Kilmartin Glen and Dunadd

Published on 9 January 2021 at 09:18

A contribution from Judith:

Even as a Scot, I find some parts of my country rather mysterious.  A place may be full of historic places and monuments but the facts about them are vague and I often need to set my imagination in a higher gear.

One such area is pleasant Kilmartin Glen, to the south of Oban. Kilmartin is a long glen which has a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rocks and stone circles, representing 5,000 years of history. Every time I come to Argyll, I discover something new – the way a stone circle is set out or markings on a rock, or another cairn that I’d not noticed before. If rocks could speak, what stories they would tell about the people and their way of life and the contacts the people had with mainland Europe.

Before setting off on my last exploration (pre-covid!), I called in at the Kilmartin Museum, home for many artefacts and stories about them – as well as a café with good coffee and home-baking. This is a great introduction to the area, especially as the staff is local and usually very knowledgeable. The shop has lots of books dealing with pre-history, so I spent some time browsing and buying.

Another must is the Kilmartin Parish Church with a remarkable collection of early grave slabs. Well prepared for this trip down the Glen I made my way to the amazing Nether Largie Standing Stones. These stones are stunningly distinct and said to be one of the most important monuments in Britain because they demonstrate that standing stones were probably used in order to track astronomical phenomena.

For me however the absolute favourite is Dunadd, an ancient hill fort perched on a rocky hill overlooking the Moine Mhor (Great Moss).

At the summit you’ll find a carved flat stone slab with a cup indentation in it (purpose still unknown). There is also a foot print, still very visible, carved into the stone. By Irish tradition, the King of Dál Riata was crowned by placing his foot into this imprint. Try it! You might become a King! The view from the top is worth the climb! You can see for miles around, so it must have been an ideal location for those who lived there because they would have been able to see enemies advancing across the plain. It is believed that the kings of Dál Riata (part of ancient Scotland) were crowned here on the Stone of Destiny between 500 and 800 AD.

Dunadd was established as the best defensible royal seat by Fergus Mor Mac Earca who in 498 had come to the aid of earlier Irish settlers and their king, the "Rí na Dál Riata". The king had asked his Irish compatriots (the Scotii) for assistance as they were hard pressed by the Picts. Fergus and his brothers were all too happy to oblige as they in turn were fighting for their lives in Ireland. It must have been a wonderful opportunity for Fergus and his people to leave the Irish “troubles” behind and being offered land and power in Argyll. I don’t think he could have suspected that his name and exploits would still be known some 1500 years hence.

During the reign of Eógan mac Muiredach, Dál Riata (and Dunadd) was invaded and conquered by the Picts in 736 AD. The fort cum capital was to change hands often in the almost endemic struggle for supremacy between Picts and Dalriadans. In the late 9th century the new kingdom of Alba had absorbed Dál Riata and Pictland and, probably because of their more central location, the old Pictish centres of Scone and Dunkeld were preferred to Dunadd.

Well, enough ancient history for now! All in all this was just a wonderful visit. I enjoyed it a lot!



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