The grave slabs here represented are in the ruined chapel at Keills, Knapdale. Both of them are early and interesting specimens of the class to which they belong. In each case the two-handed sword is obviously a portrait of the real weapon. On the first there appear on one side of the sword a harp, comb, shears, and mirror, besides an object which may be a case or cover, and a smaller figure which may be meant for a box containing some toilet appendage. A surrounding inscription is almost entirely defaced.
The second slab has on one side of the sword an inscription, and on the other a deer-hunt and some grotesque creatures, with a galley at the bottom.
The simple, rectangular Keills Chapel, dedicated to St. Cormac, served as the parish church of Knapdale until the parish was split into two in 1734. It is one of few churches from the 1100s and 1200s surviving in Argyll. What sets it apart is what it contains: a sculptural feast of almost forty carved stones, ranging in date from the 8th to the 16th century. Pre-eminent among them is the 8th-century Keills Cross.
A phaidrín do dhúisg mo dhéar,
ionmhain méar do bhitheadh ort:
ionmhain cridhe fáilteach fial
’gá raibhe riamh gus a nocht.
Dá éag is tuirseach atáim,
an lámh má mbítheá gach n-uair,
nach cluinim a beith i gclí
agus nach bhfaicim í uaim.
O rosary that recalled my tear,
dear was the finger in my sight,
that touched you once, beloved the heart
of him who owned you till tonight.
I grieve the death of him whose hand
you did entwine each hour of prayer;
my grief that it is lifeless now
and I no longer see it there.
Lament of Aithbhreac inghean Coirceadail, to her husband Niall Óg (mac Thorcuil) MacNeill of Gigha, who was likely constable of Castle Sween in Knapdale in the 1470s. Composed in Classical Gaelic syllabic metre, and attuned to the traditions of bardic elegy, it is found in the Book of the Dean of Lismore.
The chapel of Kilmorie, in South Knapdale, has been already referred to as having traditionally been erected by St. Charmaig (Cormac). Its walls are still almost complete, and it is surrounded by a burying-ground. In both the chapel and graveyard are many slabs ornamented with the sword and shears. The cross figured in this Plate is in the churchyard. On one side is represented the crucifixion of our Lord, with figures which may be meant for the Blessed Virgin and St. John. Beneath is a two-handed sword. On the other side of the shaft is a stag-hunt, the dogs being represented with collars, as on some of the early east cross slabs, and lower down is an armed man holding in his hand a battle-axe, with a large horn suspended from his shoulder. Beneath his feet is the inscription — HEC EST CRVX ALEXANDRI MACMVLEN. The Macmillans, according to their traditions, were connected with the clan Chattan, and a branch of them possessed the greater part of Southern Knapdale, where their chief was known under the title of Macmillan of Knap; but although they were at a very early period in Knapdale, they probably obtained the greater part of their possessions there by marriage with the heiress of the chief of the Macneils in the sixteenth century. To an early part of this century the cross is probably to be ascribed. A drawing and notice of this monument occurs in Archæologia Scotica, vol. iv. p. 377.
Castle Sween takes its name from Suibhne, who is thought to have built the castle. Suibhne is believed to have been a grandson of Hugh “the Splendid” O’Neill who died in 1047.
In the XIII century the Clan MacSween, or descendants of Suibhne, governed lands extending as far north as Loch Awe and as far south as Skipness Castle on Loch Fyne. In the later half of the XIII the MacSween lands of Knapdale passed into the hands of the Stewart Earls of Menteith.
By the time of the Wars of Scottish Independence the MacSweens took the wrong side, and when Robert the Bruce became King of Scots, he displaced the MacSweens from their lands. After Robert the Bruce had defeated MacDougall Lord of Lorne in 1308, he then laid siege to Alasdair Og MacDonald in Castle Sween. Alastair gave himself up and was disinherited by Robert Bruce who then granted Islay to Alasdair’s younger brother, Angus Og, the king’s loyal supporter,who also received the Castle Sween in Kintyre from the King.
In 1310, Edward II of England granted John MacSween and his brothers their family’s ancestral lands of Knapdale (though by then Castle Sween was held by Sir John Menteith).It is possible that this could be the “tryst of a fleet against Castle Sween,” recorded in the Book of the Dean of Lismore,which tells of the attack of John Mac Sween on Castle Sween.
In 1323, after the death of Sir John Menteith, the Lordship of Arran and Knapdale passed to his son and grandson. In 1376, half of Knapdale, which included Castle Sween, passed into possession of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, by grant of Robert II of Scotland to his son-in-law John I, Lord of the Isles.
During the MacDonald’s century and a half of holding the castle, the castellans were first MacNeils and later MacMillans.
In 1490 Castle Sween was granted to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, by James IV of Scotland.
In 1647, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Castle Sween was attacked and burnt by Alasdair MacColla and his Irish Confederate followers.