Churchlands in Islay

The church was a major landholder in Islay – probably from the very earliest times. The 1203 papal confirmation (Book of Islay pp 5-8) of Iona’s possessions includes the “ecclesias … de Ile … Terras de Magenburg, de Mangecheles, de Herilnean … Terras Abbatie in Yle”. So Iona held ‘the churches of Islay’ as well as owning four distinct districts. Where are these?


In 1549 Dean Monro tells us that there was much lead ore in Moychaolis and that there was a freshwater loch called Moyburg wherein lay an island belonging to the Bishop of the Isles. RCAHMS inventory Argyll Vol IV p 274 n 200 demonstrates that the Loch Moyburg of Monro and Blaeu is actually Loch Lossit so that the lands of Magenburg will be the surrounding area which later formed part of the ‘tenandry of Lossit’. The name Moychaolis appears as Mwicheleische in the rental of the Bishopric of the Isles (1561) printed in Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis pp 1-4. In later times the lead miners of Islay were concentrated on the lands of Knocklearoch which is less than a kilometre west of Loch Lossit. So Moyburg (Magenburg) and Moychaolis (Mangecheles) must have been neighbouring areas around Loch Lossit.


(It is usually assumed that the first element in these names is for Gaelic ‘magh’ (plain) but the Norse word for monk (‘munkr’) does appear in other Highland place names as ‘Mung’ so this is an alternative possibility. I am drawn to the latter derivation partly for topographical reasons. It is difficult to see how much of this area of Islay could ever be described as a plain. The name appears as Mincholish in 1745 – Stent Book of Islay p 30).


The name Herilnean is more problematic. The first element is possibly related to the district name Harris which applies to the central part of Islay and its parishes of Kilarrow and Kilmeny. Argyll IV p 274 n 200 suggests it may mean the lands later known as Laintymanniche in CRA p 3 (1561) or Lantay vanych in Monro (1549). Certainly there are a number of farms situated east of the head of Loch Indaal which we know, from later documents, to have been Iona’s.


Finally the “Terras Abbatie in Yle” are discussed in footnote 1 p 6 Book of Islay which states: “Munch reads ‘Terras Abberade in Yle’. … The contracted form of the word in the MS, appears to read ‘Abbad’ … But Ardneiv would be a very violent interpretation of ‘Abbad’ “. Although Ardnave is rejected by Gregory Smith, editor of the Book of Islay, I think it is actually the correct interpretation. If we work backwards from later documents and plot Iona’s holdings in Islay onto a map we see that they lie in three distinct clusters – one around Loch Lossit (ie Magenburg and Mangecheles), another east of the head of Loch Indaal (Herilnean) and the third round Ardnave.


The next, detailed, listings of church lands in Islay come in 1507 and 1509 with the rentals printed in ER XII (pp 587-590) & XIII (pp 219-221). In each of these, church lands are listed separately and the total amount of church property comes to £42 5s or 63⅜m – which is just over 1/6th of Islay. Unfortunately in most cases the documents do not state which branch of the church the farms belonged to although it looks as if the lands of Oronsay Priory are grouped together.


Fortunately we can use later documents to work back and establish the holdings of the various ecclesiastical bodies. In 1561 (CRA p 3) Ardnave was worth 13m. Of this, either 6m (1507), or 5m (1617), was Iona’s – viz. Ardnave and Island Nave. The balance was Oronsay’s – Sandaig (3¾m), Breacachy (2½m), Gruinart (⅝m), Skeauch (⅝m), Gararbollis (½m) – which would make 8m exactly on the basis of the 1507 list. (1m of Ardnave/Island Nave seems to have been lost between 1507 and 1561).


CRA pp 161-171 and RMS V (1491) of 1587-8 give details of some of Iona’s holdings as well as Derry’s property in Islay. They do not include the lands of Moychaolis or Lossit but do include those of Laintymanniche which come to exactly 10m or 1 ounceland or davach. (2½m Skarrols, 2½m Kynnabols, 1¼m Allabols, 1¼m Nakill (Kilarrow), 1⅞m Sorne, ⅝m Skeag). Since we know from the rental of the Bishopric of the Isles in 1561 that Laintymanniche and Mwicheleische together came to £20 we can deduce that the lands of the latter must have amounted to 20m or 2 ouncelands or davachs.


We then have a charter by the Bishop of the Isles to Mr Thomas Rollock in 1617 (Book of Islay pp 353-361) which gives a list of the Islay lands formerly held by the monastery of Iona and, separately, the lands held by the Bishopric of the Isles. These are repeated in AS II (165) of 1617, (556 & 557) of 1635, (643) of 1639 and (1127) of 1664. We also have references to the monastery of Derry’s holding of Nereabolls in RMS VII (1628) of 1617 and Oronsay’s properties in RMS VII (1386) of 1616 and AS II (166) of 1617.


In a separate table I have shown the church lands of 1507 matched against their values and ownership as set out at the time or in later documents. The only significant problems are that a couple of the earliest names have been lost and with a few farms it is hard to trace a certain line of descent.  In the 1541 tack and rental we only learn incidentally when land belongs to the church – as with Texa and half of Howe in the Rhinns.



The parishes of Islay


What evidence is there of the parochial structure in Islay? Monro (1549) gives four parish churches – Killmheny, Kilmorvin (Kilarrow), Kilchomain and Kildalltan. Pont, writing probably in the 1590s (Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections II p 188), says that there are two parish churches in Largie and the Oa – Kildaltan and Kilnachtan. He does not comment on the parishes in the Harris but gives another two parishes in the Rhinns – Kilchiaran and Kilchoman. Putting these together we are now up to six parishes: two in the Rhinns (Kilchiaran & Kilchoman), two in Harris (Kilarrow and Kilmeny), two in Largie and the Oa (Kildaltan and Kilnachtan).


However there are also indications of at least two more early parishes. On pp 63-66 of the Day Book of Daniel Campbell are listed the constituent farms of the then four parishes of Islay (c. 1750). The farms of Laggan(4⅜m with Torra in 1722), Corrary(1¼m), Curlach(⅝m), Island(1¼m), Duich(2½m) & Torra are included in Kilarrow even though in all the rentals in the Book of Islay from 1686-1741 they are entered under Kildalton. Together the valuation of these farms in the 1722 rental comes to 10m which makes me wonder if they represent a 1-ounceland parish based on the old church at Kilcallumkill (Laggan).


In the 1541 rental most of the same lands are also listed in the ‘Myd Ward of Ilay’ – meaning the parishes of Kilarrow and Kilmeny. Laggan (2½m), Dowauch (2½m), Corrare & Ilaneynnusk (2½m), Kilcallumkill(1¼m) and Torra (½m) then came to a total of 9¼m and were all held by Gilpatrik Bryon, one of the family of hereditary brieves or judges. (In 1541 Gilpatrik also held the neighbouring farm of Ardlarach at 2½m). Since the only farm missing from this notional ounceland parish of Kilcallumkill is the 8s 4d Curlach and since I have no independent valuation of this before 1562 it seems likely that in 1541 it was subsumed in the valuation of one of its neighbours. The upshot of this is that I think Gilpatrik Bryon held an ounceland around Laggan in his capacity as law officer or brieve. His ounceland is substantially the same as the parish of Kilcallumkill that was still more or less a distinct unit in 1750. At some stage after 1541 these lands (with the exception of Ardlarach) came to be thought of as part of Kildalton rather than Kilarrow. What we see in the parish listings in the Day Book of Daniel Campbell and in the 1541 rental is the ghost of a former parish, a memory not fully erased.


There are other scraps of evidence we must take into account. In an extract from the Provincial Synod of Argyll dated 1763 and printed on p 80 of the Day Book of Daniel Campbell there is a decision to take Duich and Proaig from Kilarrow into Kildalton. Another indication that Proaig was once in Kilarrow is found in the 1541 rental where it is listed among the farms of ‘The Myd Ward of Ilay’.


At the same Provincial Synod in 1763 it was decided to take Culabolls and Crossabolls from Kilarrow to Kilchoman. This may have been rubber-stamping something that had already happened since the parish lists on pages 63 & 65 of the Day Book of Daniel Campbell reckon on this basis. This gives rather a strange shape to the border between Kilchoman and Kilarrow. According to the parish lists of c. 1750 it ran along the western boundary of Lurabus farm and took a big loop eastwards to include Culabolls and Corsapolls. It then veered westwards again towards Loch Gruinart leaving Bunanuilt and Corghorton in Kilarrow. These contortions might reflect the prior existence of a parish based on Kilenailen which may have included Culabolls (1¼m), Corsapols (2½m), Kilnailen (1⅞m), Altgarrestell (⅝m), Ballinos (2½m) and perhaps Gortantaoid (⅝m)  and Doodle (1¼m). Once this parish lost its independent status it was divided up between Kilmeny, Kilarrow and Kilchoman. However it was still an active church in 1695 when Martin Martin mentions it.


It would not be difficult to take this process further and suggest that Kilmeny was once divided between Kilmeny and Keills, or that there was a third parish at the north end of the Rhinns. Unfortunately we lack hard evidence. However we do know that Kilchoman was a 1-ounceland unit, albeit in lay hands. (Only 8s 4d or ⅝m of Kilcoman & Kilkerain was stipulated as church property in 1507 & 1509 although the farm of Kilchoman itself is given as 10 merklands). Kilchoman was supposed to have been the favoured residence of the Lords of the Isles but its ecclesiastical name and its ounceland valuation suggest that in Early Christian times this davach may have been dedicated to the church.


What are the total valuations for each parish? (The rentals from 1686-1741 are consistent in listing the parishes as if Proaig and the Laggan ounceland were in Kildalton whilst the boundary between Kilcoman and Kilarrow was drawn west of Lurabols, Cullabols and Corsapol. If a farm was listed in another parish for rental purposes then this was specifically stated). The Rhinns (without Culabolls and Corsapols) comes to 113¾m which is a few marks shy of 12 davachs or one-third of Islay. Kilmeny is 79m (8 davachs) whilst Kilarrow (without Proaig or the Kilcallumkill ‘parish’) is 72⅜m. Kildalton, with Kilcallumkill and Proaig, is 85¼m. The total for all four parishes is 350⅜m which confirms that the theoretical extent of Islay must have been 360m.


Unfortunately we have no hard evidence of any parochial restructuring that took place prior to the Reformation. However we do know some of the priests working in Islay. In the 1541 rental we learn of five. Sir John O’Brolchan held four farms in the Oa so it seems likely he was parish priest of at least Kilnachtan. Sir John McGow held 1¼m Ardmeinach but I know no more about him and in 1547-8 & 1548-9 successors were appointed to the late Sir John O’Brolchan in Kildaltan. Sir John McKenerkade held Kilchoman which suggests he was priest there although in 1542 we hear of a Mr Archibald McCarbry as the last possessor. The other two priests, Sir Murdoch McMoroquhy and Sir John McIlnollo held Arealaich (by Foreland) and Sandaig respectively. Foreland is not that far from Kilarrow and Sandaig was an Oronsay property.


Finally we know of a family of dewars in the Kildaltan area. (A dewar was a local officer who had charge of some sacred relic). In 1541 John McKyndewin held Craggin (Creagfinn) whilst Gillaspy McIndewar held half of Ardtalloch (Ardtalla). We also have a reference in 1686 to Ballindeor (the township of the dewar) which may have been the same as Ballore which was marked on OS 6″ Sheet CCXX (1878) immediately east of Creagfinn.


There are also several church properties listed in 1507 and 1509 which do not belong to either monastery or bishop and were presumably mortified solely to support the local church, chapel or clergy. These include the chapels of St Columba and Finlaggan, Texa, Orsay, Kilnachtan and a small parcel of Kilchoman and Kilchiaran.

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