Saturday, December 27, 2014

Kerrera Monastery

For me, the most fascinating sites in the islands are old monasteries; like Sgorr nam Ban Naomh on Canna, Ailech of the Garvellchs, Charadail of Eigg, and Oronsay (off Colonsay), to name a few. Most are very remote, and it can take a lot of effort to see them. But there is one monastic ruin that, although it lies only a mile from a large town, is one of the least visited: Cladh a ' Bhearnaig, on the north tip of Kerrera.

Cladh a ' Bhearnaig is easy to find. From Slaterach Mill (see last post), make your way north to Oitir Mhor (the big headland). Here the road turns inland, but keep to the shore around the headland of Rubh Aird an Duine, and then continue for another half mile to a small bay called Port a’ Bheàrnaig, where, a small knob shaped headland, Rubh a’ Bheàrnaig, marks the north tip of Kerrera. At its centre is Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig, an enclosure of stones, 200 feet in diameter, that may be the ruin of a Celtic Christian cashel.

Looking north up the east coast of Kerrera
The monastic enclosure
On a 1750 map the site is marked as "Clyvernock, an old monastery". The meaning of the name is a mystery. Cladh means burial ground, but what could Bheàrnaig mean?  (Bheàrnaig is pronounced ‘var-nak’). The name is not just found on Kerrera, for the original name of fifteenth century Glen Sanda castle, on the mainland ten miles to the north, is Castle Bheàrnaig.

One possible meaning of Bheàrnaig is hinted at in the Gaelic spelling of Inchmarnock, an island dedicated to St Marnock. That spelling is Innis Mheàrnaig. Bheàrnaig is pronounced the same way, so perhaps Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig means the burial ground of St Marnock. Marnock was a bishop in the early 600s, and there is a chapel dedicated to him at Kilfinan, thirty miles south of Kerrera.

Looking down to the cashel from the high ground to the east
Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig has the appearance of a monastic site. It is a nearly circular enclosure split in thirds by low walls. Inside sit the remains of several buildings; one that looks like a beehive cell, and two that are rectangular structures with walls three feet thick. Even though it was early spring, when the bracken is just starting to sprout, it was still difficult to examine the structures under all the vegetation. There is said to be a stone with twenty cup-marks carved on it here, and I searched through the low bracken and brambles, but could not find it.

After wandering around the cashel I climbed to the giant obelisk monument to David Hutcheson. Reaching the monument I took a seat and, enjoying the silence of Kerrera, looked across the water to Oban as the Mull ferry glided into the busy harbour.

Hutcheson Monument
Looking back to busy a Oban from a quiet Kerrera

Next time you are in Oban I can suggest no better day out than escaping the crowds and spending the day on Kerrera. See this RCAHMS page for more details on Cladh a’ Bheàrnaig, and this Scotland Places page for a diagram of the cashel. Also see the April 21st through May 2nd (2013) posts for more on Kerrera.

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