Muckairn / Killespick-Kyril / Kilespickerill Parish Church

Muckairn New Church, interior, looking west

Summary description

The east gable wall and adjacent lengths of the south and north walls of this church stand within the graveyard of the present parish church, a short way to its south. They are now so heavily swathed in ivy that it is only with difficulty that surviving features can be made out.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Kerald

The dedication of this church suggests that it may have been established at an early date but there is no recorded history for church or parish before the mid fourteenth century. It is probable, as Ian Cowan suggested, that the church was retained in the hands of the bishops of Dunkeld when the western portion of their sprawling diocese was detatched c.1189 to form the diocese of Argyll.(1) The omission of the church from Bagimond’s Roll might indicate that it had been annexed to the episcopal mensa from an early date. The ‘church of St Kerald, bishop and confessor’, is first recorded in a charter of December 1355.(2) In 1436, a vicarage perpetual which had evidently been in existence for a long time is first recorded.(3) A vicarage, whether perpetual or pensionary is unspecified, still served the cure in 1527.(4)


1. Cowan, Parishes, 102.

2. Highland Papers, ii, 142 and n. 3.

3. CSSR, iv, no 322.

4. RSS, i, no 3705.

Architectural description

It has been suggested that the present church was built only a short time before the Reformation, and that its predecessor was at Kilmaronag in the west part of the parish. While the former point appears acceptable on the architectural evidence, the latter is perhaps less likely, since an account of the area thought to be datable to around 1630 and reprinted in Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections, stated that ‘there is one church in that Countrie which is called Killespick Kerrell’. The parish was united with Ardchattan in 1637. A new church was built in 1829 following legislation to provide additional churches in the Highlands, and the parish was reconstituted by the Court of Teinds in 1846.

The church of 1829 is a rectangular structure with a vestry at its east end. It was built for General Campbell of Lochnell and is a variant on one of the standard designs for the parliamentary churches by Thomas Telford.

A short way to its south, and within the same graveyard, are the remains of the medieval church, which is unfortunately now so heavily swathed in ivy that it is difficult to make out many of its features. Its width from north to south is 7.6 metres, with walls of about 1 metre in thickness, but its length from east to west is unknown. Although one account says that there was a window in the east wall, there is now no visible evidence of this. A chamfered intake at the base of the gable points to the likelihood of a late medieval date of construction. Internally, at the south end of the east wall, there is a small square aumbry with no rebates for a door frame. Immediately adjacent to that aumbry, in the south wall, is the splayed jamb of a window embrasure, but the ivy growth makes it difficult to determine the form and likely date of the window. There is another splayed embrasure jamb at the broken west end of the wall. Between those two windows is a recess that is bridged by a segmental arch. Since this appears too small to have been intended as sedilia, it may have been a credence recess; there is also the possibility that it was a tomb recess. Traces of a higher opening to the west of this recess have been interpreted as the doorway to a post-medieval loft; an alternative interpretation might be that it was a window lighting a rood loft, but, again, the dense ivy growth does not permit anything approaching certainty.

Built into the south wall of the modern church are two carved fragments that are likely to have come from the medieval church. One, towards the east end of the south wall, is a crudely carved head; the other, towards the west end of the south wall, is a sheela-na-gig, which seems to be a rather curious choice for retention in the earlier nineteenth century.


Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow, no 322.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 102.

Highland Papers, 1914-34, ed. J.R.N. Macphail, (Scottish History Society), ii (1916), 142 and n. 3.

Mackinlay, J.M., 1914, Ancient church dedications in Scotland, non-scriptural dedications, Edinburgh, 409.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, vii (Argyll), 512.

Origines Parochiales Scotiae, 1851-5, ed. C. Innes, J.B. Brichan et al., (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, ii, 132.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore database.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1975, Inventory of Argyll, ii, Edinburgh, 163.



Click on any thumbnail to open the image gallery and slideshow.

  • 1. Muckairn New Church, interior, looking west

  • 2. Muckairn New Church, interior, looking east

  • 3. Muckairn New Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Muckairn New Church, exterior, from north west

  • 5. Muckairn New Church, exterior, re-set sheela-na-gig

  • 6. Muckairn New Church, exterior, re-set head

  • 7. Muckairn Old Church, east wall, aumbry

  • 8. Muckairn Old Church, interior, east wall

  • 9. Muckairn Old Church, exterior, south wall

  • 10. Muckairn Old Church, exterior, east wall