Lismore Summary

Lismore Summary

RMS II (3136) confirms a charter of 1240 (No 5) and a charter of 1304 (No 6) which between them granted 19½d in Lismore to the bishopric of Argyll. (The 5½d in the latter charter are specifically stated to be near Achadun Castle). The two documents do not necessarily complement each other but I have adopted this as a working assumption. Eleven place-names are given but only a few of these can be precisely located today. The others are lost or have been replaced by different farm-names.

GD112/62/1/1 1329 is a copy charter of Robert I to Arthur Campbell of the lands of Gillaspik McMartene. This estate comprised 10d in Appin and 10¼d in Lismore. Some of the place-names in Lismore match with those from 1240 & 1304; others don’t. In later documents I find 75¼ merklands which, if taken as roughly corresponding to 19½ pennylands, suggests that the true total for Lismore was probably once 20d or 80m with a conversion ratio of 1d to 4m. (Skene’s sixteenth-century source states 80m; the Argyll Valuation Roll of 1751 gives a total of 60m; Smith found 61m in 1798). Unfortunately there are just too many gaps to match the earliest 3 documents with those from later times.

By the end of 1304 it would appear that the Bishop of Argyll had all but ½d of Lismore. Unfortunately we may not be able to take this at face value. N Murray (‘A House divided against itself’ p 222 & fn 19) has pointed out that lands in Lismore were supposed to be included in the dowry of Juliana Macdougall when she married Alexander Macdonald before 1291. OPS II, II p 828 states that in 1334, Ewin, Lord of Lorn, granted Andrew, Bishop of Argyll, £10 (15m) consisting of Frackersaig, Craiginich and Achindown. WDH Sellar (‘Hebridean Sea-Kings’ p 217, fn 158, in Alba, eds. Cowan & McDonald, 2000) argues that the 1304 document (RMS II (3136.6)) has been misdated; should read 1334, and should be compared with that quoted by OPS. Since Andrew was Bishop of Argyll between 1300 and 1341-2 we cannot use his dates to determine the matter.

In 1470 amongst the lands granted by the Earl of Argyll to Campbell of Glenorchy were at least 13¾m in Lismore. In 1544 there is a charter by the son of the Earl of Argyll of half of each of two pennylands to the dewar (keeper) of the bachuil (staff) of St Moluag. The farm of Kilcheran was owned by Ardchattan Priory and I can understand that this may have been the subject of an excambion between the bishop and the Priory. (But in RHP 5261/2 of Dalnarow, Fiert & Auchinard, the neighbouring farm to the NE, which was probably Kilcheran, is marked “Bishop’s Property”). Lismore, therefore, leaves us with something of a dilemma. By 1304 it had apparently nearly all been given to the Bishop of Argyll – and yet he does not seem to have fully possessed it or retained it. What happened?

The early history of the Bishopric of Argyll or Lismore is discussed by Dowden (1912, pp 377-9), Duncan & Brown (1956-7, pp 209-211), and Anderson (1990, pp 501-2, 529). The cathedral buildings are described in RCAHMS Argyll II No 267, 1975. The Bishop’s Castle at Achadun is described in Argyll II No 276. Masons-marks suggest that some of the same men worked on both buildings – the castle and the cathedral – at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century. The Bishopric seems to have been founded towards the end of the twelfth century by separation from the diocese of Dunkeld. (For the traditional account see Bower, Scotichronicon, Book VI chapters 39-40). Its first bishop is said to have been Harald, whose name may be commemorated in the place-name Killespickerill in Muckairn. (For an alternative dedication see Argyll II No 268 fn 5).

(I prefer the dedication to Harald. Highland Papers II p 142 quotes a Bond by John of Lorn dated 1355 which was given at the church of Saint Kerald, Bishop and Confessor (see also fn 3). Kilespikerill (NN 005309) was 10d in 1532 or 5m in 1751. OPS II, I p 132 states that the lands and teinds of the kirk of Killespick-Kerrell belonged to the bishopric of Dunkeld in 1640 (quoting Argyle Inventory). Historical Manuscripts Commission 4th report p 480 No 133 states the kirk of Killespickerrell belonged to the bishopric of Dunkeld in 1648. Muckairn was a 5-ounceland estate that belonged to Iona before 1203 (Book of Islay p 6)).

During its early years the bishopric was handicapped by poverty. Bower consistently refers to it as the Bishopric of Argyll, not Lismore. In 1228 Alexander II gave Harald, Bishop of Argyll (‘Ayrgaythyl’) three davachs of Culkessoch which was probably near Inverness (Register of Moray p 25). However this document also refers to Harald and his successors in ‘Ecclesia Lysmorensi’ so we have to assume that any bishop of Argyll had, by 1228, taken up residence in the island of Lismore. (Alexander’s gift was not a particularly generous endowment and 3 davachs by Inverness were probably not a great deal of use to a bishop based on an island in Loch Linnhe).

Harald was dead before July 1236 when there is a papal document (CPL I p 154, Theiner p 33 No LXXXIV) which refers to the diocese having become subject to ‘great poverty’ and it had fallen temporarily under the care of the Bishop of Sodor or the Isles (see also Anderson II, 1990 pp 501-2 fn 8). In another document (CPL I p 178 of 1239) a figure is put on this poverty since the bishopric is valued at only 25 merks. For the sake of comparison we can show that Roderick, son of Reginald, Lord of Kintyre, gave 5 pennylands (or 20m) to the church of Killean before 1222.

William, chancellor of Moray, became bishop sometime after the beginning of 1239 but was drowned in 1241 (Anderson II, 1990 p 529). Dowden notes that William was the recipient of the 14 pennylands in Lismore given in RMS II (3136) and also comments that the date given there of 1251 must be an error. The proper date was established by Duncan and Brown (p 211 fn 3) to be 1240. After William’s death there were several years of vacancy and the diocese came under the care of Clement, Bishop of Dunblane (Charters of Inchaffray Abbey, No LXXIV p 65).

The bishopric, the island of Lismore, and its patrons, the Macdougalls of Lorn, move centre-stage in the period 1248-9 when the Macdougalls were involved in a power-struggle with Alexander II. This dispute is described by Matthew Paris in his Chronica Majora when he discusses the political dilemmas of Ewen Macdougall. Ewen held his mainland estates of the king of Scotland, his island dominions of the king of Norway. He was being subjected to enormous political pressure by Alexander to decide where his allegiances lay. The particular focus of dispute was an island between Scotland and the Orkneys for which Ewen had recently done homage to the king of Norway. (I don’t think we need take this island’s geographical position too literally – what was probably meant was an island off the north-west coast of Scotland). Which island was it? Duncan and Brown (p 210 fn 3) dismiss Lismore on the grounds of the phrasing of the 1240 charter which carries the clear implication that it then lay within the Scottish kingdom.

There is also, I think, a second reason for rejecting Lismore. Lismore was an island and certainly the Norwegians claimed all the islands off the west coast of Scotland. However the Sudreys (Hebrides) already had a bishop and it seems unlikely that the Macdougalls would choose to locate the bishop for the relatively new diocese of mainland Argyll in the island of Lismore if there was any doubt as to whether it belonged to Scotland or Norway. I do not think therefore that Lismore was the island Matthew Paris had in mind and I have argued elsewhere (Hebridean Traveller pp 190-194) that it was in fact Eilean Tioram in Moidart. However, even if the island in dispute was not Lismore, there is no doubt that control of the bishopric was a continuing bone of contention between Alexander II and the Macdougalls and it is in this context that we should look at the 1240 charter.

The Macdougalls were aware of the importance of ecclesiastical patronage and founded their own Valliscaulian Priory at Ardchattan about 1230. They must have provided some sort of base in Lismore for the new Bishops of Argyll prior to Alexander II’s endowment of 1228. We can surmise this involved the gift of some farms to provide income but we have no knowledge of this. Some time before March 1239 (CPL I p 178) William, chancellor of Moray, was postulated to the bishopric and he is the recipient of the grant of 1240. This grant must have transformed the finances of the bishopric. Formerly it was only worth 25 merks – which might imply the ownership of 25 merklands. Now it was being given 14 pennylands which I think was here the equivalent of 56m of land (or 14 davachs compared with the 3 given by Alexander II in 1228).

Moreover the 1240 document smacks entirely of local patronage. Ewen, son of Duncan of Argyll, (who was still alive in 1244, see Anderson, 1991 p 356) gives 14d in Lismore – to be held of Ewen himself. There are 11 named witnesses who are all local in the sense of holding church offices in the diocese of Argyll or having names which strongly suggest local connections. There are Cristin, archdeacon of Argyll, and Gillemoluoc, deacon of Lismore. (Gillemoluoc – follower of Moluag, the patron saint of Lismore – could hardly have a more suitable name). The others include Daniele (Donald?), the ‘official’ of Argyll, and the deacons of Glassary, Lorn and Kintyre. The five laymen include two Macgillemichaels, members of a local family whose name subsequently became Carmichael, and who still had strong associations with the church in Lismore seven centuries later. The charter was given on Lismore itself. The whole document speaks of local patrons dealing at a local level with a bishop who now held lands from them. It seems probable that the Macdougalls had decided that William was going to be a suitably pliant bishop and were happy to give him 14 pennylands on these terms. The agreement of the whole chapter does suggest that, despite the bishopric’s poverty, the diocese had a proper organisational structure by 1240.

William’s death the next year changed everything. As discussed by Duncan & Brown (pp 209-210) control of the bishopric may well have been an ongoing issue which contributed to the tension between Alexander II and the Macdougalls in the 1240s. When Alexander made further gifts to the Bishop of Argyll in 1243 and 1249 the word Lismore does not appear in either document (Duncan & Brown, Appendix No’s I & II). In the 1240s the bishopric was administered by Clement, Bishop of Dunblane, who was closely associated with Alexander II’s expansionist aims on the west coast. In 1249 we learn that the Pope had agreed to transfer the cathedral to a mainland site and that King Alexander had agreed to meet part of the costs (CPL I p 251). All of which suggests that Alexander was trying to wrest the bishopric from its base in the Macdougall island of Lismore.

By 1304 the political situation had completely changed. A second grant by another Ewen of Argyll, described as Lord of Lesmor, gave 5½d in Lismore to Andrew, Bishop of Argyll (RMS II (3136.6) – but see Sellar’s comment above). Unfortunately I cannot tell if these 5½d were wholly complementary to the earlier 14d or whether there was some overlap. Again this was a local charter, given at Achadun, Lismore, and witnessed by Argyllshire clerics and local worthies.

However if the Bishops held nearly all the island in 1304 their grip seems to have been loosened over time. The 1240 charter is of lands to be held of Ewen and we simply do not have the documentary information to know how and precisely when they slipped from the episcopal grasp. Having said that we can still point to three 4m units (probably three davachs) which were held by the Chancellor, Treasurer and Precentor respectively (see Table).

Evidence from Maps

The Plan of the farms of Dalnarow, Fiert & Auchinard by Francis Hall in 1815 (RHP 5261/2 and RHP 9448) is immensely interesting not only because it gives us the outlines of the two mediaeval farms of Fiart and Achadh nan Aird but also because the physical boundaries are still easily traced following the dykes marked on OS Explorer 376. These two farms were worth 9m in 1751 (Argyll Valuation Roll gives 5m Feyard and 4m Achinard). Achadh nan Aird has consistently been 4m but Fiart was earlier worth 6m and I am not sure how it lost a merkland.

RHP 5263 is a Plan of Craignich Estate in 1836. This is a 4m unit that can be traced back to the pennyland of Craganas in 1240. Again the estate boundaries can be followed as dykes on Explorer 376 although perhaps we should be more cautious here. Within the farm a “former march” line is marked in two places. Either the Craignich of 1836 included more than the old 1d Craganas or there was some internal divison into individual merklands or fractions of a pennyland.

RHP 12324/1 is a MS map of Balligrundale and Tirone whilst RHP 12324/2 (by the same hand) is a map of Killean. Each gives an outline of the farm and its constituent fields along with some 13 new place-names, none of which appear in Roy (PC 60), Langlands (Argyll, 1801) or the first edition OS 6″ maps. The names are Neorlin (<Feorlin?), Achnaslockmore & Beg, Sheanvalli, Glakmore and Cullandhoir in RHP 12324/1; Achmore & Beg, Dunskiachanmore & Beg, Lagmore & Beg and Fuair in RHP 12324/2. It may yet be possible to locate some of these on the basis of the topographical clues contained in the literal meanings of their names.

Lismore shares its pennyland to merkland ratio (1d:4m) with Kintyre, Knapdale, Glassary and Western Cowal. Although set at some distance from these districts it is possible that here too we are seeing a 1 ounceland unit composed of 20 davachs.

A significant feature of Lismore toponymy is the number of tir-names. The only area in the west with a comparable density is the Ross of Mull, another estate associated with the early church.

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