A Noble Pledge

With the arrival of the railway and subsequent increased accessibility, a certain Walter Douglas Campbell, younger brother of the First Lord Blythswood, bought from the Marquis of Breadalbane the Island of Innischonain, on which he built for himself a stately mansion-house. Here he settled with his sister Helen and his mother. Local tradition has it that the elderly Mrs. Campbell found the long drive to the parish church in Dalmally too much for her, and that her son accordingly decided to build her a church nearby. Walter’s first design, completed in 1886, was relatively simple but he began to dream of a far nobler structure.

View of the original St Conan’s Kirk

He started work on this in 1907, and devoted the rest of his life to its execution until he died in 1914.

Building of the Apse

Walter Campbell was a man of many talents, all of which he devoted to the kirk. He was a most capable if somewhat unorthodox architect, a collector of objets d’art and a skilled woodcarver. Although most of the kirk is in a Norman or Romanesque style, he included not only early and late types of this but other and totally different styles. He was more anxious to achieve beauty than consistency. Rumour even has it that he deliberately tried to include examples of every type of ecclesiastical architecture found in Scotland, and this is perhaps borne out by the circle of Standing Stones at the entrance gate.

Throughout the Kirk you will find Walter’s acknowledgement to his own family, strong ties with the local community and influences from further afield:

  • the Celtic Cross was erected in memory of his mother
  • the west end houses a tablet bearing the initials of Walter Douglas Campbell and his sister Helen and the Lymphad of Lorne, characteristic of the Campbell arms
  • below St Conval chapel is the vault which contains the remains of the founders, Walter Campbell and his sister
  • the figure on the tomb is that of Walter Campbell himself
  • the St Bride’s Chapel contains the tomb of the Fourth Lord Blythswood, who helped to carry on the work after Walter and his sister had both died
  • at the far end of the Aisle there are two stained-glass windows. The first of these, which contains the Royal Arms blazoned with those of Argyll, is in memory of H.R.H. The Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of the 9th Duke of Argyll.
  • the Bruce Chapel owes its origin to the fact that it was on the hillside above the kirk that the King despatched his famous outflanking column under the Earl of Douglas, which inflicted such a decisive defeat upon John of Lorne and his clansmen in the Pass of Brander
  • the stalls in the chancel were carved from Spanish chestnut and show the full coats-of-arms, complete with crests and badges, of the chiefs who in the old days held land in the neighbourhood
  • high above the screen is a beautiful painted-glass window with figures of angels and cherubs which Helen Campbell designed and painted with her own hands

Walter died in 1914, and work had to be suspended during the First World War; but as soon as it was possible, his sister Helen carried out the plans which he had left. She in her turn died in 1927, and the project was finally completed by their Trustees.

View of Completed Apse