Càrnan Mhic an Rìgh and cairns in Grishipol

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A possible Viking pagan burial was found in the 1950s by Colin Mitchell from Ardrishaig. This was located in sand-hills about 750 m north-east of Grishipoll (Canmore ID 21567). The skeleton was accompanied by ‘two pieces of an iron socketed spearhead’. This item is now in the National Museum of Scotland (catalogue no. X.IL 751).

Also in Grishipoll is Càrnan Mhic an Rìgh ‘the small cairn of the son of the King’ (MacDougall 1937: 44; see also Gregorson Campbell 1895: 10). The antiquarian Erskine Beveridge collected this extraordinary story during his visits to Coll in 1896 and 1897: ‘Fifty yards north of Grishipol farmhouse … is a small mound … This burial cairn was opened about the year 1765 by three Norwegians (or strictly, “by three men from Lochlinn” which may mean either Denmark or Norway) in the presence of Mr Hugh MacLean, then the laird of Coll. It is added that the strangers took home with them the relics disclosed, claiming these to pertain to a fellow country-man, if not even an ancestor’ (Beveridge 1903: 46). It is difficult to know how to interpret this account, and it is currently unknown if there are any records of these finds in Scandinavian collections.

The same mound was re-opened by Edward Clarke on 22 July 1797: ‘Falling into conversation with [Mr MacLean, the brother of the wife of the Laird of Coll] on the subject of cairns, he informed me, there was only one in the whole island, called Cairn mich Re [sic], signifying the cairn, or tomb, of the king’s son. I thought this would be a very favourable opportunity for putting in practice a plan I had long had in agitation, of opening one of these cairns; and expressing a wish to that effect, Mr. MacLean informed me he had often thought of doing it himself, and if I pleased, we would set out for the spot immediately. Having provided a sufficient number of the islanders with spades, a pick-axe, &c. we proceeded about three miles across the island to the spot mentioned by Mr M. I found here a small cairn by the road side. It is situated near the village of Grissipol in the north part of the island. We soon fell to work, and made rapid progress, endeavouring to perforate the cairn by opening the channel from east to west. While we were thus employed, a venerable figure, with hairs as white as snow, came slowly up to the cairn, shaking his head, and muttering something in Gaelic, which I did not understand. Mr MacLean, interpreting for me, told me he said ‘it was unlucky to disturb the bones of the dead. I am sorry to add, our labours at the cairn were not productive of much information. We discovered nothing; but in casting out the stones I found several of that description of stones which are venerated in Mull for their imaginary virtues: also, several specimens of beautiful black Mica … Finding our labours ineffectual, we left our work’ (Otter 1824: 234–5). Norse graves are often found at an estate’s boundary.

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