Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Effort to save Campbell mausoleum

By Laura Maxwell
BBC Scotland news

Campbell Mausoleum
About 600,000 is needed to restore the mausoleum

As you walk through the graveyard at Kilmun Parish Church, many of the headstones bear familiar Scottish names: MacGregor, Macpherson, Lamont. But this area of Argyll is synonymous with just one clan: the Campbells.

Twenty generations of the clan's chiefs have been buried here over the past 500 years.

At the north-east side of the church there is a mausoleum of the Campbell Dukes of Argyll, built in 1790.

Its most striking feature is an enormous cast iron dome which was forged in the Glasgow shipyards and erected during the mausoleum's last restoration in the 1890s.

Inside, weak wintry light displays the sandstone burial stones of the chiefs of the Clan Campbell - the ancestors of Torquhil Ian Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll, who has not been into the chamber since he was a teenager.

Family history

"I think the last time I came here was about 25 years ago with my mother, on a dark winter's day," he said.

"She wanted to show me a little bit about the family history. It looks just the same as it did when I last came but it's quite an awe-inspiring place, so full of history."

Tombs line both sides of the mausoleum and there are also graves under the stone floor.

The mausoleum, which is owned by Argyll and Bute Council, has been deteriorating.

A charitable company, Argyll Mausoleum Ltd, has been established to manage fundraising and restoration.

It is hoping to raise £600,000 to carry out the work and build a small visitors' centre.

The idea is for it to become an attraction for members of the Clan Campbell, who visit the area from all over the world.

David McKenzie, the director of Argyll Mausoleum, took me inside the mausoleum.

The mausoleum contains the chiefs of the Campbell clan
The mausoleum contains the chiefs of the Campbell clan

He said: "In particular I would point out one grave, which is a head of the Clan Campbell who was executed.

"His body was buried here in 1661, and his head joined him three years later. This is real history here.

"Buried here, or around here, are men who formed the nation of Scotland."

Mr McKenzie added: "You don't have to agree with their politics, but they were the men who were fundamental in the reformation, men who conceived and executed the concept of Britain."

The 13th Duke of Argyll agreed.

He said: "The Campbells have had a significant effect on the west coast, and Scotland as a whole.

"You are looking at one who was beheaded and one of his relatives invented the maiden which beheaded him. So it's extraordinary to look at it."

The mausoleum also holds wider historical importance. It contains medieval burial effigies dating back to the 1450s which are thought to be the last examples of such quality in Scotland.

"This is Sir Duncan Campbell of Loch Awe, and his wife Marjorie, the great great grand-daughter of Robert the Bruce." Mr McKenzie told me.

"They are not only of incredible historical importance , they're also of incredible quality."

The stone carvings are incredibly detailed. They show how a lady would have dressed, down to the beading on her gown.

The armour worn by the lord is said to be evidence that even then, the Campbells had aspirations to be more than just a Highland clan.

Restoration project

But there is a problem.

"It has got water coming in the roof, water coming in the walls," said Mr McKenzie.

"Every time I come here I see more pieces of stone dropping off. The place is desperately in need of restoration."

Dinah MacDonald, from the Benmore and Kilmun Community Development Trust, said: "Places like this are vital."

"There are Campbell's all over the world, and I'm sure a lot of them would be very keen to come back and visit....and yes, I'd welcome that, even as a MacDonald," she laughs.

The restoration project is likely to take two years once funding is in place, and the initiative is being supported by Argyll & Bute Council, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority, Argyll Estates and the Church of Scotland.

The last clan chief buried in the mausoleum was the 10th Duke of Argyll, Niall Diarmid, in 1949.

The 13th duke, Torquhil Campbell, said he would return, if only to see the restoration completed.

"I'm absolutely fascinated by churches and burial grounds, I think it's very important that people should be able to come and have a look in here as well," he said.

"But there are a few more spaces here......"

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific