We will now proceed to treat severally of the ecclesiastical remains in the islands.
(1.) Soroby, which is situated over a little bay in the farm of Ballimartin, in the south-east side of the island, is now known as a large and much-used church yard, from which all traces of its ancient church have of late disappeared. It retains, however, a very curious cross, remarkable both for its massiveness and early designs. It is not half as tall as the Iona crosses, but is probably more ancient than either. It is about five feet high, having a large central boss, and set in a coarse stone socket. In another part of the ground are numerous monumental slabs, similar to those in Iona. One is deserving of especial notice, which appears to have originally belonged to that great family of crosses for which Iona was once famed. It bears, in fine relief, the figure of Death holding by the hand a female ecclesiastic, and on a panel underneath the inscription:–HEC EST CRVX MICHAELIS ARCHANGEL DEI. SOROR ANNA ABBATISSA DE Y. The top is broken off, but it appears to have been a memorial or votive cross, erected during the incumbency of Anna, but afterwards carried away to Tiree to serve as serve as a tombstone.
This spot is, in all probability, the ‘Campus Lunge’ of Adamnan, lying over against Iona, retaining its old relation to the abbacy there, and, though it has assumed a new name, yet partially retaining the old one by proxy in the little adjoining creek which is still known as Port-na lung.
Colgan, when enumerating the various saints of the name Brigid, cites a tract of Aengus the Culdee, as his authority for a Sancta Brigida de mag-luinge; but he errs in his observation, “Mag-luinge est in regione Dal-riediæ,” unless by this he means the Scottish settlement. (2) It is a curious fact that there is a spot on the island still called Kilbride, that is, “Brigid’s Church.” It is on the north side, in the farm of Cornagmore, and human remains which are found here indicate a cemetery where a small chapel is known to have existed, the walls of which were removed to help in building some adjacent cabins. If this is the place referred to by Aengus, then Magh Lung must be understood to comprehend the western half of the island, about equivalent to the parish of Soroby.
The name of another church in the island is preserved by Adamnan in the title of a chapter, which runs thus:–“Concerning the presbyter Findchan, who was founder of the monastery in the Land of Eth, which is called in the Scotic tongue Artchain.” (3) This name is obsolete now, unless it be supposed to have passed into Ardkirknish which belongs to a spot on the north side in the farm of Balphetrish, a little to the south-east of the farm-house, where there was formerly a chapel with its cemetery. (4) Or it may be in the farm of Kenoway, to the S.W. of Balphetrish, where is a rocky space still known as Kilfinnian, having the faint vestiges of a quadrilateral building, measuring about 21 feet by 10, and lying east and west. Here still-born children have been occasionally buried.
(5.) But the most conspicuous remains in the Island are those at Kirkapoll, in the neighbourhood of the modern parish church, and on the north side of Kirkapoll Bay. Here are two distinct burying-grounds. One of them contains the ruins of an old church, and several of the narrow decorated tombstones of the Iona pattern, some of which are probably to be reckoned among the numerous spoliations of the Sacred Isle : one of them, in particular, which bears the following inscription on the bevel of its margin:–FINGONIVS : PRIOR : DE Y : ME : DEDID : PHILIPPO : IOANNIS : ET : SVIS : FILIIS : ANNO DOMINI Mº CCCº XCIIº. This Prior was of the Clan Mac Finnguine, now called Mackinnon, and is thus noticed by Mac Firbis:–“Finnguine, abbot of Hy, brother to Domhnall son of Gillebride.” (6) About 30 yards on the south-east is another, but seemingly more modern, cemetery, called Claodh-Odhrain, that is, ‘Oran’s grave-yard’, from St. Columba’s disciple, the first who was said to have been interred in Iona, and from whom the Relig Oran, or great cemetery there takes its name.
A little distance north of these grave-yards, is a rocky eminence, the summit of which is occupied by the ruin of another church of smaller dimensions, but more ancient than that in the principal grave yard. It measures 23 feet by 11 feet 6 inches. It possesses the peculiarity observable in the old churches at Iona, and Kilkennich, and Templepatrick in Tiree, that it has no east window, but instead two narrow deeply-splayed windows on the north and south, near the east angles. The doorway, round-headed, is in the south, near the west angle. The rock on which this little fabric stands is nearly circular, and, what is very curious, the natural unevenness of the floor has never been rectified.
(7.) The farm of Kilchennich, on the west side of the island, takes its name from an old church built by, or in commemoration of, St. Canice. It is 28 feet 6 inches long, and 13 feet wide, without any east window. The east and west gables are entire, and part of the side walls are standing. The doorway, with a circular head, is in the west. Close to it is a curious mound, about which human bones are continually exposed by the drifting of the sand, while the space within the walls is quite choked up. The writer in the Statistical Survey observes:–“There is at the chapel of Kilkeneth, in Tiry, a burying ground so sandy, that, by blowing, heaps of human bones are seen, and coffins often exposed, before half consumed. It is now surrounded by sand banks higher than the side walls; they no longer bury there.”
(8.) At the north-west angle of the island is the farm known by the very ecclesiastical name of Kilmoluag, that is the “Church of Moluac.” This saint, who was the founder and patron of Lismore in Scotland, was a native of Ireland, and his festival is marked in the Calendar at the 25th of June. The Duke of Argyll is now his lay representative, and his pastoral staff is preserved as an heir-loom in his Grace’s family. The Annalist Tighernach thus records his obit at 592:–“The death of Lughaidh of Lismor, that is, Moluac.” The stones of the old chapel were employed to build the walls of cabins, and the space where the cemetery is shown to have been is now in tillage.
(9.) The south-west point is the highest ground in Tiree, and is appropriately called Kennavara, that is, Ceann an mhara, ‘the eminence of the sea.’ At the foot of the declivity, in a little recess on the shore, looking south-west towards Skerryvore light-house, in a small green space, stands the east wall of a church built of stone and mortar. On the south stands a pillar-stone with two crosses incised on it, of which the lower is the more ancient. The little area, which is now overgrown with flags and rushes, seems to have been a cemetery. There are also the traces of a rude enclosure of stones surrounding the consecrated space. It is called Templepatrick. A former minister of the parish gives the following description of the spot:–“At the hill of Ceannmharra, on a very rugged declivity is situated St. Patrick’s Temple. The vestige of a wall encloses it in one third of an acre of land. It is 26 feet by 11 feet within the walls, the side walls 5½ feet high; one gable six inches thicker than the other; without roof and ill-built of stone and lime. A square altar at the east end is still eighteen inches high. The cross without the pedestal four feet. Within 61 yards of it, at the shore, on the top of a rock, is made a hollow two feet in diameter and four deep, called the country-people St. Patrick’s Vat.”
(10.) A little to the north, in the farm of Barrapoll, is a small eminence called Knock-a-chlaodh, close to some cabins which, it is stated, were built out of the walls of a chapel that formerly stood here. The drifting of the sand has exposed the burying-ground, and, when visited by the writer in July, 1852, the first object which caught his eye was a bleached skull and other bones lying on the surface of the ground.
(11.) At Heynish, the southerly part of the island, was a small burying-ground, called Claodh-beg. It is now effaced.
(12.) In the farm of Helipoll, near Crossapoll, and a little south of the Island House, is a plot called Templefield, which derived its name from a chapel, the site of which is now occupied by a school-house.
(13.) Lastly, at Kelis on the N.E. side, near the ferry between Tiree and Coll, in ground occupied by Neil Clarke, was chapel, with its burying-ground, called Croish-a-Chaolish.
All these burying-places are of great antiquity, some of them which are still used, having monuments that indicate their early appropriation, while even those which have become obsolete may with reason be referred to a very remote period, and, by their number, evidence both of a large population and great subdivision of ecclesiastical interests in the island during the ages which preceded the centralizing movement of church patronage. And, though it is not pretended that all these thirteen religious stations can date their origin from such an early period as the sixth or seventh century, still there can be little doubt, when we compare their number with the moderate extent of the island, and the fact that Tiree and Coll, with the intervening islet of Gunna, now form one parish, that this island was well known and much frequented at a very early stage of Christianity in Scotland. Adamnan’s casual observation, “in cæteris ejusdem insulae monasteries,” accounts for the multiplicity of religious vestiges on the island, while they reflect upon his narrative the attestation of a genuine statement.
Extract from The Island of Tiree by William Reeves, D.D., published in The Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 2, 1854.