Cille Choirill Church Restoration

Cille Choirill Church, a small building perched high on a Lochaber hillside, less than three miles east of Roy Bridge, and overlooking the main A86 road, has a place, out of all proportion to its size, in the hearts of thousands of people scattered throughout the world. This building commemorates St. Cairell, Lochaberised Coirell, a 7th century Irish missionary who established a place of worship in its vicinity.

Cille Choirill is where recorded Christianity began in Brae Lochaber, and an ancient symbol of home for many bearing Highland names. Generations of MacDonalds, Mackintoshes, Campbells, Boyles, Mac Arthurs, Camerons, Macphersons, Kennedys, Grants, Rankins, MacKillops, MacFarlanes and Macmasters are buried there alongside Keppoch chiefs, the latter traditionally interred in and around the church. Two famous Keppoch bards lie there, Donald son of Finlay of Glencoe origin fl. 1600, and Iain Lorn, only Gaelic Poet Laureate, who recorded the heroic deeds of Clan Donald in the turbulent 17th century.

The first recorded building on this hallowed site was built or restored in atonement for his pillaging by Ailean nan Creach, Allan of the Forays, a 15th century Cameron who married Mariot daughter of Angus of Fersit, 2nd chief of Keppoch. Centuries of storms and frost took their toll, and by the 1920s the church had become a low-walled, ivy-clad, roofless ruin, its inside filled with rubble.

It had always been a special place to the local inhabitants, but just how much it meant to those who had left Lochaber for the far corners of the globe was demonstrated, when Lochaber descendants in Nova Scotia, inspired by the Rev. John Francis Macmaster, raised enough money to completely restore the church, which was reopened in 1932 by Bishop Alexander MacDonald of Victoria B.C. another emigrant descendant.

After 54 years of attracting thousands of people, and serving the local people on occasions, several disturbing cracks have developed in the walls. A preliminary survey has revealed that inspections costing about £1,000 will have to be carried out over the next four or five years, and that the price of fully repairing the building will he in the region of £20,000.

On February 1st 1986, 14 men, most of them able to trace their Lochaber ancestry back for centuries, undertook a sponsored re-enactment of the Marquis of Montrose’s epic march to the battle of Inverlochy in 1645 and raised £700. This has been deposited in the R.C.D. – 1986 Cille Choirill Church Repair Fund, which has been opened with the approval of the Bishop of the Diocese, the Parish Priest and people of other denominations.

Other activities are being planned, but this parish of less than 300 souls, realises the impossibility of raising such large sums without outside help. Lochaber people love and are most anxious to preserve this soul-stirring monument to their ancestors and to ours, and so, albeit reluctantly, appeal to your clan sentiments and generosity. If you would like to help, please make cheques payable to R.C.D. – 1986 Cille Choirill Church Repair Fund and send to:

Mrs Ann MacDonell, Hon. Treasurer,
Spean Bridge
PH34 4EU.