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Excavation at Manish Strand, Ensay,Western Isles (pp 173-189) D D A Simpson


Between Bernara and the main Land of Harries lies the Island Ensay . . . and there was lately discover’d a Grave in the West end of the Island, in which was found a pair of Scales made of Brass, and a little Hammer, both of which were finely polish’d (1716, 50). What (if anything) Martin made of this is not recorded, but it is presumably the same (lost) grave-find as that known to Alexander Carmichael, two centuries later, for he mentioned in the ‘Notes’ to Carmina Gadelica that a skeleton with ‘a small hammer, and a pair of scales’ had been exposed in Cladh Aruinn, an ancient burial-plot in the small island of Keilligrey, in the Sound of Harris (1928, 242). Killigray is the adjacent small island to Ensay, but in whichever of the two the grave was actually found, the mention of ‘a small hammer’ that was ‘finely polish’d’ suggests that the deceased may have been buried wearing a Thor’s hammer pendant. dissemination/pdf/vol_134/134_201_239.pdf

ensay map 1878 DSC00209 (1)

Alexander Carmichael's Notes on the island of Esaidh [Easaigh/Ensay] that Arch[ibald] Stewart, proprietor of Taigh Easaigh [Ensay House] had made good additions to a fine house but that it was too close to the bay - 'This is its only fault'. The situation and composition of the old temple is noted and that it is being used as a stable and of the same style as Teampull Taobh Deas Also noted is Croc a caisteal [Cnoc a' Chaisteil] where there was an old dun, describing its location and the beauty of the island and its black cattle. The island has no burial ground although it used to be at Trai Mhanuis [Tràigh Mhanuis].Clach-sgaire [Clach Sgairidh] is noted as being a boulder at the south end of the island, where someone called Sgaire [Sgairidh] was wrecked and from whom Caolas Sgaire [Caolas Sgairidh] takes its name.

In 1750 John Walker writes of a sand drift which... affected much of the coast of Harris. This is very interesting to all who visit the Ensay, because the gables of what could be an old church can be seen emerging from the olf graveyard on the north side of the island, as the ground is being eroded by the winds. The [site] was excavated in 1971 by Professor A E W Miles. He felt that the evidence that [the building] had originally been a chapel was conclusive. Prof Miles was unable to give a defintive date for the chapel but carbon dating of bones found outside and a James IV coin (1488-1513) suggest that it was in use at that time. There were no artefacts inside the chapel except for five smooth rounded stones and some pebbles on the sill of the east window. The significance of these stones and pebbles is not known, but legend has it that in ancient times rounded pebbles were said to have magical and healing powers. The excavation was carefully filled in again by Prof Miles. In 1989, Prof Miles produced a book on the island, An Early Christian Chapel and Burial Ground on the Isle of Ensay, Outer Hebrides, with a Study of Skeletal Remains (British Archaeology Review, Series 212, 1989)

DSC01172 DSC00197 - Copy

Norse Burial Mound, North Ensay

Standing Stone, Ensay

Extract from Ordnance Survey Inverness-shire (Hebrides), Sheet XXII (1878, publ. 1882)

reproduced with permission of the National Library of Scotland

Stone artefacts, Ensay Church

" several parts of Harris, the Sand Drift from the sea shore, has made great encroachments upon the land. There are about 300 Acres of what was formerly the best arable and pasture land in the island of Pabbay [the island neighbouring Ensay], that are at present overwhelmed with sand.... The sand drift is continuing to make great devastation in the same way, along the west coast of the main land of Harris, and in all the other lesser islands which are adjacent."

McKay, M. (ed.) (1980) The Rev. Dr. John Walker's Report on the Hebrides of 1764 and 1771, John Donald Publishers Ltd., Edinburgh. Retrieved from

Scherr, A. (2003) Ensay: A Brief History, unpublished