Following in the footsteps of kings, saints and Viking
Little is known of the early inhabitants of
Kintyre, except they were Pictish . 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
In AD503, the Dal Riata returned under the conduct of the three
sons of Erc; Lorn, Angus and Fergus, who became the founders
of the kingdom of the Scots. When the country was divided up,
Islay was handed to Angus. On the mainland, Lorn took the northern
portion while Fergus took Kintyre and Argyll. Lorn died a short
time later and Fergus added his brother’s territory to
his own, becoming sole monarch of Dalriata.
Fergus died in AD506, and when he died the kingship was passed
on to his son Domangart and from there to Domangart's two sons,
firstly Comgall, who like his father appears to have ruled during
peaceful times. Gabran took up the kingship after Comgall and
his reign was a little less peaceful with battles with the Picts.
By this time there were four distinct areas of the Dal Riata.
These four areas now covered all of Argyll, Kintyre and the Inner
Hebrides. Gabran was succeeded by nephew Conall who gave Colum
Cille (St. Columba) the island of Iona.
The next king was Aedan, son of Gabran, succeeding his uncle
Conall. Aedan was the first king of Dal Riata to be consecrated
on Iona by St. Columba,
It is Aedan who is credited with being
the greatest king of Dal Riata. 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 Alpin.
Kintyre, after the removal of Kenneth, 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.
Against this background we find a new Gaelic aristocracy beginning
to emerge in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Enter Somerled,
Ri Airir Gaidheal, Ruler of the coastland of the Gael. Somerled
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's ancestral lands were those of Lorn in Argyll, and
the isles of Mull, Coll and Tiree. He took control of Kintyre,
the Isle of Arran and much of the rest of the West Coast from
the Vikings. His eldest son Dugall, founder of Clan Dugall, inherited
the ancestral lands. Somerled had two other sons, Angus and Reginald,
by the daughter of the Norse king of Man. Reginald had two sons,
Donald, founder of Clan Donald, and Ruairi. Clan Donald held
Kintyre, Morvern, Ardnamurchan and Islay, while Clan Ruairi ruled
over the area from Knoydart to Moidart along with the islands
of Eigg and Rhum.
Clan Ruairi's lands were brought under Clan Donald's control
with the marriage of John of Islay, of Clan Donald, with Amie,
heiress of Clan Ruairi. The political influence of Clan Donald
was strengthened when John subsequently divorced Amie to marry
Margaret, daughter of the heir to the throne of Scotland. By
the time of his death in AD1387, John the 'Lord of the Isles'
controlled Argyll and the whole of the Hebrides.
John's son Donald was the second Lord of the Isles. His son,
Alexander, the third Lord of the Isles, was eventually recognised
as the Earl of Ross after AD1438. However, the expansion of Clan
Donald's powers and territories brought them into increasing
conflict with the Scottish Crown. The Highlanders had become
a law unto themselves, with the Lordship acting as a kingdom
within a kingdom. In AD1493 by the time of John, the fourth,
and last, Lord of the Isles, the power of the Lordship was finally
In the early 16th century, King James IV held a Parliament in
Kintyre. In AD1536, King James V found it necessary to make a
voyage to the Western lands and he repaired the castle at Kilkerran,
just outside Campbeltown and left in it a garrison to intimidate
McDonald of Kintyre. Before the King had sailed out of Campbeltown
loch, McDonald and his followers took the castle by force and
hung the governor from its walls!