History of Kintyre

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The Kintyre peninsula is situated on the dramatic Atlantic Seaboard of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands. It comprises a long arm of hilly country about 45 miles long and 8 miles wide and is the southernmost point of the county of Argyll. The name Kintyre comes from the Gaelic phrase ‘ceann-tire’ which translates into English as ‘headland’.

People have lived in Kintyre for many thousands of years and all have left their mark on the landscape in some way or other. The settling of primitive Mesolithic flint workers in the area began about 7000 B.C. The Neolithic Period (4000 B.C. - 2500 B.C.) brought farming to the fertile glens of Kintyre, the most enduring monuments of this age are the chambered cairns built for burying the dead.

One of the most visible remains of the Bronze Age (2500 B.C. - 500 B.C.) in Kintyre is standing stones. There are more than 30 with some dating back as far as 2500 B.C.

   Standing stone looking south, with the town of Beinn Ghuilean behind
           Standing stone looking south,with Campbeltown and
           Beinn Ghuilean behind
During the Iron Age (700 B.C. - A.D. 400), a violent period of history, Kintyre saw many hilltop forts built, some very large indeed. By A.D. 300, the first Gaelic speaking Irish folk were crossing the North Channel from Antrim to Kintyre. Around the year A.D. 258 and under the leadership of Cairbre a colony was established in Kintyre. Cairbre was known in Ireland as 'Righ fada', the tall king, and had already carved out a kingdom for himself in Antrim. This kingdom was called 'Dail Righ fhada' - pronounced Dalriada - which means 'portion of the tall king'. He also gave this name to the lands he won from the Picts in what is now Mid Argyll and Kintyre. Six generations later though, his descendants were forced to retreat back to Ireland.

In A.D. 498, three brothers named Lorn, Angus and Fergus, direct descendants of Cairbre arrived. Fergus, being the eldest and the leader of the three races took possession of the fruitful lands of South Kintyre. There are still names in this area that tell of his reign - Tirfergus for example translates to Fergus's land.

In A.D. 574 St. Columba sailed to Iona but first landed in Kintyre to pay his respects to Aidan, the current ruler of Dalriada. Aidan was the first king ever to be crowned and given a Christian blessing anywhere on the British Isles.

In A.D. 1098 under the Treaty of Tarbert, the Scottish king, Edgar, ceded to Magnus II of Norway 'all the land off the west coast round which a ship could sail'. The wily Magnus immediately ratified the treaty by having his boat pulled across the narrow isthmus at Tarbert while he stood at the tiller. Thus was Kintyre declared an island. Magnus and his followers were eventually driven from Kintyre and the isles by the famous Celtic warrior Somerled. Somerled is credited as founding the Cistercian Abbey of Saddell where there is an impressive collection of grave slabs showing medieval warriors and priests. Descendants of Somerled, the ‘Lords of the Isles’ controlled Kintyre and the Western Isles until the end of the 15th century.

In the early 16th century, King James IV, held a Parliament in Kintyre. King James V repaired the castle at Kilkerran and left in it a garrison to overawe McDonald of Kintyre. Before the King had sailed out of Campbeltown loch, McDonald and his followers took the castle by force and hung the governor from its walls. A policy of weak government followed, the lordship of Kintyre, then in possession of Sir James McDonald, was granted to the family of Argyle (Clan Campbell).

In AD 1638, the family Argyle declared itself for the Covenanters at the General Assembly and instantly set about raising an army for their defence. So completely were the estates of Argyle wasted by war that a sum of money was voted by the Estates of Parliament for the support of Argyle and his family.

Kintyre was left a desert; many of its inhabitants fled to Ireland, lowlanders, who had joined the standard of Argyle, were encouraged after the war, to settle. Others came from Ayrshire, cultivating Kintyre in a similar manner to the county.






Sleeping Warrior mountain (Goatfell) on Arran from Ugadale or Valley of owls (Viking) East Kintyre. Looking across Kilbrannan Sound, towards Arran with Ayrshire behind.

 This event is commemorated by two footprints carved into the rock above the medieval chapel at Southend. Aidan died in A.D. 605 and Dalriada seems to have come under the control of the Britons of Strathclyde for a long time. During this time Kintyre was the object of numerous Norse raids and as the seat of government was far removed from the peninsula these Norse raiders established their own settlements there. On the east side of Kintyre names like Smerby, Torrisdale, Uigle, Borgadale and Skipness remain as memorials to their occupation.

An old colour postcard of the Old Quay taken from the Victoria Hall
An old colour postcard of the Old Quay taken from the Victoria Hall

Industry - Prior to the 18th century, Kintyre was formed of small tenant farms, owned in the main by the Lordship of Argyle. The other main industry was fishing with 150 boats being based at Campbeltown harbour.  Whisky - with 25 distilleries being located in the town.     Emigration - Frequently Kintyre’s greatest export was people. Emigration to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand became the favoured option for those without employ. It is the case even today that the young have to move far a-field to obtain jobs.

Prawn Creels being fished off the coast of Kintyre with Paps of  Jura in the background

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