHMS 1984a, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, p 163, no 330. Edinburgh.

Watson, W J 1926 The History of Celtic Placenames in Scotland: being the Rhind Lectures in Archaeology delivered in 1916.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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