A bit of Callumkill History

Callumkill means Keill (chapel) of St Columba. St Columba was an Irish saint who left Ireland in AD 563 and settled in Iona – this became the centre of the Columban church until 814AD when it moved to Kells. Abbots of Iona held supremacy over all the Columban monasteries in Ireland and Scotland. The carving and writing generating from this group is distinctive and there are many examples of it on Islay, including for example the Kildalton cross just up the road from Callumkill.

The Chapel of Callumkill is gone now, and Callumkill Farmhouse is built on its ruin and apparently using some the stones from the ruined church. This would account for the large amount of sandstone in the house, since sandstone was frequently used in building churches. You will see sandstone around the kitchen fireplace and the knocked through arch to the dining room, and also around the front entrance to the house. The walls to the house are almost 5feet thick in places, and the stones enormous. When we were renovating the house, the builders often joked about disturbing some angry monks as they ploughed through the walls.

We have no record, but we think the house must have been built sometime prior to 1851 when the Morrison’s owned the land.

The history we do know of the ownership of the house and land is this. The earliest record is a Crown Charter dated 23 Feb 1760, granting Daniel Campbell of Shawfield the lands and Baronry of Islay. Then in November 1855 James Morrison of Basildon Park Berkshire and Islay sold the Kildalton (including Callumkill) and others to John Ramsey. Charles Morrison then also sold Kilnaughton to Ramsey in 1858. Iain Ramsey then sold Callumkill to Henry Allan, the manager of Lagavulin distillery in 1924. It passed to David Gordon Smith in 1943, to the Millar’s in 1948 who then sold it to Dr John Cecil Macgown in 1952. The MacGown family owned the property until early 2013, when they sold it to Florian Hansmann.

Interesting places to walk to and visit on Callumkill include the following:
Alternately known as either St Colomba’s well or St Michael’s well, this is a natural well in the side of a ridge up near the plague village. Apparently young couples about to be married go here for good luck. It is surrounded by horseshoes and coins.

On the Northeastern hills of Callumkill, there is a ruin of a fever or plague village. All that is visible now are the overgrown foundations of a group cottages. In the late 18th century, the story is that “a foreign ship of some kind had gone on the rocks near Ardbeg. The women showed a great deal of kindness to the shipwrecked sailors and helped them all they could. In appreciation the mariners gave the women small presents. One lady was given a necklace of mother of pearl which evidently harboured the germs that caused the plague which wiped out the small community called Solumh. The village was burned to kill the germs but after some time was rebuilt and the plague broke out again, but this time it was kept in check.”

About half way to the fever village there is a flat stone on the ground. Other stories say that when the "fever" (probably the plague) was brought to Solumh by a sailor, the infected were sent to the fever village to keep them away from the healthy. The healthy villagers put food on to this stone, which was then picked up by the inhabitants of the fever village. They knew when the food wasn't picked up that they had all perished.

Bhein Solumh is the third highest peak on Islay, and from the top there is a wonderful 360 view of the island and of the two Solumh Lochs and Loch Uigeadail.

There are about 27 ancient National Monuments and Scottish Sites on Callumkill in total. Perhaps the most significant is a chambered cairn. It is about 29m long and 10 m wide and located at the northwest of the estate.

Airgh na Bheiste is a ruined cottage on top of a hill to the east of the property and is passed on the walk up to Solumh cottage. On this walk you will also pass by crudely carved faces in the stone. These were apparently carved by a shepherd on Callumkill many years ago.