IN a “forgotten” corner of Scotland lies the resting of place of a female doctor who made history in the US and UK. Now the local charity behind a church takeover aims to put it – and her – on the map again.

Beautiful Kilmun in Argyll and Bute was a holiday spot for the wealthy in the 1800s. Situated on the banks of the Holy Loch, it takes its name from the Irish monk, St Munn, who founded a monastery there 11 centuries earlier.

Among those drawn to its tranquility and scenery was Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to attain a medical degree in the US and enter on to the UK’s General Medical Council.

The Bristol-born physician was rejected 29 times by medical schools before finally winning a training place in New York and opened her own facility there when, after graduating at the top of her class, other practices refused to hire her.

But despite living around the US and latterly in Hastings, England, her love for Argyll was so great that she requested burial at St Munns Church.

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When the Church of Scotland congregation voted to close the kirk three years ago, it faced an uncertain future. Now it’s been bought-out by local community charity Historic Kilmun along with the graveyard where Blackwell lies and the adjacent Argyll Mausoleum, which has served for as the burial place for dukes and earls for 500 years.

Dinah McDonald, secretary and treasurer of Historic Kilmun, says the £10,000 purchase – which followed a £1.25 million restoration project – is a “dream come true” and will help bring new life to the village, which sits just north of Dunoon on the Cowal peninsula and within the bounds of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. “It’s a fabulous place,” she says. “It’s a forgotten bit of Scotland. People drive from Glasgow up Loch Lomond to Glencoe and north but they don’t tend to turn left, so it’s still very quiet. We are trying to bring more people to the area and to make more of the local community aware of the heritage here.”

The purchase was finalised at the end of last month, with a ceremonial handover with Reverend Janet MacKellar, the Moderator of the Argyll Presbytery, taking place in front of an invited audience. Upgrades to the kirk’s kitchen, toilets and heating system are planned to accommodate the larger visitor numbers that Historic Kilmun hopes to attract.

The group describes St Munns as “the Rosslyn of the west”, referencing the Midlothian chapel that underwent a visitor boom after featuring in Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code. Both holy sites were collegiate churches funded by wealthy families, with St Munns founded a few years earlier than its east coast equivalent.

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While the Argyll church lacks the abundant ornamentation that adorns Rosslyn, it features dazzling stained glass and shares its A-listed building status and boasts its own intriguing history. Worship there started in the 7th century and the ghost of the medieval kirk remains in the tower that stands next to today’s building, which stands in the footprint of its predecessor. However, there’s evidence of Viking activity and human presence dating back 3500 years.

THE site is strongly connected to the Campbell clan, which adopted St Munn, also known as Fintan Munnu, as its patron saint. Conflict between that clan and the rival Lamonts saw the kirk destroyed in the mid 1600s, but the Campbells rebuilt and also constructed the Argyll Mausoleum in 1790s. Sir Duncan Campbell was the first Campbell chief to be buried at St Munn in the 1400s, with 10th Duke Niall Campbell the last in 1949.

Blackwell was laid to rest there in 1910. Originally a teacher, she was born in 1821 to a sugar-refiner father and the family emigrated to the US when his business was lost in a fire.

She and her sisters set up their own school for girls to bring in money upon his death, when Blackwell was just 17, and after years of saving she was accepted to Geneva Medical College in New York in 1847. Her admission had been put to a vote by male classmates and she’d have been turned away if a single one objected.

She moved to England after assisting in nursing efforts during the US civil war and became the first woman entered into the General Medical Council’s medical register, later establishing the London School of Medicine for Women with Sophia Jex-Blake, Scotland’s first female doctor. Her writing on women’s sexuality was highly controversial and she holidayed in Kilmun with her adopted daughter, Kitty Barry.

“She’s one of my heroes,” says McDonald. “She asked that she be buried along with her dog in Kilmun graveyard.

“She believed the way to change the world was to educate women – that’s pretty good in my book.

“We want more use of the church so that we can open it up for more than an hour on a Sunday and bring this remarkable history to more people.”