A brief history of Pennyghael

Pennyghael is part of Brolass, the area to the East of the Ross of Mull and is in the Parish of Kilfinichen and Kilvickeon. It is most probable that the name means "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 this -- there is evidence of Neolithic cairns at Burg on the Ardmeanach peninsula.

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 us 

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 held sway, beginning with Somerled, who took the title Lords of the Isles. 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:- the pennyland of Burg; the six and a half pennylands of Ardmeanach, also Pennyghael, Pennycross, Killunaig, Torrans, Beach, Glen Leidle, Carsaig, Finacheg and Glen Cannel. Most of these lands were occupied by and "in factory" to the MacGilvrays as they had been for many years previously.

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

1542. Archibald McMcIluray (c1510-1565) was the first to be named Laird of Pennyghael in official record - and in 1608 a Neil McGilvray held Pennyghael on charter from Duart.

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

…. in 1637 "excepta denariata de Pennygaill per M. Martinum McIlvrae possassa." (except the one pennyland of Pennyghael held by Martin McGilvra) [Register of The Great Seal of Scotland 1424 - 1513 ] 

In 1679 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 direct line, the baronetcy and headship of the Duart family devolved on MacLean of Brolass, the head of the younger branch of the clan.

In 1765 Dr. Alex McLean purchased Pennycross, a farm made famous by its associations with the Beaton Physicians. From this date he became MacLean of Pennycross.

 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 Gentlemen's 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.

1801. Hugh, the last landed McGilvray of Pennyghael, finally sold his estate, then comprising: halfpennyland of Glen Leidle : 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.

 In 1819 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. 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 remained in his family until it was sold in 1920 to Robert Simpson Pettigrew. The Pettigrews were responsible for adding the two wings to Pennyghael House. At this time the estate comprised Torrans, Killunaig, Pennycross and Pennyghael.

 Following the death of Mrs Pettigrew, the estate was sold in 1925/6 to Harold Flower, who had been to the House as a visitor. The estate passed to the next two generations of the family, until it finally changed hands again in 1985. Since the Second World War, individual houses and small parcels of land from this and other local estates have been sold off separately. 

 The present owners of the Estate are Participatiemaatschappij Epsilon BV . The Estate now comprises the ancient farms of Beach, Torrans, Killunaig, Pennycross and Pennyghael, together with parts of Glen Leidle and Kinloch. 

 The preceding information was taken from: 

  Pennyghael in the Past Historical Archive 

  PPHA holds information about the local postal district of Pennyghael, which encompasses the lands of both Brolass and Ardmeanach. It stretches from Kilpatrick in the west and includes the ancient farms of Ardchrishnish, Ormsaig, Beach, Beinn an Aoinidh, Torrans, Tolls, Killunaig, Pennycross, Pennyghael, Carsaig, Carvalog, Kinloch. Airds of Kinloch, Ardvergnish, Ulvalt, (Craig in Glen More), Dererach, Killiemore, Kilfinichen, Tiroran, Scobul, Slochd, Salachry, Culliemore, Tavool, Burg, Knockroy, Cambus, Achonnaill, Balmeanach, Gribun and Inch Kenneth. 

Does your family have connections with this area ? Have you any questions about how people lived in former times? Have you memories or family tales you would be prepared to share?

You are most welcome to contact the Archivist at pennyghaelpast@pennyghael.org

top of page arrow