The Massacre at Trumpan Church and the subsequent Battle of the Spoiled Dyke

The ruined church of Trumpan stands North of Dunvegan on the peninsula of Vaternish.  How it came to be a ruin is one of the grim tragedies of the west.   Between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds of ClanRanald a bitter feud existed.   Perhaps the MacDonalds remembered that black day when many of their clan in Eigg were massacred by the MacLeods.  Be that as it may, the men of ClanRanald planned a deadly revenge.  One Sunday they sailed across the Minch in their galleys from their island territory of South Uist, and surprised the MacLeods at worship in the little church. Picture the dismay of the worshippers when there is a loud shout at the church door, and they turn to see the door guarded by armed men, triumphant and without pity.  Escape is impossible.  Resistance is useless, for the men are unarmed in the church.  As the congregation stand there, the women and children terrified, the men defiant yet powerless against the claymores that guard the narrow door, wisps of pungent smoke enter the church and soon the crackle of flames is heard.

 

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Trumpan Church

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Trumpan Church Interior

 

ClanRanald's men have  fired the church !  Shrieks and wailings echo through the doomed building, while outside the chief of ClanRanald?s piper plays wild and scornful music to drown the cries of the dying.  Unperceived in the dense smoke, the solitary survivor of the massacre squeezes herself, inflicting mortal injuries on her person as she does so, through the narrow slit at the corner of the church which serves as a window.  But before the men of ClanRanald could escape, the MacLeods came up from Dunvegan, and a desperate fight was fought on the green shore beside Ardmore.  

 

Uncertain for some time was the issue of the fight until all of a sudden the MacLeods are miraculously increased in numbers in the eyes of their enemies.  Where they stood in scores they now stand in hundreds.  The Fairy Flag has been unfurled ! The battle now goes against the raiders.  ClanRanald and his men make for the shore in disorder. To their dismay they find their galleys left high and dry by the ebbing tide, and it is impossible to launch them across the great boulders and slippery stones while the MacLeods do not pause in their harrying. Disheartened, and with their means of escape cut off, the MacDonalds sell their lives dearly.  The battle becomes a slaughter, but the defence is sufficiently strong to permit of a single galley being launched.  In her a few of ClanRanald's men make their escape and return to South Uist with their bad tidings.  The MacDonald dead are dragged to the lee of a stone dyke which is then collapsed on top of them, providing a quick and effective burial cairn and the name that this battle will be known, "The Battle of the Spoiled Dyke".

 

trumpbay.jpg (28805 bytes) Trumpan Churchyard with Ardmore Bay, site of "The Battle of the Spoiled Dyke",  mid right of the photo

The Caves of Eigg and the Massacre of Eigg

Back to The Massacre at Trumpan Church and the subsequent Battle of the Spoiled Dyke

In the south there are two famous caves, the Cathedral Cave, which was used for Roman Catholic  services after the 'Forty-five and the Cave of Francis,  where the MacLeods killed 395 MacDonalds by suffocating them

 

Several reasons are offered for the   massacre of the MacDonalds, the most likely one  being that it followed an incident when some of the  MacLeods staying on the island became too amorous   with the local maidens, and were subsequently bound  and cast adrift in the Minch.    With mischief in mind, the MacLeods arrived on  Eigg in the spring of 1577; deep snow covered the  ground (nowadays a rare occurrence on the island).  There was not a soul to be seen, since the populace,  having sighted the invaders, had retired to the cave  whose tiny entrance is shrouded beneath a waterfall.  A strong wind covered their footprints with freshly fallen snow.   After a thorough but fruitless search, the MacLeods set sail again in their galleys, temporarily frustrated in their objective.

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The Cave of Francis

(me, the dog and youngest daughter posing)

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The Cathedral Cave

 

However a MacDonald rashly climbed on to a promontory to watch their departure and was spotted.  The MacLeods returned and were able to follow his prints back to the cave as it had stopped snowing and the wind had dropped. The MacLeods diverted the stream, piled thatch and roof timbers from nearby crofts at the cave mouth and fired it, damping the flames and thereby asphyxiating everyone inside.   Several centuries later the bones of those who perished were gathered together and reverently interred.  Only one family escaped the massacre because they had taken refuge in a different cave.

 

The two caves are found a mile to the south of the, pier.   To reach them, take the route up the hill as for the Sgurr.  Then climb the first stile on the left. Continue along a path to a cottage, then by a sheep track to the cliff fence.  Follow down a zig-zag path to the shore, close to a small burn.   On the right is the Cathedral Cave and to the left, the Cave of Francis.