Obscure but historically important clan site on Lewis, Scotland



This evening, I am focusing on an historic site of Dun Eistean on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides which does not appear on many of the standard tourist trail maps, but is, nevertheless of such historic significance that Glasgow University undertook a prolonged archaeological investigation over the period 2000-2004.

The site is situated at the north of the island, close to the Butt of Lewis. The site can be accessed by car but this entails navigating a rough farm track over a distance of about 1 mile together with a couple of farm gates.

Upon arrival the visitor will not be presented with the usual stone ruins and the like but a mound on a small islet which can only be accessed via a footbridge over a ravine which in its day would have formed a natural, defensive moat. It is believed that, up until late medieval times, this was the power base of the Morrisons whose authority may have derived from the Lords of the Isles but collapsed when the Lordship came to an end in the late 15th century.

Aerial photographs of the apparently innocuous mound reveal the outlines of buildings which, as a result of archaeological investigations by Glasgow University 2000-2004, have revealed a complex site comprising:
  • A rectangular dwelling with central hearths.
  • A Gatehouse and storage buildings or shelters.
  • A Triangular enclosure which defended the west of the island (facing the sea).
  • Corn-drying kilns and a barn used for storing and drying barley.
  • A settlement area with a central living space together with turf and stone buildings.
  • Pond to collect fresh water.
  • A rectangular tower or keep which once may have been 4 meters (12 feet) high.
  • A defensive perimeter wall of turf with stone facing.
More information and photographs can be found at the Ness Historical Society, Old Cross School, Cross, Ness, which is a combined local museum and family history centre for the locality.

The small island is now owned by Clan Morrison Society.

Video clip of site.

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