St. Columba's Chapel
The chapel was built in 1838 on the site of the ancient Drimnin Castle, on a rocky knoll overlooking the Sound of Mull and Tobermory on lands that were once those of the Macleans of Drimnin. The Macleans lost control of Drimnin after supporting the Jacobite uprising and it passed through several other owners before being bought in 1835 by a wealthy Edinburgh lawyer, Sir Charles Gordon.
The Gordons were Catholics in an almost exclusively Protestant area. Unsurprisingly the local population was disapproving when Sir Charles demolished the castle and replaced it with a Catholic chapel in about 1840, which became the centre of worship for Catholics from Mull and the neighbouring Ardnamurchan. The situation was exacerbated by the introduction of a full time priest, who lived in the newly constructed Hermitage close to the Chapel.
After the untimely death of Sir Charles in 1845, the Chapel gradually fell into disuse and was supplanted by a chapel within Drimnin House. It was here that Saint Mary McKillop, whose parents came from Roy Bridge and who is Australia’s first saint, worshipped on her visit to the UK in the late 19th century. After the Gordon family sold the Estate in 1943, the Chapel became a ruin but was given a Grade B listing to protect its historical and scenic importance.
Attempts to secure planning consent to convert the Chapel to a house were denied in the 1990s and again on appeal, leaving the Chapel a deteriorating ruin, despite attempts by the Highland Council to facilitate a rescue plan.
Following acquisition of the Drimnin Estate by its current owners in 2002, plans were formulated to restore the chapel as a place of non-denominational Christian worship and to make it a centre for music and the arts. For this purpose a charity, St Columba’s Drimnin Trust, was established to restore the Chapel and return this important local landmark to its original condition.
Architectural drawings prepared in 1838 show the form of the building as it is seen today – a simple rectangular chancel facing north, with a bell tower at the south end. The exterior was harled in lime, with sandstone facings and a roof of Easdale slates. The interior was richly decorated on a background of blue. Steep stairs at the rear of the nave led to a balcony and to the vestry on the first floor of the tower – the only part of the Chapel with any form of heating!
The Chapel was restored to its original form in 2008-12, with the addition of important modern conveniences such as electricity and heating. This included repairs to the stonework, a new slate roof, and the replacement of the stone render with traditional Scottish lime harling. A second hand bell, cast in London in 1862, was installed to replace the one removed when the Chapel was taken out of use.
The restoration was completed in 2012 with funds raised by St.Columba’s Drimnin Trust and hosted its first wedding in 128 years, in September 2010.
The Chapel was officially opened in May 2012 by His Royal Highness Prince Edward in a ceremony conducted by clergy from the Catholic, Church of Scotland and Episcopal Church of Scotland, and attended by Donald Cameron of Lochiel (Lord Lieutenant of Inverness), local residents with music provided by the Astrid String Quartet.
The Chapel is available for Christian services of any denomination, for weddings and for other events. Its principal purpose however is to provide opportunities for musicians, particularly young musicians at the start of their careers, to have the time and space through residencies to practice, develop, compose and perform and to bring music to the local community. Details can be found here.
Donations and legacies towards the work of the Trust, however large or small, are always welcomed for the up-keep of the Chapel and its musical work. Donations by UK taxpayers attract the tax benefits of Gift Aid, significantly increasing the value of the donation. To make a donation click here