MHG42222 - Chapel & Graveyard - Isle Maree


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Type and Period (1)

  • CEMETERY (17th Century to 19th Century - 1601 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

Chapel (NR) (Site of) Burial Ground (Dis) (NAT)
(Name NG 930 723) Well (NR) (site of)
OS 6"map, (1968)

Well (NR) OS 6"map, Ross-shire, 1st ed., (1875)

The site of a chapel founded by St Maelrubha, as an oratory, between 671 and 722 (W Reeves 1862). There were some remains on spot in 1861 which were too fragmentary to determine a date of construction, but no surveyable traces now remain.
The ancient burial ground surrounding chapel site measures 90' by 120' and is enclosed by a rubble wall now only 2' high and covered with earth and moss but described by Pennant in 1774 (T Pennant 1774) as being 'a circular dike of stones with a regular narrow entrance'. In 1861 it contained 50 or 60 graves most of them covered by undressed, uninscribed slabs with blocks of stone at head and foot. McRae mentions a 'number of tombstones with inscriptions and hieroglyphical figures (NSA {Rev D Macrae 1836} 1845) but Mitchell (1863) could find only two incised slabs. Each bore a distinct and well-formed cross, one apparently with 'arm-pits'. These slabs lay almost end to end and were said to cover the graves of a Norwegian princess and her lover. Cameron (OS field surveyor {EGC} 2 October 1964) however, thought they were of no great age. Workmen from the 17th c. iron-furnaces at Poolewe are said to have been buried here. The last burial took place in 1925.
A small, built well with a cover slab, consecrated by St Maelrubha, was celebrated for curing lunacy and was still resorted to in the 19th c. but was dry in 1861. Beside the well stood an oak tree into whose trunk had been driven both coins and hundreds of nails which had attached rag etc votive offerings. Many of these were partially or wholly over-grown by the bark.
Seventeenth century church records refer to bull-sacrifice on island and this, together with fact that local people refer to St Maelrubha as "the God Maurie" leads Mitchell (A Mitchell 1863) and others to suggest that this was a place of pre-Christian pagan worship which was usurped by St Maelrubha.
The island name is given variously as Inch Maree, Innis Maree, Eilean Maree (A Mitchell 1863) or Eilean Ma-Ruibha (W J Watson 1926)
T Pennant 1774; W Reeves 1862; A Mitchell 1863; W J Watson 1926; NSA (Rev D Macrae 1836) 1845
Visited by OS (E G C) 2 October 1964. <1>-<5>

The cemetery was visited during the Highland Kirkyards project, run by Highland Buildings Preservation Trust. Circular graveyard found on a small wooded island on Loch Maree. There is no church in use or standing redundant church structure, although it is said to be the site of a chapel founded by St. Maelrubha in the 7th or 8th century. There are various gravestones within the site, some late 19th century uprights, some older, smaller uprights which only poke out of the ground and some flat slabs underfoot. The gravestones face east. Two of the flat slabs have some sort of cross inscribed on them. There is a row of 19th century gravestones dedicated to members of the MacLean Family, and a broken large cross memorial to Alexander Robertson. The ground inside the walls slopes up to a small rise in the middle, and any chapel would presumably have been at a high point in the middle of the ground. <6> <7>

Sources/Archives (10)



Grid reference Centred NG 9311 7237 (38m by 38m) Approximate extent
Map sheet NG97SW
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish GAIRLOCH

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