Knapdale Summary



Principal Sources


RMS I (569) 1376

RMS II (1464) 1480-1, (1485) 1481, (3136) 1507, (3170) 1507-8, (3622) 1511

RMS III (345) 1525-6, (2306) 1540-1

RMS IV (1240) 1557-8

RMS V (1933, 1936) 1591, (2166) 1592

RMS VI (635) 1597 (original dated 1574)

RSS I (413) 1499


Retours, Argyll, (37) 1630, (88) 1683

Theiner, Vetera Monumenta Hibernorum et Scotorum, Rome, 1864, No’s 488 & 504

AS I (3) 1617, (55, 61) 1618, (123) 1620, (133, 163) 1621, (192) 1622, (250, 255-6, 268, 272) 1643, (295, 299) 1649, (324) 1650, (346-9, 364) 1652, (402, 405) 1659, (444, 462,  466) 1660, (488) 1673, (543, 559-60,  595, 597) 1674


AS II (69) 1619, (127) 1622,  (312, 315, 344-5, 349) 1630, (387) 1631, (425, 428-9) 1632, (476, 479-81, 484, 487) 1633, (561) 1636, (616-7, 624) 1638, (668) 1641, (830-1) 1654, (883-4) 1655, (1030) 1662, (1142) 1664, (1215, 1218) 1665, (1254, 1274, 1277-8, 1322) 1666, (1365) 1667, (1397, 1450-2) 1668, (1463, 1473, 1475-7, 1497, 1499, 1510-11) 1669


GD 1/426/1 Abstracts of writs etc on various Campbell estates

GD 437 Taynish and Danna Papers

GD 112/2/89/1 1638

DR 2/1/1 in Argyll & Bute Archives

DR 14/1/3 in Argyll & Bute Archives

DR 14/1/4 in Argyll & Bute Archives

DR 14/3/1 in Argyll & Bute Archives (Plan of Cretshengan/Drimnamuckloch).

DR 2/8/Box 14 in Argyll & Bute Archives

DR 2/8/Box 17 No’s 102-3 in Argyll & Bute Archives


BL  KTop. 49:28 McDougal’s map of Taynish, 1747

RHP 14633 Plan of Ardmeanish, G Langlands, 1780

RHP 14638/1-3 Carse Estate

RHP 14639 Drimnamuckloch

RHP 31809 Auchnacaorich, A Langlands, 1819

RHP 38162 Ardnackaig by Allan Wilson

G Langlands, Map of Kantyre, 1793 (includes South Knapdale)

BL MS 33632A (includes South Knapdale)

Langlands, Map of Argyll 1801

DR 3/3/8 in Argyll & Bute Archives (Plan of the Estate on West Tarbert Loch belonging to General Campbell, Kintarbert, by A Langlands 1819).

NLS MS 5056 Estate of Shirvane, Geo. Buchanan 1830-1


The Red Book of Menteith Vol II, No 26, pp 235-6, Edinburgh, 1880

The Genealogist, Vols 28-9, 32, 34-36, 38

Miscellany of the Scottish History Society Vol IV

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

RCAHMS, Argyll Vol VII

Heather McFarlane, Arichonan: A Highland Clearance recorded, Indiana, 2004




The definition of Knapdale has varied over time. On the basis of today’s maps we should be inclined to think of it as the geographical area between the Crinan Canal and Tarbert, Loch Fyne. In ecclesiastical terms it was smaller than this since the parish of Kilberry was long regarded as distinct from Knapdale. (Kilberry’s northern boundary was the south side of Kilmaluaig – see Argyll Synod Minutes I p 53 of 1642, p 151 of 1649, p 242 of 1650, pp 244-5 of 1651). As a political unit in mediaeval times Knapdale was considerably larger since it was then held to include a large chunk of northern Kintyre. For the purposes of this study I am going to treat it as a geographical unit between Crinan and Tarbert but the other perspectives have to be borne in mind as we interpret the evidence.


We have some documents which give us an overall view. In RMS II (1464) of 1480-1 James III granted to Colin, Earl of Argyll:


160 mercatas terrarum dominii de Knapdale, unacum custodia castri regii de Castelsone … viz; – terras de Insulis de Dannaa, Wlwaa, Thivinche, cum omnibus terris de Knapdale infra marchias subscriptas, viz; – inter Lochfyne ex parte orientali, et mare vocatum. Dura ex parte occidentali, ab aqua de Dowkassich ex parte australi extenden. ad boream ad Kantracrenane, et ab Garsolene ex parte australi extenden. ad Lochgilb


(160m of the lordship of Knapdale along with custody of the royal castle of Castle Sween … viz, the islands of Danna, Ulva and Taynish with all the lands of Knapdale within the following bounds, viz, between Loch Fyne in the east and the sea called [a word like linne is probably missing here] of Jura in the west, and from the Water of Dowkassich in the south(-west) to Kentra Crinan in the north(-west), and from Garsolene in the south(-east) to Loch Gilp (in the north-east)).


We also have two seventeenth-century sasines which give the boundaries of the political unit known as Knapdale when it reached into Northern Kintyre. AS I (347) of 1652 and AS II (1473) of 1669 offer essentially the same definition with some variations in spelling. H Campbell translates AS I (347) as follows:


also the Crownership and mairship of fee of North and South Knapdale from Altnaschynnach on the south to Polligilbe and Awinade on the north, and from Lochfyne on the east to the sea called Lyngedurrach on the west


This definition works by setting out the four boundaries. Altnaschynnach is Allt an t-Sionnaich (or the Foxburn – see Reliquiae Celticae II p 163 & CRA p 315) in NW Kintyre. Polligilbe is an early alternative name for Loch Gilp. Awinade is Abhainn Add or the River Add which is by Crinan. The first element of Lyngedurrach is linne which is found in several place-names on the west coast and indicates a pool or gulf of water. (In Ross of Knapdale it is found in Linne Mhuirich). In this context Lyngedurrach probably means the sea between Knapdale and the island of Jura. This seventeenth-century definition of Knapdale is only different to that of 1480-1 in terms of its southern boundary. The other three defining marches have remained constant and the later documents help to explain the earlier.


What then of the southern boundary of the 160m of Knapdale defined in 1480-1? Happily the Argyll Synod Minutes (Vol I p 242) of 1650 give us some help with Dowkassich. The commissioners were realigning parish boundaries


And dismemberis the lands of the brae of Kyillesleatt, viz., beneath the water of Dowchassie, fra the kirk of Knapdaill and annexs the samen to the kirk of Kilberrie.


The lands in question (of the Brae of Keillisleat) lay between the head of Loch Caolisport in the north and the boundary with Kilberry in the south. Using the additional evidence on pages 53 and 245 we can compose a list of these farms (reading N to S) as including Baranlongart, Clachbreck, Baryevregan, Achadamillan, Ormsay, Sengart, Drimdrissaig and Kilmaluag. Unfortunately there is no burn named Dowchassie on today’s maps but we can compare the OS 1st edition 6″ Sheet CLXXX of 1867 with G Buchanan’s maps of the East & West Divisions of the farm of Lochhead and Achachoish from 1830-1 (NLS MS 5056). Unfortunately Buchanan doesn’t name the burns but by matching his farm boundary with the 1867 OS map it is clear that Baranlongart farm extended north to the Achahoish burn. If we follow this burn east we find it composed of 3 tributaries and it is the southernmost of these (Eas a’ Bhodaich) which formed the boundary between Achachoish and Baranlongart. Dowchassie (presumably Dubh + ?) must be a former name of the Achahoish Burn and Eas a’ Bhodaich.


Garsolene is more difficult. The parish map in OPS marks Garsolen just North of Inverneill and this suggestion is followed by J & RW Munro in Acts of the Lords of the Isles p 218. I suspect Garsolene is actually for Garfeorling or the Rough Farthingland (garbh feoirling) which is a place-name also found in NE Kintyre and by Strachur in Cowal. It was possibly quite common in mediaeval times but by definition such lands were poor and liable to be absorbed by larger farm-units. The only place-name I can find in Knapdale which bears any resemblance is Garalane of RMS II (1485) of 1480-1. However, from its situation and later spellings I think this is more likely to be garbh-eilean (rough island) – an alternative name for what is now Barmore Island.


Can the Argyll Synod Minutes which located Dowchassie also help us find Garsolene? Not directly, because it is not named, but we do have some indications from the way in which the eastern shore of the parish was realigned. The evidence on pages 53-4, 242 and 244-5 suggests that the farms that were relocated to the enlarged parish of Kilberry, with its pendicle of Tarbert, were Erines, Ashens and Barmore. Another phrase which seems to carry the same meaning is ‘the lands besouth Strondor’ (ie the farms south of Srondoire). In which case Garsolene, which represented the SE corner of the old N Knapdale, was presumably on the southern boundary of Srondoire and N of Erines. G Buchanan’s maps (NLS MS 5056) of the Estate of Shirvane in 1830-1 show the Artilligan Burn as the southern march of Srondoire. Immediately below this and near to the coast is a manuscript addition in pencil which could be read ‘N(?) Feorling’. Srondoire itself was a 2m or ½d land quite possibly divided into two distinct farthinglands. If one lay southwards then it would have incorporated more of the farm’s hill ground and may well have been known as the ‘rough’ farthingland. I suspect therefore that Garsolene lay immediately north of the Artilligan Burn (which enters the sea in NR 8577).


Smith lumped Kilberry in with Kilcalmonell (N Kintyre) at 115m and then gave the rest of South Knapdale as 104m, North Knapdale as 105m. My table shows a total of 155½m in that part of Knapdale between Crinan and Loch Caolisport and another 117½m between Loch Caolisport and Loch Tarbert. (The total for North Knapdale may be overstated by up to 6m – Oib may include Kilmory whilst Obnekirke and Branforlyng may be concealed in other properties). There is a great deal of evidence that the exchange rate throughout Knapdale was 1d : 4 merks (eg AS I (346) of 1652) which gives likely totals of 160m (2 ouncelands) for North Knapdale and 120m (1½ ouncelands) for South Knapdale.


However my division between N & S Knapdale is drawn partly from OPS and partly from the Argyll Valuation Roll of 1751. In order to see beyond these to the mediaeval situation it may be necessary to move Lochhead (4m), Achahoish (4m), Srondoire (2m), Stronachullin (2m), Inverneill (4m) and Brenfield (2m) from South to North Knapdale. This gives totals of 173½m for N Knapdale and 99½m for S Knapdale. (In terms of ouncelands the proportions are now about 2¼ ozs for N Knapdale and 1¼ for S Knapdale). Unfortunately if we do this there is not such a close match with the situation outlined in RMS II (1464) of 1480-1. The discrepancy could be because RMS II (1464) may not have included church lands – whilst my table does. However since we do not know whether the boundary between N & S Knapdale shifted between Norse and mediaeval times it is perhaps best to leave this issue open and suggest instead that the total for Knapdale as a whole was probably 3½ ouncelands.


A further piece of evidence as to the value of Knapdale comes from the story of John of the Isles surrendering land to Argyll towards the end of the fifteenth century. This is found in ‘The Book of Clanranald’ (Reliquiae Celticae II p 163) where it says that:


John went to Argyll and gave him all that lay between the river Add and Altna Sionnach at Braigh Chinntire [Upper Kintyre].


Another version is found in Hugh Macdonald (Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis p 315) where Macdonald goes to Argyll and


bestowed on him the lands of Knapdale Rilisleter [Caolisleat?], from the river Add to the Fox-burn in Kintyre, 400 merks lands.


Both define an area of land between Allt an t-Sionnaich (=Fox-burn at NR 7454), which was the southern boundary of Kilcalmonell parish in North Kintyre, and the River Add which was the northern boundary of North Knapdale. I calculate Kilcalmonell or Clachan parish in North Kintyre to be 92m (including Skipness), which, when added to the 280m of North and South Knapdale comes to a total of 372m.


Can the frequency of Norse names tell us anything about the degree of Norse settlement? Despite its Norse name and its Norse land-assessment system it seems that Knapdale was not as densely settled by the Norse as the neighbouring district of Kintyre. There are about 75 named settlements in North Knapdale for which we have a land-assessment valuation and a further 44 in South Knapdale. Of the 75 in North Knapdale only about 7 (Daill, Carsaig, Scotnish, Taynish, Ulva, Danna & Oib) have names we could ever claim to be wholly Norse. There are about another 7 which are composites (Garoib, Daltot, Inverlussa, Dunorrsay, Castle Sween, Obnekirke, Barrahormid). As percentages of the settlements which have valuations we might claim up to 9% are wholly Norse, another 9% partly Norse. Even if we look at these settlements as a proportion of the total land-valuation then the 7 more likely Norse names only represent something like 15% of the land value of N Knapdale.


In South Knapdale the contrast is even sharper. Only 1 name (Ormsay or Ormsary) appears wholly Norse whilst 1 more (Ardminish) might be partly Norse. As a percentage of the number of settlements with values only about 2% of the names in South Knapdale are clearly Norse – as a percentage of the total land-value this goes up, at best, to 3%. There are 5 names which carry the land-assessment system itself :

Branforlyng – includes feoirling or farthing

Leppenkeill – includes leth-pheighinn or half-penny

Kilpayn – includes peighinn or penny

Fewrlynlocha – includes feoirling or farthing

Brenfield – includes feoirling or farthing


There also seems to have been more subdivision of units in the north-western part of North Knapdale – an aspect of human history which presumably reflects a slightly different relationship between proprietor and tenants in this part of the West Highlands.


One document should be singled out for its significance. This is a grant by John of Menteith to Gillespic (Archibald) Campbell of Lochawe in 1353. It is printed in The Red Book of Menteith and describes a 14d estate in the northern parts of Knapdale. The farms are given as denariatam (pennyland), obulatam (half-pennyland) or quadrantem (farthingland). It is important because it provides early verification of the exchange rate between pennylands and merklands in Knapdale at 1d to 4m. Most of the properties are identifiable but at the end of the table I have listed those which elude me.


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Posted in Knapdale
5 comments on “Knapdale Summary
  1. Nancy Roberts says:

    Well I am back again, but you are my last best hope at finding a place most likely in Scotland. I am still mapping out the McNeills of Taynish and have been looking at lands they held at a mill called Grain mill on the lands of Ob and Kilmory commonly called Two Gartane Mollyn with the lade of the dam called Lochalzebir. The McNeills held these lands for a very long time. I know where the mill is and have found pictures of it online.

    So now to my Question, that if you can’t answer I don’t think anyone can. one charter for this mill reads:
    23 Feb 1548/1549 By Archibald Master of Argyll to Gillespie Makneill vic Achin Baron of Kalkille, bailie to infeft Neil Mcneill vic Achin (grandson of Hector) Grain mill on the lands of Ob and Kilmory commonly called Two Gartane Mollyn with the lade of the dam called Lochalzebir pastures for two cows and a horse on the lands of Kilmory and Killebir and many other lands.

    So my question is do you have any idea where Kalkille is??? Gillespie MakNeill vic Achin, is called the Baron there. I have looked in Ireland (can’t find it there, as some McNiells had lands in Ireland too about this time.) And I know very little about the rest of Scotland so have no idea where to start looking. With you vast knowledge could you even at least give your best guess, as to where Kalkille was ??? This is also the first record of a McNeill of these early times being called a baron in a record.

    If you figure this out or just have a good guess you will be my hero for the year. LOL
    Thanks so Much again
    Your site is still the best for understanding the old place names.
    Nancy Roberts

  2. Nancy Roberts says:

    Never mind trying to find the Baron of Kalkille as I think I have figured it out. In 1553 the same person is listed:

    1553 Disposition by Archibald Master of Argyll, fiar, and Archibald Earl of Argyll, liferenter (‘franktenementare’) of the barony of Knapdale to his ‘wellbelovit” servitor Neil McNeill McAychin of Drumnorich ? (Dun Mhuirich) of the non-entries, maills and profits of the merkland of Ardbeg and the merkland of Barbay with the mill thereof in the Barony of Knapdale, in the lands of the Master as superior since the death of McKoschenach, harper, last lawful immediate tenant thereof

    13 Dec 1553 Instrument of Sasine narrating to Archibald McNeill vic Achin of Kalchalze as bailie of Archibald Master of Argyll, fiar, of the lands with and Archibald Earl of Argyll as liferenter, his father, and Colin Campbell of Ardkinglass his curator conform (confirm?) the precept dated at Campbeltown 20 April 1553-(pretty sure this is a confirmation of the disposition above. Precept to Neill McNeill McAychin 20 April 1553.)

    Pretty sure the Kalkillie should read Calchalze, which refers to Callachallie which was later called Gallachaly, which is North of Scotnish and South of Barbea all North of Taynish

    Thanks anyway,

  3. Nancy Roberts says:

    Hi again Dennis,
    Sorry to bother you again, but maybe I got it wrong about KalKille, I work on research with a friend and this friend read a book that lists Kalkille, as a village in Ross on Lochcarron. Which must be part of Rosshire that was later linked to become Ross & Comarty. I will look through what you have on Ross, but also remember somewhere in your records that there were two places called Ross. Not sure where I read it. I will take a look at what you have for Ross and see if I can find it. But, really hoping it might pop into you head and you can direct me to it.

    Thanks so Much
    Nancy Roberts

    • Da if McNeill says:


      The mixture of English and Gaelic is a bit confusing. One reads the English which is a sort of phonetic Gaelic. If I imagine the person was speaking Gaelic I would imagine that they are talking about Keills. Which is just further South from Tayvallich and a hop from Taynish. The next thing I would advise is to understand that the letter “Z” is not really a “Z” at all but represents a letter “3” which has become redundant in the alphabet – it is pronounced like a “yah” and represents a Gaelic sound created by the letters “d” and “h” being adjacent = “DH” By a quirk of orthography if “DH” is adjacent to a,o or u then it is pronounced “gah” but if “DH” is beside an I or an e it is pronounced “yah”. So now we have people mispronouncing words (especially those coming straight from the Gaelic) eg MenZies is not Z by Menyahies ( approximate) and MacKenZie is not Z but MacKenyahies ( sort of) straight from MaCoinnich = son of Kenneth
      Likewise “Aychun” is an English representation of Eachuinn = Hector
      If you feed this information into your data you will see that Ireland and North of Scotland are way off beam. They are actually talking about the place next door – which makes sense. Hope this helps. Very excited to see if your research as my name is David son of Hector McNeill!

      • drixson says:

        Thank you, David
        For brevity I have combined your comments and amendments below. I would only add that the reference might be to Gallachoille – which underwent some extraordinary mutations.

        David McNeill writes:
        Kilkeel (Ulster) is Cil Chaoil – church of the narrow straights – which makes absolute sense. In my opinion you are closer than you think you were. Nowadays just called Keills or Keill

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