May 11, 2024

Kilnave and Loch Gruinart

The last full day on Islay presented the opportunity to explore further around the Kilchoman Distillery and venture around Loch Gruinart in search of the Kilnave Chapel and cross.  They are almost invisible from the narrow, single-track road we traveled along and therefore sometimes overlooked if you are not specifically watching out for them.  They sit within an old but still used churchyard overlooking the loch, which looks more like a huge mud flat than a loch.  It is a few hundred metres from the road to the church through a sheep pasture full of ewes and their new lambs.  The church is thought to have been built in the 1300’s or early 1400’s, during the period when the Lords of the Isles were at their height, and was part of the Kilchoman parish. Little remains of the Kilnave Cross which is carved only on one side and believed to resemble an 11th century cross found at Kiells Chapel in Knapdale in the west Highlands.

The cemetery contains ancient and modern graves including grave slabs.  Many of the grave stones provide a history of a family recorded on the headstones.  Several show that in several families many of the children did not survive into adolescence, even in the 1800’s.  The famous battle of Gruinart was fought on this site in 1598 and was the last big Clan battle on the Isle of Islay.  It was fought between Sir Lachlan Mor MacLean, the 14th Chief of Duart and his nephew Sir John MacDonald of Islay.  When the battle was over, 30 MacLeans sought sanctuary in Kilnave Chapel praying that the MacDonalds would respect the holy ground.  They did not – instead setting fire to the roof and killing all inside except one man who escaped.