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Duirinish, Inverness-shire

Historical Description

DUIRINISH, a parish, in the Isle of Skye, county of Inverness; containing, with the former quoad sacra parish of Waternish, 4983 inhabitants. This place, early in the tenth century, became the property of the Mc Leods, by marriage of the first Tormoid, or Norman of the name, with the daughter and heiress of Mc Railt, the original possessor of the lands. Frequent feuds between the Mc Leods and the Mc Donalds of Uist, in which the latter made attempts to render themselves masters of the property, subsisted for a long period; but with the exception of certain portions of land voluntarily alienated by the Mc Leods, the whole is still in the possession of their descendants. On one occasion, while a number of the Mc Leods were met for public worship in the church, a party of the Mc Donalds, having landed at Ardmore, in the district of Waternish, set fire to the building; and, except one individual, the whole assembly perished in the flames. The inhabitants, however, whom the burning of the church had collected in great numbers, amply retaliated this barbarous outrage, for, attacking the invaders before they could regain their ships, they stripped them of their booty, and left the entire party dead upon the shore. The PARISH is bounded on the north and north-east by Lochs Snizort and Grieshernish, on the south and south-east by Lochs Bracadale and Carroy, and on the west by the channel of the Minch. It is about nineteen miles in extreme length, and nearly sixteen miles in extreme breadth, comprising more than 60,000 acres, of which 2400 are arable, 3800 meadow and pasture, 130 woodland and plantations, and the remainder waste. The surface is boldly varied, rising in some parts into hills of considerable height, and in others into mountains. The most conspicuous mountains are the Greater and Less Helvels; they have an elevation of 1700 feet above the sea, and are clothed with verdure to their summits, which form a level plain. On account of their near resemblance in shape, they constitute an infallible landmark to mariners, by whom they are called Mc Leod's Tables. From the larger of the two a range of hills extends northward, terminating at the entrance of the bay of Dunvegan in Galtrigil Head, a bold and precipitous headland 300 feet in height; while from the smaller of the Helvels a similar chain of hills stretches to the south, terminating in the cliffs of Idrigil and Waterstein, the former of which have an elevation of 400, and the latter of 600 feet. Near the point of Idrigil are three basaltic pillars, rising perpendicularly from the sea, one of them 200 feet in height, and the two others 100 feet each; they have obtained the appellation of Mc Leod's Maidens, and there was formerly a fourth pillar, which has disappeared. The coast, from its numerous indentations, has a range of more than seventy miles in extent, and is generally precipitous and rocky; but within the many bays and lochs the shore has a moderate declivity, forming commodious beaches for landing. The lochs of Dunvegan and Grieshernish are safe roadsteads for large vessels during all winds; and Lochs Bay, Poltiel, and Carroy, though more exposed, aBFord good anchorage for ships in ordinary weather. Pol-Roag, a branch of Loch Carroy, is also a secure shelter, but from the narrowness of its entrance is accessible only to vessels of small burthen.

The SOIL is various, generally peat-moss, with some tracts of clay and gravel; the chief crops are oats and potatoes. On the larger farms, the system of agriculture has been improved within the last few years, the farmhouses are mostly commodious, and the fences well kept up; but on the smaller tenements, which are held by cottars without leases, husbandry is still in a very backward state. There are scarcely any black-cattle kept, the stock having been almost entirely superseded by sheep, which are numerous. The few sheep remaining of the native Highland breed are of diminutive size, but afford mutton of very delicate flavour, and are remarkable for the fine texture of their fleeces: within the last fifty years the black-faced breed has been introduced, but it is now giving place to the Cheviot. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4999. The plantations are of modern date, and are almost confined to the grounds of the principal landowners; they consist of oak, ash, plane, beech, alder, birch, and larch, with Scotch fir, which last, however, has not succeeded. In this parish the substrata are chiefly of the trapstone formation, intersected with veins of basalt; limestone, containing numerous fossil shells; coal, which is not workable; and veins of sandstone. Besides the fine castle of Dunvegan, the principal mansions in the parish are Orbost, Grieshernish, and Waternish, all of them handsome residences pleasantly situated. Considerable quantities of shell-fish are taken on the beach, and several persons are employed in the fisheries off the coast; the fish generally are cod and ling, which, after being cured, are sent to the markets. The manufacture of kelp is also carried on, to a moderate extent. About three boats, averaging ten tons' burthen each, belong to the parish; but no other vessels visit it for the purpose of trade. A post-office has been established at Dunvegan; and facility of communication is maintained by good roads, about thirty-five miles of turnpike-road passing through the parish.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Skye and synod of Glenelg. The minister's stipend is £158, of which one-third part is paid from the exchequer; with an allowance of £57 in lieu of a manse, and a glebe valued at £22. 10. per annum: patron, Mc Leod of Mc Leod. Duirinish church, erected in 1824, is a substantial and handsome structure in the centre of the parish, and contains 550 sittings. Two extension churches, each containing 330 sittings, were erected some years ago, one of them in the district of Arnizort, about twelve miles from the parish church, and the other at Sloosabost, on the west side of Loch Dunvegan. In each of these the parish minister preaches once in five weeks. There is a government church in the district of Waternish. The parochial schoolmaster has a salary of £30, with a house and garden, and the fees average about £8. Four schools are supported by the General Assembly, and three by the Gaelic Society. Among the antiquities is the castle of Dunvegan, the ancient baronial residence of the Mc Leods, of which the oldest portion was erected in the ninth century; a portion was added to it in the thirteenth, and the two parts, consisting of lofty towers, were connected by a range of low building, erected by Rory Mor in the reign of James VI. Recently the castle has undergone very extensive and costly repairs, adding much to its grandeur as an object in the scenery, and to its comfort as a residence. The whole is situated on the summit of a lofty rock, rising precipitously from the sea; and an easier line of approach was opened some years ago, by throwing a bridge across the chasm which separates it from a neighbouring rock. In this castle are preserved, the celebrated banner called the "Fairy flag", taken by the Mc Leods from the Saracens during the crusades; an ancient drinking-cup of hard dark wood, supported on four silver feet, and striped with ribs of highly-wrought silver having numerous sockets for the reception of precious stones, some of which are still remaining; and Rory Mor's horn, a drinking-cup of much larger dimensions, containing five English pints, noticed by Sir Walter Scott. There are numerous caverns in the rocks along the coast, one of which is 120 feet in length, forty feet in height, and ten feet wide; and the cave of Idrigil is resorted to by the fishermen for drying their nets, curing fish, and dressing their victuals. The parish likewise contains many barrows, circular forts, and subterraneous dwellings: on the farm of Vatten, a long narrow passage leads into a central room arched with stone, from which branch off several galleries conducting to other subterraneous apartments, that have not been explored. Some rude sepulchral urns of reddish clay have been dug up; one of these is in the possession of Mc Leod of Mc Leod, and another has been deposited in the Glasgow Hunterian Museum.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis