Friday, 27 May 2011

The Last of the Vikings

This short anecdote about the last of the Vikings in Fuday, lying just off Barra, was probably collected by Alexander Carmichael from the famous storyteller, Roderick MacNeil, known as Ruairidh an Rùma (c. 1790–1875). It is not impossible that there may well be an element of truth in saying that MacNeil of Barra’s illegitimate son wiped out the last of the Vikings in Fuday. Although the Vikings came at first to pillage the Hebrides they would eventually come to settle and marry into the local populace. It could be that this historical tale refers to the bloodier side of the Viking ‘conquest’ for it is clear to see that the King of Lochlann’s son, Barp, made himself extremely unpopular not only to the native islanders but also to the Vikings themselves. Such a legend has all the hallmarks of an assassination motivated in part by political expediency in gaining influence and control in the Hebrides:

Dùn a’ Bhairp / Dùn Bharpa, Barra

The last of the Lochlannaich lived in
Fuda[y] and were killed there. They were
killed by Mac an Amharais. He was a
an [sic] illeg[itmate] son of MacNeil – disowned
by his father, hence the name. Mac
Neil at last said to him. If thou
be my son go and kill a ghraisg ud
am Fuda[idh]. He went and left none
of them living. The Lochlannaich
at one time owned all these islands
A son of the King of L[ochlann] whose name
was Barp and who was the embodi[ment]
of all that was fierce and cruel
and murderous died. He was buried
behind Bailenacreaige and all
the Loch[lannaich] in all the islands col[lected]
and piled stones over him for fear he
should rise again to be a scourge
upon them. This was the origin
of “Dun a Bhairp” in Barra.

It may be noted that Dùn Bharpa is really a Neolithic chambered burial cairn or passage grave, located between two hills near Borve, in Barra. The scale is quite impressive at five metres in height and thirty-four metres in diameter. The capstone measures three square metres which is now split in two. Outside the cairn itself there are single upright stones that used to lean against the cairn.

CW 114, fos. 83r–83v.
Image: Dùn a’ Bhairp / Dùn Bharpa, Barra.

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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). [©]