Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Taphophile Tragics: Trumpan Church, Isle of Skye

Once again it was reading the history of this church in Jonathon MacDonald's Discovering Skye. A Handbook of the Island's History and Legend that fired our curiosity and led us to drive to Trumpan in Waternish on the Isle of Skye. 

We learnt of several stories about Trumpan Church.

Pictured above and below is a rough stone pillar known as Clach Deuchainn, the Trial Stone. It was tough justice. The hole in the stone which is now filled with coins was used in medieval times to determine whether an accused person was telling the truth. While blindfolded, if they could put their hand through the hole immediately and without fumbling, they were deemed to be innocent, but if they groped for the hole, they were deemed guilty. 

I am not aware of the reason for coins being left in the stone today. Any ideas or suggestions?

Signage at the church also points to a brutal past. The words are repeated below.

The windswept ruin of Trumpan Church was the scene of one of the bloodiest episodes in Scottish history. During the winter of 1577, the MacLeods of Dunvegan massacred 395 MacDonalds, who were trapped in St Francis Cave on Eigg. They lit a fire in the cave entrance, suffocating all of them. In return Clanranald, chief of the MacDonalds of Uist, plotted a revenge.

It was the first Sunday of May the following year with a thick fog all around. The MacLeods from the surrounding lands had gathered for worship in Trumpan Church, and whilst they sung the MacDonalds sailed around the point of Dunvegan Head, mooring their galleys nearby in Ardmore Bay. Silently they surrounded the church, barred the door and set fire to the thatch roof. All burned to death apart from one young girl who managed to escape through the small window, severing one of her breasts.

The young girl ran back to Dunvegan and raised the alarm at the Castle. Waving the Fairy Flag, an army of MacLeods rushed down upon the fleeing MacDonalds and showing no mercy slaughtered all of them. 

The story goes on to say that the dead bodies were piled under a stone dyke and covered only by stones. The battle subsequently became known as the Blar Milleadh Garaidh - The Battle of the Spoiling of the Dyke. 

The photo below taken outside the church grounds shows Dunvegan Head in the background and Ardmore Bay.

Unfortunately we were unable to find the grave of Lady Grange (a royalist) who was buried here is 1745 after living a tragic life in misery and isolation. Her sad demise was as a result of confronting her husband (a Jacobite) with his plans of intrigue and political wrangling, threatening to report him to the Government. She was kidnapped and the following day, the Edinburgh papers announced her death. A coffin was filled with stones and a burial took place. 

In the meantime, Lady Grange was banished to remote Scottish islands - Heiskeir, Saint Kilda, Harris and finally Skye where she died. Another mock funeral took place while the real burial was carried out under moonlight at Trumpan churchyard at a cost of thirty pounds and fifteen shillings. A sad ending for a lady of high rank. 

This is my contribution to Julie's Taphophile Tragics. To see further contributions, click here


  1. Great pics and brutal history make for a terrific post!

  2. Such a brutal past for such a beautiful place. It is hard to understand how people can be so so cruel.

  3. The thought that came to me while looking at the trial stone was that the coins may have been placed there over time as it began to deteriorate; note the cracks formed in several directions. Perhaps the coins shored it up.