Ancient Times and the Celtic Church
The roots of the Church in Oban reach far back to long ago when Christianity arrived. People have lived in this part of Scotland for a very long time, at least 7,000-9,000 years, thousands of years before the Romans invaded Britain, a time that is often called the Stone Age, simply because people made things out of stone because metals, like iron and bronze, were yet to be invented. You might wonder why this is of importance to Christianity, but it is and we can look to the village of Kilmore to find out.
There is a wealth of archaeological evidence, meaning archaeologists have found things like tools, or the foundations of buildings, in Kilmore. This “evidence” tells us information about the people that lived here. Imagine what Kilmore might have been like thousands of years ago! The evidence suggests it was an important area and cairns have been found. Cairns are ancient burial chambers, where the people would bury their dead. It is a sign that the ancient people living here were part of an advanced civilization. The people who lived there at this time (about 3,500 years ago) would have likely been farmers and we know they had boats and were able to construct cairns and standing stones. Because Kilmore was already a very old settlement in 500AD (1500 years ago) the missionary St Bean, who came from Ireland to spread Christianity, decided it would be a good place for him to found a church. He would not want to have his church in a place with no people, or a place that was unimportant. He would have wished to reach many people and so older villages would have seemed like a suitable location. We don’t know very much about St Bean except that the old church in Kilmore, now a ruin, was dedicated to him.
The ruin of Kilmore church is over six hundred years old and so from a period we call medieval, although it is thought to be built upon the foundations of another church which is much, much older, perhaps even from around the time of St Bean himself, although nobody can be sure of this.
The graveyard at Kilmore Church is very interesting. It has many medieval graves with interesting carvings. It is not possible to read them as erosion from the wind and rain has made the letters too faint. The oldest gravestone possible to read is of a minister of Kilmore called James Campbell who was forty-seven years old when he died in 1756. You might assume the old church at Kilmore is a ruin because it is so old, but this is not the case, apparently in the 19th Century Victorian times the church was purposefully ruined to make it look romantic. Romantic ruins were very fashionable at the time!
Kilbride church (near Lerags) is also very old and was founded by another missionary, St Bride, in 525 AD. There was no church in Oban because up until around 200 years ago it was a very small village with a small population of fisherman. The people who lived there had to walk to Kilmore or Kilbride churches, a distance of around 4 miles and back again every Sunday. The graveyard at Kilbride is where traditionally, the chiefs of the Clan MacDougall were buried. It is still possible to read the gravestone of John MacDougall who had his land taken from him after the Jacobite rising of 1715, like the others who supported the risings.
Interestingly, Kilbride was also where a medieval school was situated, one of only about one hundred in the whole of Scotland at the time. Since King James IV introduced a law which meant all oldest sons of Scottish gentry (meaning families of the time with titles and land) had to attend school from the age of eight or nine it is likely that the sons of important people in Argyll would have gone to school there.
Into Victorian Era
The churches of Kilmore and Kilbride united in the early 17th century as the populations of both had declined due to more job opportunities in the growing town of Oban. Services were held in Kilmore church one Sunday and then Kilbride the next. Later, as the village of Oban grew in population the churches at Kilmore and Kilbride became very crowded. It was decided that a church be built in Oban to ease the pressure on the older churches, it took a long, long time before the church was built and so services would take place outside. Eventually, in 1821 ‘The Chapel of Ease’ was built where Glencruitten church is now. The people of Oban now had their own church and would not have to walk miles or stand out in the rain!
There is an interesting story about the bell of the chapel of Ease. Apparently it was made in Glasgow in 1786 and was supposed to go to Maryland, USA but the ship carrying the bell was wrecked near Mull and the bell was brought to Oban. It had a few former homes before coming to the church, it was used in the shipyard of Mr Stevenson and then later, it became the bell at Kilbride church where it was attached to a, presumably very large, tree, and rang to welcome the people to the service on Sunday. It was moved to Oban where it remained until the Chapel of Ease was demolished for the current church. Another interesting story is that in the church yard there was also a cutting from a willow tree that was taken from Napoleon’s grave on the remote island of St Helena by an Oban sailor.
The first minister in charge of the new church was a bit unfortunate for the people of Oban. It was a man called Rev. Alexander Beith who was an intolerant and difficult man to get along with. He did not think much of the Obanites and in his diary calls them ‘wicked, unbelieving ignorant men’. He complained of many things (such as getting a horse shoed on a Sunday) and offended many people. After being in Oban for two and a half years he quit and moved to Glasgow, interestingly he only stayed there for two and a half years before moving on once again. Perhaps he also found the Glaswegians to be wicked!
In 1843 there was a huge event in the history of the church, which is called the Disruption. About a third of all ministers walked out of the general assembly of the church in protest about political interference. In Oban, one of the ministers left along with many of the congregation. They formed the Free Church of Scotland and built a new church on the hill that is still used today. Also at this time in Oban the majority of people were Gaelic speaking and so church services were in Gaelic, as they had been for hundreds of years. However, this began to change and as the village of Oban grew much larger during Victorian times and more and more people were English speaking, the English speakers wanted the services to be in English. This led to the building of another new church for the English speaking congregation in Argyll Square. When the church was built in 1888, behind the memorial stone was placed a ‘time capsule’ containing copies of the Scotsman, The Herald and the three Oban newspapers of the time including The Oban Times as well as some coins from the time. The building was sold in the 1980’s and has now been converted into the tourist information office. However, it is hoped that the time capsule is still there!
The Second World War affected life in Oban and in the Church. You have probably heard of “black outs”, meaning everything had to be blacked out to prevent buildings being targets for the German planes. Thick black curtains were used on windows to not let any light escape and street lighting was not allowed. This meant that evening services in the churches had to take place in the afternoon so they wouldn’t be using the lights and also so people could see their way home. Without street lighting, lights from houses or a torch it would have been very dark and dangerous to walk home. This meant the only light was from the moon. Interestingly, the Women’s Guild used the church vestry for their meetings (it had blackout curtains) but only on moonlit nights so the women were able to see their way home. The Church hall was also used by the Red Cross and as a billet for soldiers.
Suil Air Ais (Looking Back)
1584 – Duncan Danson, minister of Kilbride
1608 – Nicol MacCalman, minister of Kilmore
1610 – Union of Kilmore and Kilbride under Nicol MacCalman
1651 – Synod of Argyll ordered new kirk at Oban to replace the Kirks of Kilmore and Kildride, and called the Kirk of Oban. (Not built!)
1780 – First school in Oban in Glenshellach Terrace
1803 – John Patience, minister appointed to Oban
1843 – Disruption – Free Church of Scotland breaks away. Archibald Bannatyne, minister of Oban Old, became first Free Church minister of the Free High.
1835 Associate Synod of Secession Church – Tweeddale Street. Later became United Presbyterian, Oban. In 1900 renamed Dunollie Road United Free.
1874 – St. Columba’s Church opened as a mission church of Oban Old.
1880 – St. Columba gains full status.
1895 – Argyll Square Church disjoined from Free High.
1900 – Union of Free Church of Scotland and United Presbyterian Church. Now Argyll Square and Dunollie Road are both United Free (UF)
1929 – Union of United Free Church and Church of Scotland. Now four C of S in Oban. (plus two other Presbyterian churches)
1949 – Union of Argyll Square and St. Columba (latter building closed)
1957 – Dunollie Road Church moves into new building on Corran Esplanade and renamed Christ Church.
1967 – Union of Kilmore Church and Old Parish Church and named; Kilmore and Kilbride: Old Oban
1984 – Three congregations St Columba Argyll Square, Kilmore and Kilbride: Old Oban, and Christ Church unite as one congregation and return to the old parish boundaries of 1584. Now known as Kilmore and Oban.
Corran Esplanade Church (formerly Christ Church) closed for worship on Sunday 20th October 2013. This was caused by significant renovations costs being foreseen on a building owned outside the congregation by the Miss Ann McCaig Trust. Further, the building had no hall facilities. Therefore it was decided to concentrate worship, within the town, on one site as Oban Parish Church lies beside the modern Church Centre. It was also decided to return the name of Glencruitten Road Church to Oban Parish Church.
We now worship in two buildings. Weekly worship is held in Oban Parish Church. Monthly services are held in Kilmore Kirk.
Argyll Square Church closed at the union in 1984 and for many years was the Tourist Information Centre. Now empty due to subsidence.
St. Columba Church, closed in 1949, is now the shop premises of Scottish Hydro.
The old Dunollie Road Church was used for a number of years as a church hall, before in the 1980’s being converted into office and retail units.
(The above information came from Rev John McLeod )Ministers of Kilmore and Kilbride
The church at Kilmore and the church at Kilbride were united at the beginning of the 17th century. Kilbride was dedicated to St. Bride and originally belonged to the Abbey of Kilwinning, Ayrshire. After the reformation the ecclesiastical court of the district was named the Presbytery of Kilmore. Kilmore – Cill Mhor – in Gaelic the ‘big church’ was the seat of Presbytery for many years.
In 1584 Duncan Denson was minister of Kilbride, and Nicol McCalman was vicar in Kilmore in 1608. In 1610 he was listed as commissioner to the General Assembly as minister of Kilbride. After the two parishes were united Nicol McCalman succeeded Ewen Cameron, who was admitted to Kilmore in 1629.
Ministers’ List of Kilmore and Kilbride
- 1638 Nicol McCalman
- 1666 Alexander Campbell
- 1699 Martin McLauchlan
- 1700 Daniel Campbell
- 1736 James Campbell
- 1757 Patrick Macdonald
- 1809 Hugh Fraser
- 1819 Peter MacIntyre
- 1835 Dugald Campbell
- 1869 Peter McKercher
- 1887 Lachlan McLachlan
- 1891 John W. Macgregor
- 192? George MacKenzie
- Archie Anderson
- John A Macdonald
- 1952 Ian Carmichael
Ministers’ List of Oban Parish
- 1803 John Patience
- 1807 Hugh Fraser
- 1822 Alexander Beith
- 1832 Alexander Mackenzie
- 1842 Archibald Bannantyne
- 1846 John MacIsaac
- 1849 Alexander Stewart
- 1850 Donald Campbell
- 1852 Duncan McInnes
- 1857 Peter McKercher
- 1869 James MacDonald
- 1878 John Smith
- 1891 Alexander Duff
- 1922 Hector Cameron
- 1933 Alexander Murray
- 1937 William Macdonald
Kilmore and Kilbride: Oban
- 1967 John MacLeod
Kilmore and Oban
- 1983 Andrew Campbell
- 2007 Dugald Cameron
LISTED BUILDINGS: COMBIE STREET, OBAN OLD PARISH CHURCH WITH WALL, GATES AND PIERS (CHURCH OF SCOTLAND)
Alexander Shairp, 1893, Romanesque church. Rectangular plan with projecting tower and spire at N end, entrance porches to either side, circular windows in N gable behind. Bull-faced, squared and snecked grey granite walls with yellow ashlar spire, dressings and details. TOWER: 3-stage with octagonal ashlar spire dentilled at base, topped with weathervane. Lower stage, slit windows with datestone and string course below 2-light round-arched lancet in round-arched panel. Flanking porches, round-arched doorways, timber, 2-leaf doors with ornate iron hinges. Shafts at corners with pyramidal pinnacles, dentilled at base. Middle stage, single round arched lancet on N, W and E faces. Upper stage on battered, saw-tooth coped course, each face with 2-light louvered windows, circular decoration above. Stone stair to gallery within tower. NAVE: 6-bay hall, round-arched lancets, with dividing saw-tooth coped buttresses. 3-light round-arched lancet in south gable wall, with 3-flue stack at apex. Shafts at N corners with pyramidal pinnacles, dentilled at base. Session room and offices to S gable, double gable with M-roof behind. INTERIOR: galleried, pitch pine pews with umbrella stands. Panelled gallery across N end of hall, supported on cast-iron columns, with shell motif capitals. Vertical timber wainscoting. Organ by Ingram & Co. of Edinburgh. Octagonal pulpit with blind arcading centred in south wall with matching pitch pine doors to either side, leading to session room and office. Marble font circa 1908. Ceiling coved along E and W walls behind curved timber struts on decorative stone corbels, iron ventilation grilles. Centre window of W wall stained glass, depicting life of Christ, S window, 3 stained glass windows set in round headed arch, hood mould over with floral corbels. Nave and tower windows square leaded lights with coloured glass. Office and session room windows sash and case with leaded glazing. Grey slated roof with terracotta ridges and skew copes to hall and offices. Ventilator plinths at main roof ridge. GRAVEYARD WALLS, GATES AND PIERS: Graveyard walls of rubble, concrete cope, lowered on west side of church with modern railing on top. Wrought-iron gates with plain, capped piers of black granite. Graveyard contains a variety of headstones including 2 pink granite celtic crosses (late 19th century) and a low cast-iron grave marker with vine leaf decoration 1861. Pink granite obelisk of 1909.
Statement of Special Interest
Replacement for "Chapel of Ease" (1822) and built on the same site, hence earlier gravestones. Existing boundary walls, iron gates and gate-piers appear in a photograph of the old building, suggesting they are contemporary with it. Dean of Guild Court plans record an application by Alexander Shairp in 1893 for Oban Parish Church, Combie Street, for the Trustees of Oban Parish Church.
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