The Mull of Kintyre's history goes far, far back, into the mists of time, into a land of mysterious standing stones, celtic legend and a footprint in stone…
The footprint, which can be seen between Kiel Cave and St Columba's Chapel (now in ruins) at Southend, is signposted "St Columba's footprints", but that is a misnomer. Yes, there are two footprints. But, whilst the one nearest the sea is truly ancient, the one further from the sea was actually carved by a local stonemason in 1856.
St Columba is certainly reputed to have stayed here. It is only some twelve miles or so from the Antrim Coast, from where he set off on his pilgrimage and the name Keil derives from the Gaelic, Kilcolmkill, meaning the cell of Columba. St Columba's Chapel here, however, only comes on record from the beginning of the fourteenth century, some eight hundred years after the death of St Columba himself.
A clue to the ancient footprint's real purpose may be found some sixty miles further north at the Fort of Dunadd. Here, there is another very similar footprint, said to have been used in inauguration ceremonies. Soil from an area or estate would be placed in the footprint, for the king to stand on. The owner of the soil, upon which the king was now standing, could thus pledge his fealty to the king. Indeed, carved stone footprints are known in Britain from the Iron Age onwards and their use in inauguration ceremonies, including those of the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles, is recorded in Ireland and Scotland as recently as the late medieval period.
Back to the Mull of Kintyre footprint. From the second century AD onwards, the Scoti from Ireland, had been settling in Kintyre. By the late fourth century AD, however, the Scoti were here in such numbers that they drew the attention of, and were attacked by, the Picts. In retaliation, the High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages, invaded Kintyre in force and drove the Picts back. In the late fifth century, Fergus Mór Mac Eirc, the son of the King of Irish Dalriada, moved his centre of power over here with a host of warriors and various trappings of power including, it is said, the Stone of Destiny. It is suggested that this ancient footprint may, indeed, have been that of the Kings of the Scoti, put there to establish their bridgehead for the permanent settlement of Kintyre and Argyll. The Scoti who eventually gave our country its name, Scotland.
Scotland. It all started here… with a footprint.
Please note, these are merely snippets of history and are not to be taken as either authoritative or by any means comprehensive!