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Argyll
Argyll with Jura in the distance

Argyll

The west coast of Argyll is a place of ancient woodlands, long sea lochs and island views. Here you can discover the story of Colmcille’s first weeks in Scotland as he sought a place to set up his monastery.

Follow the story of Colmcille’s journey from his first landing place at the bottom of Kintyre, up to Dunadd the fortress of the local ruler, Conall mac Comgall. Colmcille is said to have visited Comgall before heading to the island of Iona to set up his monastery.

It is not clear how Colmcille came to build his monastery in Iona or who gave him the land. Conall ruled large areas of modern Argyll so may have granted Colmcille permission to use the island.

Colmcille left Derry in June 563 and set sail for Argyll travelling with 12 monks. Not long after he arrived, he is said to have visited king Conall, the ruler of Argyll, at his seat of power – probably his fort at Dunadd.

Conall’s people were the Gaelic-speaking Dál Riata whose kingdom included land in both the north of Ireland and the west of Scotland.

The story of Colmcille’s meeting with Conall reflects the fact that the saint was already a man of some political influence and importance when he arrived in Scotland.

In years to come, Colmcille’s network of monasteries spread across the islands of the Hebrides. It is highly likely that Colmcille continued to get support from the kings of Dál Riata who controlled the area.

Across the sea

At the heart of this story are the close links between Ireland and Scotland – at the nearest point the two territories are only 13 miles apart.

Standing on the west coast of Argyll, Ireland is clearly visible. It is a reminder of how differently people saw the landscape when it was easier to travel by boat than over land. Distances that now seem far by land, can be reached quickly and easily by water.

In Colmcille’s time the same Gaelic-speaking ruling clan – the Dál Riata – held power in the north of Ireland and the west of Scotland. The short journey by sea would have meant that the Dál Riata were in regular contact across the water.

Practicalities

Allow 1-2 days to cover all the Sli stops in Argyll.

The route starts in Dunadd and travels southwest along the roads of Knapdale. The final stop is at the southerly tip of the Kintyre peninsular, Southend.

Or you can start with Colmcille’s first landing place in Southend and head north.

Away from the main routes, some roads are narrow with passing places so allow time for your journey.

The slower roads give plenty of opportunities to explore the area and enjoy the peacefulness of the lochs and woodlands.

Argyll

  • 6.1 Dunadd

    In the 6th century Dunadd was the power base and main fort of the local rulers - the Dál Riata. This rocky outcrop stands high on the Moine Mhor Great Moss with the River Add weaving around its base. Colmcille is thought to have visited the king of the Dál Riata at...

  • 6.2 Kilmartin House Museum

    Kilmartin House Museum is housed in the former manse of Kilmartin Church at the centre of Kilmartin village. Kilmartin Glen has an extraordinarily rich collection of 350 ancient monuments, all found within a six-mile radius of the museum. The area has a strong early Christian history and is closely connected to the...

  • 6.3 Kilmartin Church

    Kilmartin Glen is the site of more than 350 ancient monuments. These sites - which include 150 prehistoric monuments - lie within a six-mile radius of Kilmartin village. Yet this area has also played an important role in Scotland’s early Christian heritage. Just 5 miles south of here at Dunadd, the...

  • 6.4 Keills Chapel & Graveyard, Keillmore

    Keills Chapel sits up on a peninsular stretching out along the west side of Loch Sween. It dates from the 13th century but it is thought that people began worshipping here in the 8th century. As with Kilmory Knap Chapel across Loch Sween, this chapel does not have a direct link to...

  • 6.5 Kilmory Knap Chapel

    The chapel of St Mary at Kilmory Knap is on the east side of Loch Sween. Kilmory means 'the Church of (St) Mary'. From here there are clear views across to the island of Islay and Jura. It was built in the first half of the 13th century and now houses...

  • 6.6 Cholmcille’s Chapel & Cave, Ellary

    This peaceful location on the shores of Loch Caolisport is said to be where Colmcille stopped for a few days on his journey north from Ireland in 563. He was seeking a meeting with the local king, Conall mac Comgall, whose chief fort was about 15 miles from here at Dunadd....

  • 6.7 Southend

    Southend is said to be Colmcille’s first landing place in Scotland. He left Derry on the north coast of Ireland in 563 with 12 companions and landed here before heading up the Argyll coast to meet the king of the Dál Riata. On a small mound to the west of...

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