Monday, December 18, 2017

St. Conan’s Kirk

Rather than just drive directly back to our hotel in North Ballachulish, we decided to take a ‘circle route’ following A85 east until we came to A82 which we would follow back to Scotland’s west coast…

Our route took us through the Pass of Brander.  That mountain photographed by Laurie from our car is probably Ben Cruachan. (Height 3,689 feet)


·         The Battle of the Pass of Brander (ca. 1308) was part of the wider struggle known as the Wars of Scottish Independence as well as a significant part of the civil war between the Bruce and the Balliol factions.  In this battle, King Robert the Bruce defeated the MacDougalls of Argyll.

We were startled to see a stop light in the countryside along the A85 roadway at this narrow bridge.  The usual approach to a bridge like this puts you at your own risk, but this one had a nasty curve ahead…and probably had a history of accidents. 

We were just cruising along the road when the ladies spotted this church and I was commanded to stop!  They wanted to explore the possibilities… This is St. Conan’s Kirk.  As it turned out, their impulse to stop was very well founded!

We liked the ancient look of the church… This structure is part of the Church of Scotland and it’s located in the parish of Loch Awe, Argyll and Bute.  It was established as a ‘chapel of ease’ by the Campbells of Innis Chonan. 


·         FYI, a ‘chapel of ease’ is a church building other than the parish church that is built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who can’t easily reach the parish church.

·         Innis Chonan is an island in Loch Awe that is connected to the mainland by a bridge.  Walter Douglas Campbell built a summer home on the island anhd another structure (The Tower of Conan) in a local village appropriately named Lochawe.   

The Kirk of St. Conan is yet another structure that was designed and built by Walter Douglas Campbell between 1881 and 1886.   This self-made architect combined a number of church styles, ranging from ancient Roman to Norman.  It was built from local stone…

Despite the fact that the church was originally completed in 1886, in its present form, this ‘new’ church was dedicated for worship as recently as 1930. 

One of the oldest objects that has been incorporated in the structure is an old window that came from St. Mary’s Church, the South Leith Parish Church in Edinburgh.  That particular church was built in 1483!  

While the north side of the church where we entered is relatively simple and straightforward, the south side overlooking Loch Awe is very elaborate.

When Walter Douglas Campbell built his mansion on the Island of Innischonain, he settled there with his sister Helen and his mother.  Tradition holds that the elderly Mrs. Campbell found the drive to the parish church in Dalmally was just too much for her.  Accordingly her son decided to build the church for her.  His first design, completed in 1886, was fairly simple, but he dreamt of a more striking structure.  He started work on this ‘upgrade’ in 1907 and continued with the project until he died in 1914. 

Laurie posed on the church’s terrace against the back drop of beautiful Loch Awe. 

The area is full of historic sites.  The Innistrynich promontory on the other side of the Loch is the site of an ancient monastery.  A nearby island was the stronghold of the MacNaughtons and Innishail, another island, served as a burial ground for hundreds of years.  Of course, the Campbell’s family island, Innischonain, is also nearby. 

Laurie took this photo of me against the complex portion of the structure facing the Loch side of the church. 

When Walter Campbell died in 1914, work on St. Conan’s Kirk had to be suspended during World War I.  As soon as it was possible, his sister Helen continued to ensure that Walter’s plans were executed.  When she died in 1927, their trustees completed the project…hence the dedication in 1930.

So who was St. Conan?  He is the patron saint of Lome and allegedly lived in Glenorchy.  He was a disciple of Columba, and like him, St. Conan came from Ireland.  As a young man he was chosen to tutor the 2 sons of the King of Scotland.  He eventually rose to be a Bishop.  Many legends surround this historical religious figure.

Like many churches in the United Kingdom and Scotland, it also serves as a tomb for important persons.  Below St. Conval chapel in the church is a vault that contains the remains of Walter Campbell and his sister, Helen.  The carved figure on the tomb is that of Walter Campbell himself. 

St. Bride’s Chapel in another section of the church contains the tomb of the Fourth Lord Blythswood, who helped carry on the work on the structure after Walter and his sister had died. 

We were startled to note that the church was open to passerby’s…with no one present, at least that we saw, to keep an eye on things.  There was no admission charge but there was a donation receptacle.  

Apparently church services do take place here on special occasions as do other key events.  A Christmas Tree Festival took place December 1, 2 and 3rd, with a church service on the 3rd.

FYI…The heavy oak beams in the cloister are believed to have been salvaged from the then recently scrapped wooden battleships, HMS Caledonia and the HMS Duke of Wellington.  

These ‘stalls’ seen at the left in the chancel in the previous photo were carved from Spanish chestnut and they display the full coats of arms, complete with crests and badges, of the chiefs who in the old days, held land in the area.  In this photo, 2 appear to be missing…or out for restoration.

In general, the detail and symbolic touches incorporated in St. Conan’s Kirk go on and on.  To mention a few, they include gargoyles, a carved Norman archway, elaborate wrought iron gates for the various chapels, an oak communion table plus the font which was carved in the image of a fishing boat. 

One more tomb… This is the Bruce Chapel.  It was built to honor the memory of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland.  This memorial tomb contains a fragment of bone that is rumored to have come from the King himself.  (Note the insert display below the carved image where the bone is displayed) 

Laurie and Bonnie were both delighted to discover this memorial…as the family has traced their lineage back many centuries and Robert the Bruce is a many times removed great grandfather…

Here is a close-up of the handsome and regal carved face of Robert the Bruce.  The presence of the Bruce Chapel owes its origin to the fact that it was on the hillside above the kirk that King Robert launched his famous outflanking column under the Earl of Douglas, resulting in the decisive defeat of John of Lorne and his clansmen in the Pass of Brander. 

Robert the Bruce was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329.  He was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England.  He was successful during his reign in regaining Scotland’s place as an independent country.  Today he is revered as a national hero.

To learn more about Robert the Bruce and his family history, you can go to

To find out much more about St. Conan’s Kirk, its history, events, tours, etc., go to

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a tour and history lesson!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. Pretty impressive church, especially the sanctuary. The Scots have sure spent a lot of time at war over the centuries.

  2. Wow---what an awesome church... I'm glad that the ladies saw that one... What a beauty!!!! Some of the genealogists researching my family say that Robert the Bruce could be one of my ancestors... I am a Bruce (my middle name is BRUCE for the family name) on my mother's side of the family --and I have studied much of the Bruce history.... It's not definite about Robert the Bruce --but a definite possibility... I think he was kind-of a scoundrel though!!!!!! ha

    Merry Christmas.

  3. Love those old European churches, great architecture and this one is pretty regal!