New Statistical Account 1845

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MacLean Rev N (1845) New Statistical Account, Parish of Tiree and Coll, Vol. VII, 204–8.
Drawn up March 1840, Revised August 1843


‘Tiree was formerly a part of the lands pertaining to the clan McLean, having been anciently granted to them, as is supposed, by the Lord of the Isles; and that name is still one of the most common in the island. It fell into the family of Argyle in the year 1674, at which time its annual rent was L.1565, 13s 4d. Scots money, beside some other burdens payable in produce, and usual in these days. Since that period, the Earl or Duke of Argyle has been the sole proprietor. There are some plans or surveys of the island, which are in possession of his Grace’s chamberlain.

‘There are several remains of antiquity still to be met with. I have reckoned up [to] fourteen or fifteen duns or old forts, believed to be Danish, and seemingly intended as signal or watch towers; and it is probable that there may have been more of them. They were generally situated near the sea coast, and built of a circular form without any cement. One of them, placed on the top of a small hill, had a well within it. The well was built with stone, having several steps descending into it, most of which still remain, but no vestige of the fortress now remains, the stones having all been removed for other purposes. There was a fortress of more modern date than these duns, situated in a lake near the centre of the island, probably the occasional residence of the proprietor or chief, from the ruins of which the chamberlain’s house was built; and the communication which formerly existed by means of a draw-bridge, has, since then, been supplied by a mound or causeway built across. From this circumstance, it still retains the name of “Island House”. There are also several remains of chapels or religious houses to be seen; but a description having been given of these in the former Statistical Account, it may suffice here merely to mention them. The truth is, that, since that date, many of these monuments of antiquity have disappeared, and are disappearing from year to year. In some instances, they have probably been overwhelmed with sand; in some, the stones have been appropriated to other purposes, as the building of dikes, homes &tc.

‘Stone chests or coffins are now and then found made up of four stones, arranged in the form of an oblong square. I was induced to get one of these, called “Leac an Fhoimhear” or the Giant’s Grave, lately opened—judging from the name that it might perhaps contain something uncommon. Nothing, however, was discovered but human bones in a decayed state thrown together without order and noways remarkable for their size.

‘Two stone crosses, from three to four feet high (the only two now remaining entire) are still to be seen where some of the old chapels formerly stood. They are quite plain, without any ornament or inscription, and one of them resting on a stone socket. There are two or three upright stones or pillars, six or seven feet high, having one end sunk in the ground, and bearing no device or engraving whatever. Whether these were erected as mere land-marks or in commemoration of some remarkable events is not now known.

‘On the north-west side of this island, and somewhat above ordinary tide-mark, there is one of these pieces of rock, commonly called ringing-stones, supposed to be about twelve tons weight. It is not balanced or capable of being moved by a small force as those stones sometimes are, being firmly supported by two or three small stones interposed between it and the rock beneath; and, when struck by any hard body, it emits a hollow sound like a kettle; hence its name of Clach a Choire or kettle stone.

‘Several old coins, chiefly copper, are reported to have been found from time to time, but little authentic information can be given regarding them. A small silver coin was discovered in a sand-bank about fourteen years ago. It was somewhat larger than a sixpenny piece, seemed pretty entire, and was inscribed in Gaelic with the words Righ Callum Ceannmor, or King Malcolm Ceannmor [r. 1058–1093], who flourished in the eleventh century, and was contemporary with William the Conqueror.

‘About forty years ago, a circular piece of gold supposed to have been an ornament for the arm, was found by a person while digging a stony knoll in a farm near the ford formerly mentioned. He described it as quite circular, at least five inches in diameter, about one inch broad, so thin as to be easily flexible and evidently intended to clasp or lock. Some decayed human bones were found at the same time, scattered among the earth and stones. This ancient relic was soon afterwards sent to Glasgow and sold there for a trifle …

‘In Coll, also, there are several monuments of antiquity. The remains of eight duns or Danish forts, and of three religious houses, are pointed out, of which nothing now remains but the foundations. The old castle of Breacacha, formerly the residence oof the proprietors, is a very ancient edifice, having been built before the McLeans got possession of the island, probably by the Lord of the Isles. It is still in a pretty entire state, and the roof standing. It ceased to be inhabited perhaps one hundred years ago.

‘There are two upright stones or pillars, about six feet high and tapering upwards, to be seen in the farm in the west end of Coll, which are supposed to be very ancient. They are placed about fifteen yards asunder, and reported by tradition to mark the burying-place of some one of the Fingalian race. A few stone coffins have also been met with, containing nothing but decayed human bones.

‘Some coins have occasionally been discovered. A considerable number of silver coins were dug up about twelve years ago, and are believed to have been kept by the late proprietor; but with regard to their date, or any inscriptions upon them, no information has transpired.’

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