The Lismore Graveslabs Project

Why the Island Needs £20,000 to Protect its Medieval Heritage

The visit to the Lismore Parish Kirk graveyard was a popular part of the Homecoming Lismore Week in August 2009.

 During the preparation of the guide for visitors, it became very clear that some of the most valuable, medieval, stones had deteriorated since they had been described in the Inventory drawn up in the 1970s by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland.One of best hound biting stag

 One of the best graveslabs still shows, at the top, a hound biting a stag, with a goose above but the shears and casket at the bottom of the slab have virtually disappeared.signs of weathering

Unusually for West Highland graveslabs, several of the Lismore stones are slate and these are showing signs of serious weathering at the edges. Fragments of slate have become detached.weathering 2


detached slate

Over the years some have broken, and it is difficult to control the growth of moss on others.weathering 3

weathering 4

What Have We Done about this?

At a well-attended meeting of the Friends of Lismore Museum in October 2012, where priorities for CELM were discussed, action to safeguard the graveslabs was seen to be urgent.  CELM Directors were asked to take this concern forward with the Church Session.  After consultations with Historic Scotland and a site visit, in August 2013 the Conservation Directorate provided a very full assessment of the graveslabs, as well as the slabs mounted in the floor of the church:  “Lismore Cathedral – West Highland Grave Slabs”.  This report, which is available for study in the museum archive, provided detailed advice about the measures needed to conserve and protect the slabs.




Historic scotland logo

August 2013

Conservation Directorate

Meanwhile, after discussions with the Rev. Roderick Campbell, a joint project team (CELM and the Lismore Session) was formed (currently Mary MacDougall, Bob Hay, John Livingstone, Donnie MacCormick and Barbara McDougall) and a bid was submitted to Historic Scotland for financial support to lift, dry, clean, conserve and repair eight of the slabs, and to display them in a protected shelter within the graveyard with interpretation boards.  The team spent a lot of time surveying the graveyard and were able to identify an area in the SW corner that was free of any other memorials.  It was agreed after considering various options for the shelter, to ask a local designer to suggest a design for an Argyll oak structure to accommodate and protect the eight stones.

Paying for the Work

In February this year (2014), Historic Scotland approved the plans in principle and offered to meet 60% of the costs, subject to approval of all the details, including the archaeological work involved in the lifting, the qualifications of the contractors to do the conservation work, and the design of the shelter.  No work could start until the full funding had been secured.  We now have two detailed estimates and are actively seeking a third – there are very few contractors in Scotland with suitable qualifications.

This is very expensive work, involving many hours of specialist work.  Costs will be reduced by offering storage for the stones on the island (although some of the more damaged slabs may have to be taken to the mainland) and the generous offer by the Session of the Manse to accommodate the contractors.  Nevertheless, the team is faced with the need to raise an additional £20,000 before the work can start.  Work is in hand to apply for funding from grant giving bodies, but we are also interested in possible sponsorship.

These slabs are recognized as a vital part of the heritage of Lismore, dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries when the MacDougalls were the dominant family in the West.  When repaired and mounted within the graveyard, they will show that the island has a great pride in its heritage, and they will be an important attraction for visitors.Two horizontal