Kilconquhar is a very pretty village standing off the main routes to and through the East Neuk of Fife, a mile inland from Elie & Earlsferry and immediately to the north of Kilconquhar Loch. You can read the full text of the chapter about Kilconquhar in D Hay Fleming's 1886 book: Guide to the East Neuk of Fife.
Today's Kilconquhar is dominated by the imposing Kilconquhar Parish Church which stands in its raised churchyard at the west end of the village's main street. This is fitting, because it seems that the name and the origin of Kilconquhar both relate to the church. Placenames beginning "Kil" are usually associated with very early churches, and the name of Kilconquhar probably comes from the Gaelic Cill Conchubair meaning the church of Conquhar or Connacher.
The theory is that an early Christian missionary of Irish origin established a chapel here, perhaps in the 600s, which over the centuries developed into the church known to have been bestowed on the convent in North Berwick in 1200. This may seem an odd association, but nearby Earlsferry was for centuries linked to North Berwick by a ferry. On this basis the origins of Kilconquhar could easily date back fourteen centuries. The church you see today dates back to 1821.
One oddity about the name is its local pronunciation, which ties in closely with the written name the village was known by in the 1600s, "Kinneuchar". This remains in the name of the Kinneuchar Inn, opposite the church, which seems to have fairly early origins beneath a structure that owes much to the 1700s. It is interesting to speculate that the modern pronunciation of the name of the village is less an actual pronunciation than a retention of an alternative name, ignoring the written alternative altogether.
Given the ancient origins of Kilconquhar, the building of Kilconquhar Castle on a site half a mile to the north east in the late 1500s was a relatively recent development. In the 1830s it was turned into a baronial mansion by the architect William Burn. The castle was badly damaged by fire in 1979, and in recent years has been developed into the centre of a self catering resort.
Although Kilconquhar has effectively been built along the north shore of Kilconquhar Loch, it comes as a surprise to find that the loch is virtually inaccessible, even almost invisible, from the village. The sign outside the Kinneuchar Inn suggests the loch was once used for curling in winter, and these days it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is also an oddly difficult stretch of water to discover much about.
Apparently fed by fresh water springs, some sources say Kilconquhar Loch is ancient, others that it has only existed for the last few centuries. Once source says it drained west into Largo Bay until a storm in 1625 blocked its outflow (which is when another says the loch was formed), and that it has since drained south to Elie. Another source says it has no inflows or outflows at all. The Ordnance Survey map suggests it drains to the east, into the Inverie Burn, which in turn enters the sea next to St Monans Church.
The loch also features in an alternative version of the origin of the name of Kilconquhar. Some suggest the name comes from the Gaelic Cill Ceaun Iuchair, meaning the church at the head of the loch. Others, perhaps inevitably, disagree.
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