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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter XXI.—Antiquities


IN this chapter I shall attempt little more than to catalogue the objects of archaeological interest in Gairloch parish, and to suggest some subjects for the investigation of archaeologists.

Gairloch is very deficient in remains of old buildings. In ancient times the mason's art was unknown in the district, and the erections of those days were formed of uncemented and unchiselled stones, so that no architectural features are to be found among the slight remains of ancient buildings.

Of Druidical, or supposed Druidical, remains there are very few in Gairloch, and even these are of doubtful origin. The only place connected by local tradition with the Druids is a circular enclosure in Tollie wood. It is formed of a rough wall enclosing a regular circle. The stones composing the wall are of comparatively small size, and are much scattered. There are several heaps of stones and remains of detached pieces of wall near the circle. This part of Tollie wood consists mostly of indigenous oaks, which are said to be descended from the oaks of the Druids. By some the traditional Druidical origin of these remains is discredited, and the circle and other buildings are supposed to have been fanks or folds for cattle or sheep. The tradition is however generally current in Gairloch, and at least deserves consideration.

The circular enclosure on Isle Maree, which has for many centuries been used as a burial-ground, was supposed by Thomas Pennant (Appendix B) to be Druidical, and Dr Arthur Mitchell inclines to the same opinion. The sacrifices of bulls, and other pagan practices, connected with this island, render this view highly probable.

The circular island in the paddock below Flowerdale House, which was until recent times the place where justice was administered in Gairloch, is probably Druidical. It is to-day scarcely an island, the moat or ditch which formerly insulated it being now filled up, or nearly so. It formed no part of the Tigh Dige, or its garden or outbuildings, which were all in the field on the seaward side of the paddock. A full account of the manner in which the administration of justice was conducted at this island will be given in Part II., chap. iii. The curious way in which the laird and his assessors or jurymen were stationed at trees favours the Druidical origin; the criminal and his accusers were also stationed at ancient trees.

Of other prehistoric remains the Pictish brochs or round houses are perhaps the most notable. One occurs on Craig Bhan, on the north-east side of the river Ewe, half-way between Poolewe and Inveran, within two hundred yards of the road. Another round house, with unusually high and perfect walls, stands on a grassy eminence to the east of the road between Poolewe and Tournaig. Three others were exposed to view in trenching new land on the shores of Loch nan Daflthean at Tournaig several years ago. Some steatite whorls, stone troughs (see illustrations), ashes, and other remains, were found in them. Other round houses occur near Kernsary, and in other places. No doubt the remains of many are now concealed by an overgrowth of heather and other plants, and many more have been destroyed by agricultural operations.

The only vitrified fort in Gairloch stood on the rocky eminence near the volunteer targets at the south-west end of the largest sandy beach at Gairloch. Slight traces of the vitrification are said to be still found.

There are remains of a number of ancient strongholds or fortalices in Gairloch. Some were duns or castles, others were crannags or crannogs, i.e. fortified islands, more or less artificial.

The one most frequently mentioned in the traditions of the country is the Dun or Castle of Gairloch. It occupied the same site as the vitrified fort just referred to. Probably it was more of a fortification than a castle. Some of the low banks or lines of stones on the rocky eminence are said to be the ruins of the castle walls. This dun is said to have been a stronghold of the MacBeaths, and subsequently of the M'Leods.

The remains on Eilean Grudidh are more perfect. The natural rocky bank of the island appears to have been completed and heightened into a fortification by rude masonry cemented with clay. This fortification surrounded the island; the interior formed a tolerably level plateau, now much overgrown; on this plateau are slight remains of buildings, which in the present day are little more than mounds. At one place there is a deep hole with a circular wall round it; tradition says this was a dungeon. The area of Eilean Grudidh is barely half an acre. Like the Dun of Gairloch, it is said to have been held by the MacBeaths and afterwards by the M'Leods.

Of the stronghold, or rather crannog, on Loch Tollie, there only remain the loose stones scattered on the little island (now overgrown by bushes) and in the water around it. This small island*^^ illustration) is to-day the nesting-place of two or three pairs off the common gull, and no one would suppose that it was once a fortalice of the MacBeaths, and subsequently of the M'Leods.

Another stronghold, or dun, said to have been the last held in Gairloch by the M'Leods, is now only known by a large mound, apparently natural, with traces of a long straight bank on its top, and by the name Uamh nam Freiceadain. It is situated on the headland between Port Henderson and Opinan; its position is marked on the six-inch ordnance map. The name Uamh is said to be derived from a recess on the face of the hill towards the sea.

There were also duns at Tournaig and Naast. The site of the former is still called Dunan, or the "little dun"; it is only evidenced to-day by the large stepping-stones that give dry access to it at the highest spring-tides. There are no remains of the castle of Naast, said to have been a fortalice of Vikings. The rock on which it was situated still bears the name of Dun Naast.

There are crannogs, or artificial islands, on Lochs Kernsary and Mhic 'ille Rhiabhaich; nothing is known of their history. It is interesting to recall that, in the instructions given by the Privy Council of Scotland to the commissioners appointed in 1608 to treat with the Highland chiefs, "crannaks" were specially referred to. They must have caused much difficulty in dealing with the Highlanders, who found in them secure refuges against attacks by government agents.

There were six churches, or places of worship, in old days in Gairloch, mentioned in the traditions still current among the people, and referred to in chapter xvi. of this Part:—

1. The church of Gairloch was originally dedicated to St Mael-rubha, and perhaps erected by him in the seventh century; it stood near the centre of the burial-ground at Gairloch. There are no remains whatever of it. In the Dutch map of 1662 the place is called Heglis Ghearrloch, i.e. the church of Gairloch.

2. The church at Culinellan, near Kenlochewe, was mentioned in the Old Statistical Account (Appendix C.) as a place of worship at Kenlochewe; no traces of it remain. It is probably the church referred to in the map of 1662 as Heglis Loch Ew.

3. The turf-built place of worship near the beach in Tollie bay was but a temporary expedient; some remains of it (since obliterated by farming operations) existed in the memory of old men now living.

4. A little church or meeting-house stood at Cruive End or Tollie Croft. Here Pennant heard the Rev. John Dounie preach in 1772, and here some old people still living attended public worship up to 1826, when it fell into disuse upon the erection of the present church at Poolewe. It was a thatched house, and agricultural works have destroyed all traces of it.

5. The church or chapel of Inverewe stood in what is still called the Inverewe churchyard. This place is perhaps more generally known as the Londubh burial-ground. The old name of Londubh is Baile na h' Eaglais, which means the town of the church. The burial-ground is a hundred yards to the east of the road leading from Poolewe towards Aultbea, a short distance beyond Pool House. The house where James Mackenzie lives is close to the churchyard; this house used to be the residence of the proprietors of Kernsary; the place is now called Kirkton, a literal translation of Baile na h' Eaglais. What is left of this old church of Inverewe is supposed by some to be the remains of the oldest church in Gairloch parish. It seems to have been forty feet long and eighteen feet wide; it was not placed due east and west. The original wall forming the northeast side of the church is still standing, overgrown with a large mass of ivy. The Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie, from Bute, founder of the Kemsary family (Part I., chap, xiv.), purchased the Kernsary estate, including this churchyard, some time during the seventeenth century. He was an Episcopalian clergyman, and held services in the church of Inverewe, probably with much acceptance among his neighbours, who clung to the old form of worship long after Presbyterianism had been established by law. It seems likely he built this little church ; some say he only restored an older church; in either case this may have been the site of an ancient pre-Reformation church, and even of a monastic institution, for there are many traces of buildings in the neighbourhood. On the death of Mr Mackenzie there was no one to conduct services here; and on the final establishment of Presbyterian-ism in Scotland in 1689, or within a few years thereafter, the church was partly pulled down, and the two present roofless apartments or chapels were constructed out of its remains for family burial-places; they have since been used as such. The Inverewe church does not seem to have possessed any architectural features; a moulding round the door of one of the burial-places is Jacobean. A loose stone in one of the burial-places is inscribed "KMK 1678," and very likely records the date when the Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie built or restored the church. On the lintel of the door of the principal burial-place are initials and a date, now nearly eradicated by decay; the date looks as if it had been the same as that on the loose stone. The stone basin of the font lies loose in the burial-ground near; a stone now placed over a grave is moulded along one edge, and may possibly have formed part of the altar.

6. The chapel of Sand of Udrigil (see illustration), situated in a churchyard crowded with graves, close to the village of Laide, is stated in Dr Scott's Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Part V., to have been built (about 1713) by George Mackenzie of Gruinard, at his own expense, as a Presbyterian place of worship; but the universal tradition in Gairloch is, that the little church was erected by St Columba, the apostle of Scotland, or one of his followers, in the seventh century, and that the chapel was only thatched by George Mackenzie of Gruinard, if indeed his place of worship were not an altogether different edifice. I incline to the opinion that the chapel dates further back than the eighteenth century. It seems to have been an Episcopal church, for (1) it is placed nearly east and west; and (2) when I first knew the little ruin, its single window showed what appeared to be the remains of a mullion and tracery, which I would not have expected in a Presbyterian church of the eighteenth century. If then the church be older than the time of George Mackenzie of Gruinard, who can say that the local tradition may not be authentic? The walls of the church are cemented with lime made by burning shells, or possibly shell sand from the island of Tanera, some twelve miles away. I am bound to say that several houses in the locality, known not to date further back than the eighteenth century, were cemented with similar lime, notably the old house of Ardlair, demolished about 1883. The strength of such lime was shown at Ardlair, where blasting-powder had to be resorted to for the destruction of the old house. The little church of Sand is very picturesquely placed near the seashore.

Of old burial-places worth examination there are several in Gairloch :—

1. The Cladh nan Sasunnach, or English burial-ground, near the head of Loch Maree. It contains twenty-four graves. Some have supposed that it was the cemetery of the ironworkers, but I incline to the opinion that the graves are far older than the period of the historic ironworks (Part I., chap, xviii.). I recommend this burial-ground to the investigation of antiquaries.

2. The burial-place in Isle Maree so thoroughly described by Dr Arthur Mitchell (Part II., chap. xi.). Its most interesting gravestones are those beneath which the unfortunate Norwegian prince and his bride are sleeping.

3. The mounds to be seen on Fraoch Eilean, in Gairloch, mark the graves of the M'Leods slain by the heroes of Leac nan Saighead (Part I., chap. xii.).

4. The Gairloch churchyard is now overcrowded with graves. In it are the chapel or burial-place where lie some of the older lairds of Gairloch, and the tombstone of John Hay, described in Part I., chap, xviii. There are two unroofed chapels or burial-places. The northern one is that of the lairds of Gairloch; it contains two flat tombstones, one not inscribed, the other bearing an illegible inscription. Outside this chapel is a raised tomb covered with a flat bevelled stone, on which are the Cabar feidh, the initials K M K and IM'K, and the date 1730. In the other burial-place are several graves, but no monuments or inscriptions; outside it, on the east wall, are monuments to the Chisholm family. Into the wall facing south is built a handsomely sculptured stone, with the text " Timor domini est initium sapientise " carved upon it in relief; below is what looks like a representation of the Cabar feidh, with the letter A on one side and M K on the other side. The date 1633 is cut into the stone, in a different character and evidently by a different hand to that of the original sculptor. If the date were 1638 the stone would unquestionably be a monument to Alexander (Alastair Breac), fifth laird of Gairloch; perhaps it may have been in memory of one of his family. Many of the leading celebrities among the natives of Gairloch in the days that are gone repose in the churchyard. None of the older gravestones bear inscriptions. Of modern ones, the monument to William Ross, the Gairloch bard, is most noticeable.

5. The Inverewe churchyard, where stands the ruined old chapel already described. A few shapeless stones are the only antiquities beyond those connected with the little church.

6. The churchyard or burial-place at Culinellan, near Kenlochewe, to which the same remark applies.

7. The churchyard at Sand of Udrigil already referred to. It contains nothing except the ruins of the old chapel which can interest the archaeologist.

I am told an ancient burial-place was discovered some years ago at Bruachaig, near Kenlochewe, where the bodies had been buried in a doubled-up position, the well-known custom in remote times. I have visited another spot, in a glen among the mountains, traditionally described as a burial-place of giants; it may have been so, but the stones (which indeed are mostly flat) look more as if they had been deposited naturally than by human agency.

Of remains of old buildings, besides those already described, there are few of any antiquarian interest in Gairloch :—

1. Perhaps the oldest remains of these other buildings are the few stones and the mound on Isle Maree, supposed to represent the cell of St Maelrubha and the tower to which the Norwegian prince brought his bride (Part I., chap. ii.).

2. On Eilean Rjuaridh Beag are the remains of the residence of John Roy Mackenzie, fourth laird of Gairloch, who lived here in the latter part of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth. It is said that long before that time Ruaridh M'Leod, who gave his name to the island, resided here, possibly in the same house, or in one on the same site. This small island almost adjoins Eilean Ruaridh Mhor on its south side. The buildings present no architectural features, and only ruinous dry-stone walls remain; there are also some half-wild garden fruit-trees on the island. I remember about the year 1868 seeing a small cannon ball sticking in one of the walls, and I am told that bullets have often been found in the moss on this island. Perhaps the cannon ball and the bullets had been there since the fight when Ruaridh M'Leod was driven from the island. The remains of John Roy's house confirm Captain Burt's accounts of the " huts " in which the Highland lairds of his day (early in the eighteenth century) resided; the chiefs seem to have been generally little better lodged than their clansmen.

3. On Eilean Suthainn were the houses or huts where the sons of John Glassich Mackenzie, the second laird of Gairloch, dwelt in the sixteenth century, and where Alastair Breac, the fifth laird of Gairloch, resided from about 1628 to 1638. There are very slight, if any, remains of these dwellings.

4. The old Tigh Dige and its gardens and outbuildings stood in the field below Flowerdale House. The Tigh Dige itself was, as its name implies, a house in a ditch or moat. Its remains still existed up to the time of the late Sir Francis Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, in the centre of this field, but agricultural operations have now entirely obliterated them. Simon Chisholm, at Flowerdale, remembers them well. The lines of the garden walls can still be traced in the part of the field lying to the east. This was the Gairloch home of Hector Roy Mackenzie, the founder of the family in the latter part of the fifteenth century. The Tigh Dige is said to have been originally a turf hut, with a roof made of sticks and divots. Kenneth Mackenzie, the sixth laird of Gairloch, erected on the same site, within the same moat, about the middle of the seventeenth century, a more substantial building, which was called the Stank House or Moat House, and continued to be the west coast home of the Gairloch family until 1738, when Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Bart., the ninth laird of Gairloch, erected the present west coast residence of the family, which he named Flowerdale House. Sir Alexander also built there the old barn called Sabhal Geal (still in use) in 1730. On the south side of the barn the arms of the Gairloch Mackenzies are carved in stone, with the date 1730 below. The figure of Donald Odhar, in tartan trews, appears as one of the supporters of the shield. There are two Latin mottoes, viz., "Fidelitatis prcemium" and "Non sine peri-culo;" the former (above the coat-of-arms) refers to the faithfulness of Donald Odhar; the latter is the usual motto of the Mackenzies. The old Temple House at Flowerdale, where Alastair Breac seems to have sometimes lived, is now occupied by Simon Chisholm above named, who is Sir Kenneth's present forester and head-gardener. It is a modernised dwelling. No doubt a great part of the wall is ancient. Simon Chisholm says the style of the windows and entrance when he first remembers the house, gave probability to the tradition that it was originally, as its name implies, a church or temple of worship. It may have been the residence of the priest or priests of Gairloch church before the Reformation.

5. The old house of Kirkton, close to the Inverewe or Londubh churchyard, is probably the house erected as his residence by the Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie, in the seventeenth century. It is a good example of a laird's dwelling of that period. It is said that Mr. Mackenzie, who came from Bute, had a smack load of Bute earth brought to Kirkton. Part of it was put into the Inverewe church, so that when he was buried there he might lie beneath Bute soil; the overplus was deposited in the garden of Kirkton house, where the heap is still preserved.

6. The houses of Udrigil and Aird were old residences of the Mackenzies of Gruinard, but possess no architectural features, and are not of great antiquity. The same remark applies to Letterewe House, which was the residence of the Letterewe Mackenzies. Cliff House, Poolewe, was formerly the manse of Gairloch, and was erected about 1760. In the old house of Udrigil are curious large cupboards or closets in the very thick walls; they are said to have been used for the purpose of detaining recruits captured by the pressgangs.

Most of the bronze weapons and other remains found near Poolewe have been described by Mr William Jolly, F.G.S., F.R.S.E., in a paper he wrote on the subject. Representations of the most perfect of the bronze and stone weapons or implements so far discovered are included in our illustrations. The following is a list of them :—


ANTIQUITY NO. I.—BRONZE RING FOUND AT LONDUBH.
SCALE—HALF TRUE SIZE.

No. 1. Bronze ring, T-shaped section.
2. Hollow bronze ring.
3. Bronze spearhead, small.
4. Bronze spearhead.
5. Bronze celt.
6. Stone celt.
7. Bronze spear.
8. Bronze celt.
9. Stone implement.
10. Quern or trough.
11. Fragment of trough.
12. Penanular ring.

All these except Nos. 3 and 9 to 12 are in the possession of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie ; Nos. 3, 9, 10, and n are in the possession of Mr O. H. Mackenzie. Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 8 were found by Hector Maciver whilst cutting peats at Londubh. No. 3 was found near Inverewe House, about three feet below the surface in a peat cutting ; a stag's horn was found at the same place in the following year. No. 5 was found at Slatadale ; it is considerably worn. No. 6 was found at Cove; it is of some variety of trap well polished. No. 7 was found by two sons of Kenneth Urquhart (Kennie Rob) in a peat cutting near Croft, not far from the place where the Feill ludha was formerly held. No. 9 was found in 1844 in a peat cutting between Inveran and Kernsary; it is of a sandstone uncommon in this country; it may have been used in flaying cattle and deer. Nos. 10 and 11 were found in brochs or Pictish round houses on the shores of Loch nan Dailthean, when land was newly trenched there in 1879. No. 12 is a penanular ring of bronze with expanded ends ; being of a type rare in Scotland, Sir Kenneth Mackenzie deposited it in the museum of antiquities at Edinburgh. Hector Maciver found another bronze ring at Londubh, similar to Nos. 1 and 2, at the same spot where he discovered the above-named. There is a stone quern, resembling No. 10, lying near Drumchork House.

On the flat peat moss behind Poolewe, and to the west, a large market was held for generations, known as the Feill ludha, or " ewe market." It was frequented by the Lews men, as well as by the people of the district. The last of these markets was held about 1720, when many of the Lews men who had attended the market


ANTIQUITY NO. 2.
HOLLOW BRONZE
RING FOUND AT
LONDUBH.
SCALE-
-HALF TRUE SIZE.

 


ANTIQUITY NO. 3.—BRONZE SPEAR HEAD FOUND, ALONG WITH A STAGS HORN, INVEREWE HOUSE. SCALE—HALF TRUE SIZE.

were lost in a violent storm in the Minch, while returning home in their open boats. Traces of this old market have frequently turned up while cutting peats, in the form of bundles of cabars or sticks tied up with withes, as brought from the woods ready for exportation; moulds of some fatty substance, either butter or tallow; and a rounded block of wood, fourteen inches in diameter, found ten or twelve years ago, probably prepared for being converted into the wooden bickers or plates formerly common in the Highlands.

The remains of the ironworks described in the last chapter are of considerable archaeological interest. Two of the iron articles found near the Fasagh furnaces are represented among our illustrations ; they are Nos. 13 and 14 in the list of antiquities illustrated ; they are to be deposited in the museum at Edinburgh.

Among our illustrations are outlines of the crosses on the tombstones of the prince and princess who were buried on Isle Maree. The tragic story connected with them is told in Part I., chap. ii.

The caves at Cove and Sand of Udrigil are said to be meeting-places of great antiquity; they are still used for public worship. I have explored for some little distance the cave on the seashore at North Erradale, but have discovered nothing of interest beyond some apparently recent evidences of distillation of whisky.


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