HISTORY OF KILLEAN
The little village of Killean was built beside one of the earliest churches in Scotland dating from the 12th Century and now home to a famed collection of early carved monuments and gravestones. ‘The monuments of the western seaboard’ describes the church as “notable for a 12th Century nave and 13th Century chancel, with the remains of a decorated window. It was patronised by Rurai, grandson of Somerled in about 1222 and granted to the bishop of Argyll in 1243”. It contains numerous early carved burial stones. On the estate, there are also the remains of a Pictish fort, which is listed by Historic Scotland as a designated ancient monument, with numerous stones with mysterious cup ring carvings, as well as the remains of standing stones and burial chambers.
Kintyre in the Iron Ages <500 AD
Little is known of the early inhabitants of Kintyre, except they were Pictish – indigenous Celtic tribes who populated the northern half of Britain. By the late 200s AD, when history first became aware of them, the Picts (named by the Romans from the word ‘Picti’ meaning painted ones) were already a force to be reckoned with, overrunning the northern frontier of the Roman empire on more than one occasion. Except for the artistry of their beautiful but unexplained carved symbol stones, almost all trace of the Picts was buried, lost to memory. Killean Estate has the remains of a Pictish fort, which is listed by Historic Scotland as a designated ancient monument, as well as numerous stones with mysterious cup ring carvings, standing stones and burial chambers.
The Beacharra Standing Stone is the highest in Kintyre and can easily be seen against the southern skyline from Drumnamucklach. It is known locally as “the flagstone of the giant” due to the grave which lies beneath it. 120yds SW of the stone are the remains of another stone fort.
Irish Celtic Influences 500 – 858 AD
Early history is linked to the kingdom of Dalriata. Dal Riata were the people who came from Ireland (the same people were referred to as the Scotti). After battles with the Picts, they were initially forced to return to Ulster but they returned to Kintyre in AD503 and became the founders of the kingdom of the Scots. Their greatest King was Aedan, the first king of Dal Riata to be consecrated on Iona by St. Columba. Through intermarriage with the Picts he established the ultimate nucleus of Scotland. He was succeeded by Kenneth MacAlpin who was recognised as king of all Scotland, ruling from AD843 to AD858. He was Pictish on his mother's side and carried the royal line of Gabran from his father.
Viking Invasions - Late 8th Century
Kintyre, after the removal of Kenneth MacAlpin, soon became prey to the Vikings. From the late eighth century the western coast was frequently raided by the Vikings. The most significant legacy that the Vikings brought was their longboats, giving to the Scots their first lessons in seamanship. It was about this time that the fort, still visible today was built at Carradale Point.
Tarbert means "drawboat" in Norse and referred to a place where Vikings dragged their boats across land on rollers from one sea to another. In 1093, King Malcolm of Scotland and King Magnus Barelegs of Norway agreed the Western Isles were to belong to Norway and the mainland to Scotland. An island was defined as anything a Viking ship could sail around, so Magnus proclaimed Kintyre an island by having his dragon ship dragged across the 1.6km (1 mile) of dry land from West Loch Tarbert on the Atlantic to East Loch Tarbert on Loch Fyne. Viking towns were built of wood and thatch, perishable materials that do not survive like stone so nothing remains.
A new Gaelic aristocracy began to emerge in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Somerled, Ri Airir Gaidheal, Ruler of the coastland of the Gael, was a descendant of Godfraidh mac Fergus, Lord of the Hebrides, who died in A.D 853. The family of Somerled had always been associated with the Scottish Dal Riata. There are many stories of how he drove the Norse from the western shores of what is now Argyll. Saddell Abbey is reputed to be the burial place of Somerled. He founded the Abbey but was killed in 1164 before the Abbey was completed. The Abbey was finished by his son soon after 1200. It became a major stone carving school and the Abbey today shows some examples of their work.
Somerled took control of Kintyre (and much of the West Coast) from the Vikings and held it for several generations, founding Clan MacDonald, Macruari and Alisdair (Macalistair) in the process until 1493 AD when due to increasing conflict with the Scottish Crown, the power of the Lordship was finally broken.
The little village of Killean was built beside one of the earliest churches in Scotland dating from the 12th Century. Despite falling to the ground in 1770, it is home to a famed collection of early carved monuments and gravestones. It was patronised by Rurai, grandson of Somerled in about 1222 and granted to the bishop of Argyll in 1243”. It contains numerous early carved burial stones, and the vault still stands containing most notably the remains of some clan MacDonald ancestors.
The workers of Killean’s lands
It is thought the name Killean derives from St Killian, an Irish missionary Bishop. The land of Killean & Kilkenzie was primarily used for sheep, hogs, bear and cattle, as well as potatoes, oats, peas and beans. An old mill at Killean can be traced back to the early 1700’s. This was built onto the rockface and continually dripped water which left the earthen floor permanently wet thus ruining both the grain and processed products stored. The local millers of the time in 1789 petitioned to the Duke of Argyll to build a new mill, which was cut into the hills above Killean. A grinding stone still lies to this day. There is also an old mill stone outside the entrance to Killean House which was discovered during excavations in 1984. At the time of the petition, 191 people resided at Killean and made a living on the old lands of Auchaloiskin and Drumnamucklach. Now, 200 years later it is less than 20.
The Blue family were renowned millers in the area and operated the mills at Killean and Tayinloan (amongst others) throughout the 18th & 19th centuries. A number were also weavers. Many members of the family emigrated to Ontario Canada in the mid 1800’s and a notable descendant is the former President Ronald Reagan!! Other notable (though perhaps not so famous) families farming at Killean were the McMillan family (circa 1851) and the McKinven family from 1849-1900 who lived and farmed at Drumnamucklach.
Emigration from Kintyre was rife in 1730 due to high rents and oppression. The Jacobite rebellion of 1745 calmed this and for a while these were less troubled times. However, the population in 1801 was 2520 reducing to 2401 in 1841 which is commonly attributed to the suppression of smuggling.
A wealthy benefactor
In 1873, a wealthy far eastern entrepreneur bought both the Killean and Tangy estates. James MacAlister Hall, was born in Campbeltown, but like many of its residents travelled far and wide to make his fortune. He followed his good friend Robert MacKenzie to India in 1847. Robert had founded the British-India Steam Navigation Company with William Mackinnon (both were from Campbeltown). This company later became what is now P&O. After a successful career in the Far East, both James and William returned to Kintyre, William buying nearby Balinakill House. In 1894, James succeeded William upon his death as Chairman of the fleet and stayed in the post until the following year after ill health forced him to resign.
The original house of Killean stood on the site of the Garden House. Most of the building was destroyed by a fire in 1875 during the finishing touches of refurbishment (now THAT’s bad luck!) and only the billiards room wing and the impressive wooden porch built by well-known Clyde shipbuilders survived. Taking a disastrous situation in hand, the ‘colourful’ Macalister-Hall commissioned the leading Scottish Architect of the day to design a spectacular new mansion house.
Killean House is re-built
Killean House as it is now was designed by John Burnet Snr in 1876, however the design was revised by his son, Sir John James Burnet in 1877-78 and the building was completed in the 1880’s, with the lower south wing in 1907. The surviving wooden porch was re-sited on the front of the new building. The Billiards room now forms the basis of the Garden House.
J J Burnet (1857–1938) was a Scottish Edwardian architect who was noted for a number of prominent buildings in Glasgow and London. He trained in Paris and upon qualification toured France and Italy to further his understanding of Baroque architecture. "Burnet Baroque" was a highly influential force in British modern architecture in the 20th Century; their competitors quickly assimilated the new vogue for Neo-Baroque and by 1900 it was the common language of Glasgow building. In 1896 the Burnets visited the USA, and Burnet was greatly inspired by American architecture. He began to design a number of low-profile buildings with broad eaves, which you’ll find to be the familiar ‘Arts & Crafts’ style in which the Dolls Houses and Gate Lodge are built.
MacAlister Hall also generously founded Campbeltown Museum and Library in 1898 and once again employed JJ Burnet to design the building. He was rewarded with the Freedom of the Burgh in 1899, a distinction only bestowed twice before – to the Duke of Argyll in 1840 and the Marquess of Lorne in 1868.
In 1904, MacAlister Hall died and being unmarried, left no heir. The Estates of Tangy and Killean passed to his brother Stuart who married but again bore no heir so upon his death, the estates passed to a nephew James (Hamish) Hall, son of Allan MacAlister Hall. In 1940, the death of Mrs MacAlister Hall (widow of Hamish) whose only child had perished in infancy meant the inevitable break-up of the Tangy and Killean Estates. Tangy passed to Hamish’s sister Miss Grace MacAlister Hall who resided in a small part, the rest being broken up. Killean Estate was sold. However, other notable Kintyre estates remain strongholds in the Macalistair family. James’s brother Peter rented nearby Torrisdale Casltle in the 1860’s, his son purchasing it sometime later and it remains in the family to this day. The House and visitor centre at Glenbarr is also a family home of the Macalistairs.
Many of the buildings on Killean Estate are listed by Historic Scotland as of architectural and historical importance. The Main House was listed on 28 August 1980 and was upgraded to category A on 27th April 1992. Its Historic Scotland Building ID number is 12005.
The current owner bought the estate in 2016 and are endeavouring to maintain and restore the estate and its farms in the style and manner in which it is intended to be.