Kirk Session Minutes 1705 and 1728

Attribution: Photo copyright S. Fraser

Extract from Kiltearn Kirk Session Minutes 1705 and 1728 By D. C. MURRAY

Mr Campbell, Drummore Farm, above Evanton on the Swordale road rescued a copy of the parish Session records about to be burnt with other items from a cupboard in the village hall. This happy chance preserves for local perusal a copy of the Minutes covering fourteen yeas between 1705 and 1728. There are two gaps. The copy was made, no doubt, from the original in a leather-bound school log-book with ruled and numbered pages and concludes after the minutes of 30th December, 1728: “The last minutes transcribed are copied verbatim and are the last in the record book. Alness 20th October, 1884. Alexander Ross.”

Matters discussed and some decided by the Kirk Session were various and covered church finance, public morals, the appointment of ministers and schoolmasters, repair of church property, the distribution of charity and the allocation of pews or grave lairs. These records are interesting for the light they throw on the people of the parish from the laird of Foulis down to the sick and needy, naming benefactors and delinquents. They show the poverty and hardship in which life was passed then.


Kiltearn Parish Church

Kiltearn Parish Church, November 1953. The building is now a ruin but a 17th or 18th century pulpit from the disused church is said to have been installed in the parish church at Lochgoilhead which was restored in 1955.      Attribution: unknown

The names of the heritors of the parish in May 1710 were: Munro of Foulis; Hector Munro of Drummond; Captain Andrew Munro of Lemlair, Alexander Munro of Killichoan; Farquhar Munro of Teanaird; and John Bethune of Culnaskea – Clan Munro and the family doctor complete. These of course were all landlords. The Kirk Session might on the other hand, be a mixture of lairds or tacksmen and humbler tenants. On September 2nd, 1728, the following were appointed elders: Duncan Reid in Clare; William Balloch in Clare; Rory Ross in Knockmartine; John McAllie in Swordale; Lauchlane McPherson in Parks; George Robertson in Balcony; Robert McRol in Fowlis; Andrew McCay in Culniscea; John Caird Munro, Catewell; Donald Balloch in Limlair; James Robertson in Polloch (no doubt Peallaig); John Grant in Ardullie.

Kiltearn Parish Church, November 1953

Kiltearn Parish Church, November 1953.  The building is now a ruin but a 17th or 18th century pulpit from the disused church is said to have been installed in the parish church at Lochgoilhead which was restored in 1935. 
Attribution: [Photo was courtesy of C J Fraser of Reelig.]

Though the universal tongue was Gaelic the only hint of this in the Session Minutes comes from the names and nicknames of parishioners. For instance, a lady named Cneadach nin dol Roy appears, that is the daughter of Red Donald known as Cneadach. This word can mean a sobber, a groaner, a puny person and was applied to a sufferer from asthma. It was used about a Credach Munro in Culcairn and another of the same name in Katwell. Cneadach is spelled correctly in Gaelic, Credach representing the pronunciation more or less.

Women’s Gaelic names are frequently used correctly. In June 1705 Kathrine Nin Dol Andrew vic Farquair is dilated; in 1707 Janet Nigilivrie hired a mort cloth. Later the same year Mary nin Varchie (Mairi nighinn Mhurchaidh or Mary Murdo’s daughter) and Issobel Nicrol (Isbeal Nic Roal or Isbeal Ronald’s daughter) each received 10 shillings Scots or 10 pence stirling from the church collection. Oddly enough no woman called Munro is written down as Nin or Nic Rothach, which shows that Munro or Rothach was never used a first name. In men’s names there is no uniformity and sometimes the English form and some times the Gaelic patronymic is used e.g. Hugh McVriebiter in Wester Foulis; John McGilliechrist in Parks; Alex Munro alias McHuston vic Rob in Laimlair. In one place John McMaith and Janet Matheson his wife are mentioned. It is odd that he is given the Gaelic and his wife this English form of their surname.

Spelling was erratic in English in the early 18th century so that variations in personal and place names in these records are common. Occasionally the obscurity of the written text defeated our transcribers but only rarely so. The following place-names are no longer in use Tearivan, Molnaver, Tanachan and Tachilaik. The location of Tarivan is known from a notarial report of 16th October, 1767, which is given in transcription in the school log book as follows: “…. at Tearrivan on the muir and pasture grounds thereof witnesses and agents for both principals, who were minors Culcairn and Fowlis, perambulated the said pasturage’s and grounds and adjacent to and belonging to said lands of Tearrivan called Dalghill and Bogpiper with the two houses built there …..” Milnaver may well be the nearby mill which used

Harvesting in the field between church and the shore of the Cromarty Firth.

Harvesting in the field between church and the shore of the Cromarty Firth.      Attribution: unknown

to work at Ballavoulin. Tanachan (Gaelic Tamhnachan) means a green field. Tachilaik was no doubt a Drummond clachan. It may represent Teach a laig, house in the hollow. In 1726 the Kirk Session pressed the minister to find means to start a charity school “at Clynes, being the centre of the Paroch of Skire incrorie”. The rewriter could not understand this name which must have been originally written to represent Cill mo Bhri, the ruins of which church lie beside the main road at Waterloo. Sgire is the Gaelic word for parish.

The farm name spelled nowadays Teanord is frequently on record, e.g. in 1708, as Teanaird which shows that it derives from the word meaning a height not a hammer, i.e. ard not ord This old reference cannot have been known to Professor Watson who in The place names of Ross & Cromarty does not translate it, calling it only Ord House.

The writing of the Kirk Session Minutes, depending upon the current Session clerk, differed in detail and regularity. Those of March 20th, 1710, were only a line and a half followed by the observation “The rest of the minutes of this session left through default of the clerk”. On 8th of February, 1713, only “Nothing of interest” appears and it is the same for April, May, August and October and after that there is no minute at all till May 1717, when a new schoolmaster, Robert Robertson, is agreed on and that a schoolhouse should be erected at Tach i laik. For whatever reason silence falls again till October 1722 when a new minister is called.

A parish schoolmaster though miserably paid was useful and of importance. He was generally also session clerk. Walter Ross was called in as master in 1709 but had gone by November. They had to advertise for a replacement by “placard to be set up”. One wonders what good that would have done. The following year the heritors met to decide where to have a school but could not agree and referred the matter to the presbytery who said it should be at Drummond. John Matthew from Calder (that is Cawdor) was appointed to the vacant post but within a few months he was dilated with Anna Balgach for adultery, which they admitted and he was debarred from being precentor and schoolmaster In August 1711 “William Gordon, a young man out of the shire of Sutherland” was made schoolmaster and session clerk, but he too seems to have failed and Robert Robertson replaced him in 1717. In 1726 Gilbert Robertson became his successor and by the next year a new school and schoolhouse were built. It was ten feet wide by thirty-six feet long with a hewn door, three hewn windows and a hewn chimney for the dominie’s chamber and cost £69 8s. 8d. Thus a modest advance had been made at length . But two years later on 30th December, 1728, a new schoolmaster from Inverness, William McBean, was appointed.


“George Munro and Katherine McGilphadric in Culbin guilty of antenuptiall fornication, being summoned, called and compeared, acknowledged their guilt of fornication and were ap(pointed) to make public confession.” Such cases appear from time to time. In 1705 Hugh Munro in Swordale being compeared confessed his guilt and was dismissed, whereas Alex Ross denied his guilt and offered to take the oath of Compurgation. In May 1708 Roderick Cuach in Fowlis refused to stand in sackcloth. John Ross and Janet Ross in Pitmaduthy were suspected of adultery by lying in the smith’s barn alone at Fowlis going to and returning from the Contin market. They denied it. The session did what it could to preserve public morality but it may be supposed that observance was a concern important to the session; In 1708 an elder, Alex Munro was appointed “to take notice of the people that they do not go home in time of sermon”. In 1711 John Munro, smith, compeared and confessed that “he occasionally let an oath pass when tempted and he was exhorted to refrain from such godless practise in time to come.” Isabel Wilson was summoned for baking on the Sabbath and not attending the ordinances. She was appointed to be publicly rebuked. At a later date John Dease in Tannachan and his wife were dilated for breach of the Sabbath.

On December 16, 1704, Hugh Munro in Wester Glinns at Tearivan wrote out for John Munro of Tearivan a paper giving 500 merks Scots to be distributed to the poor of the parish by the minister and elders. The writ was witnessed by Andrew Munro at the Bridgend of Culcairn. The session however decided to by a new mortcloth and only the balance of 130 merks was left to distribute. “£2 Scots was given to John Buie in Newton to help to the curing of a sick boy.” To divert the benefaction to the purchase of a mortcloth was not a creditable act but the possession and hiring out of the cloth to dignify public funerals with a touch of pomp was a source of income to the parish funds, though uncertain.

Kiltearn Old Parish Church Pulpit

Here, in fact, is the Kiltearn pulpit referred to, now located in Lochgoilhead parish church.    Attribution: [Photo RCHS] 

There appear to have been a good and poorer mortcloth. In 1707 Cucairn paid £16 stirling for one which was a considerable sum. This seems to have come from Holland via Inverness. In 1723 mention is made of a velvet and a coarse mortcloth. They were in demand to cover the poor coffins on their last journey to the grave but it was difficult to collect the charges for their hire. The subject appears often in the session records. Different elders are appointed to gather the unpaid dues, but the problem remained unsolved. Poor people had no coin in which to make payment and the session could hardly accept payment in kind.

Burial sites in Kiltearn churchyard were granted by the Kirk session. In 1705, for instance, William Stewart the minister, Hector Munro of Drummond and Francis Robertson in Kiltearn were allowed burial plots there; and John Munro of Tearivan left 500 merks for a burial isle. The old meaning of Isle is refuge – not a gangway or wing inside the church but an enclosure inside or outside the building. Such walled family burying places are still to be seen in old churchyards.

The church itself was thatched and in 1707 it was “appointed each oxgate” (1) in the parish to carry to the thatching of the church one load of heather two (mornings) from woodies. In July the same year Joseph Montgomery was appointed to secure the chapel with doors and windows. Two years later it is noted that he is very dilatory in making repairs to the loft of the chapel. In 1726 the kirk session recommend to Sir Robert Munro and the rest of the heritors to cause each davoch (2) load four carts of heather for thatching of the church without loss of time. Three months later it was appointed that five firlots victual, being two pecks out of each davoch, be given to John Munro, alias Breck, in Teanaird to thatch the church with heather. Eight months after that we are told that John Munro, alias Brebader, was paid three pounds Scots for thatching the kirk. It appears as if John Speckled Munro was replaced by John Weaver Munro who had to be paid cash when payment in meal was not forth coming.

“Not far from Alness is the kirk of Kiltearn, but as the centre of population is about a mile away – apparently beyond the powers of modern Presbyterian feet – it too has been disused since the Second World War and is gradually becoming a rather dull ruin. Though built in 1791, its east gable incorporates two medieval buttresses and a drip mould; other features of interest are the southward projection of the aisle and the considerable roof span. The east and west lofts, whose pannelled fronts are continuous with the south loft, have internal stairs; the south aisle has a double forestair leading to a classical doorway with lugged architraves, and a small lobby flanked by retiring rooms gives entrance to the loft itself.” (p89)

“The Munro of Fowlis loft at Kiltearn (1791) has a simple pannelled breast which continues round the adjoining east and west lofts, and behind the loft are two retiring rooms approached by a double forestair and an elegant doorway.”
(p.194) – George Hay. “The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, 1560-1843” (Oxford 1957).


A dispute about seats in the church involving George Mackenzie of Inchcoulter, Colin Mackenzie of Mountgerald, John Munro, tacksman of Kiltearn and George Robertson in Balcony was settled by the heritors themselves. Newcomers could not expect the best positions. Church collections were noted, but not regularly. They started by totalling about a pound. This must have been a Scots pound (3); but they go down to nine shillings and sixpence which is ninepence halfpenny sterling. However, church equipment was given or bought from time to time. In 1689 the Lady of Balconie had presented a beautiful and valuable silver communion cup made in Inverness to the parish, which remains in use to this day. On August 15th, 1726, “The clerk was instructed to write to Mr Bethune, minister of Roskeen, for the silver cups for the communion times belonging to the paroch.” This leads one to wonder if some parish silver has been lost. A half crown or £1 10s. 0d. Scots was paid to a smith for “helping the bell chain” in 1723 and in 1725 £1 10s. 0d. was paid for a sandglass with iron frame.

Kiltearn Manse

A Victorian view of the former Kiltearn Manse which was situated only a yard or two from the church.   
Attribution: unknown

In 1728 Sir Robert Munro gave a large plank and Culcairn, his brother, gave two trees for “standards” or legs for a communion table and £4 13s. 4d. was spent on making the table and forms and a timber box. Table linen was also procured, nine ells (4) of linen at ten shillings per ell cost £4. 10s 0d. and nails, tape and needles nineteen shillings.

The last minute transcribed was of the meeting on December 30th, 1728, when for the first time mention is made of marriage banns being called, three times for McClassan and Anne McLeod. It is also reported that Donald Brebiter (Bremner now, weaver) and Donald Reid’s daughter got a certificate, presumably of marriage.

Three hundred and thirty-seven pages in the old school log book of transcription from the session minutes have been written in two hands, one the handsomer but both very legible. Mr Alexander Ross who under took the copying almost a century ago and Mr. Campbell who saved the volume from fire well deserve the praise and thanks of local history-lovers and the parishioners of Kiltearn for their pietas.

1. 0xgate – as much land as one ox could plough in a year.
2. Davoch – a unit of land of varying extent but commonly used as an administrative unit for the collection of rent and taxes.
3. Scots pound – equivalent to one-twelfth of a pound sterling.
4. Ell – a cloth measure. In Scotland the ell was about 37 inches.

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