Kilmorie Chapel, Cowal
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Celtic cross
Kilmorie Chapel is the roofless ruin of a 15th-century chapel, one of the few remaining medieval ecclesiastical remains in the west of Scotland. The chapel stands on the south bank of the River Strathlachlan where it empties into Loch Fyne, 450m south-west of Castle Lachlan.
The chapel was the traditional burial place for the Chiefs of Clan Maclachlan, among them Marjorie Maclachlan, the only female chief. The Machlachan burial aisle may have been added to the medieval church in 1592 when King James VI reaffirmed the grant of the church patronage to Lachlan Maclachlan.
There seems to be some dispute over the chapel's dedication. It is sometimes referred to as Cill Maelrubhai (Maelrubha's Church') and sometimes as Cill Moire (Mary's Church). Maelrubha (AD 642-722) was a missionary saint, born in Ireland, who travelled widely across western Scotland from his base at Applecross. Many early Christian churches were dedicated to him, and he undoubtedly founded several of them personally.
Did St Maelrubha establish Kilmorie Chapel?
There is no tradition that I'm aware of to that effect, but the fact that the church may have been dedicated to him is suggestive. The burial ground that surrounds the chapel is roughly circular, which usually suggests an ancient origin, but the official record, as reported by Canmore, the National Record of the Historic Environment, states that there is no evidence to suggest an early Christian site beyond the shape of the burial ground.
The earliest written record of a church comes in 1543. That church was abandoned in 1792 when a new parish church was built at Garbhallt, to the north-east. The medieval building may have been pulled down so that stones could be reused to build the new churchyard wall.
The chapel we see today formed only part of a much larger church, the partial foundations of which can still be traced on the ground, to the west of the chapel.The chapel measures roughly 15m long and 8m wide, and is laid out on an east-west axis. The east wall is up to 1m thick.
The restored ruins consist of a rectangular building surviving to full wall height, with intact east and west gable ends. The east gable end formed part of the larger medieval church. Outside the east gable end is a freestanding medieval cross in Celtic style. The top of the cross head has broken off, but the lower part of the head and the cross shaft are intact. A piece of the cross is preserved in the 'new' 18th-century parish church at Garbhallt.
Near the road is an ancient well, known as Tobar Cille Moire (the well of Mary’s Church), said to be a holy well.
Visitors are free to explore the burial ground, but the chapel interior is locked because of its use as the Maclachlan family mausoleum. That said, I was able to get a very good view of the interior, including a beautifully carved floriated grave slab of apparent medieval date.
Marble tablets commemorating members of Clan Machlachan are set into the east wall. Close to the mausoleum door is the grave of Marjorie Machlachan, the 24th Chief of Clan Machlachan, who died in 1996.
There are two interpretation panels to explain the site and its history. One panel stands at the roadside and the other at the burial ground entrance.
The chapel was in a very poor state of decay until the early 21st century when the Lachlan Trust raised over £100,000 to restore the medieval building. A footpath leads from Kilmorie Chapel towards Old Castle Lachlan.
This is a beautifully peaceful place, and the location near Loch Fyne is simply stunning.
Kilmorie Chapel is on the B8000 about 4.5km from its junction with the A886. There is a parking area a stone's throw south-west of the chapel.
About Kilmorie Chapel, Cowal
Address: B8000, Garbhallt, Cowal, Argyll and Bute, Scotland
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the B8000 south of Garbhallt, a short distance from Old Castle Lachlan.
Website: Kilmorie Chapel, Cowal
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Old Castle Lachlan - 0.4 miles (Castle)
Crarae Garden - 2 miles (Garden)
Auchindrain Open Air Museum - 5 miles (Museum)
Kilmodan Sculptured Stones - 5.7 miles (Historic Church)
Kilmichael Glassary Cup and Ring Marks - 9.6 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Inveraray Jail - 9.8 miles (Museum)
Inveraray Maritime Museum - 9.8 miles (Museum)
Achnabreck Cup and Ring Marks - 9.9 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Nearest Holiday Cottages to Kilmorie Chapel, Cowal:
Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from Kilmorie Chapel. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.