St Conan's Kirk
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
The church in the small village on the edge of Loch Awe is a wonderful hotchpotch of architectural styles. One would be forgiven for thinking that it was something more of a grand cathedral than just a simple kirk. This unique building is the legacy of one man's inspiration. Walter Douglas Campbell moved from Blythswood in Glasgow with his mother and sister to Argyll and built himself a house on the nearby island of Innis Chonain. He set about plans to have a church built, which in effect became a memorial to his mother Agnes.
From Norman arches at the entrance or the cloistered walk with its beautiful lead work to the Celtic cross in the grounds or the Gothic flying buttresses and some very fine stained glass windows; from the comical hare's head in lead work forming a spout for a drain-pipe to the figures of birds and other creatures carved into every spare inch of stonework both inside and out there are so many striking elements that draw the eye. Again the heavily carved, ornate choir stalls featuring coats of arms of significant families who are rooted to this part of Scotland, are positively cathedral-like.
Walter Campbell employed the finest Italian stonemasons that he could find to undertake the large part of the work. It's also known that he was, with his passion for architecture, quite a magpie when it came to rescuing discarded items from various former churches and other locations. Curiously propped up against the wall of the Bruce Chapel there are two great carved wooden screens apparently dispensed with by Eton College. And thinking of Robert the Bruce, Dunfermline Abbey may lay claim to be the resting place for his heart but they do have a bit of his finger here at St. Conan's ! His wooden effigy with its fine alabaster face is quite striking and a reminder of the historical connection of a national hero to Argyll; his rout of the McDougalls in 1308 at the nearby Pass of Brander, was a significant step on Bruce's route to gaining the crown of Scotland.
The fact that the project was begun originally as early as the 1880's but not finally completed until
about 1927 owes much to the scale of Walter's ambition. St Conan's is really a wonderful memorial to this man, to his vision and indeed to his mother.