Thursday 25 November 2010

Underwater Churches in South Uist

In a fascinating piece about submerged archaeological remains recorded on 4 November 1873 by Alexander Carmichael from Kenneth MacKenzie (c. 1805–1889), a mason then living in Daliburgh, South Uist, the informant tells of an old church that lies near Upper Bornish which can only be visited (back then) at low tide. Carmichael was clearly intrigued by what the mason had to say about these ruins and went out to investigate for himself and where he took the opportunity to write down two folios of notes. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Carmichael, as was his wont, did not take the time to draw a rough sketch of the submerged church. It might have been the case that the tide was already coming back in when he visited and so he only had enough time to jot down some notes before returning to the safety of land.

Below Bornish Uarach & side
of point lowest of spring tide
the best tide. I was shearing
& us[in]g a sharp stone An old h[and]
said to me if you were at Caib
eal Mhic Ceallaich. “Where?
past below you search & find
a build[in]g with door & 1 side arch 20 in[ches]
visible freestone rebut. Half inch
bead ab[ou]t 4 inch[es] back fr[om] edge of corner
and an inch juniper on the face
Wall 21 inch[es] thick & ap[pears] to be a door
There was no way inside such as a
window w[ou]ld have – The up[per] end of the
arch ap[pears] to be ab[ou]t 15 in[ches] fr[om] the Key
Gothic arch. Door ap[pears] ab[ou]t 2½ f[ee]t at
real gothic juniper is wher[e]
edge is cut aw[a]y. Built of lime
& mosslayers inside small & far
larger stones out[side]. Wall cover[ed] over
with tangles large staimh. I tore
off these for 7 f[ee]t of all. There
was more wall but this was
all I bare. rubble filled up the
wall to near top. 200 y[a]rds out fr[om]
the triusa. When I saw the beaut[iful]
work so beaut[ifully] done I had not
the heart to touch it. Her[e] oth[er]
rebuts seemed to have been
taken away. This was ab[ou]t 30
y[ea]rs ago in Aug[us]t. On s[outh] side of
Ruairdvaoilein nearer
Bornish than Kildonan
Caibeal Mhic Cheall[aich] also
at Dallabrog. MacCeallan
request[ed] to be buried as low as
the tide went out & a caib[eal]
about him. But how was
soft lime to solidify?
My sons bro[ugh]t home some bits
of the masonry of the caibeal
at Dallabrog.
Mrs Martin Dallabrog (Allan
her son also) knows all the
Kil phead[air] is under
the sea – It is not seen
now but another.

CW111, fos. 2r–2
Image: Aerial view of Ruairdvaoilein nearer Bornish, South Uist.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]