Township: Kirkapol

Map Reference: Kirkapol 300

Name Type: township

Meaning: The specific is ON kirkja ‘church...in local names Kirkju-ból’ (CV, 339). Gammeltoft believed this to be a name in ON ból ‘farm’, but one or two forms do, however, suggest ON bólstaðr. It is perhaps significant that the farm itself was recorded as Kirkople in the 1509 Crown Rental, while the parish name was Kirkopollis, possibly preserving an earlier form. The name could have referenced a pre-existing Early Christian site (Kirkapol is a possible location for Columba’s monastery on Tiree Magh Luinge). In the English Danelaw, ‘The 47 settlements known as Kirby or Kirkby would all seem to have begun life as English settlements and to have been given this...name by the Danes because they already possessed a church by the time the Vikings arrived on the scene’ (Fellows-Jensen, in Gammeltoft et al. 2005, 115). It could also derive from a Norse settler who built a new church on his land, often implying a high status. There was often ‘continuity of resort’ when Norse churches were built on the site of older Celtic churches (Crawford 1987, 178). ‘Ketil made his home at Kirkby [from ON kirkja ‘church’, bær ‘farmstead’], where the Papar [priests] had been living before’ (Landnámabók, 123, quoted in Márkus 2012, 44). See Johnston 1991, 82 for a discussion of this.
Kirkjubólstaðr occurs five times in the Western Isles and ten times in Orkney (Johnston 1991, 81); Kirkjuból occurs nineteen times as a farm name in Iceland (SAM).

Other Forms: Kirkopollis parish and Kirkople, 1509 ER xiii, 216
Kirkepoll, 1541 ER xvii, 648
Kirkapost, 1561 Coll. de Reb. Alba, 3 (Johnston 1991, 81)
Kirkebold, 1587 RMS iv, 1491: valued at 6 merklands, and amongst the lands in Tiree formerly belonging to the monastery of Iona
Kirkcapell, 1599 RMS, 891
Kirkcapoll, 1602 RMS vi, 1377
Kirkapoll, 1631 Retours ARG v i, no. 40: ecclesia de Kirkcapoll – part of the holding (tenedriam) of Ardchattan
Kirkabol, 1654 Blaeu (Pont)
Kirkapole, 1794 Tiree Rental, Cregeen 1964, 37

Related Places:

Information:Kirkapol is a Norse name meaning ‘church farm.’ You can hear the two original Norse words in the way it’s pronounced by older Tirisdich – Keer-kya-bol. Most of us say Ker-ka-pol today, going from the English spelling. There must have been a chapel here during Viking times, from 800 to 1200 AD. Indeed, it is possible that St Columba’s original Tiree monastery was in this township, rather than at Soroby. Today there are four churches still standing in the township – two ruined chapels, a disused Free Church and the Church of Scotland’s church for the original parish of Kirkapol – and at least two graveyards. A holy centre indeed! An older chapel sits on top of Cnoc a’ Chaibeil, hillock of the chapel, while below sits a roofless old parish church dedicated to St Columba. This is surrounded by a small graveyard, An Cladh Beag or Cladh Beag Chòrnaig. It is said that the name came about because many people from Còrnaig are buried there, many of them MacLeans. Both ruined churches date from around the 14th century. There are also two ancient crosses incised on the rocks 50 meters north east of the chapels which are well worth looking for.
The larger graveyard is called An Cladh Mòr, Cladh Òdhrain or Cladh Chirceabol. Saint Òdhran is said to have been a follower of St Columba in Iona, and the graveyard on Iona where so many Scottish kings have been buried is called Reilig Òdhrain. The Connel church is similarly dedicated to the saint. He is said to have volunteered to be buried alive under a chapel Columba was building on Iona. The Rev John Gregorson Campbell recorded this story in the 1870s. “On the farm of Kirkapol in Tiree, where the burying place of the east end of the island is, the figure of a man in a dress not belonging to the island - light trousers and blue jacket with white buttons - was seen about forty years ago [estimated to be 1834 by Ronald Black] by several people in the evenings going in the direction of the kirkyard. A celebrated seer in the neighbouring village saw it, and said it was not the taish [ghost] of any man or any man's son in Tiree. Some time after, a ship was wrecked in the east end of Tiree and one of the sailors, whose dress when his body was found corresponded to that of the taish, was taken and buried in Kirkapol. After that the apparition was no more seen.”
East of the modern graveyard is a well, known as Tobar Òdhrain or Tobar Eachainn (after the grandfather of Rev Hector MacKinnon from Lodge Farm). The water from this well was believed to have healing powers, but it was closed in the 1930s as it was thought to be too close to the graveyard.
The present Church of Scotland, Eaglais Chirceabol, was built in 1842, replacing an earlier church in Scarinish. The Free Church, An Eaglais Shaor Chirceabol, more recently known as The Knitwear Factory, and now a guest house, was built in 1880.
The longest beach in Tiree is An Tràigh Mhòr, or the big beach. How often do you hear that name today? It’s usually called Gott Beach. One of the first planes to come to Tiree landed on the sand in front of Donald MacIntyre’s house (there was no airstrip then), and the beach also saw one of the first air ambulances when Malcolm MacLean was sent away by Dr Stewart in 1934. The beach was also the main thoroughfare to the east end for man and beast, with the present road along the edge of the shore only being built in 1933. Donald MacIntyre remembers having to pull cars regularly from the soft sand in front of his house.
In the waters of Loch Ghott, Gott Bay, lie two groups of rocks. Clach a’ Chomharraidh, the rock of the marking, which was marked by lining up two windows in Kirkapol Church. Inside this is Sgeirean nan Ròin, skerry of the seals, sometimes known by its Norse name of Ròmasgeir. During the war the RAF used this skerry as a target for anti-submarine bombing practice. Duncan Grant remembers the sight well. “As boys we used to watch the bombers wheel over Vaul and swoop down low over these rocks. There would be a plume of white smoke and there was a small tin hut on the machair above the beach west of Machair House where the observers would shelter as they marked the accuracy of the bombing runs. Then the planes would sweep over Soay, turn again and come in from the other side. Later the empty yellow and green canisters would be washed ashore.”
Cnoc a' Phollaig, the hillock of the potato clamp, is in the field between the Lodge and the Church. Potatoes were usually stored for the winter underground and covered with turf. And on the right of the track leading up to Lodge Farm lies Cnoc an Fhuamhaire, the hillock of the giant, marking the spot of a Bronze Age burial. On the left of the same track, down by the stream, is Cnoc a’ Mhuilinn, the hillock of the mill. Memory of a mill there has disappeared, but the name survives, yet another example of the way the stories of a landscape live on in its place names.
The Lodge was “originally built for a school, had then become the gamekeeper’s house, was now added to and enlarged, and became a mansion, or a villa, or a palace, according to the ideas of those who watched its walls breaking the outlines of the Bay of Gott.” In 1897 the Duke of Argyll wrote to his sister, Lady Victoria Campbell, concerning the Lodge, which was being made ready for her occupation. “The rent I want to charge you on your Tiree Mansion is one Barley Corn, and will tell Howe to make up a lease for life.” It is said that it was built on an old graveyard. During the Second World War it was used as an officers’ mess, and the cook there was an Alf Bruton, from Oxford. According to Les Crawte, Milton, “the officers would keep a good chef if they found one.” Lady Peggy Hoare from Gloucester rented the Lodge for shooting parties after the war. And in 1957 Alf, who had married a Ruaig girl, bought the Lodge and set it up as a hotel.
Lodge Farm was so-christened by Lady Victoria Campbell. The house had originally been a school with the classroom upstairs. Malcolm Livingstone was one of the teachers and was also the Registrar for the island. The area behind the house is called Croit Livingstone to this day. After Ruaig School was built in 1872 the MacKinnon family moved in. Lady Victoria Campbell used to hold her sewing classes for the east end girls here, Duncan MacKinnon was the official piper to the Duke and John MacKinnon was Lady Victoria’s horseman. The Rev Hector MacKinnnon was a celebrated minister, known as the ‘Spurgeon of the North.’ A plaque to his memory hangs in Kirkapol Church.
Dr John Holliday.

Extracts from 'The Gaelic Otherworld' by John Gregorson Campbell, Edited with commentary by Ronald Black, (Edinburgh; Birlinn, 2005), p 258:

Kirkapol
When a person was about to die, especially if his death was to be by violence or drowning, his wraith or phantom was seen by those who had the second sight (or it might be by those who had no such gift.)

On the farm of Kirkapol in Tiree, where the burying-placed of the east end of the island is, the figure of a man in a dress not belonging to the island – light trousers and blue jacket with white buttons – was seen about forty years ago by several people in the evenings going in the direction of the kirkyard. A celebrated seer in the neighbouring village saw it, and said it was not the taish of any man or any man’s son in Tiree. (Footnote 870)
Footnote 870; JGC’s own church was at Kirkapol (Norse kirkja ’church’ and bol, ‘township’), overlooking Gott Bay; his ‘about forty years ago’ will mean c. 1834.
Some time after, a ship wrecked in the east end of Tiree and one of the sailors, whose dress when his body was found corresponded to that of the taish, was taken and buried in Kirkapol. After that the apparition was no more seen.
The body of a young man drowned in the same neighbourhood, before being coffined, was laid first on a rock and then on the grassward. A person who came to the scene after the body was laid on the grass asked if the body had been laid on the rock mentioned. He was told it had, and was asked why he enquired. He said his uncle had told him that his grandfather, who was a taisher, had said a dead body would be laid on that rock. This shows that the fulfilment of the seer’s vision does not necessarily take place soon after, or even within a number of years.

Made up of Lodge Farm (originally three crofts), Church Farm and Kirkapol Farm - Fiona MacKinnon, Kirkapol, 6/1994.

Local Form:

Languages : Norse