Kilnave Chapel & Cross

Kilnave from the road

The historic Kilnave Chapel and Cross are a ‘secret’ feature of Loch Gruinart; they’re almost invisible from the road and therefore often overlooked. Most visitors to Loch Gruinart end up at the RSPB visitor centre, the bird hide or on the east shore where there are beautiful walks up to Killinallan Point and beyond to Rhuvaal.

The west side of Loch Gruinart isn’t very different. Here, between the RSPB visitor centre and Ardnave Farm you’ll find Kilnave Chapel and Cross, a few hundred metres from the road, close to the shore. ‘Kilnave’ comes from the Gaelic ‘Naomh’, which means saint or holy. The chapel at Kilnave was built around late 1300s or the early 1400s and belonged to the parish of Kilchoman.

Kilnave Chapel

Kilnave Chapel

The ruined Kilnave Chapel measures nearly nine metres by just over four metres, with walls well over half a metre thick. The door at the west end is round-headed and very low. Its arch is constructed of thin slabs of whinstone and is furnished with a long bolt-hole common to Highland churches: a strong wood beam was pulled completely across the door on the inside, while a sufficient length of the beam remained in the hole to keep it horizontal.

The church is lit by a small round-headed window at the east end and by a smaller one in the south wall near the altar. You’ll discover traces of the foundations of the altar and one sculptured gravestone in the churchyard.

Kilnave Cross

Kilnave Cross

Another important feature is Kilnave Cross, a beautiful standing cross at the west end of the church.

This cross is carved on one side only and very little remains; indeed, you'll need very good light to decipher what is left. However, the cross resembles one at the 11th century Kiells Chapel near the village of Tayvallich, in Knapdale, west Highlands of Scotland.

Battle of Traigh Ghruineard

It’s hard to imagine when you stroll though the grounds of the silent, tranquil chapel that a horrible tragedy took place here.

The battle of Traigh Ghruineard (Gruinart) was fought in 1598. It was the last big Clan battle on the Isle of Islay, between Sir Lachlan Mor MacLean, the 14th Chief of Duart and his nephew Sir James MacDonald of Islay.

They fought over possession of the Rinns of Islay which Lachlan Mor claimed was the dowry given to his wife in 1566 by her brother Angus MacDonald, chief of Clan Donald South, the most powerful branch of Clann Dhomhnuill.

When the battle was nearly over, 30 MacLeans sought sanctuary in Kilnave Chapel. Rushing inside they bolted the door and waited fearfully, hoping that the MacDonalds would respect holy ground. Sadly, the men were half mad with grief and anger at the thought that their chief had been killed. Lusting for vengeance they set fire to the roof. All inside died except  one man, a Mac Mhuirich (Currie) who climbed through a hole in the roof when the burning thatch collapsed.

In 2012 the Islay Gaelic Choir set three poems about the battle to music and gave the first performance at Loch Gruinart.