The village or clachan of Dalmally is situated near Loch Awe in Argyll. It’s old name is Dysart, which means a retreat or a hermitage and it is recorded, under various spellings, as Clachan Dysart in early Scottish annals. The present church at Dalmally is the third one known to have been built on the site and is called Glenorchy Parish Church. The original parish of Glenorchy comprised the ancient MacGregor lands of Glen Orchy, Glen Lochy and Glen Strae.
The Church and Graveyard
The original church is first mentioned in written records as a burial place of Clan Gregor in the 14th century, with The Book of the Dean of Lismore giving detailed accounts of the Chiefs of Clan Gregor interred there, circa 1390 – 1528. The present building, which is a superb, white painted, octagonal design with bell tower, was constructed by the Earl of Breadalbane in 1811.
Around 30 years ago, extensive repairs were carried out to strengthen the stairwell in the tower and to support the gallery in the main body of the church. When part of the floor was dug up for this purpose, a scatter of human bones were found. These were presumed to have been disturbed during construction of the building in 1810/11.
With the floor removed, signs of the medieval church were also found but these were insufficient to give an exact layout of that building. It would seem, however, that the High Altar, at which the leaders of Clan Gregor were buried, must lie under the present tower. This conclusion stems from the earlier churches being of different design.
The graveyard contains several sculptured stones from the 14th and 15th centuries. Many appear to have been re-used, as was common in earlier times, and most are found on the west side of the church. The likelihood is that that they were placed there during The Reformation in Scotland when great change took place. Altars were moved and burials within churches were forbidden in 1572 so cists, i.e. stone coffins, which had previously lain inside churches, were thrown out. This may be why one of the MacGregor stones, which lies among the early sculptured stones, appears to be part of a cist.
The graveyard is very ancient and also has a MacNab stone, a walled Campbell enclosure and an area said to be for tinker children’s burials.
Clan Gregor Society has taken an active interest in the church and conducted historical research there for some years now. In 2011 we donated a beautifully carved wooden lectern to commemorate the building’s 200th anniversary and in 2012 we surveyed the interior of the church, using ground penetrating radar, as part of our archaeological program of digs in the surrounding area. We seek to discover and preserve Clan Gregor history within the church itself and in the adjacent clan lands of Glen Orchy and Glen Strae. We also seek to protect and preserve the Clan Gregor gravestones from further decay by wind and weather.
One possibility is to mount the stones inside the church, together with a history of Clan Gregor, as part of a display, thereby preserving them for future generations to see. Another is to house them in a separate building adjacent to the church. Either way the cost will be considerable and we urge members and readers to donate to this worthy cause via the Contact Us directory here on the website.
Extracts from the Book of the Dean of Lismore
“Death of John Macgregor of Glenurquay, at Glenurquay.” (Glen Orchy). “He was buried in Dysart on the north side of the High Altar, on the 19thof April, in the year 1390.”
“Death of John Dhu Macgregor of Glenstray, son of Patrick, at Stronmelochan (Stronmilchan). He was buried in Dysart, north of the Great Altar, in a stone coffin, upon the 26thof May, in the year 1519; on which day a great meteor was seen in Glenurquay.”
Glenorchy Kirk is a beautiful church in a superb location. It is well worth visiting now. If you also visit Kilchurn Castle, the magnificent MacGregor holding on nearby Loch Awe side, it puts the church’s position within the clan lands into context.
We have received very welcome donations from all over the world which have allowed the Society to set up the Dalmally Stones project, the Ed Boothe Fund and the GPR projects. We are extremely grateful to our American cousins and, in particular, to Ms JoAnn Pippin, her family and the members of SEUS, for their generosity. – Sincere thanks to everyone who gives of their time and resources, and to Dalmally church itself, for the progress we have made in five years of archaeology; a study never done before, in the clan’s history.
The Dalmally Stones Project will take time to complete but it will make the church an even greater attraction for visitors and researchers once the MacGregor grave stones are readily on view.
(Sources = Clan Gregor Society, Wikipedia, Church of Scotland).