Pennyghael Local History

Prepared by Christine Leach, Archivist.

Pennyghael is part of Brolass, the area to the East of the Ross of Mull and is in the Parish of Kilfinichen and Kilvikeon. It is most probable that the name does mean "The Pennyland of the Gael", land being valued by the penny, or fractions of a penny.

4000BC. It is possible that communities were living on the island as early as 4000BC -- there is evidence of Neolithic cairns at Burg.

600BC. onwards.  By the Iron Age, land had been worked by early farmers around the shores of Loch Scridain. There is a string of 9 Duns (Forts) along both sides of the Loch. Each would have protected a farming community. According to the statistical accounts of the area, the Druids had a temple at Rossal, where they held their courts. There is no sign of the site now.

During the first century AD, the Norwegians and Danes began their raids, which undoubtedly affected the area; Ormsaig and Scobul being two of the Norse names bequeathed to the area.

327AD. King Colla da Crioch and 350 Scots clan chiefs from Ireland settled in the Western Isles. It is possible that Clan McGilvray made its appearance in Pennyghael at this time.

From the mid 1100's, the powerful dynasty of Gaelic-Norse descent, beginning with Somerled, who took the title Lords of the Isles, held sway. Most of Brolass was in the possession of the Abbey of Iona. The MacLeans of Duart came to hold much of the Church lands in Mull as tenant and vassal to the Abbot of Iona.

By 1390 the MacLean of Duart controlled - among other areas:- pennyland at Burg; 61/2 pennyland at Ardmeanach, also Pennyghael, Pennycross, Killunaig, Beach, Glen Leidle, Carsaig, Finacheg and Glen Cannel. (N. MacLean-Bristol. Warriors and Priests)

Most of these lands were occupied and "in factory" to the MacGilvrays as they had been for many years previously.

In 1493 the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, lost their supremacy and land was now held on charter from the Scottish Crown.

1542. Archibald McIlvray (c1510-1565) is the first to be named Laird of Pennyghael in official record. (Surnames of Scotland - their origin meaning and history. G. F. Black). And in 1608 a Neil McGilvray held Pennyghael on charter from Duart.

The Seventeenth Century saw bitter disputes between the MacLean of Duart and their principal creditors- Campbells, Earls of Argyll. Brolass and other Church lands were fought over.

1637 "excepta denariata de Pennygaill per M. Martinum McIlvrae possassa." (Register of The Great Seal of Scotland 1424 - 1513)

In 1675 the Campbells completed their take-over of Duart's lands in Mull and became the new overlords of the McGilvrays of Pennyghael, (though the McGilvrays loyalties remained with the MacLeans.) The warfare of so many years took its toll; farm rentals fell by 18% in 5 years and many farms were described as "waste".

During the 18th century, the conflict between the MacLeans and Argyll continued. After the death of Sir Hector MacLean, last of the main line, the baronetcy and headship of the Duart family devolved on MacLean of Brolass, the head of the younger branch of the clan.

In 1771 Sir Allan MacLean brought an action against the Duke of Argyll for the recovery of Duart lands. he recovered the lands of Brolass but by 1798 his successors were bankrupt and the estates had to be sold. This caused the Breakup of the estates and Kilpatrick, Pennyghael, Kinloch and Carsaig became separate properties. Money troubles were increasing for the McGilvrays of Pennyghael, as with many landed proprietors of the time. Blaeu's map of 1645 shows Gentlemens' homes at both Pennyghael and Carsaig but it is doubtful if either of these old structures would have formed any part of the present houses, the central portions of which were probably built in the late 1700's.

1778 Dr. Alex McLean obtained Pennycross on the death of his father-in-law Alex McGilvray. From this date he became MacLean of Pennycross.

1801. Hugh, the last landed McGilvray of Pennyghael, finally sold his estate, then comprising: Halfpennyland of Glen Liddle: Threefarthing land of Pennyghael: One pennyland of Carsaig: Threefarthing land of Finachy: Onefarthing land of Feorline.

His family went to live with his relative and main creditor, MacLean of Pennycross! The following year Pennycross bought the estate from John McDougall of Lunga.

By 1819 young Alex MacLean is living at Pennyghael. In the same year William McGillivray of The North-West Company, Montreal, Canada, bought the estate from Archibald MacLean (2nd of Pennycross)'s creditors. The estate comprised Pennyghael, Pennycross, Killunaig and three parcels at Torrans. Carsaig was sold to McLaine of Lochbuy. Before he was able to live at Pennyghael, William died in 1825, but he did set in train alterations to Pennyghael House. His daughters lived at Pennyghael for some time until Alexander MacLean 3rd of Pennycross bought the estate back, in 1840. He called the house Pennycross House and it remained so until the MacLeans moved to Carsaig and called the residence there Pennycross House. The mansion house at Pennyghael reverted to being Pennyghael House.

In 1859 Donald Robertson purchased Pennyghael estate and it has changed hands three more times to the present day, now comprising the ancient farms of Beach, Killunaig, Torrans, Pennycross and parts of Glen Liddle.

Kinloch estate was in the hands of MacLaine of Lochbuie until 1870. The estes of Carsaig and Tiroran were bought by Col. George C. Cheape in 1893.

Since the Second World war, small parcels of land from these and other local estates have been sold off separately.

Further Reading

The preceding information was taken from:

McGilvray of Pennyghael. Roy McGilvray 1998 ISBN 0-9695168-4-3

Ardmeanach. A hidden corner of Mull. Jackie le May. New Iona Press. 1995. ISBN 0-9516283-5-6

Notes on Brolass, Isle of Mull. N. Mcleod. unpublished. Held in Isle of Mull Museum, Tobermory.

An archive is currently being established in Pennyghael, encompassing the local postal area, the whole of Brolass, from Ormsaig in the West, including Beach, Torbhan, Torrans, Killunaig, Pennycross, Carsaig, Pennyghael, Kinloch, and Airds of Kinloch; then towards the Great Glen to include Rossal, Ulavalt and as far as Craig.

Around Loch Scridain the area includes Ardvergnish, Dererach, Killiemore, Kilfinichen, Tiroran and the whole of the Ardmenach peninsula.

Across Glen Seilisdair the area also includes Balmeanach, Gribun, Balnahard and finally the little island of Inch Kenneth.

Does your family have connections with this area? Have you and photographs, personal history or anecdotes that would be of interest to our archive? Have you any questions about people or places we could help you with?

Please contact Christine Leach: