The ruin of St Bride's Kirk stands on a mound in the grounds of the magnificent Blair Castle, a little to the north east of the castle itself. There is an admission charge to the castle grounds and gardens and full information about opening hours and admission prices can be found on our Blair Castle feature page.
The structure you see today probably dates back to a major reconstruction of an existing church following the Reformation in 1560. However, St Bride's origins probably go back much earlier. The church stands on top of the sort of mound typical of very early religious sites, and the dedication to St Bride (also sometimes known as St Bridgit) suggests that a succession of earlier churches may have stood here, perhaps dating back into the dark ages.
And if there wasn't already a church here at the time, one was built to serve the nearby Cumming's Tower. The tower was built in 1269 and still stands at the core of the repeatedly enlarged Blair Castle.
St Bride's Kirk first entered the written record in 1275 when it contributed tithes or taxes of 32 shillings to help fund the crusades. In 1475, Angus Óg, the son of John MacDonald II, Lord of the Isles, attacked Blair Castle. The Earl and the Countess sought refuge in the church, but were taken prisoner by Angus, who in the process badly damaged the building.
While sailing back to Islay, Angus's ship was nearly lost in a severe storm, something he interpreted as divine retribution for what he had done to the church. According to legend he immediately returned to Blair Atholl and paid for the church to be repaired in order to square his account with the Almighty.
The suggestion that the church was rebuilt after the Reformation is supported both by its style and by the mounting, in 1579, of the arms of the 4th Stewart Earl of Atholl and his wife on the outside wall of the church: the sort of thing you might expect to accompany the completion of a new church paid for by the Earl.
On 27 July 1689 the Battle of Killiecrankie took place some two miles south east of Blair Atholl. It was the defining moment in the first Jacobite uprising. The Jacobites, under their charismatic leader John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee, won the day, but at the cost of the death of Dundee, mortally wounded as he led a charge. Without Viscount Dundee the 1689 Jacobite uprising rapidly failed. Dundee himself was buried three days later in the vault at St Bride's Kirk. The vault was opened a century later and his armour was removed and sold to tinkers, though later recovered. Viscount Dundee's breastplate is now on display in Blair Castle, and a plaque on the inside of the south wall of the church records his interment below.
St Bride's served the village now known as Old Blair. This stood on the line of the traditional main route north which crossed the River Tilt over a bridge some way upstream of its replacement, built in 1823. The new bridge meant that the line of his accompanying new road along Glen Garry was to the south of Blair Castle rather than to its north as before. The result was the effective relocation of the village of Blair Atholl to its current location from Old Blair, where it was rebuilt as an estate village around a new church. St Bride's simply fell into disuse. It became the mausoleum for the family of the Dukes of Atholl, and a family burial ground was established nearby. The ruin is now maintained by the Atholl Estates.