Just south of Oban, close to the shore of Loch Feochan, is a small ruined church called Kilmore. It’s easy to pass it by, because it lies on a minor road that winds its way up the glens; in fact, we only discovered it by chance, several years ago.
At Kilmore, there are no information notices telling you its age and history – the only clues are natural ones. Map lichen is painting blotches of silvery grey on the grave stones, engulfing any inscriptions that might have survived the weather. Ivy is engulfing the roofless church, and it’s very likely that pipits and wagtails are nesting in its walls.
The first record of a church here is in the 14th century, although the present structure, according to the RCAHMS, probably dates from the 1500s. The church was dedicated to St Bean (also known as Baithene, Ban and Bain); an Irish missionary, he is believed to have been a cousin of St Columba and an abbot of Iona.
In the 17th century the parish of Kilmore was united with that of nearby Kilbride, and the church underwent some alteration. Further improvements were made in the mid-1800s, but after that the building fell prey to the Victorians’ passion for Gothic-style ruins: in 1876 the roof was dismantled and part of the east gable was removed, in order to make it look more ‘romantic’. I find it hard to believe that such a thing was allowed to happen to a sacred building, and such an ancient one at that. It’s not as if derelict places were in short supply, especially following the Clearances!
Canmore, the RCAHMS database, tells us that:
“The most notable feature of the interior is a large tomb recess, of late medieval date, at the east end of the south wall… A bird-cage belfry was added to the west gable, probably in the 18th century, but although entire in 1900, this has now disappeared.”
Five medieval incised stones can be found in the churchyard, although any inscriptions are now illegible. In the face of the west wall is a monument to James Campbell, a minister who died in 1756. I’m not sure what he would have made of the premeditated attack on his church, but at least now he is undisturbed. On a warm day, with the scent of gorse drifting across on the wind, you can imagine the small congregation coming to pray here – and then you can shut the gate and leave them in peace.
Photos copyright © Colin Woolf