Lorn – A Definition



The first issue is how do we define Lorn? In one sense it is a geographical district which derives its name from one of the early Dalriadic settlers. It can be distinguished geographically from other districts such as Craignish and Kilmelfort to the south, Muckairn to the east, Benderloch, Appin, Duror and Glencoe to the north. It is in this sense that it exists on the map and in the imagination. It appears on the fourteenth-century Gough map which may have been partly derived from data collected in the late thirteenth century. On Blaeu’s map of Lorn we find that Pont marks Laern-Ikrach (Nether Lorn) between Lochs Melfort and Feochan, Laern-Meanach (Mid-Lorn) between Lochs Feochan and Etive. Pont’s survey work was largely done before 1595 although most of his maps were not printed by Blaeu until the middle of the seventeenth century. In this sense Lorn is a concept with a geographical definition.


But there is also another sense in which we meet with the idea of Lorn and that is through the documents. Here it can be used in a political or administrative or legal sense. It can define a lordship, it can underpin a title. Sometimes it is used in quite a restricted way as in RMS II (3136) of 1304 where Lorn is distinguished from Benderloch, or in 1388 when it is listed separately to Benderloch, Appin and Lismore (JRN MacPhail, Dunstaffnage Castle, SHR XVII, 1920, pp 257-8). At other times it is used more widely – particularly in the sense of a lordship – and so Benderloch, Appin, Lismore, Duror and even Glencoe can all be said to be ‘in Lorn’.


Associated with Lorn can be a variety of offshore islands. These included Luing, Torsa, Shuna, Seil, Kerrera and Lismore. In ecclesiastical terms the Deanery of Lorn spread its net wider still to include parishes by Lochaw or in Glenorchy and Kilmelfort. How then do we relate this variety of documentary definitions with the few scanty references we have to the extent or value of Lorn? When we find Lorn is credited with an extent of 600m in 1503 (Argyll Retours No 101) – just what lands does this include? (In that particular document for instance it does not include Luing, Torsa or Shuna). And what are we to make of the various references to the ‘third’ of Lorn which occur in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A third of what, exactly?


To clarify these issues I am going to run through some of the problems thrown up by the documentary sources. My objective is to try and work out the true ‘extent’ of Lorn in a land-assessment context. I am going to argue for a fairly tight definition which I think should take us closer to what the idea of ‘Lorn’ originally meant – before the mediaeval administrators got to work on it. Essentially I am trying to define it as a land-assessment unit, marking the traditional territory of a Dark Age settler – and ignoring its pendicle isles and mediaeval extensions. We glimpse it in the Senchus Fer n’Alban and in the early Irish annals. Can we divest it sufficiently of its medieval accretions to see what it meant for them.


Perhaps the southern boundary of Lorn is the most solid. Kilmelfort was not Lorn, Kilninver was. Nether (or Lower) Lorn extended south to the northern edge of Kilmelfort parish. It stretched east from Blaran (beside the River Oude) to include a distinct 18m unit long known as the Braes (or upland) of Lorn which was the area round Loch Tralaig. Although Lorn did not include Kilmelfort I think it may have once included the mainland part of Kilbrandon parish which was probably a 40m unit.

Moving north, both Kilmore and Kilbride were Lorn, in fact Kilbride, with its ancient stronghold of Dunollie could be regarded as its heartland. What about Muckairn? This is an early church estate and wears that name by 1203 when it is listed in a papal confirmation of Iona’s lands. Although it may have come to be viewed as part of Lorn I think its ownership and land-assessment system suggest it was originally distinct.


The next parish north is Ardchattan, made up of two components – Benderloch which is the long ridge between Lochs Etive and Creran and secondly the hill ground between the Rivers Etive and Awe. Since Benderloch is listed as separate to Lorn in 1304 I think it fair to assume it was so in earlier times. Neither were the parishes around Loch Awe regarded as Lorn. Loch Awe is given a separate extent in the Retour of 1503, as is Glenorchy.


In sum I think the historic core of Dalriadic Lorn was made up of the parishes of Kilbride, Kilmore and Kilninver with the mainland section of Kilbrandon. This comes to a total extent of 400m or 200d or 10 ouncelands. (It is striking that this is also the ounceland extent of Cowal). What about the islands? Physically the nearest are Kerrera (later part of Kilbride parish) at 30m and Seil (which is linked to mainland Kilbrandon). The next three most likely pendicle isles are Luing, Torsa and Shuna which are listed separately to Lorn in Argyll Retours (101). Whatever their Dark Age affiliations all these islands would have been Norse dominions between the time of the first Viking colonists and 1266. At some later stage the latter three must have been combined with Seil and 40m of the mainland to make the parish of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan. Although Lismore is often associated with Lorn it is a large and important island with a distinct name and should be regarded as separate.


What facts and figures do we have for Lorn in the documentary sources? The problem here is to know whether the many references to Lorn are all referring to the same thing. Whatever may have been the Dalriadic heartland of Lorn the concept was extended beyond its geographical bounds during the Middle Ages. In Argyll Retours (101) of 1503 the lands and lordship of Lorn were given an extent of 600m – excluding the islands Luing (42m), Torsa (4m) and Shuna (7m) which totalled another 53m. OPS II, I p 112 states that the barony and lordship of Lorn yielded 549m to the Crown in 1493. It was divided into three sections: Upper, Middle and Nether Lorn. Mid Lorn (probably the parishes of Kilmore & Kilbride) contained 183m according to a paper at Taymouth also quoted by OPS. If we extend Lorn to include Benderloch, (but not the land between Awe and Etive), and Appin, we come to a total of 600m which is the same as the extent given in 1503. Since one-third of Appin and most of Benderloch belonged to the Campbells anyway it is easy to see how these two formerly distinct districts would be linked with Lorn, becoming in effect Upper Lorn.


What about the ‘third’ of Lorn? This is commonly associated with the grant made in 1470 by the Earl of Argyll to Campbell of Glenorchy but in fact the phrase is used much earlier than this. It may be helpful to rehearse some of the background.


In RRS V (393) of ?1321-2 Arthur Campbell is granted 23d in Benderloch. I calculate that Benderloch proper came to 70d or 140m and 23d is fractionally under a third of this. In the same document Arthur is also granted 27d in Lorn. This would be equivalent to 54m and is repeated in HP IV pp 17-18 of 1385-1425. I calculate the total of Lorn proper (not including the islands) to be 200d or 400m. One-third of this would be 66⅔d or 133⅓m which is substantially greater than Arthur’s holding. However we do not have exact details of the lands he held in relation to his office as Constable of Dunstaffnage (Robertson’s Index p 15 No 15 & p 14 No 124). Finally, RRS V (374) of 1329 notes that Arthur Campbell was also granted lands in Appin. Using the 1470 grant we can work out what these lands were likely to have been. They total 19m which is just under ⅓ of the total value of Appin which was 60m. These lands reappear in a charter by the Earl of Lennox (c. 1364) printed in HP IV p 16. This refers to a ⅓ of the lands of Gillaspik MacMarten, ⅓ of Lorn, a ⅓ of Benderloch and a ⅓ of ‘Rathnach’ (Rannoch – or possibly Appin?).


Casting forward to the lands which Argyll made over to Glenorchy in 1470 we can see that they total 134m 1s 1⅓d which represents ⅓ of 402¼m. But this 134m was very unequally distributed. More than half the value of the granted lands lay in Ardchattan and represented over half the value of Ardchattan itself. The lands in Appin are about right as ⅓ of Appin but the lands handed over in Lorn proper are nothing like ⅓ of the total for Lorn and do not seem to include ⅓ parts of any of the lands granted to Arthur Campbell in the 1320s. Arthur got 27d or 54m. In 1470 Argyll only gave away 22m 8s 10⅔d of lands in Lorn which is not even half the value of Arthur Campbell’s grant. The 1470 grant also included lands in Lismore.


How are we to resolve this conundrum? I do not claim to know exactly what happened but offer the following as a possible solution. The concept of a ‘third’ of Lorn is far older than the grant of 1470 and may well stretch back to the time of Arthur Campbell’s grants at the beginning of the fourteenth century. At that time the idea of Lorn may have been more tightly defined and only included the 400m of Lorn proper. By 1470 the idea of Lorn may have expanded to include Benderloch, Appin and Lismore. Argyll was constrained to give away ⅓ of the value of the ‘old Lorn’ which he did (the grant of 134m 1s 1⅓d is just over ⅓ of 400m). However the lands he actually gave away reflected the ‘new Lorn’ which he now controlled. He obviously preferred to lose a disproportionate amount of the northern section of this expanded Lorn and keep more of the southern section (which included the ‘old Lorn’) to himself. It was closer to the Campbell heartland and presumably therefore closer to his heart.


(There is a 2m Ardacharn in GD 112/2/9/1/1 of 1596-7 which is listed in Lorn but which is difficult to place with certainty. It may be a mistake for Achacharne (Glen Kinglass, Ardchattan) but the context doesn’t look right and it is difficult to be conclusive with only one reference).


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