Kilnaughton Chapel stands just above the shore of the west side of Kilnaughton Bay, on the far side of which is the village of Port Ellen. It is reached via the minor road that passes through the surviving buildings of Port Ellen Distillery. At the far end of the bay, where the road sets off to climb into the sparsely populated interior of The Oa, you take a left, pass a modern cemetery, and find the churchyard surrounding Kilnaughton Chapel on your left.
Kilnaughton Chapel is also known as St Nechtan's Chapel, Cill Neachdain or Mechtan's Church, and was dedicated to St Nechtan. What visitors find today is a roofless oblong stone building, probably built in the 1400s. The simple shape of the chapel is given added interest by the later addition of two stone burial enclosures against its north wall.
As you approach the chapel from its south side it gives the impression of having very low surviving walls. This is the result of the exterior level in the burial ground being raised over the centuries, leaving this side of the chapel almost sunk into the surrounding churchyard.
The burial ground at Kilnaughton is fascinating in its own right. There are many recumbent grave slabs whose inscriptions or carvings are no longer visible, but which appear to date back to the early centuries of the chapel's life. One that is still legible is dedicated to "D MCL" (a MacLean?), who died in 1694. Other visible dates include 1684, 1725 and 1733. A number of the legible stones still carry crests, some belonging to the Campbell family of Askomil.
Slightly more modern memorials include a poignant broken column made from red sandstone. This was placed here by James McKerrell of Port Ellen and his wife Ann Campbell in memory of their 26 year old son George, who died on 9 April 1868.
Another interesting inscription is not about anyone interred in the churchyard, but rather about the wall surrounding it. Not far from the gate is a plaque set in the wall carrying an inscription which reads: "At the proposal of Alexander MacDougall, Distiller Ardbeg, this burying ground has been Enclosed by Subscription Under the Inspection of Duncan MacCuaig, Inkeeper, Port Ellen, June 1852."
The chief joy of Kilnaughton Chapel is reserved for those who explore the interior. You enter by stepping down from a low point in the south wall, not far from the west gable. The interior is packed with standing and recumbent gravestones, by small enclosures surrounded by rusting railings, and by vegetation.
But anyone making their way through to the east gable is in for a surprise. Here, lying against the interior of the south wall, is a grave slab carrying a deep effigy of a knight in armour. His left hand is holding the hilt of a large sheathed sword. Hovering above the knight's left shoulder is a small figure in robes, possibly an indication that the knight's wife is also buried here. This style of grave slab was popular across the West Highlands in the 1300s and 1400s. This one is known locally as "The Warrior's Grave", and long-standing local legend has it that the water that permanently fills the crook of his left arm is a cure for warts.
There are a number of other interesting memorials in the chapel's interior, along with the trace of a window in the east gable and what appears to be a blocked up doorway in the north wall.