SAINT ADAMNAN OF DULL - 704
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
Adamnan was the eighth abbot of Iona and a blood relation of Saint Columba as were the abbots before him. He was expelled from Iona by his monks because he yielded to the Roman church on the tonsure, the dating of Easter and other differences which had been decided at the synod at Witebia in Northumbria in 664. According to tradition, Adamnan (also known as Eonan) and eleven other monks left Iona and went east as missionaries to Christianize the rest of Alba. Adamnan settled at the north end of Loch Tay in Glenlyon. Adamnan brought Christianity to the area by establishing a settlement and chapel called "Brennudh" near the bridge of Balgie near Fortingall. The chapel was built near the only Pictish stone circle in Glenlyon which was a sacred site to the local population. Adamnan had a mill built on the stream of the neighboring side-glen at Milton Eonan (Eonan’s mill) to better the people’s living conditions. Another monk, Fillan, settled at the southern end of Loch Tay and also founded a chapel at Struan where the clan kirk now stands. Both men later became saints of the Columban church.
The rock on which Adamnan preached and prayed to avert a plague is known as "Craig-dianaidh" or the "rock of safety". In later days, neighboring chiefs would meet on this rock for judicial decisions and other purposes and do so in complete safety. It was here that a meeting between the chief of the MacIvors and the Stewarts of Garth occurred in 1476. The meeting degenerated into a battle and the MacIvors were defeated and many of the survivors fled north across the mountains to seek protection from our chief and became part of clan Donnachaidh.
When Adamnan was dying, the people assembled to receive his blessing, and asked where he wished to be buried. He requested that they should carry his corpse down the water until the rings of withs or "duls" that attached the handspikes to his bier broke. There they buried him in 704 and named the place Dull. This burial site is said to be where the first Christian church in the area was built and looks south onto the River Tay as it flows into Loch Tay. The original chapel, schools and other buildings were dedicated to St. Adamnan and the lands around Dull are still called Appin (abbey-lands) of Dull. When Kenneth McAlpine became king in 848, he moved the college to his capital at Dunkeld.
The Abthania (abbey-lands) of Dull was part of the territory held by Crinan (father of King Duncan) as both the abbot of Dunkeld and as the secular leader of the area. Just south of Fortingall is the former Robertson barony of Fearnan which is located on the north-eastern shore of Loch Tay. The chapel was replaced with a monastery of the Tironesian order in the 12th century. It was transferred from the Dunkeld diocese to St. Andrews in 1411.
The Clan Society in conjunction with the Breadalbane Heritage Society did an excavation in the Dull Parish Church in 2002-03 prior to the construction of a new floor within the building. The third and final excavation in June 2003 extended the earlier trial trenches and recover a fragment of an inscribed cross with an inscription that may date to the 8th century. (see photo). The form of the lettering and Columban shape of the incised cross are all features connecting this slab with the historical and place-name evidence of a Columban monastery. A story board about the excavation is located in the Clan Museum at Bruar.
Clan tradition says that this church site is the burial place of Duncan, the first chief of Clan Donnachaidh, who died around 1355. The story goes that Duncan had been mortally wounded by one of his servants while visiting the King at Scone to get new charters for his lands. Dying on the way home, his men carried him to Dull, where they were met by his eldest son Robert, our second chief. Robert had his father buried there and returned home with the new charters.
"Lairds of Glenlyon" by Duncan Campbell, 1886, pp. 6-7.
Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD), Project 1533, 2005, pp. 7-8, 12-13, 317-320.
"The Robertsons, Clan Donnachaidh in Atholl" by James Irvine Robertson, 2005.