Am Fang Chruinn, or Fang an t-Sithein ‘the round fank’ or ‘fank of the fairy hill’

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DES entry 2019:

Fang an t-Sìthein
NGR NM 0702 4848
Canmore ID 21487
Site Number NM04NE 11

This site was visited by Beveridge in 1896-7 (Beveridge 1903, 111). He concluded that it ‘evidently has been’ a fort and included the site in his chapter on Tiree ‘Marsh-Duns’. He described what he considered terracing and a moat. He recorded its name as Fang an t-Sìthein ‘the fank or cattle pen of the fairy hill’; fairy-names are sometimes associated with prehistoric structures. The site was visited by the Ordnance Survey in 1972 and assessed as a purely natural mound.

This conical hillock, 0.5 km from the nearest croft land, rises to approximately 4 m above the surrounding ground level and is some 42 m in diameter. The whole is surrounded by a strikingly monumental, sub-circular wall 74 m in diameter, 1.8 m thick and 1 m high. A modern alias is Am Fang Chruinn ‘the round fank’, the only such name in Scotland, although it was mapped in 1878 on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey with its enclosing dyke as Cnoc an Fhraoich ‘the hillock of the heather’ (probably mistakenly, as there is no evidence of heather here). Inside the wall, a circular strip of damp ground gives the appearance of what Beveridge called a ‘moat’. The site is surrounded by low-lying, marshy common grazing. The Turnbull 1768 estate map describes this as ‘a small loch including several others which might be drained’. The ground has been extensively ditched in modern times. To the east, the site is backed by higher rocky ground, but it is intervisible with Dùn Mòr Bhalla (Canmore ID 21524) to the northwest.

The hillock is irregular in shape, its grassy surface interrupted in several places by large natural outcrops. A number of seemingly set stones can also be seen on its slopes, although these do not create an obvious pattern. At the summit is a small cairn, which appears to result from clearance. A small, blackened sherd of craggan-style pottery was found at the summit. Most strikingly, a small area 2 x 2 m in size at the summit shows acoustic resonance, and dowsing by John Wombell of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society showed a strong reaction over this. It may be that there is a cavity here. This site is due for re-appraisal.

Dr Christian Verstraete, Ann de Zegher and Dr John Holliday

Submitted 9.9.2019

This is the relevant passage from Beveridge:

‘Next to be noticed is a very similar site, locally known as Fang an t-Sithein [note: the enclosure of the fairies … This is not locally considered a fort, but such it evidently has been, bearing in general character a strong resemblance to Dun Beag a’ Chaolais], three-quarter of a mile south-west from Dun Beag a’ Chaolais, and nearly half a mile south-east of Salum.

Its summit is about 12 feet above the level, and the whole mound measures some 43 yards across, inclusive of both slopes. Natural rock shows through its surface in massive form, and this indeed is its chief distinction from Dun Beag a’ Chaolais. There is a somewhat better marked terracing upon its sides, and the surrounding moat [note: It is perhaps hardly correct to describe this as a ‘moat’, much of its character being given by the surrounding wall, erected to protect the crofters’ best patch of soil – containing, as it does, much refuse from the Dun. In ploughing this plot, flints and fragments of pottery are turned up] is exceedingly well defined, 8 or 9 yards in width and enclosed by a low modern dyke. No large stones remain in situ, and but a few smaller ones are to be seen, the grassy surface being entirely unbroken. It was only at the extreme edge adjoining the cultivated moat, and in a neighbouring turf dyke, that some small fragments of pottery and a single flint were found; several hammer stones also lay within the enclosure. There may have been an entrance from the east, where the moat is slightly raised, but in any case we were assured that there was formerly a causeway on the west (towards the Salum crofts, although this is now untraceable. Adjacent in the latter direction is a large low-lying area, evidently formerly under water, as was certainly the case at Dun Beag a’ Chaolais. Both of these forts are in secluded positions without much general view.’ (Erskine Beveridge (1903) ‘Coll and Tiree’ pp. 111-2)

The aerial photographs were taken by Christian Verstraete.

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