Also known by its Gaelic name Kilcolmkill, St Columba's Chapel is popularly believed to be associated with the nearby landing of St Columba and 12 of his followers at the start of his exile from Ireland in 563.
It seems no coincidence that the chapel stands immediately to the east of a rock outcrop which for centuries carried a footprint believed to have been associated with St Columba's arrival here (and which, since 1856, has also carried a second carved footprint).
It is known that St Columba did land in Kintyre in 563, but as his exile was meant to place him beyond view of his homeland, it is likely that his stay was a short one. It also seems probably that rather than landing at Keil Point, home to his footprints and chapel, he landed at the fortress of the Kingdom of Dalriada at Dunaverty, a mile or so to the east, and itself probably the explanation of the carved footprint(s) that have since been associated with St Columba.
There seems little doubt, however, that those who built a chapel here and dedicated it to St Columba firmly believed they were doing so on a site on which he had already worshipped, and in the shadow (literally, in evening light) of the rocky outcrop carrying his footprint.
St Columba's Chapel is today almost totally engulfed by ivy, which makes it extremely difficult to see even the barest outlines of its walls. Nonetheless, the east end is thought to have been built at the end of the 1200s and may well have been built on the site of an earlier church - though perhaps only a century or two earlier rather than reaching back to Columba's time. The west end of the chapel seems to have been built in the 1400s or 1500s. The east gable has been consolidated and rebuilt in fairly modern times, resulting in the loss of a double lancet window.
Access to the chapel is via the only obvious opening in the walls that survives today, under a low stoop into a partly buried doorway or window. This raises an interesting question about the relative levels of the buried base of the entrance and of the gravestones inside the chapel. Setting this aside, outstanding slabs within the chapel include one bearing the incised effigy of a knight, and another with the relatively common motif of a large sword. They are both believed to have been carved at Saddell Abbey in the 1300s or 1400s. Many others have been worn away to total obscurity. The west end of the chapel contains a fenced-off enclosure, almost lost under the ivy.
None of the gravestones on view outside the chapel seem nearly as old as some of those within it, but a number are very interesting nonetheless. These include one with a carving of a plough. Outside the east end of the chapel is a grave partially surrounded by rusting railings. This is the grave of Ranald MacDonald, believed to be one of a very small number of survivors from the 1647 massacre at Dunaverty Castle. Ranald was the infant son of the Royalist leader Sir Alexander MacDonald, and as the siege was pressed home his nurse, Flora MacCambridge smuggled him out wrapped in a Campbell tartan to evade suspicion by the besieging soldiers, many of whom were Campbells. The subterfuge worked, and Ranald MacDonald survived into adulthood.
Visitor InformationView Location on Map
Grid Ref: NR 673 077