The village of Southend lies in the centre of the southern end of the Kintyre peninsula. Ten miles by road from Campbeltown, the village itself has a small collection of local services set amongst the extremely attractive and historical fascinating scenery of southern Kintyre.
The name "Southend" may only date back to the creation of a parish covering the southern end of Kintyre in 1845, with the small village that formed at its core taking the name of the parish: but the story of what we now call Southend goes back much, much further.
Traces of duns, or fortified farmsteads, of chambered cairns and of hillforts in southern Kintyre show that the area was well known to our prehistoric ancestors, and they certainly stayed for periods in the Keil Caves beneath Keil Point.
What we now call Southend first enters recorded history, however, in early 563, when St Columba and 12 followers landed nearby at the start of his exile from Ireland. On top of a rocky outcrop at Keil Point, a mile or so west of Southend, are St Columba's Footprints. Immediately to the east of the outcrop carrying the footprints is St Columba's Chapel, while in the hillside nearby is a rock-cut well known as St Columba's Well.
Close to the village of Southend is Dunaverty Bay. This is a beautiful sandy beach curving round to the oddly-shaped Dunaverty Point. Today this is a peaceful spot, A small caravan park stands on the low cliffs overlooking the west end of the bay, while the east end of the bay is home to a stone boathouse and to a lifeboat station which was operational between 1869 and 1930. Dunaverty Golf Club, founded in 1889, occupies much of the ground between the village and the bay.
It is certainly not obvious today, but for over a thousand years the outcrop of Dunaverty Head was fortified. The earliest evidence of this dates back to the 500s, when Dunaverty was an important stronghold of the Kingdom of Dalriada: presumably Columba's initial destination when coming to Argyll. A later notable visitor to Dunaverty Castle was Robert the Bruce, who stayed here in 1306 while on the run from Edward I of England. Over the following centuries it was often the scene of conflict as the competing interests of the Scottish Crown, the Norse, the Lords of the Isles, individual clans and even the English ebbed and flowed around Kintyre.
But Dunaverty Castle is best known for the event in 1647 that has led to the outcrop on which it stood being called "Bloody Rock". During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (see our Historical Timeline) a Scottish Covenanter army under the command of Major-General David Leslie, supporting the English Parliamentarians, pursued a Royalist force under the command of Sir Alexander MacDonald down the length of Kintyre. The Royalists sought refuge in Dunaverty Castle, and after a siege were defeated by the Covenanters. Those of the defenders not killed in the immediate action were then executed by Leslie's forces. In all, some 300 people, mainly MacDonalds and MacDougalls, were killed. Their bodies were later interred in a mass grave today marked by a cottage-like stone tomb standing in a field just to the south of the village of Southend. Dunaverty Castle itself was dismantled in 1685 after being held against the King by the Earl of Argyll during an abortive uprising.
Between Dunaverty and Keil, the modern visitor's attention is attracted by two large ruined buildings, standing fairly close together. The most obvious is the white shell of the Keil Hotel, completed in 1939, just in time to be requisitioned to serve as a military hospital. It opened as a hotel after the war, but closed in 1992, and since then has stood empty. Nearby are a series of stone walls that suggest another grand building. These are all that remain of Keil House. Completed in 1875, this enormous Tudor mansion later became the Kintyre Technical College. A serious fire in February 1924 left only the ruins you see today.
Six miles west of Southend is the Mull of Kintyre. This was for two centuries best known as the location of a lighthouse completed in 1788. More recently it has also been remembered as the site of the tragedy that occurred on 2 June 1994 when an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed killing all 29 passengers and crew on board. You reach the Mull of Kintyre along one of the most marginal and challenging single track roads in Scotland. Cars have to be left at the top of the vertiginous 1,100ft final descent to the lighthouse, and you proceed from there on foot. About a third of the way down, rough tracks off to the right of the lighthouse access road lead to the memorial marking the site of the 1994 crash.
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