Nothing can be more peaceful to behold than the little church at Colintraive, situated by the shores of the Kyles of Bute, clearly visible from the sea against its dark background of trees. Equally peaceful is the scene within.
The origin of this church derives from the concern of a lady, Mrs John Campbell, the wife of the laird of South Hall, for the spiritual wellbeing of the tenants who worked on her husband’s estate and others who lived in the vicinity. The Scottish ecclesiastical parishes in the early 19th Century and in country districts were often of large extent and the parish church awkwardly placed for the convenience of some of the parishioners. The parish church for South Hall was at Inverchaolain, on the opposite side of Loch Striven and so accessible only by boat or by many weary miles on foot.
Mrs Campbell had already shown her concern in a practical way by ‘assembling young people in her neighbourhood in a Sabbath School kept by herself’. Now she set herself to raise money to build a church. If it seems strange that a young lady, albeit the laird’s wife, should attempt such a task, it should be remembered that this is no ordinary lady but the daughter of Kirkman Finlay, the builder of Castle Toward and the most notable entrepreneur in the commercial world of Glasgow in his day. The marble Victorian memorial, which is set above the church door on the inside wall, tells us that her wish was fulfilled and that to her all the credit is due.
It was about 1837 that Mrs Campbell began her campaign, asking for donations towards a building fund from relations and friends and any others who might be interested. The site was given by Mr John Campbell. The cost of the church was to be £400 but, like most estimates of the kind, it would fall short of the true total. John Campbell would undoubtedly be the main subscriber, who met the accounts of the tradesmen from the fund or from his own pocket.
The new church was completed and opened for worship on 23 August 1840 by the parish minister of Inverchaolain, the Reverend Alexander MacTavish. A sad feature of the opening was that Mr and Mrs Campbell were not there to see the completion of an enterprise which owed so much to both of them. They had gone South for Mrs Campbell’s health
Three years after the new church had been opened, there occurred that event which split the Church of Scotland from top to bottom — the Disruption. Duncan Maclean, the parish minister of Kilmodan, had been at the Assembly and was one of those who had walked out to found the Church of Scotland Free. On his return to Glendaruel, he had made plain his position and met with great hostility from the majority of his heritors who seemed resolved to make his departure from church, manse and people as unpleasant and harrowing as possible. The displaced minister of Glendaruel was given a pulpit and congregation at Colintraive where he ministered very happily, sharing his time with his Free Church flock at Glendaruel. He writes of this experience ‘these, my two congregations being ten miles apart, and it being desirable that they should have regular supply in Gaelic and in English, I travelled twenty miles and preached four sermons every Sabbath.’ The Colintraive people were more than content with his ministry to them and petitioned the Free Church Presbytery of Dunoon to have him formally inducted as their minister. When the day of the induction came, the Presbytery found the church barred against them because of an interim edict which had been secured by MacTavish and Buchanan, as representing Moderator and Clerk of the Established Presbytery of Dunoon with the support of some of the original subscribers to the church appeal. The induction, however, went ahead in the school and the Free Church Presbytery Minutes tell us that ‘Mr. Maclean was most cordially received by the people as their pastor.’
To round off this history and bring it down to the present day, we note that, in 1929, the Colintraive church became part of a United Church of Scotland and in 1954 the congregations of Colintraive and Glendaruel were united under one minister who served them both much as Maclean had done almost 100 years before. There are no Campbells now at South Hall and the mansion house has been taken down. But the church which the wife inspired and the husband saved in a testing time still remains and is a living centre for the worship of the community.
The Kirk Session of Kilmodan and Colintraive Church accord their grateful thanks to the Reverend Dr. John Gray, sometime of New College, Edinburgh, who researched and prepared this manuscript. June 1987.
The church interior
The interior of the Church is plain and bright, however, many ministers have commented that the best view of the church is from the chancel. There you get to view the stained glass windows donated by the McFeat family in memory of their son Matthew A. McFeat and those from Colintraive who were lost in the Great War 1914-1918.
The more recent addition of the glass doors afford the minister a wonderful view of the Kyles and the boats sailing by.
The Present Day
On 16th September 2006 the congregation of Kilmodan and Colintraive was linked with the congregations of Kyles and Kilfinan by the Presbytery of Argyll to become the charge of West Cowal: Kilfinan linked with Kilmodan and Colintraive and linked with Kyles. The charge now stretches from the east shore of Loch Fyne at Otter Ferry to Colintraive and the west shore of Loch Striven. Worship takes place in the Colintraive building on the first two Sundays of each month.