9.2 Sources and Approaches

A vast wealth of resources is available to support the study of the medieval period in Argyll. Various bodies have been dedicated to publishing related historic records to the estates and land owning families (eg Black Book of Taymouth – Innes 1855, Book of Islay – Smith 1895, The Book of the Thanes of Cawdor – Innes 1869, Highland Papers – MacPhail 1914-34, Argyll Sherriff Records – Paton 1915, 1918, Campbell Papers – Campbell 1916a, 1915b, Argyll Sasines – Campbell 1933, MacTavish 1935Acts of the Lords of the Isles – Munro and Munro 1986, Campbell Letters – Dawson 1997, etc). The Argyll County Records Office holds much unpublished estate archives, and many remain in private ownership and are largely untapped. The recent opening up of access to the archive of the Argyll Estates at Inveraray is a huge bonus (which will allow testing of some of the information released but unreferenced through Campbell of Airds, eg 2000-04, 2004a, 2004b). Many families who were not or are no longer resident to Argyll had holdings there, their papers are also often of relevance (eg the MacFarlane Papers in the Procurator Fiscal’s Library in Glasgow, or the Antrim Estate Papers in the Public Record Office in Belfast). The quality of the information to be extracted from these archives is perhaps best demonstrated by several academic studies of particular lordships, such as the Campbells (Boardman 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006), MacSorleys (McDonald 2000) or MacDonald South (Kingston 2004), or genealogical history (Sellar 1971, 1973, 2000, Woolf 2004, 2005). A number of excellent clan based histories have also used a combination of these archival and oral sources to great effect (eg Cregeen 1968, MacLean-Bristol 1995, 1999, 2007, MacTaggart 2004 and West Highland Notes and Queries).

As a complement to this more document-based history a considerable number of oral and traditional histories have been recorded and published, either in book form (eg Campbell 1889, Dewar 1964, etc) or as booklets produced by community groups either interested in local history or family histories (eg Wright 1989, Whittaker 1993, Rentoul and Dalton 2009, Clare nd, Higham nd). Argyll has a long pedigree of local scholars who have drawn together some excellent studies (eg Beveridge 1903, Grieve 1923, MacTavish 1935, Lamont 1966 and 1968, MacEacherna 1976, Campbell 1977) and it is a tradition which continues (eg Storrie 1981, MacDonald and Murdoch 1997, Byrne 1997 and 2010, Begg 1999, 2002, Pallister 2007, Hay 2009).

Irish sources, and particularly the Book of the Dean of Lismore (Watson 1937), have preserved a wealth of medieval poetry relating to Argyll, some being composed there, others referencing it, but all relating to the wider cultural milieu (eg see Meek 1998, 2004, McLeod 2004). The online database of Gaelic bardic poetry is bound to contain much currently untapped material.

Despite early interest in Argyll place-names (eg Gillies 1906, MacMillan 1960, Alcock and Alcock 1980), more thorough analyses have only recently begun to pick up pace. Macniven’s study of Islay (2015) is an exemplar for how in-depth analysis of a defined area can reveal a huge of wealth of information about how past societies organised and occupied the landscape (also see Holliday 2016 for Tiree).

This localised approach to associated historical disciplines has bled into archaeological studies, throughout the twentieth century a number of local heritage societies pioneered the celebration and study of areas of Argyll: Cowal, Kintyre, Mid Argyll and Lorn. Their journals and publications (Kist, Historic Argyll, Campbell 1984, Rennie 1993, Hood nd) are a wealth of information and in-depth studies.

Antiquarian interest in Argyll was also high, and various monuments, types of sites or areas attracted a range of interests, some of which were specifically medieval (eg Whyte 1873, 1875, Drummond 1881), while others only captured this in passing (eg Currie 1830, Christison 1904). Campbell and Sandeman’s (1964) valuable survey is unusual in its comprehensiveness and needs to be recognised alongside the results of wider research campaigns primarily concerned with prehistoric occupation, such as Fairhurst’s (many of which are referenced below, but also see 1969) and Cregeen’s (see Abernethy 2008), or early medieval, such as Alcock and Alcock (1979). The results of this work supported one of the most comprehensive archaeological surveys of any region in Scotland – the survey of Argyll by the Royal Commission of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (1971, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1992) and the spin off compendia, such as Steer and Barrowman’s Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands (1977) or Argyll Castles in the Care of Historic Scotland (1997), the introduction to which is invaluable. Unfortunately, against the weight and depth of this survey subsequent archaeological survey has been slow to follow.

Perhaps the only extensive work in medieval archaeology throughout the 1980s and 1990s has been David Caldwell’s work in Finlaggan (CANMORE ID 37708) (see Finlaggan: Case Study) (the full report of which remains unpublished, although smaller articles and reports are available – Caldwell 1990, 1993, 1998, Caldwell and Ewart 1993, a thoughtful summary is also found in Caldwell 2001) and the surrounding hills (Caldwell et al. 2000), together with a wider synthesis of Islay and its neighbouring islands (2001, 2008). Argyll’s castles have continued to attract interest (eg Simpson 1958, 1966, 1967, 1991, Millar 1963, 1966, Turner and Dunbar 1970, Dunbar and Duncan 1971, Turner 1998, Ewart and Baker 1998, Caldwell et al. 2015b, Caldwell and Stell forthcoming) and conservation at Historic Scotland’s properties has also resulted in some excavation (eg Ewart and Triscott 1996, Lewis 1996). However, this is beginning to change with the surveys of the Kilmartin Museum, Ellis, Regan and others, who have begun to identify the extent of sites still to be identified across the Argyll landscape. The success of these later surveys has begun to inspire local museums and community group surveys (one of the most comprehensive being by the Ross of Mull Historical Centre) and investigations of particular sites (Hidden Heritage Project) and Baliscate (CANMORE ID 294740). Colin and Paula Martin have also acquired an invaluable aerial photographic archive, primarily focussed on coastal and foreshore sites (also see Martin and Martin 2003, Martin 2008, 2009, 2014).

Region wide academic analysis has also borne fruit, with PhDs by Holley 2000 (also see Holley and Ralston 1995), James (2009), Thomas (2009), MacDonald (2010) to name but a few. Argyll’s place in wider, regional (often incorporated alongside wider west coast and or Highland studies) or national examinations should not be ignored or discounted (eg Gregory 1881, Bannerman 1977, Bridgland 2004, Cruden 1960, Duncan and Brown 1957, Cowan and Easson 1976, Dunbar 1981, Tabraham 1986, 1988, 1997, McDonald 1997, 2007, Fawcett 2002, 2011, Stell 2006, Oram 2014a, Caldwell and Hall 2014 , Duffy and Mytum 2015). These studies provide a sound basis for future research and opportunities for the benefits provided by taking a multi-discipline approach.