MHG31413 - Graveyard - old parish church, Balnakeil, Durness


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Type and Period (1)

  • CEMETERY (Early Medieval to 19th Century - 561 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

The remains of former parish church which was built in 1619 and had an aisle added to N in 1692. It was in use until about 1814 when the present church was built (at NC 4042 6693). Although somewhat irregular in plan, it is generally typical of its period with a belfry on the E gable. The remains stand to the wall-head, the crow-stepped gables being intact. The earliest reference occurs between 1223 and 1245 when it was assigned to find light and incense for the cathedral church (NH78NE ), but it is said to have been a Celtic foundation of St Maelrubba (6, 7 & 8). An old font known as the "Clach na sagart ruadh" or "stone of the red priest" (cf Applecross - NG 74 NW 1 - for association of St Maelrubha and 'the Red Priest'), lay in front of the door of Balnakiel House (NC36NE 4) before 1867 but by 1874 it had been moved to within the church. The church is said to occupy "the site of a cell of Dornoch monastery" (? NH78NE ), but there is no mention of such by Easson.
D MacGibbon and T Ross 1897; RCAHMS 1911; Orig Paroch Scot 1855; J Horsburgh 1870; H Morrison 1883; A Mackay 1914; A B Scott 1918; D E Easson 1957; Visible on RAF air photographs CPE/Scot/UK 185: 1150-1: flown 1946.

The church and churchyard were scheduled in 1938.

'Northern Times' article dated 19/08/55. See assoc. docs. File.
J Aikten : 14/01/03

What could be a former, circular, enclosing bank of the churchyard is visible on aerial photographs within the confines of the modern graveyard. D E Easson 1957.

The church is well preserved, the walls of rubble masonry being 0.8m thick and averaging 2.3m in height. Externally, the nave measures 13.8m by 6.0m and the aisle 7.7m by 6.0m.
Visited by OS (W D J) 5 April 1960.

The church and churchyard were listed at Category B in March 1971.

This church is as described and planned by MacGibbon and Ross. The font stands within the church and is covered by the top half of a rotary quern. There is no ground trace of the suggested circular graveyard wall.
Visited by OS (A A) 22 July 1971.

The church is as described by the previous authorities. The font has been removed by persons unknown in recent years. A holy water stoup, now cracked in half, lies immediately inside the church entrance on the S side.
Visited by OS (J B) 22 April 1980.

'Sutherland Monumental Inscriptions', pre 1855
Monumental inscription survey completed by A.S. Cowper & I. Ross. The foundation of a church in Durness may go back to the time of the Red Priest, St Maelrubha. In the 13th century it had to provide light and incense for the cathedral at Dornoch and in 1275 it contributed to the crusade organised by Pope Gregory. The parish church, now roofless and within the burial area, at Balnakeil was built in 1619. Here in 1623 was buried the Rob Roy of the North - Donald Macleod or McMurcho. His sculptured tomb set inside the S wall shows the shooting of a boar with bow and arrow, there are also the emblems of mortality and the inscription. The survey may not include inscription information after 1855 and each inscription transcribed does not give the full details that appear on the stones, abbreviations used. Some omissions and inaccuracies. First published 1989, reprinted 1991, 1996 & 1999. <1>

Historic Scotland propose to re-schedule this site as the original scheduling map is rather unclear and does not include all the remains associated with this monument - the old churchyard.
See assoc. docs. File.
J Aitken : 30/01/01.

Amended entry in the schedule of monuments, dated: 09/10/01. Includes graveyard. See assoc. docs. File.
J Aitken : 07/11/01.

It was proposed that the church and burial ground be removed from the statutory list in September 2016 as part of a Historic Environment Scotland project looking at dual designations of sites in the Highlands, though they would remain a scheduled monument. <2>

The old church and burial ground were removed from the statutory list by Historic Environment Scotland on 22/09/2016. <3>

See also:
NC36NE0001 Church
J Aitken : 12/12/02

Sources/Archives (3)



Grid reference Centred NC 3910 6864 (61m by 74m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NC36NE
Geographical Area SUTHERLAND
Civil Parish DURNESS

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