The western part of Islay is well known for the Kilchoman whisky distillery, which started production in 2006, and the beautiful Machir Bay, or locally known as Kilchoman Beach or Machrie Beach. Further to the north-west lies Saligo Bay, another gem on Islay's west coast, backed by Loch Gorm, Islay's largest fresh water loch and a great place to catch brown trout.
An area often overseen by visitors, as most head straight for Machir Bay, is the settlement of Kilchoman where you can find a few cottages, Kilchoman House, some holiday cottages and most importantly the now ruined Kilchoman Parish Church, Kilchoman Cross and the Kilchoman Military Cemetery. The entrance to this area can be found by following the main road and turn left before the coast guard cottages as you reach Machir Bay.
The Kilchoman parish church was built in 1827 and back then served a rather large community compared to nowadays. Depopulation and clearances emptied the area and only few inhabitants remained, mostly in farms. The majority of the people in Kilchoman Parish live nowadays in Port Charlotte, Bruichladdich and Portnahaven and St. Kiaran's church has taken over the role of Kilchoman Church . The last service in Kilchoman church was held in 1977 after which it gradually deteriorated and sadly became the ruin it is today.
From a historical point of view this area is very interesting as there was a medieval church built in the same location as the now ruined Kilchoman Church and before that an even earlier christian chapel was located on this site. Furthermore, the entire graveyard holds a wealth of graveslabs and crosses, such as Kilchoman Cross, from as early as the 1300s.
One of the gems in this graveyard is Kilchoman Cross which dates back to around the 1300s when the medieval church was built. The beautiful and very detailed Kilchoman Cross, carved in Iona style, measures 8 feet 4 inches in height, and with the exception of the inscription it is in a very perfect state of preservation, though the design is in places obscured by lichen. The cross has a striking similarity with the great cross at Oronsay Priory albeit that the Kilchoman Cross has more complicated scroll-work.
Robert C Graham wrote in his book Carved Stones of Islay about Kilchoman Cross: "Beginning with the east face we find on the circular head a representation of the crucifixion. The upper part of the cross-head is filled with plaited scroll-work, in each of the arms is the figure of an angel, while to the right and left of the crucified Saviour are four figures in the attitude of adoration. The upper figure on the right is winged and below it is a fragment of scroll-work like that at the top. Below this group and at the top of the shaft are two figures in a niche, and they have probably some connection with the inscription immediately below them. The same arrangement of niche and lettering is to be seen of the Campbeltown Cross with which this has many points of similarity. The reverse of the Kilchoman Cross head is singularly rich and the combination of bands more elaborate than is generally to be met with. "
Outside the graveyard between the church and the military cemetery there's a small cross slab which is believed to be a sanctuary stone which could have marked a sanctuary. In total two sanctuary stones have been identified near the Kilchoman Church. The still standing one is, according to the Inventory of Monuments in Argyll (vol. 5), 330m SW of the Church and marked on the Ordnance Survey maps. The second stone, according to the Inventory, lay beside a track on a hillside 380m ESE of the church and this stone can be found in the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte. The presence of these stones support the theory of the early christian chapel on the site.
This burial ground, which can be accessed through a gate next to the white washed cottage before you reach the ruined Kilchoman Church, lies around half a mile to the west from the church and is the last resting place of some of the victims of the sinking of HMS Otranto which sunk on the 6th October 1918.
The Kilchoman Military Cemetery contains 74 graves; 71 from the Otranto (of whom 43 remain unidentified) and 3 other casualties brought from elsewhere. The grave slabs are all similar except the one of Captain Ernest George Davidson, the captain of H.M.S. Otranto, which stands out from the rest. Shortly after the sinking of the Otranto the remains of American Troops were buried here as well but their bodies were later repatriated or reburied in the American military cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey. The large memorial cross overlooks Machir Bay in the west, the very place where the tragedy with the Otranto took place. The American Monument on The Mull of Oa is a memorial to the victims of the sinking of the Tuscania and Otranto, erected by the American Red Cross in 1920.
Kilchoman Military Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. For more info visit http://cwgc.org