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Kilmore Parish Church, Dervaig

The following notes were taken, with kind permission, from Hilary Peel’s book A History of Kilmore Church, 2004.  Many thanks. 

The original church of Kilmore was built in 1755 and, as there is no complete description of it in the records, it is not known exactly what it looked like.  It replaced the nearby Old Parish Church of Kilcolmkill and is believed to have been very similar to the present church of Kilninian, which was built at the same time.

Kilmore Parish Church

Kilmore Parish Church

Records show that it was built from local stone and harled on the outside, with a small bell-cot at one end.  There were two privately-owned galleries inside and at least one outside staircase. There was no fixed seating to begin with and is believed to have accommodate 319 people – people sat on the floor or brought their own stools.  The pulpit was in the centre of the church with a long communion table in front.  About 70 years later a small vestry was added, and a porch was built exactly 100 years after the church was first built.

Building a new church during the 18th century was an exceptional event, especially as it had a tiled roof, small belfry and the luxury of windows, but only 20 years later the building required extensive repairs to roof, walls, windows and doors. 

In Hilary Peel’s book she writes how ‘in the early 1770s presbytery meetings were mainly devoted to matters of morality……… cases of fornication, drunkenness, brawling, Sabbath breaking and fighting appeared with monotonous regularity, interspersed with occasional more serious cases involving incest or murder’.  The incumbent at the time, Rev. Archibald MacArthur (buried in Cill an Ailean), was so concerned that he gave out notices during the services threatening ‘dire consequences for wrong doers – even possible excommunication’.

Click on images to enlarge 

Kilmore cross

Kilmore cross

Church interior

Church interior

The alter

The altar

The pencil tower

The pencil tower

The tower

The tower

By 1818 the church was once again in a bad state of repair. Money was found and the work done, although ten years later more work was needed, as it was again in 1841.  In 1875 major works began on the church and, as well as repairing the outside, the inside was reorganised to make it more comfortable. 

In 1890 Rev. Robert Munro became the new minister and, by the early part of the 20th century, Kilmore church was once again in a bad state of repair.  In 1902 Munro wrote to the heritors (landowners) saying ‘In stormy weather rain comes in freely.  Slates cannot be fixed because the sarking is rotten and will not hold nails’.  It was time for a new church to be built.

Peter Macgregor Chalmers, an architect, was appointed to examine the church and he found it unfit for public worship.  Plans were submitted for a new church at a cost £1200, funding coming partly from the congregation and friends and from the heritors.  At a meeting of ten heritors in the Bellachroy Inn early in 1904, Rev. Munro stressed that ‘.. a quaint, simple, ornate church with a tower, built on a beautiful and prominent site (such as the present fabric is built upon) would add immensely to the attractiveness of the district’. 

Donald Fletcher from Tobermory was engaged as the contractor and by September 1904 the new church was well underway.  Services were held in the public school next door while the church was being built.

Finally the first Divine Service was held on 23 April 1905 and the Dedication on Sunday 18 June.  On 24 June 1905 a brief description of the church was recorded by the Oban Times: 

‘The church is in the early Norman style, built from Mull whinstone obtained from the Mornish quarry.  It has a nave with four windows on one side, five on the other and one each side of the slightly tapering tower which is 63 feet [19.20 m] high and has a vestry underneath it. At the other end is an apse lighted by two small lancet windows.  Inside, the simplicity of the nave contrasts well with the richly coloured apse.  The roof is of pine and the communion table and pulpit harmonise perfectly with the interior.  The two lancet windows are filled with memorial glass and there are three memorial windows in the nave.  The effect is highly devotional and the church is probably the most beautiful of its size in the Highlands.’

The rounded tower, a simple pencil shape, is now an unusual sight, although a few still remain in Ireland.  A bell weighing about 600 lbs (272.15 kg) and nearly 14 inches (35.56 cm) in diameter hangs in the tower.  It is probably late 19th century and was cast by a bell foundry in Glasgow. 

The seven distinctive stained glass windows were designed and executed by Stephen Adam, a noted Victorian stained glass artist.  Stephen had close links with Mull.  His second wife came from the island they were married in Kilmore church in November 1887 – this would have been in the former church.  The windows were installed between 1905 and 1910 and each one is dedicated to the memory of a local person. 

window1 window2
window3 window4 window5

It is not known who designed or painted the ‘richly coloured aspe’, but it was possibly the architect, Peter Chalmers, and was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement.  It is said to have caused the long-standing precentor to call it ‘ungodly’ and he consequently resigned. Sometime later an organ was introduced into the church, although there were still precentors. Electricity was installed in 1952. 

The Kilmore Cross found inside the church is 14th to 15th century and of the Iona school. Consisting of two parts, over 1.5 m in height, it was formerly in the grave yard of Kilcolmkill Church, but disappeared some time after April 1964.  The larger fragment was found by the road-side near Skipnes, Kintyre in 1974, but the smaller fragment has never been found.  It is said to have been on the grave of John Campbell and was known as ‘grissly lad’.  Campbell was a notable athlete and swordsman in the 15th century.  During the 19th century the cross was on the grave of a descendent of John Campbell, Alexander Munn.  The remaining part of the cross shows a crucifix roughly carved with figures of St Mary and St John on either side, and the heads of two dragons below, which develop into intertwined plant-scrolls.  At the foot is a pair of shears and the back of the cross is decorated entirely with plant-scrolls resembling those on the front. 

There are two War Memorial tablets inside the church.  Twenty-one men are listed for World War I and two for World War II. 

The church has been blessed with many gifts including the font, reading desk, and various communion vessels.  The pulpit, communion table and font are made from light polished oak in a plain finish. 

Nearly a hundred years after the church was first built a massive restoration programme began and was completed in 2004.  A service of Rededication then took place on 22 August 2004. 

The church is open everyday.  Service on Sundays at 2.00 pm 

For more information see: Peel, H M, A History of Kilmore Church, 2004

Grid Reference NM 436 518