The present parish church of Strachur is modern – a creation of the late eighteenth century, remodelled in the early twentieth – but it is the latest of a long succession of buildings on the site.
The place has the appearance of an early medieval church-site: in the heart of the clachan or kirkton, beside the village inn, it is a tall mound within a circular enclosure.
Who is the saint at Strachur?
The church of Strachur parish is shown on modern Ordnance Survey maps as Kilmaglash. But the earliest form of the name recorded is Kilmalash (Pont’s map, 1583 x 1591), while in later forms a g appears as in Kilmaglais (1630). If we take Pont’s form as normative, an expression of the pronunciation he heard when he was surveying Cowal in the sixteenth century, then we should probably understand the name as meaning ‘the church of [Saint] Mo Laisse‘. This saint’s name appears in places like Lamlash (Arran), which was originally Eilean Molaise, ‘Mo Laisse’s island’ (now called Holy Island), and perhaps Ardmoleish on the nearby Isle of Bute (NS073690).
On the other hand, if we accept the modern spelling, Kilmaglash, another saint’s name must be sought. But the -maglash element is not promising. The Aberdeen Breviary (1510) has a prayer on 30 January for a Saint Glascianus (Sancti Glasciani) who is said to be the patron saint of Kinglassie in Fife. This is not at all reliable, and looks like a medieval attempt to explain the place-name. The earliest form occur in the twelfth century and show that the name contains the Gaelic word cill, ‘church’ or ‘chapel’ – Kilglassin, Kilglessin etc. But the name may originally have meant ‘the church by the burn’ (Gaelic glais ‘burn, stream’), and may not be related to any saint at all.
But there is an Irish saint recorded as Glaisne in one medieval source, and he (or she?) may be commemorated in Irish place-names like Kilglass in Co. Longford and Kilglassan in Co. Mayo. So we cannot exclude the possibility that a saint with a name like Mo Glais (a hypocorism or devotional nickname derived from Glas or Glaisne) is commemorated at Kilmaglash – though we have no idea who he or she was.
For a good OS Map of Strachur and surrounding area, including roads and footpaths, click on ‘View Larger Map’ below.