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Argyllshire Brit Isles Sect 2.svg
Sovereign state  United Kingdom
Country  Scotland
County town Inveraray
 • Total 3,110 sq mi (8,055 km2)
  Ranked 2nd of 34
Chapman code
Argyll c. 1854

Argyll ( archaically Argyle, Earra-Ghàidheal in modern Gaelic), sometimes called Argyllshire, is a historic county and registration county of western Scotland.

Argyll is of ancient origin, and corresponds to most of the part of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata on Great Britain. Argyll was also a medieval bishopric with its cathedral at Lismore, as well as an early modern earldom and dukedom, the Dukedom of Argyll.

It borders Inverness-shire to the north, Perthshire and Dunbartonshire to the east, and—separated by the Firth of Clyde—neighbours Renfrewshire and Ayrshire to the south-east, and Buteshire to the south.

Between 1890 and 1975, Argyll was an administrative county with a county council. Its area corresponds with most of the modern council area of Argyll and Bute, excluding the Isle of Bute and the Helensburgh area, but including the Morvern and Ardnamurchan areas of the Highland council area.

There was an Argyllshire constituency of the Parliament of Great Britain then Parliament of the United Kingdom, from 1708 until 1983.


The name derives from Old Gaelic airer Goídel (border region of the Gaels). The early thirteenth-century author of De Situ Albanie explains that "the name Arregathel means margin (i.e., border region) of the Scots or Irish, because all Scots and Irish are generally called Gattheli (i.e. Gaels), from their ancient warleader known as Gaithelglas."

However, the word airer naturally carries the meaning of the word 'coast' when applied to maritime regions, so the placename can also be translated as "Coast of [the] Gaels". Woolf has suggested that the name Airer Goídel replaced the name Dál Riata when the 9th-century Norse conquest split Irish Dál Riata and the islands of Alban Dál Riata off from mainland Alban Dál Riata. The mainland area, renamed Airer Goídel, would have contrasted with the offshore islands of Innse Gall, literally "islands of the foreigners." They were referred to this way because during the 9th to 12th centuries, they were ruled by Old Norse-speaking Norse–Gaels.

Shire, county and district

The first record of Argyll as a shire dates from 1326, when a sheriff was appointed. At that time the shire covered a much larger area than the later county. It included the islands which later formed Buteshire, which became a separate shire by 1388, when a heritable sheriff was appointed. It also included the area of Ross-shire, which was separated from Argyll by an act of 1503.

The heritable sheriffdom of Argyll was abolished by the Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746, and the governance of Scottish shires was brought into line with that of counties in the rest of Great Britain.

Historical Argyll population
Year Pop. ±%
1801 81,277 —    
1811 86,541 +6.5%
1821 97,316 +12.5%
1831 100,973 +3.8%
1841 97,371 −3.6%
1851 89,298 −8.3%
1901 73,642 −17.5%
1911 70,902 −3.7%
1921 76,862 +8.4%
1931 63,050 −18.0%
1951 63,361 +0.5%

Between 1890 and 1975, Argyll had a county council. Argyll's neighbouring counties were Inverness-shire, Perthshire, Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and Bute. Renfrewshire and Ayrshire are on the other side of the Firth of Clyde. Bute is a county of islands in the firth. The county town of Argyll was historically Inveraray, which is still the seat of the Duke of Argyll. Lochgilphead later claimed to be the county town, as the seat of local government for the county from the 19th century. Neither town was the largest settlement geographically, nor in terms of population, however. Argyll's largest towns were (and are) Oban, Dunoon and Campbeltown.

The Small Isles of Muck or Muick, Rhum or Rùm, Canna and Sanday were part of the county until they were transferred to Inverness-shire in 1891 by the boundary commission appointed under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889. The island of Egg or Eigg was already in Inverness-shire.

The use of the County of Argyll for local government purposes ceased in 1975 with its area being split between Highland and Strathclyde Regions. A local government district called Argyll and Bute was formed in the Strathclyde region, including most of Argyll and the Isle of Bute. The Ardnamurchan, Ardgour, Ballachulish, Duror, Glencoe, Kinlochleven and Morvern areas of Argyll were detached to become parts of Lochaber District, in Highland. They remained in Highland following the 1996 revision.

Oransay Priory
Oronsay Priory, Oronsay, Inner Hebrides was recently 'improved' in anticipation of Queen Elizabeth's visit.
Coastal walk south east Isle of Colonsay
Coast of Colonsay

In 1996 a new unitary council area of Argyll and Bute was created, with a change in boundaries to include part of the former Strathclyde district of Dumbarton.


There was an Argyllshire constituency of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1708 to 1801 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1983 (renamed Argyll in 1950). The Argyll and Bute constituency was created when the Argyll constituency was abolished.

Civil parishes

Civil parishes are still used for some statistical purposes, and separate census figures are published for them. As their areas have been largely unchanged since the 19th century, this allows for comparison of population figures over an extended period of time.


  • Clan Campbell was the main clan of this region. The Campbell clan hosted the long line of the Dukes of Argyll.
  • Clan Gregor historically held a great deal of lands in this region prior to the proscription of their name in April 1603, the result of a power struggle with the Campbells.
  • Clan Lamont historically both allied and feuded with the Campbell clan, culminating in the Dunoon Massacre. In the 19th century, the clan chief sold his lands and relocated to Australia, where the current chief lives.
  • Clan Malcolm Also known as MacCallum. The Malcolm clan seat is Duntrune Castle on the banks of Loch Crinan
  • Clan MacLean Historically held lands on the Isle of Mull with its seat at Duart Castle


Most common surnames in Argyll at the time of the United Kingdom Census of 1881, by order of incidence:

  1. Campbell
  2. McDonald
  3. Cameron
  4. McLean
  5. McMillan
  6. McIntyre
  7. McDougall
  8. McCallum
  9. McKinnon
  10. McArthur

In fiction

  • Rosemary Sutcliff's novel The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) is set in Earra Gael, i.e. the Coast of the Gael, wherein the Dal Riada undergo an internal struggle for control of royal succession, and an external conflict to defend their frontiers against the Caledones.
  • The highlands above the village of Lochgoilhead were used for a scene in the 1963 film From Russia with Love, starring Sean Connery as James Bond. He killed two villains in a helicopter by firing gunshots at them.
  • The main focus of the song The Queen of Argyll is that of a beautiful woman, from Argyll. The song was sung by the band Silly Wizard.
  • The 1985 Scottish movie Restless Natives also used Lochgoilhead to film a chase scene, as well as some roads just outside the village.
  • The housekeeper Elsie Hughes in Julian Fellowes' television drama Downton Abbey is from Argyll.


Banavie Station (geograph 5324117)
Banavie train station, with Ben Nevis in the distance

The West Highland railway runs through the far north of the county, stopping at Locheilside, Loch Eil Outward Bound, Corpach and Banavie, before carrying on to Mallaig in Inverness-shire. A branch of the line also goes to Oban, calling at Dalmally, Loch Awe, Falls of Cruachan, Taynuilt and Connel Ferry.

Numerous ferries link the islands of the Inner Hebrides to each other and the Scottish mainland. Many of the islands also contain small airstrips enabling travel by air. A fairly extensive bus network links the larger towns of the area, with bus transport also available on the islands of Islay, Jura and Mull.

The county contains a number of small airports which serve the region and Edinburgh/Glasgow: Oban, Tiree, Coll, Colonsay, Campbeltown and Islay.

Kintyre has been one of the mooted locations for a proposed British-Irish bridge; as the closest point to Ireland at first glance it appears to be the most obvious route, however Kintyre is hampered by its remoteness from the main centres of Scotland's population.

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