A BRIEF HISTORY OF KILLEARNAN
The earliest evidence of human settlement in the area that we now call ‘Killearnan’ lies in the Neolithic, bronze- and iron-age structures that can be found throughout the area: examples being the chambered tombs at North & South Kilcoy, Carn Glas, the Temple and Carn Iurnan; the hut circles at Cnoc na h-Eireachd; and the Redcastle crannog. Surprisingly, no Pictish, Celtic or early medieval sites have been verified – although several are assumed, such as the site of the parish church and possible early Culdee chapels at Chapleton and Artafallie. There are also several sites of unknown provenance, including the ‘mound’ on Gallowhill, the ‘castle’ at Coulmore and the ‘lost cairns’ at Croftcrunie.
Documentary sources date from medieval times. In 1179 William I built a motte at ‘Etherdouer’ as part of a line of fortifications protecting the fertile royal estates in Moray against the uprisings of the MacWilliams and MacHeths of Orkney and Caithness. As reward for his role in quelling these incursions, Sir John Bysset of the Aird was granted custody of the motte in 1212.
Sir John’s Bysset’s heirs in 1294 granted land at ‘Culcolli’ to Sir David de Graham, thus creating the two estates of Etherdouer and Culcowy that today (as Redcastle and Kilcoy) still comprise the greater proportion of Killearnan. By the 14th century, the lands of Kilcoy and Etherdouer (with its castle, now known as the Reidcastell) had, through marriage, become part of the ‘Ardmeanach’ (Black Isle) owned by the Black Douglas Earls of Ross, whose principal residence was Ormond Castle, near Avoch. On the executions of the Black Douglases by James II in 1455, the Killearnan estates were annexed back into royal ownership and remained in the possession of the Stuarts until the abdication of Mary Queen of Scots in 1567.
In 1568 the Earl of Moray, Regent to the infant James VI, granted the Reidcastell to Kenneth Mackenzie, 10th Baron of Kintail, for ‘valiant actions’. Meanwhile, Kilcoy remained in royal possession, sub-let to Sir Robert Stuart. However, in 1616, Sir Robert sold Kilcoy to raise money to settle the gambling debts of his uncle. The purchaser was Alexander Mackenzie of Kinnock, a grandson of Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail. Thus, by the early 17th century the Mackenzies had gained possession of both Redcastle and Kilcoy – establishing lairdships and cadet branches of the clan that remained in ownership of the estates for 222 years (8 generations to 1790) and 351 years (12 generations to 1967) respectively.
In 1682 the Mackenzies of Kilcoy sold the ‘lands of Allan’ (recorded from the 15th century as ‘Meikle Allan’) to Simon Mackenzie of Findon, who became the first laird of the estate now known as Allangrange, part of which lies within Killearnan. Within the Kilcoy estate there was also a castle at Tore, although it is probably best described as a mansion house. Its history is vague but it may have been medieval and was probably re-built circa 1650. It is shown on William Roy’s military map of 1750 and seems no longer to have been required by the Mackenzies from circa 1805 and was demolished by 1870 - not being shown on the 1st series Ordnance Survey maps of 1872. Much of the stone from Tore castle seems to have been re-cycled into the Tore Mains farm steadings.
The Mackenzies were royalists. In consequence, Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentarian forces pursued them in 1649 when Redcastle was sacked and burned. It was rebuilt in circa 1665 and became a Burgh of Barony in 1680. Although it is rumoured that Prince Charles Edward visited Redcastle in 1745 and attempted to persuade the Killearnan-based Mackenzies to join the Jacobites, they played no part in the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
It is not clear exactly when a castle was first built on the Kilcoy estate. It is first recorded in a charter of 1618 but it is thought that it may have been in existence by 1590. The Mackenzies of Kilcoy occupied the castle continuously until 1813 when Colin Mackenzie, who lived and worked in London, removed the roof to save taxes. By 1845 the castle had become ruinous but it was repaired in 1890 by Col John and Isabella Burton-Mackenzie who had inherited the estate in 1869. The Burton-Mackenzies also owned Belmaduthy House in Knockbain where they and their descendants generally lived until it was destroyed by fire in 1935. Although the family moved to Kilcoy, growing debts eventually required the estate to be sold off. The castle was bought by the Eagle Star Insurance Company but they sold it to Ian and Anne Robinson who effected modernisations. After Ian’s death in 1991, Anne sold the castle to its present owners, Mr & Mrs Nicolas McAndrew.
The Redcastle Mackenzies became bankrupt in 1790 and the estate was judicially sold to James Grant of Sheuglie (Glen Urquhart). The Grants prospered from sales of wood and quarry stone and generated a handsome profit when they sold the estate to Sir William Fettes in 1825. Sir William also reaped riches by selling wood for pit props until his death in 1836. His trustees sold the estate in 1839 to Col Hugh Baillie of Tarradale, the neighbouring estate to the west. In 1841 William Burn was commissioned to convert Redcastle from an austere L-tower into a Scots baronial mansion. On the death of Hugh Baillie’s son, Henry, Redcastle was inherited by James Baillie of Dochfour. It remains in the ownership of the Baillies of Dochfour, although they have not lived in it since WW2 when it was requisitioned by the RAF for use as a munitions store. Today, it lies in ruins.
Little is known of the original Meikle Allan or the house, known as Allanbank, which was replaced when Simon Mackenzie built Old Allangrange House in the style of a Georgian mansion in 1760. After major alterations in 1907 carried out by Robert Scarlett Fraser-Mackenzie (Chief of the Clan Mackenzie), it became known as New Allangrange. Elizabeth Cameron, the well-known botanical artist, and her husband purchased the house in 1950 and the produce of the estate briefly sustained the Black Isle Frozen Foods Company. The Black Isle Brewery is now at Allangrange Mains.
Although there is no known physical evidence, it is thought that early Christian ‘Culdee’ cells were established at Chapleton and Artafallie. These seem to have been dedicated to St Andrew but medieval charters also refer to a St Palmer’s chapel. It is probable that the name ‘Killearnan’ refers to a monastic ‘Cill’ (cell) founded by St Iurnan or St Ernan in the 7th century. The parish church is thought to be sited on Pictish foundations, although the earliest visible foundations of the present building date to circa 1390. In 1238 Pope Gregory IX established a prebend at Chanonry, thus founding the parish of Etherdouer that was later to become known as Killearnan. There was also a Knights Hospitallers ‘hospital’ at Spital Shore, first recorded in 1299. One wall with a triple-lancet window was recorded still standing in 1882 but there are no visible remains today.
The Mackenzies of Redcastle, Kilcoy and Allangrange (jointly, the heritors of the parish) were Episcopalian. Whilst not actively promoting the Reformation of 1560-1690, they were slow to embrace it. In consequence, the parish church and the manse regularly fell into disrepair and several visiting presbyterian ministers were ‘rabbled’. There were also periods in which no minister was in post because of disputes with the Presbytery of Chanonry over patronage. Only in 1719 did the parish admit its first truly Presbyterian minister, Rev John McArthur – but he had to work without a Kirk Session (which was not created until 1744) and endure an ‘uninhabitable’ manse (as did many of his successors until 1891 when both the church and the manse were renovated).
At the ‘Disruption’ of 1843, almost all the congregation followed their minister, Rev Donald Kennedy, and joined the Free Church of Scotland, whose fine church at Newton crossroads was opened in 1866. Although only a minority of the Free Church congregation defected to the United Free Church in 1900, a corrugated iron church was erected at Kilcoy in 1908. This building transferred on the merger of the United Free Church with the Church of Scotland in 1933. It subsequently became the parish church hall and was eventually sold in 1985. In 1999 the congregations of Killearnan and Knockbain parish churches formally linked. In 2000, the Free Church also linked, with Maryburgh. The Killearnan Free Church building was sold in 2004 and is now the home of the Tore Art Gallery.
Although the heritors were legally required to provide a parish school from 1633, a school in Killearnan was not founded until 1725. It is not recorded where it was situated but it was probably, like all its successors, on the site of the present school near the parish church. It was replaced by a new school in the early 19th century when the number of pupils in attendance was around 30.
To widen access to schooling in the parish, the Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) opened up three further schools. The first was in 1776 at Croftnacreich at the eastern extremity of the parish (now in Knockbain); the others, for which there are few records, were female schools at Tore and Redcastle. There was also an ‘adventure’ school at Tore, financed by parents of boys who lived too far from the parish and SSPCK schools. The school at Croftnacreich had 35 boys and 5 girls in attendance in 1780.
In 1843, after the Disruption, the Free Church set up two schools in the parish, one at Croftnacreich and one at Quarry of Redcastle. These survived only until 1873 when compulsory free education was introduced and a new Public School was built on the site of the old parish school. There were initially around 140 pupils but 60 of these transferred in 1879 when the previous SSPCK female school at Tore was adapted as a Public School. Both schools were upgraded in the 1930s when parish councils and school boards were abolished and the management of schools was brought into local government-controlled Education Authorities.
As the total population of the parish gradually declined throughout the 20th century and the main centre of population shifted from the Redcastle area towards Tore, the existence of two schools in the parish became unviable and Killearnan Primary School at Redcastle closed in 1970. The building is still used by the Girl Guides. Tore Primary School remains open and flourishes as the local population now gradually increases.
The Killearnan Economy
Historically, the livelihood of the population of Killearnan has always depended on subsistence farming. Medieval records refer to land taxes of 2 merks per year payable by the feudal landlords of Redcastle to the monks of Beauly Priory, acting as the King’s agents. After the annexations of 1455 the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland show the annual rentals payable, for example in 1478 the Kilcoy estate was valued at £39 Scots.
To raise the funds needed to pay their rentals, the landowners operated a hierarchical feudal system in which their estate land was tenanted to farmers and sub-tenanted to maillers (crofters) and cottars. These paid their rents in cash and produce, collected by the tacksmen. They also provided employment for millers, blacksmiths, innkeepers and other supporting services. The system provided subsistence levels of food and shelter to a fixed level of population (probably circa 850) and in good years there were surpluses that could be sold to buy goods and services.
The only major exceptions to the agricultural economy in Killearnan were the old red sandstone quarries at Redcastle, Kilcoy and Coulmore. Redcastle quarry was the largest and had exported high quality building stone since at least the 12th century for the building of Beauly priory and, later, for Inverness citadel (1650-55), Inverness harbour (1720-30) and the Caledonian canal (1805-20). It closed in 1872.
Relatively stable feudal self-sufficiency began to break down in the late 17th century, initially by rising taxation that progressively impoverished the lairds and, subsequently, by agricultural improvements which commenced elsewhere in the late 18th century but which were slow to reach Killearnan. The population at this time was also bolstered in the early 19th century by an influx of crofters evicted during the Highland Clearances and given land on the Mulbuie, especially at Drynie Park, Muckernich and Tore. Thus, by 1841 the population of Killearnan had reached an unsustainable 1,644, the highest it has ever been.
The advance of agricultural improvement (initially drainage, field enclosure and crop rotation; subsequently mechanisation) eventually precipitated a relentless population decline as families, no longer required to work the land, emigrated to the cities or abroad. In consequence, the quarries, mills, smithies, shops and inns had largely disappeared by the early 20th century and the population reached its lowest recorded total of 559 in 1981.
Although some of the estate farms remain as separate lets, for example Linnie and Tore Mains, in parallel with the population decline many were sold, merged or diversified. For example Parkton, Fettes and Blairdhu, were subsumed into Redcastle Mains, Colinton was subsumed into Muirton and Whitewells into Tarradale Mains. Others, for example Garguston, Wellhouse, Coulmore, Croftcrunie and Artafallie, were sold in the late 19th or early 20th century and remain owner occupied. The ‘square’ of Fettes farm is now Fettes sawmill and part of Ryefield farm now operates as a fruit and vegetable market garden and shop.
Up to the early 19th century, the main market in Killearnan was at Redcastle. However, as the population centre of the parish moved eastwards towards Tore, a major market stance was established at the Kilcoy Arms hotel which was initially a coaching inn on the parliamentary road built between Fortrose and the new Conon toll bridge in 1817. In the 20th century, the last working smithy was at Tore and, today, the principal retail outlets in the parish are located at Ryefield farm and the Tore garage – the only exceptions being the specialised timber, artwork and potato outlets at Fettes, Newton and Garguston.
Transport links were improved when the Black Isle branch of the Highland Railway was opened in 1894 with stations at Kilcoy (although called Redcastle Station) and Allangrange. Never an economic success (although a social one) it closed for passengers in 1950. Goods trains ran for a few more years to allow farmers access to markets. The original parish (sub) post offices were at Arpafallie toll and Newton crossroads. The latter moved to Redcastle Station with the opening of the railway and another was opened at Allangrange Station. On closure of the railway the Allangrange office moved to Tore. The Arpafallie office closed in the middle 20th century and the Redcastle Station and Tore offices were both closed early in the 21st century.
Since the opening of the Kessock bridge in 1982, the new A9 trunk road leading north has encouraged the development of Killearnan as an Inverness commuter area (although the Tore roundabout now covers the Killearnan curling pond!). In consequence, the population is again growing and new or modernised residential buildings now dominate the local landscape. The future is bright for Killearnan.