Tuesday 1 February 2011

Clanranald Stronghold of Dùn Raghnaill

Dùn Raghnaill
Lying some eighty yards from the southern shore of Loch Druidibeag is the ruin of a once impregnable fortlet still known as Dùn Raghnaill. Alexander Carmichael may have visited this island fortlet for himself and taken some measurements of it but, if he did, these do not seem to have survived. It is likely that this short historical narrative was collected from John MacInnes, or Iain mac Phàdruig (c. 1804–1894), who belonged to Stilligarry in South Uist, on 29 January 1875. On this winter’s day Carmichael took down a great deal of historical lore relating to the MacMhuirich bardic family, local antiquities and a most prestigious Fenian story ‘Ceudach nan Collachain Òir’ which MacInnes had heard from a fellow South Uist storyteller – and who may have been related to another Donald MacPhie recorded previously by both John Francis Campbell of Islay and Hector MacLean – Donald MacPhee, or Dòmhnall mac Aonghais ’ic Phroinsiais, in Carnan. Later Carmichael said of MacInnes that ‘several volumes of old lore, mostly heroic tales, died with this nice, intelligent man.’ Of other materials taken down from MacInnes by Carmichael, three items appear in Carmina Gadelica: versions of Beannachadh Leapa, Ora Cuithe and Féith Mhoire.

Built by Raol [Raghnall] mac Ailein. He
lived at Dremisdale & his son
on [sic] Mor[a]ir. A hard spring came
& the son came ashore at Loch
sgiopart for provender. I cant
give you any said the father – it’s
scarce with myself – I have only 3
stacks. At night the son went
out & began taking down a stack
The gre eir [greighear] came in & wakened
his master & told him his son was on
the top of the stack taking it away. Up
Rose Clanranald in his night-shirt with
his bow in hand. He threw & knocked down
his son & the sheaf together. His son left
a son in Mor[a]ir & Clan fearing that his
own grandson might come & kill
him built Dun-Ra[ghna]il[l]. The ath &
iodhlan are on “Eilean nan tailear”.

Perhaps the historical veracity of this particular anecdote can be questioned. Why would Clanranald’s son take the trouble to travel all the way from Morar, on the western seaboard of the Highlands, to South Uist? Reading between the lines, it seems rather implausible that he would go so far as this in order to gain some victuals. It would appear that this story hangs upon a power struggle between father and son, probably in order for the son to gain clan supremacy. The taking of the haystack was probably not the immediate reason but rather the final straw (pun intended!) which saw Clanranald fetch his bow in order to dispatch his son; nor, would it appear, that the fortlet was built in order to stop the aggression of a grandson seeking revenge for the death of his father.

Dùn Raghnaill appears to date to around no earlier than the sixteenth century which, according to tradition, was the earliest Clanranald stronghold in South Uist. It was occupied until relatively late: it was in use as a prison in 1610, and a marriage contract for one of Clanranald’s daughters was signed there in 1653.

An archeological description quoted from the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland provides more detail from a fairly recent excavation of this ruin though it fails to mention that the kiln and cornyard were located in the nearby island of Eilean nan Tàillear as noted down by Carmichael:

Dun Raouill, Loch Druidibeg. The island is largely natural, though possibly modified to the NE. Its entirety above water is covered by a substantial rectilinear drystone dun. At least three phases of building are evident. The first is the outer walling 1.5–2m thick, slightly denuded around the NE and SW corners, as well as along the W edge. The only gap is at the entrance on the SE corner. The passageway is largely overgrown and filled with rubble. The second phase of building is the construction of the inner chambers, the larger western one possibly being earlier than the eastern one. The walls are lower than the outer skin, roughly 1–1.5m high, and 1m thick. The eastern cell appears to be lower and thinner, 50cm high and 75cm wide, though this may be largely due to differential survival. The walls of the smaller eastern cell and the NW corner of the larger western cell appear to have been consolidated at a later date, apparent in a single skin of stones creating curvilinear ends to both chambers. Both are heavily overgrown with trees and shrubs.

CW 106/124, ff. 51v–52r.
Carmina Gadelica, i, pp. 82–83.
Carmina Gadelica, ii, pp. 130 –1; pp. 132–35 & p. 345 n.7
Dun Raouill [http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/9879/details/south+uist+loch+druidibeg+dun+raouill/].
Raven, J. A. & Shelley, M., ‘South Uist and Benbecula Duns (South Uist Parish), Survey’, Discovery Excavation Scotland, vol. 4 (2003).
Image: Aerial photograph of Dùn Raghnaill.

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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). [© carstenflieger.com]