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small stone chapel with cross overlooking a loch
Keills Chapel with cross
Knapdale is immediately north of Kintyre, joining it to the rest of Argyll
Population 2,325 
OS grid reference NR700747
• London 370 mi (600 km)
Council area
  • Argyll and Bute
Lieutenancy area
  • Argyll and Bute
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°01′N 5°31′W / 56.02°N 5.52°W / 56.02; -5.52Coordinates: 56°01′N 5°31′W / 56.02°N 5.52°W / 56.02; -5.52
Loch Arail in late summer, with heather in bloom

Knapdale (Scottish Gaelic: Cnapadal) forms a rural district of Argyll and Bute in the Scottish Highlands, adjoining Kintyre to the south, and divided from the rest of Argyll to the north by the Crinan Canal. It includes two parishes, North Knapdale and South Knapdale.


Local attractions include the Chapel of Keills. A grave-slab in the chapel has a carving of a clarsach similar to the Queen Mary Harp currently at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, one of only three surviving medieval gaelic harps. West Highland grave slabs from the Argyll area suggest that Knapdale is where this harp originated. The village also has the thirteenth-century Kilmory Chapel and the late twelfth-century Castle Sween.

A 173-acre estate in the area belongs to former chief executive of Network Rail, Iain Coucher. Named "Iainland", the property was purchased by Coucher in 2010 following his controversial departure from the company, and includes two islands in the Sound of Jura.[1][2]

Places in Knapdale include:


The United Kingdom Census 2001 reported a population of 2325, down from 2641 in the United Kingdom Census 1991, a change from 312 to 527 in North Knapdale, and from 2641 to 2325 in South Knapdale. Census figures for the 19th and 20th centuries show a continuing and steady decline of population in North Knapdale, from a peak of around 2700 in 1825 to under 500 in 1950. Possible boundary changes make historic comparisons for South Knapdale less certain, but this part of the region appears not to have suffered the same depopulation as the north, and even modest growth, a rise from around 1750 in 1801 to around 2700 in 1901.


Gaels and Norwegians[edit]

Dunadd, the capital of Dál Riata

In the early first millennium, following an Irish invasion, Gaelic peoples colonised the surrounding area, establishing the kingdom of Dál Riata. The latter was divided into a handful of regions, controlled by particular kin groups, of which the most powerful, the Cenél nGabráin, ruled over Knapdale, along with Kintyre, the region between Loch Awe and Loch Fyne (Craignish, Ardscotnish, Glassary, and Glenary), Arran, and Moyle (in Ulster). Dunadd, the capital of Dál Riata, was located in this region, slightly to the north of the modern day limit of Knapdale, in what was then marshland.

This Gaelic kingdom thrived for a few centuries, but was ultimately was destroyed when Norse Vikings invaded, and established their own domain, spreading more extensively over the islands north and west of the mainland. Following the unification of Norway, they had become the Norwegian Kingdom of the Isles, locally controlled by Godred Crovan, and known by Norway as Suðreyjar (Old Norse, traditionally anglicised as Sodor), meaning southern isles. The former territory of Dal Riata acquired the geographic description Argyle (now Argyll): the Gaelic coast.

Magnus dragging his boat across the isthmus, as depicted in an 1899 book

In 1093, Magnus, the Norwegian king, launched a military campaign to assert his authority over the isles. Malcolm, the king of Scotland, responded with a written agreement, accepting that Magnus' had sovereign authority of over all the western lands that Magnus could encircle by boat. The unspecific wording led Magnus to have his boat dragged across the narrow isthmus at Tarbert, while he rode within it, so that he would thereby acquire Kintyre, in addition to the more natural islands of Arran and Bute.

Supposedly, Magnus's campaign had been part of a conspiracy against Malcolm, by Donalbain, Malcolm's younger brother. When Malcolm was killed in battle a short time later, Donalbain invaded, seized the Scottish kingdom, and displaced Malcolm's sons from the throne; on becoming king, Donalbain confirmed Magnus' gains. Donalbain's apparent keenness to do this, however, weakened his support among the nobility, and Malcolm's son, Duncan, was able to depose him.

A few years later, following a rebellion against Magnus' authority in the Isles, he launched another, fiercer, expedition to re-assert his authority. Many of the rebels, and their forces, sought refuge; they chose to flee to Kintyre and Knapdale. In 1098, being aware of Magnus' ferocity, the new Scottish king, Edgar (another son of Malcolm), quitclaimed to Magnus all sovereign authority over the isles, and the whole Kintyre peninsula - including Knapdale.

In the Isles[edit]

Castle Sween, one of the oldest stone castles now in Scotland

In the mid 12th century, Somerled, the husband of Godred Crovan's granddaughter, led a successful coup, and seized the kingship of the Isles.

During the later part of this century, Knapdale was evidently possessed by Suibhne, eponym of both Castle Sween and the MacSweens. In 1262, following increasing hostility between Norway and Scotland, the Scots forced Suibhne's heir, Dubhghall, to give up his lands - including Knapdale - to Walter Stewart, Earl of Menteith. In 1263, Hákon Hákonarson, King of Norway launched an invasion of Scotland to reassert Norwegian sovereignty. One of his supporters was Murchadh Mac Suibhne, who was rewarded with the Isle of Arran for his services. Nevertheless, following Hákon's death later that year, Magnús Hákonarson, King of Norway ceded the Suðreyjar to Alexander III, King of Scotland, by way of the Treaty of Perth, in return for a very large sum of money.

Early Scottish Knapdale[edit]

By the 13th century, Somerled's descendants had formed into three main families: the MacDougalls, MacRorys and the MacDonalds. At the end of the century, a dispute arose over the Scottish kingship between John Balliol and Robert de Bruys; the MacSweens backed John, hoping to recover Knapdale, the MacDougalls also took John's side, while the MacDonalds and MacRory backed de Bruys. When de Bruys defeated John, he declared the MacDougall lands forfeit, and gave them to the MacDonalds; the MacSweens largely became gallowglass mercenaries in Ireland. De Bruys awarded landlordship of the MacSween's former Knapdale lands to Walter's descendants.

The head of the MacDonald family married the heir of the MacRory family, thereby acquiring the remaining share Somerled's realm, and transforming it into the Lordship of the Isles, which lasted for over a century. After 4 years and 3 children, he divorced Amy, and married Margaret, the daughter of Robert II, the Scottish king, who gave him Knapdale as a dowry.

A 1689 map of mainland provinces (and individual islands), showing the wider province of Knapdale (in yellow); the north western border runs between Ormaig (adjacent to at the northern tip of Eilean Rìgh) and Anagra

In 1462, however, John, the then Lord of the Isles, plotted with the English king to conquer Scotland; civil war in England delayed the discovery of this for a decade. Upon the discovery, in 1475, there was a call for forfeiture, but a year John calmed the matter, by quitclaiming Ross (Easter, Wester, and Skye), Kintyre, and Knapdale, to Scotland.

As a comital province (medieval Latin:provincia), Knapdale was extended to include the adjacent lands between Loch Awe and Loch Fyne, which had been under MacSween lordship. In shrieval terms, Knapdale was initially served by the Sheriff of Perth; 5 years later, however, it was transferred to Tarbertshire. Gradually, when the Campbells to the east and north grew more powerful, the centre of power shifted towards them, and the sheriff court moved to Inveraray at the extreme northeast of the then Knapdale. Somewhat inevitably, in 1633, shrieval authority was annexed by the sheriff of Argyll.

When the comital powers were abolished by the Heritable Jurisdictions Act, provincial Knapdale ceased to exist, and the term came to exclusively refer to the present district, south of Lochgilphead. In 1899, counties were formally created, on shrieval boundaries, by a Scottish Local Government Act; the district of Knapdale - together with the rest of the former province - therefore became part of the County of Argyll.

Modern times[edit]

Knapdale Forest, planted in the 1930s, covers much of the region. During the 1930s, the Ministry of Labour supplied the men from among the unemployed, many coming from the crisis-hit mining and heavy industry communities of the Central Belt. They were housed in one of a number of Instructional Centres created by the Ministry, most of them on Forestry Commission property; by 1938, the Ministry had 38 Instructional Centres across Britain. The camp was used to hold enemy prisoners during the Second World War. The hutted camp in Knapdale was located at Cairnbaan, just south of the Crinan Canal, and a surviving building remains in use as a Forestry Commission workshop.

Following late 20th century reforms, Knapdale is now within the wider region of Argyll and Bute.


Knapdale has a designation as a National Scenic Area.

Reintroduction of the beaver[edit]

In 2005, the Scottish Government turned down a licence application for unfenced reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver in Knapdale. However, in late 2007 a successful application was made for a release project.[3] The trial was to be run over five years by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) monitoring the project.[4] The first beavers were released in May 2009. [5] This initial release into the wild of 11 animals received a setback during the first year with the disappearance of two animals and the unproven allegation of the illegal shooting of a third. However, the remaining population was increased in 2010 by further releases.[6]



  1. ^ Cohen, Nick (31 January 2010). "It's all aboard the gravy train for Network Rail bosses". Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  2. ^ Silvester, Norman (11 July 2010). "Controversial rail chief splashes out on £1m laird's mansion". Daily Record. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
  3. ^ WATSON, JEREMY (2007-09-30). "Beavers dip a toe in the water for Scots return". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  4. ^ "UK | Scotland | Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West | Beavers to return after 400 years". BBC News. 2008-05-25. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  5. ^ "UK | Scotland | Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West | Beavers return after 400-year gap". BBC News. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  6. ^ "New breeding beaver pair released in Scotland". BBC News. 10 May 2010. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  • Field, J. Learning Through Labour: Training, unemployment and the state, 1890–1939, University of Leeds, 1992, ISBN 0-900960-48-5
  • Dwelly, E. Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary New Edition, Birlinn, 2001, ISBN 1-84158-109-7
  • Census data after A vision of Britain (1801–1951) and SCROL (1991 and 2001)

External links[edit]

  • Knapdale People, the history of modern Knapdale using historic documents.
  • [1] - Information on the Knapdale Beaver Trial Introduction.
  • [2] - Visitor information for Inveraray, Tarbert, Knapdale, Crinan and Lochgilphead.