Cowal Summary Text



Principal Sources

(I have given most of these under the respective parishes and here merely add some general sources which cover the whole area).


Pont (12, 14, 15, 16)

Roy’s Map, Protracted Copy, Sheets 4, 20 & 23

Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections II p 511

GD 1/426/1/23

An Inventory of Lamont Papers, Scottish Record Society, Edinburgh, 1914

DC Mactavish, (ed), Minutes of the Synod of Argyll 1639-1651, Edinburgh, 1943-4

EB Rennie, Cowal, A Historical Guide, Edinburgh, 1993

EB Rennie, The ‘Cowal’ Shore, Glendaruel, 2006

A McLean, The Place names of Cowal, Dunoon

A McLean, Chronicles of Cowal, Argyll, Durham, 2001


The table (see ‘The Ouncelands of Cowal’) gives a breakdown of the value of the respective parishes in Cowal. The 1751 Argyll Valuation Roll includes Glenaray within Cowal but I am not sure that this was so in earlier times. However, even if we exclude Glenaray there is the further complication of whether or not Glen Shira (transferred from Kilmorich parish to Glenaray parish after 1650) should be included. Again I think not and suggest that Cowal proper was worth 10 ouncelands or 200 pennylands.



In RMS II (1110) of 1472-3 James III gave the Earl of Argyll various offices within his lordship of ‘Kingis-Cowale’. This was defined as:


ab aqua de Lindesay ad punctum de Tollart in longitudine, et ab Aleskennay et Ardlawmound in latitudine


(from the Water of Lindsaig to the Point of Towart in length and from ‘Aleskennay’ and (to?) Ardlamont in breadth)


In 1498 (RMS II (2402)) James IV granted Invervegain and other lands in Cowal to the Earl of Argyll:


unacum officio coronatoris inter partes et bondas subscriptas, viz. de Cowell ab aqua de Altneskynny usque ad punctum de Towart et a dicto puncto usque ad punctum de Ardlawmond et abhinc usque ad aquam de Lindesaig et ab aqua de Lindesaig usque ad fontem nominatum Tibirore


(along with the office of ‘crowner’ within the lands and bounds underwritten, viz. of Cowal from the Water of Altneskynny to the Point of Toward and from the said point to Ardlamont Point and hence to the Water of Lindsaig and from the Water of Lindsaig to the spring called Tibirore).


The word coronator (anglicised ‘crowner’) is sometimes used to render the Gaelic ‘toiseachdeor’.


The first document uses four geographical reference points to define the district; the second uses the same four but adds ‘Tiberore’. This ‘King’s Cowal’ looks to be the same as that later described as Nether (or Lower) Cowal. In 1498 it is stated that the former crowner was a Lamont who had resigned his office.


These examples can be compared to RMS IV (467) 1550 which was a confirmation of a charter by Archibald, Master of Argyll, (with the consent of his father, the Earl of Argyll), to Campbell of Ardkinglas. This granted lands in north and north-eastern Cowal plus:


officio coronatoris, alias thochisdoir, terrarum de Cowale a Claychintoskycht ad punctum de Towart et Ardlawmont

the office of ‘crowner’ or toiseachdeor of the lands of Cowal from Claychintoskycht to the point of Towart and Ardlawmond


There may be something missing from the last phrase but it seems that Cowal is here being defined lengthways with the two projections of Toward and Ardlamont marking the southern limit. The same office is referred to in 1592 (OPS II, II p 824 quoting the Protocol Book of Gavin Hamilton) where Campbell of Ardkinglas gives his son 80m in Cowal with the office of ‘tosichdore’ within the same boundaries – although with the spelling ‘Lachchintokich’. The same is found in AS II (586) of 1637 (with the spelling ‘Clakintokkich’), in AS I (465) 1660 and in AS II (1217) 1665.


In an article in ‘The Scotsman’ on 28 December 1887, Donald Mackinnon suggested that the place name ‘Claychintoskycht’ is a compound of clach (stone) + toiseach (chief) in which case we are looking for a conspicuous stone or stones which acted as a boundary marker. E Rennie has already drawn attention to the importance of Clach nam Breatann in Glen Falloch and Clach a’ Breatunnach near the head of Loch Goil as marking a possible boundary between Britons and Scots. ‘Claychintoskycht’ seems to mark the northern edge of Cowal which was one of the early Dalriadic settlement zones and took its name from Cenél Comgaill, a sept of Cenél nGabráin.


Pont’s Map 14 depicts Glen Fyne and at the very head of the glen are the words ‘Clachan in foycach’. Fortunately this is explained by some marginal notes in Map 12 which, in turn, were transcribed shortly afterwards and appear in Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections II p 511:


The lenth of Cowel is 30 myles, betwix the poynt of Towart, and a craig in a hill upon the heid of Glenfynn called Clachan in Foyeach [I read Foycach]. Item the bread of Cowell is betwix Loch lung and Lochfyn being 12 myles.


Pont is defining Cowal in terms of its various boundaries. All of these are where land meets sea – except in the north. His use of the word craig suggests a prominent rock outcrop at the northern end of Glen Fyne. Glen Fyne branches west in its uppermost section and above it are two hills which mark the watershed. They are Meall nan Tighearn (to the E) and Beinn Bhalgairean (to the West). The latter appears as Banvalagan in Langlands’ map of Lochgoylhead and Kilmorich which was surveyed in 1795. It defines the northern limit of Kilmorich parish and also marks the boundary with Perthshire. On today’s OS maps the boundary is shown a little further east at the top of Meall nan Tighearn. Now the Gaelic word tighearna means ‘lord’ so it seems very likely that here we have the ‘Claychintoskycht’ (stone of the chief) of medieval definitions.


It is difficult to reconcile all this with RMS II (2402) where a different area seems to be defined by boundary markers which are partly shared and partly distinct. Is it possible that we may be seeing two different offices in these documents; that once there was a separate toiseachdeor for each of SW (or Nether?) Cowal and NE (or Over?) Cowal. Can Pont help us here as well?


Pont’s Map 14 gives extremely neat and detailed coverage of that part of Cowal between Loch Riddon and the Holy Loch (essentially the parishes of Kilmodan, Inverchaolain and Dunoon). According to the 1498 definition in RMS II (2402) we would expect to find the boundaries at Altneskynny, the Point of Toward, Ardlamont Point, the Water of Lindsaig and a spring called Tibirore. Three of these survive on today’s map, Altneskynny and Tibirore are the problem. (Toward Point is at NS 1367; Ardlamont Point is at NR 9963; Lindsaig is at NR 9379 immediately north of what is now called Kilfinan Burn). Since the three places we know of are named clockwise we might expect to find Altneskynny somewhere north of Toward and Tibirore somewhere north-east of Lindsaig – the five locations together describing a sort of circuit. Pont 14 gives Aldnaskein immediately E of the settlement of Glenkinn and just W of Dalelonchart. This is either going to be what is now called Glenkin Burn or the next burn to the East called Allt na Criche (both in NS 1381/1380). Allt na Criche simply means Boundary Burn but it is an extremely common name in the Highlands and I am therefore not going to accord it any special significance. One of these two burns will be Pont’s Aldnaskein and probably Altneskynny.


Kilfinan parish does not appear on this map but Glendaruel is drawn in great detail. At the very head of the glen and river Pont marks ‘Tawbyr fowar’. ‘Tawbyr’ is for Gaelic tobar which means well or spring. Tibirore is specifically described as a spring and the first element of the word is also clearly tobar. It has been suggested that the second element in Tibirore means rust-coloured and implies that the spring was impregnated with iron. Such are common in the Highlands and used to be described as ‘Chalybeate’ on the old maps. In his submission to the Old Statistical Account (Vol IV, No XLVI, 1792) Rev John Mackinnon of Kilmadan parish writes:


There is a mineral spring, once famous for curing the scurvy and other disorders, but is not now resorted to.


It may be that Pont’s spring at the head of the River Ruel is the fifth boundary marker in which case the area defined is roughly coterminous with the parishes of Kilfinan, Kilmodan, Inverchaolain and Dunoon – or over half of Cowal. This seems to be a description of Nether (or southern) Cowal rather than a division between eastern and western Cowal. (The above definition may be compared with that for Nether Cowal by H McKechnie, The Lamont Clan, Edinburgh, 1938, p 14).


Finally we might suggest that the names ‘Clachan in foycach’ and ‘Tawbyr fowar’ do not appear by accident. Pont was keen to define districts and he may well have heard geographical descriptions of the type which feature in the documents quoted above. He would include them in his maps as clarifying definitions. They may not have been settlements but they were ancient geographical formulae. They established important human borders in the natural landscape.


An Internal border?

In Cowal, A Historical Guide Elizabeth Rennie suggested a boundary between East and West Cowal (see pp 46-8). This suggestion was further refined and elaborated in her later book The ‘Cowal’ Shore (see especially Figures 11 & 12). Her argument is significant in terms of the land-assessment evidence here put forward. The Eastern shore of Cowal includes the parishes of Lochgoilhead, Kilmun and Dunoon which appear to have had a slightly different exchange rate between ouncelands and merklands compared to the rest of Cowal. I think these 3 parishes were reckoned at one ounceland to 120 merks or 1d : 6 merks. West Cowal and Kilmorich in the north were reckoned at one ounceland to 80 merks or 1d to 4 merks. If we draw a line along the western edge of these three parishes it is strikingly similar to the internal boundary posited by Elizabeth Rennie. Just what is it we are seeing here?


The three parishes of Dunoon, Kilmun and Lochgoilhead (along with Kilmorich to the north) mark the Eastern border of Argyllshire. In the 1795 map of Lochgoilhead and Kilmorich by George Langlands and son they locate the boundary between the three counties of Argyllshire, Perthshire and Dunbartonshire at Loch Linilarich. This site is still marked on today’s maps and is the col between two drainage systems at NN 278181. A further boundary, (this time just between Argyllshire and Perthshire) is marked at ‘Banvalagan’, a few miles to the NW (see discussion above).


We have therefore parish boundaries, which were themselves important area divisions, based (usually) on one or more ouncelands. (Although parishes only became formalised in the mediaeval period the boundaries between davachs or ouncelands may stretch back to Iron Age times or indeed earlier). We have two separate toiseachdeorships, each of which would have covered several parishes. (We also find two separate deors, one based in Balliemore, Kilfinan, the other at Inverchapel, Glen Finnart – but see also ‘Cuil-an-dirich, or the hermit’s field’ in Glendaruel). We then have county boundaries, each county consisting of an even larger number of parishes. Do these county boundaries represent older groupings or divisions? Do they coincide with any political, ethnic, linguistic or cultural dividing-lines? Is there, as Elizabeth Rennie suggests, a possible Scottish/British boundary apparent in Cowal? Does the evidence from land-assessment reinforce this argument?


It certainly seems likely that the boundary suggested by E Rennie coincides with the western border of Lochgoilhead, Kilmun and Dunoon and also with a different land-assessment ratio. But we cannot jump from there straight to the conclusion that we are seeing a border between Scots and Britons. The differing exchange rate between East and West Cowal merely tells us that they were accommodated to the Scottish body fiscal in slightly different ways and therefore quite probably at different times.


We are not seeing a Norse distinction here. The Norse just imposed ouncelands and pennylands on top of the units, (I think davachs, but possibly also houses), that they found in situ. If there was an earlier distinction between East and West Cowal there is nothing in the ounceland/pennyland system that tells us about it. What the Norse system did was preserve the previous structure. When the Scottish realm first imposed merkland valuations in the area, (perhaps before 1200), it was the Lowland government which drew the distinction. East Cowal was treated like Bute and Arran and I suspect this means the parishes here were assimilated first. By the time the parishes in West Cowal were absorbed they had come to be regarded as relatively less valuable in Scottish terms and each pennyland (or davach) was now thought to be worth only 4 merks.


As the Scottish kingdom moved West and North and annexed the Western littoral district by district so the relative worth of each new acquisition was assessed in merks. This process is difficult to understand because although it appears to have been staged it was not always accompanied by a progressive downward valuation. Some districts seem to have been grouped together and rated differently to others. In the southern Hebrides, (the Islay group), I think the islands were valued at 1 davach to 10 merks; in Coll, Tiree, the Small Isles and Uist it was 1 davach to 6 merks; in Skye and Lewis it was 1 davach to 4 merks. (This is the more surprising since presumably these islands were all accommodated to the Scottish fiscal system at the same time – i.e. shortly after 1266). I do not know the reasons for these differences and I think we are still some way from understanding the full process.


Although Clach a’ Breatunnaich (NN 217025) and Clach nam Breatann (NN 337216) are tempting boundary markers we cannot move straight from observation of a boundary to identification of groups. There remains though the intriguing question of why? Why were the two sides of Cowal viewed differently? Was it all down to the date of acquisition? Should we view annexation only as the result of military power? Could it be that East Cowal fell within the Scottish orbit earlier because it was recognizably different to West Cowal in terms of ethnic, linguistic or cultural affiliation – perhaps even regarded itself as part of Lowland Scotland from an earlier date? Was there an ancient, pre-Norse, historical legacy at work here? It may be that work on personal names within the Cowal parishes may reveal some further distinctions. At the moment it is difficult to reach past the Norse land-assessment system to any differences between Pict, Briton and Scot.


It is equally difficult to tie in the two different toiseachdeorships outlined above. That defined in RMS II (2402) matches quite well with our definition of a Nether or SW Cowal where 1d equalled 4m. That set out in RMS IV (467) is rather vaguer and not easy to match with an East Cowal of 1d to 6m. It may be that these aspects of early medieval administration do not reflect the land-assessment pattern. We should also be cautious that evidence leads the argument, not vice-versa. The only places where we have incontrovertible evidence of the pennyland to merkland ratio are Strathlachlan and Otter in West Cowal.




What can we deduce about early political and cultural frameworks from our knowledge of land-assessment and estate boundaries? I will use the following possibilities as the basis for some very tentative conclusions:


That Cowal once belonged to Britons (or Picts) who were overcome or expelled (in one or more phases) by the Dalriadic Scots from the early sixth century AD.


That there seems to be some internal division between East and West Cowal. Possible boundaries are suggested in E Rennie’s books. There were certainly two separate toiseachdeorships and I think there may be a different ounceland to merkland ratio operating in the parishes of Dunoon, Kilmun and Lochgoilhead. This is likely to be because these parishes were absorbed first by the mediaeval Scottish realm as it expanded westward in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. However this in turn may relate to the possibility that these three parishes were of a different composition to the rest of Cowal because of their earlier history, settlement and allegiances. I shall leave discussion of a possible British dimension to others but we should remind ourselves of Clach Bhreatunnaich by Lochgoilhead and Ben Arthur by Loch Long


That somewhere by or through Cowal there was a pre-Norse political boundary between Scots and Britons.


That Cowal became subject to Norse political control sometime after the beginning of the ninth century.


That although eastern Cowal was subjected to Norse political and fiscal control it was not settled by Scandinavians to the same degree as West Cowal, Bute, Kintyre or Islay. If we leave aside Norse words to do with the land-assessment system itself (e.g. pennyland, farthingland) and concentrate only on the Norse place-names that have a land valuation then the results are very meagre. I can find no unequivocally Norse farm-names in the parishes of Strachur or Glenaray. I can only find one (Ormidale) in Kilmodan parish and one more (Knap) in Lochgoilhead and Kilmorich. The only likely name in Kilmun and Dunoon is Uig which is plainly not the Norse word for a bay. Inverchaolain has a handful of enigmatic names like Coustonn, Troustan and Stiallag but it is only in Kilfinan in East Cowal that we come across a convincing Norse cluster with Ascog, Lindsaig, Lamont and possibly Cromonachan and Stillaig. For an area of 200 pennylands it is a very slight return. Although all of Cowal was part of the Norse empire it was not settled so intensively as other parts of the west coast.


That the Norse imposed their pennyland system sometime after the year 995 AD. Ouncelands may have been in existence there from about 850.


That the Norse land-assessment system reached no further east than the head of Loch Long and possibly aligned itself with an existing political boundary. The boundary established up Glen Loin may already have been old by the time the Norse arrived. Since the Norse did not actively settle in this district they may have been more inclined to accept existing estate boundaries. The eastern boundary between Argyll and Dunbartonshire may predate the Norse and have remained stable ever since. However we should also note that the pennyland fiscal system stretched east to the head of the Gare Loch. This might reflect a period of Norse control or at least a willingness by local magnates to adopt the fiscal system favoured by the Norse in the Hebrides.


The fact that the Norse land-assessment system reached no further east suggests that they may have adopted an already existing boundary between Scots and Britons. The boundary between Argyll (the coastland of the Gael) and Dunbartonshire may be at least 1500 years old. The fact that the Vikings did not encroach on British territory is significant. They sacked Dumbarton in 870 AD and certainly could have pushed towards Loch Lomond. However they seem to have wanted to stay close to their lines of support and did not venture further inland in this part of Scotland. Kinlochlong was ideal. It offered both retreat to and support from the sea. It also threatened the enemy in that a short ‘Tarbert’ or crossing-point led them into Loch Lomond and more Lowland districts. (This is precisely the area raided by the Hebrideans in Hakon’s fleet in 1263).


I have found no place-name evidence for davachs, quarterlands or eighthlands in Cowal. The only name which even looks relevant is Egidoch, the name of a settlement and burn in Dunoon parish. (However, Donald MacKinnon, writing in the ‘Scotsman’ in December 1887, suggested Derengyroch – in Kilfinan parish – as from ceathramh). On the basis of my conclusion that davachs were the same as pennylands in Kintyre I think this also applies in Cowal. Each pennyland or 4m unit in Western Cowal, or 6m unit in Eastern Cowal, was the same as a davach. The parish groupings then appear as davach groupings as well as pennyland or ounceland groupings.


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