The Mad Gang Go To Where Saint Columba Trod

Keil Point is situated between Carskey Bay and Dunaverty Bay on the south coast of the Kintyre Peninsula, about a mile west of the village of Southend. It was here that the Scotis, a Gaelic speaking Irish tribe, landed in about 300 A.D. to begin their gradual conquest of the part of mainland Britain now known as Scotland. It is also where Saint Columba first set foot on Scottish soil in the year 563.

At the bottom of the cliffs at Keil Point are several caves, with names such as the Great Cave, the Piper’s Cave and the Hermit’s Retreat. These caves were occupied for centuries. Roman pottery was found here, which is rare in Scotland, and the discovery of empty whisky bottles alongside other signs of habitation indicate that they were still lived in up until the nineteenth century.

On a rise slightly to the east of the caves are a pair of footprints carved into the rock. One of these prints was carved by a local stonemason in the nineteenth century, but the other is ancient. It is thought that the print may have been used in the coronation of kings in the ancient kingdom of Dalriada. There is another similar footprint at Dunadd in the Kilmartin Glen; it may have been that ceremonies were held in several locations to affirm the position of the King.

Nearby is an ancient well and a graveyard which contains the ruins of the thirteenth-century Chapel of Saint Columba which replaced an earlier church building founded by Columba himself.

To the east of the cemetery lie the ruins of Keil House which was commissioned by the Glasgow merchant, James Nicol Fleming, and completed in 1865. The completed house was said to have had more windows than Buckingham Palace, so two windows were blocked to reduce their number in deference to the monarch.

In 1915, the house was acquired by the Mackinnon Macneil Trust and it became the Kintyre Technical School. The trust’s mandate was to “provide a decent education to deserving Highland lads.” Sadly, the house was destroyed by fire in 1924. Although the building was insured, the cover was insufficient to allow the house to be restored, so the school had to seek an alternate home.

Looming above the ruins of Keil House is the empty and dilapidated Keil Hotel. It is an imposing five-storey Art Deco building attributed to James Austin Laird. The original owner is believed to have been Captain James Taylor, who was to see his new hotel requisitioned almost immediately by the Navy in 1939. After the war, the hotel reopened around 1947. During its heyday, the hotel guaranteed its guests “sunshine or £10 off your bill.” Unfortunately, the good times were not to last and by 1990 the business had collapsed. The proprietors ripped out the plumbing and electrics and sold them off, leaving gaping holes in the walls and ceilings. There are plans to renovate the building.

Dunaverty Beach is a beautiful stretch of firm sand that our two dogs thoroughly enjoyed running about on. At its eastern tip is Dunaverty Rock. Although nothing remains today, Dunaverty was once the site of an important castle, as is evidenced by visits from King Haakon of Norway, Robert the Bruce and James IV. In 1647 it was the site of a shameful massacre. The royalist forces holding the castle succumbed to siege from the Covenanters’ army, led by General David Leslie. When they surrendered, the covenanters opted to kill all three hundred of them on the instruction of their chaplain.

To the south-east, a mile or so offshore, lies the island of Sanda and its small neighbour, Sheep Island.

Sanda Island is known for the ruins of a chapel built by Saint Ninian, for its Celtic crosses and its reputed holy well. It is said that the saint was buried here, and indeed, the island was in possession of the Priory of Whithorn in Galloway until the Reformation. It is said that Ninian’s grave was marked by an alder tree and that whoever stepped on it would die.

In the Middle Ages, there was some association with the Bruce family, notably, Robert the Bruce and his brother Edward. Robert was once forced to flee there, en route to Ireland after being pursued by the English navy. Rathlin Island, which is where he was said to have seen the legendary spider in the cave, is less than fifteen miles away.

The island has had a number of different owners in its history, including, in 1969, Jack Bruce of the rock group Cream. Presently it is owned by a Swiss millionaire who refuses to allow anyone to land on the island.


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