A. I. B. Stewart.

       All true Campbeltonians have a special place in their hearts for the Cross. Whether this arises from its focus as the centre of the community to which all able bodied citizens repaired in earlier days to welcome the New Year or whether it is as a vestigial symbol of an old religious need to which we all pay respect on our last journey to Kilkerran no one can say, but the affection of the ordinary citizen for the Cross is equalled only by his ignorance of its detailed appearance and of its history.

     The Cross stood in Main Street at its junction with Kirk Street and Cross Street from at least 1680 till 1939, when it was removed for safety reasons, being re-erected after the Second World War its present site at the Old Quay Head.

     The inscription in Lombardic lettering is as follows: -




"This is the cross of Master Ivor MacEachern sometime Parson of Kilkecan and Master Andrew, his son, Parson of Kilcoman, who caused this cross to be made."

     The following description is taken from the "monumental" masterpiece of Drs. K. A.Steer and J. W. M. Bannerman (1).

"The most celebrated of the Mainland crosses of Argyll is the Campbeltown Cross. Carved from a single slab of bluish-green schist, it measures 3.3 metres in height and has a disc-head 0.81 metres in diameter. The stepped base is modern. After the Reformation the cross was mutilated by the erasure of the Crucifix together with two other figures (probably representations of the clerics named in the inscription), but the rest of the decoration is in a remarkable good state of preservation. On the front of the disc-head, below the arms of the rood, are St. Mary and St. John, while above are two other saints. A figure of St. Michael slaying the dragon occupies the left arm of the cross, but the other two arms contain only foliage. The lower of the two erased effigies on the shaft was set in a niche under a cusped arch, and was flanked by a missal and a chalice which still survive. Beneath this niche there is an inscription in raised Lombardic capitals, and then a foliaceous pattern terminating in two beasts, one of which is a griffin. On the back of the cross a mermaid and a sea-monster occupy the upper arm of the head, while there is a pair of animals in each of the side arms. The disc itself is filled with a foliated cross, and the foliage continues down the shaft, incorporating a square of plaitwork near the centre and ending in two more pairs of animals. The edges of the shaft are ornamented with plant-scrolls of slightly differing designs. Although Kintyre had its own school of carving in the later Middle Ages, probably based on Saddell Abbey, it does not seem to have come into existence before about 1425. However, this may be, there can be no doubt that the tradition that the Campbeltown Cross was carved on Iona is correct. The type of foliated cross on the back of the head was not used elsewhere than on Iona before 1500, and the rest of the foliaceous ornament - the pairs of crossed tri-lobed leaves and the circular clusters of similar leaves - is taken from the Iona pattern-books."

     It only falls to be added that Dr. Steer is satisfied that the stone used is calc-chlorite-albite schist from a quarry at Doide between Castle Sween and Kilmory Knap. The quarry, he points out, is close to the shore and transport to outlying parts of Argyll would be facilitated.

     The first local antiquarian to study the Cross in detail was the late Colonel Charles Mactaggart. (2) He recalled, only to dismiss it, the Guide Book Story repeated in many ephemeral publications over the years that the Cross "was transported by stealth from Columba's Isle." There were variations on this theme. "Columba or one of his successoirs gets the doubtful credit of having given the beautifully carved stone cross which adorns the Main Street of Campbeltown." (3) A more usual and unlikely yarn was that it was removed (to Protestant Kintyre.''.) for safety about the time of the Reformation. (4) Colonel Mactaggart seems to have been the first to challenge this tradition. He suggested that the old Kintyre crosses including the Campbeltown Cross were designed by the Saddell Monks and that the carving was done by lay brothers who were itinerant stone masons. He went further and suggested that the carving was made from stone to be found on the shore near "The Baskets" and close to the "Second Water". Colonel Mactaggart was indeed correct in suggesting there was a Kintyre School of Sculpture which was in operation at the date he attributed to the Cross (c.1500) but later scholarship makes it clear that the Campbeltown Cross is of an earlier date, and of the Iona School, the workmanship of which was much superior to that of the Kintyre School.

     Another member of our Society, Dr. Harvey Thomson, made an alternative suggestion that the Cross "was constructed in Islay at or near Kilchoman where its twin brother still stands complete, not mutilated by Reformation Iconoclasts as the Campbeltown Cross has been." (5) This was also a very interesting suggestion particularly in view of the mention of Kilchoman on the Campbeltown Cross. Dr. Steer agrees that the two crosses are of the same Iona School and probably contemporary though the detailed examination of each would hardly warrant the description of twins.

     Colonel Mactaggart maintained that the Andrew MacEachran who caused the Cross to be built was the Andrew MacEachran who was known to have been rector of Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan prior to 1515. Others agreed with the age of the Cross and Andrew's identity though he was thought by some to have been rector of Kilchoman or even Kilkivan.

     New light on Andrew's identity and on the age of the Cross came from an unexpected source in 1950 when Dr. Lilli Gjerlow wrote from Oslo. (6) Up till 1266 the Southern Hebrides including Kintyre had formed part of the Bishopric of the Sudreys under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Trondheim. Despite the cession of the islands of Scotland in that year it was almost 100 years before Trondheim lost interest and the consecration of the bishops of the new sees of Sodor and Man, and of the Isles, took place at the seat of the reigning Pope rather than in Norway. (7) It was no doubt the Norwegian connection which prompted Dr. Gjerlow's researches in the Vatican Archives. Unfortunately in her extremely valuable letter Dr. Gjerlow appears to state as facts what are almost certainly assumptions. She writes that in the third quarter of the 14th century Ivor MacEachern was rector of Kilkerran in the Bishopric of Argyle. He was married as most West Highland priests appear to have been, and his son Andreas after having secured for himself a papal dispensation for "illegitimate birth" and a further dispensation to hold one ecclesiastical benefice with cure of souls, in due time succeeded his father as rector of Kilkerran."

    It is not clear that Dr. Gjerlow quotes ary authority for this statement and Drs. Steer and Bannerman specifically state the Ivor MacEachren, so far as is known, is not mentioned by name, elsewhere than on the Cross. They agree however with Dr. Gjerlow that the Andrew MacEachern who had the Cross made is more than likely the priest of that name who is mentioned in a series of papal documents in the last quarter of the 14th century. (8)

     This Andrew MacEachran wns the son of a cleric and before 1376 had held for many years the Parish of Kilkivan in the diocese of Argyll. He demitted office on translation to Kilchoman in Islay.

     A series of actions in the Vatican courts followed and eventually it appeared that Andrew lost his church on the technical grounds that although he had received papal dispensation to hold Kilkivan although the son of a cleric and "of illegitimate birth", he should have received a new dispensation to hold Kilchoman. At any rate it appears that a petition raised on these grounds in 1382 by Aed (or Odo) McKay, probably another Kintyre man, was successful and in 1393 McKay was parson of Kilchoman. Dr. Gjerlow suggests that while Andrew was rector of Kilchoman he may have seen the Kilchoman Cross erected and immediately have ordered "something similar." Drs. Steer and Bannerman have little doubt that Andrew, the rector of Kilchoman in 1382, is the Andrew of the Cross. In support they site the following:

(1) Andrew of Kilchoman had been previously in Kilkivan and the Andrew of the Cross had a Kilkivan connection. Dr. Steer is convinced that the enigmatic Kylkecan, on the Cross, which had previously been translated as a misprint for Kilkeran or Kilkerran is in fact Kilkivan. With his knowledge of Medieval writing he claims that Kylkecan is most probably a misreading by the mason for Kylkevan, the Lombardic 'C' and 'V' being easily confused.

(2) While it is Ivor and not Andrew who is said on the Cross to have been rector of Kilkivan it was not unusual for a son To follow a father's footprints and Andrew may well have succeeded his father at Kilkivan.

(3) Andrew of Kilchoman and Andrew of the Cross were both sons of priests.

(4) Finally the whole workmanship of the Cross would place it as of the Iona School 1350-1500. Had it been erected after 1450 for a Kintyre patron it would probably have been made in Kintyre like Colin MacEachren's Cross in Kilkerran cemetery.

     Most of the questions have been answered but there are still some points on which information may still be forthcoming.

(1) Is there a record anywhere, in the Vatican or at Trondheim (if records survive there) or as witness to a document, of the existence of Ivor MacEachren, who was a rector of Kilkivan c.1350?

(2) Was the Cross originally erected at Kilkivan or at "the Cross "-the old site in Main Street? Dr. Steer thinks it was originally erected at Kilkivan by Andrew in honour of his father Ivor though not as a funerary monument. And he thinks it is still set in its original socket stone. There is evidence in the photographs in Colonel Mactaggart's booklet that the height of the plinth was raised between 1870 and 1920. The earliest mention I can find of the cross is in 1680 when Finvall Mc Cannill was condemned "to be taken to the Mercat Cross of Campbeltown and there to be whipt and scourgit by the hands of the common executioner."(9) A list of tenants of the Burgh in 1710 transcribed by me from the original in the Duke's possession and which is in the Society's collection mentions in the Fore Street (Main Street) "Mr. Ruat's tenement at the Cross." The earliest plan of the Burgh c. 1760 of which a copy is in the Library shows the Cross marked in the Main Street. It is interesting that the Charter of William III dated 19th April 1700 erecting the Royal Burgh gives "full liberty licence and power to the Provost etc. to have and erect a New Market Cross, weighing machine, weighhouse and a Tolbooth, at the which Market Cross it shall be lawful for our lieges within the bounds of Kintyre, the Islands of Gigha and Cara to poind and Appraise goods and to denounce rebels and to do all other acts of proclamation and legal executions thereat in like manner and as freely in all respects as if the same were the market cross of the principal burgh of the said Sheriffdom". But the Inveraray Cross, strangely enough, was also erected beside a well. One may remark in passing that the Charter had to be referred to on the occasion of the proclamation of Her present Majesty when a question arose as to whether the Sheriff Substitute or Provost should make the proclamation.

     It appears clear from the 1680 reference that the Cross had been in position before that and that there was no need for a new Mercat Cross. Had it been erected after 1700 it is almost certain the Burgh Minutes would have contained a reference and although I have not been able to check them I accept Colonel Mactaggart's assurance that they do not.

     Colonel Mactaggart argued that the Cross might have been erected purely as an object or devotion by the wayside. Although Campheltown and the Castle on the Castlehill did not exist in the 14th century the original bridge over the Town Burn was erected at the Burnside end of Cross Street - which was originally called Bridge Street - and no doubt the ancient road from Southend (and from Kilkivan) to Loch Kilkerran and the medieval settlement of Lochhead Kilkerran came in on roughly the same route as today. Perhaps there was a fork where one branch led to the harbour and another to Kilkerran Castle, church and village. We shall probably never know but in the persistence with which Campbeltonians insist on passing the Cross on their last journey to Kilkerran is there not some ancient folk memory of the ritual of doing abeisance to the Cross? It is interesting to reflect that the Cross was erected beside the town well and of course wells had a holy or mystic association which long predated Christianity and with which the Christian religion was very willing to associate,e.g Motherwell, Tobermory.( I am reminded that the Town Well at the Cross was not dug till 1747, which rather rules out any mystical association.)

(3) When and by whom was the Cross desecrated? It was almost certainly after 1640. An Act of the General Assembly confirmed by Parliament in that year ordained that "all idolatrous images, crucifixes, pictures of Christ and all other idolatrous pictures were to be demolished and removed forth and from all Kirkis colledgis chappelles and other publict places." On 8th July 1642 the Synod of Argyll ordained every minister to report "all idolatrous monuments within their paroaches to which the vulgar superstitiously resorts to worship, to the end the same may be de-demolished." (10)
The end was obviously not attained as many Argyllshire crosses still show the crucifix.

     But something was done to the Campbeltown Cross, and if in fact it was removed from Kilkivan to the Main Street it may well have been moved and mutilated at the same time. The New Burgh of Barony would need a Mercat Cross. It had a Tolbooth as early as 1636. The castle was built about 1610 and the Main Street would be developing throughout the first half of the 17th century. (11) One of the main concessions to a burgh was the right of trading and holding of markets. It is not impossible to conceive that the canny Lowland Burgesses anxious to provide a suitable Mercat Cross but eager to obliterate popish symbols should adopt the old cross as the Mercat Cross while at the same time rendering it suitable for purposes of honest trade by chiselling off the figures of Christ crucified and the two worthy MacEachrens in whose honour it was originally erected.

     Dr. Steer has pointed out the parellel treatment of the Inveraray Cross. The Mercat Cross of Inveraray, he thinks was originally in a local graveyard probably Kilmalew and he suggests that the crucifix which adorned it was also removed and the Cross taken to the old town for use as a Mercat Cross. After various vicissitudes it was erected in its present position on the front green of the new town.

     Mr Donald Mackechnie tells me that the 1474 Charter erecting Inveraray as a Burgh of Barony permits the Burgh to have a mercat cross. However the earliest reference to the actual existence of the Cross is in the Town Council Minutes of 12 September 1661 which state :
"The date of the next Frie Fair to be proclaimed at the four streets of the Town and at the Cross."

     Inverarary was created a Royal Burgh in 1648. It is probable that the use of these religious symbols as mercat crosses in the two burghs was made with the advice and consent of the Marquis. It also seems likely that the adaptation of the Crosses to secular use and the removal of religious symbols would take place at the same time. Such action would be improbable if not impossible during the period of Episcopal ascendancy between 1660 and 1689 and my guess would be that the Campbeltown Cross, if it was removed from Kilkivan or elsewhere was moved during the period 1650 to 1660 when the Marquis was living in relative seclusion at Inveraray and interesting himself personally in his estates.


(1) "Late Medieval Sculpture in the West Highlands." Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland p.34. See also the Commission's "Argyll"Vol. 1 Kintyre Inventory No.265.

(2) "Something about Campbeltown Cross" - Colonel Charles Mactaggart C.S.I. C.I.E. - Society's Library.

(3) "Kintyre and the Kintyre Club" 1884 p.8.

(4) "Glencreggan" - London 1861 Vol. 1 pp. 143-157.

(5) "The ancient Churches and Chapels of Kintyre."T. Harvey Thomson M.D., D .P.H. Society's Library.

(6) Campbeltown Courier 28th December 1950.

(7) "History of Argyll" Colin M. MacDonald p.151.

(8) Campbeltown Courier 28.12.50 Steer and Bannerman pp.159 & 160.

(9) "Justiciary Records of Argyll and the Isles 1664-1705. Stair Society. Edinburgh 1949. p.125.

(10) "Minutes of the Synod of Argyll 1639-1651. - Scottish History Society 1945.

(11) "Kintyre in the 17th Century". Andrew McKerral C I E MA. F.S.A. Scot. p.37.

I am indebted to Dr. Steer and Dr. Bannerman for looking over this article and making several helpful suggestions. The views expressed however are my own.


Back to Page 1

Page 2: The North Carolina Settlement of 1749

Page 3: Lifeboat No. 7

Page 4: John Paul Jones and Others - Part 1

Page 5: Archaeological Cannibalism

Page 6: West Highland Mercenaries in Ireland - Part 1

Page 8: Sir William MacKinnon, BT

Page 9: The Stuff Dreams are Made of........

Page 10: Glenbreakerie - A poem