Bane, bone and stone

St John’s Church, Killean, Kintyre

This is a graveyard well worth visiting, because of the view of the Sound of Gigha, because of the abundance of beautiful old headstones and because this is an ancient place of worship, established 800 years ago in 1222. A few years later Alexander II gave it to the bishopric of Argyll.

@nme Nellie Merthe Erkenbach Graveyards of Scotland
St John’s Church, Killean, Kintyre

the stones of St John’s

“The remains of the former parish church of Killean, dedicated to St John and first on record about 1222. The church continued in use until it was finally abandoned as insecure in 1770, when a new church was built at A’ Chleit (NR 6812 4178). The greater part of the building is roofless. () Few alterations appear to have been made to the church in post-Reformation times and the structure seems to have remained fairly entire, although roofless, for at least half a century after its abandonment for public worship. Subsequently the fabric was subjected to quarrying.“ (Canmore)

There are, however, more stones of interest in the graveyard and there is much to learn from the inscriptions on the headstones about life in the past in this rural area of Kintyre (Argyll and Bute), where mostly farmers were laid to rest.

the burial-vault of Clan Ranald Bane

Blocked-off from public access is the burial-vault of the MacDonalds of Largie in what used to be one of the early parts of the ecclesiastical building.

“Early in the 13th century this church was extended eastwards by the addition of a chancel, the entire area of the original building thereafter being utilised as a nave. A second addition was made in the later Middle Ages, probably during the course of the 15th century, by the erection of an aisle on the N side of the chancel. () Deterioration seems to have been halted about the middle of the 19th century, perhaps as a result of the intervention of the MacDonalds of Largie, who maintained the N aisle as a family burial- vault.” (Canmore)

Small windows allow little light and only restricted view of what’s inside: ancient headstones taken from the graveyard into the damp, dark shelter of the vault.

“An Early Christian cross from the site is now in Campbeltown Museum; there are several medieval tombstones set in the north aisle of the church, and several interesting later stones in the churchyard. Three of the medieval stones are illustrated here: the first has a fine sword to one side of the slab with two stems on the other; the inscription which is in Lombardic capitals reads ‘John, Son of Ewan, had this stone made for himself and for his father’. The animal ornament below the inscription contains an unusual collection of beasts: a salmon is being chased by an otter, followed by a stag pursued by hounds. The stone belongs to the Kintyre School and dates to the 15th century. The second stone, of similar date, is a good example of balanced foliaceous patterning round a sheathed sword. The third slab is a beautifully carved example of a fully-armed knight: he has a pointed bascinet (helmet), protective mail covers his shoulder and neck and he wears a long sword with belt fastenings and a ribbed tunic. The stone belongs to the Iona School and is of 14th-15th century date.” (

The MacDonalds of Largie are also known as Clan Ranald Bane, the founder being Ranald Bane MacDonald, a son of Iain Mhoir Tanistear Mic Dhòmhnaill, who was given the land around Largie from his brother, Donald, chief of the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg. The clan’s main seat, Largie Castle, was destroyed in the Battle of Rhunahaorine Moss.

bones in the fields

From Ranald Bane and stones to the bones that were found in close proximity to the graveyard, dug up in the fields surrounding the old church and the graveyard.

“Local authorities in 1869 believed that the burial ground had extended to the opposite side of the burn, since many human bones had been found during cultivation.” (Canmore)

remains of St John’s church, the burial-vault to the left

Liked the read? Scotland for Quiet Moments is available on Amazon!

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. 

Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.

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