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Eilean Na Circe

Island Dwelling (Medieval)

Site Name Eilean Na Circe

Classification Island Dwelling (Medieval)

Canmore ID 39073

Site Number NR78NE 3

NGR NR 7669 8928

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish North Knapdale
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR78NE 3 7669 8928.

(NR 7669 8930) Fort (NR)

OS 6" map, Argyllshire, 2nd ed., (1924)

The remains consist of an outer oval wall, enclosing a space c.120' long, and rectangular buildings occupying the interior. The outer wall is best seen for 40' at the N end where it is well built, stands several feet high, and indistinguishable from prehistoric masonry. The rectangular buildings on the level top of the rock, ? Medieval, stand several feet high.

D Christison 1904.

The remains on Eilean na Circe consist of two dry-stone rectangular buildings enclosed by a wall 1.3m wide and 0.8m high. In the S the wall forms a bastion-like structure 3.0m in diameter and in the W it ends on a platform made from stone rubble, in the centre of which is a gap which may be a slipway.

Nowhere does there appear to be any prehistoric work and the probability is that this is a fortified dwelling.

Surveyed at 1/10,000.

Visited by OS (IA) 31 May 1973.

NR 7670 8929. No change to the report of 31 May 1973.

Surveyed at 1/10,000.

Visited by OS (BS) 24 January 1977.


Field Visit (April 1984)

This rocky island is situated 100m from the E shore of Caol Scotnish, a narrow tidal extension of Loch Sween, and is surrounded by deep water. It measures about 65m by 20m transversely and rises to a level summit about 5m above high-watermark.

The entire summit-area, 34m in length, is enclosed by a drystone wall about 1.2m thick and up to 1.3m high, which on the NW, where it is extremely ruinous, descends to the shore to enclose a boat-inlet. Access to the summit was probably by rock-cut steps above the boat-landing (C on fig.), in an area much obscured by vegetation. An alternative position SW of the boat-landing, where the wall returns to the summit, appears too constricted for convenient access. A gap in the NE side of a bastion-like projection of the SE wall (D) has also been identified as an entrance, but is probably a later break. The SE wall returns NE from this projection in an almost straight line for 19m, to a point where its continuation is offset 2m to the SE. Any evidence of the link between these two sections of wall has been obscured by erosion or the later construction of adjacent buildings. The masonry at the NE end of the enclosure, described by Christison as 'indistinguishable from ordinary prehistoric workmanship' (en.2), is greatly eroded but not perceptibly different in character from other sections. Various features of the wall, notably the straight SE length and the sharp returns at several points, indicate that it is of late- or post-medieval origin.

Within the enclosure there are the remains of two drystone buildings. The more substantial (A) measures 9.6m by 5.3m over walls 0.7m to 0.9m thick and up to 1.1m high. It has opposed doorways in the side-walls, which also include four probable cruck-slots, and in the SW end-wall there is a slot for an end-cruck. At right angles to and 2m N of this building there is a more ruinous one (B), 7.8m by 4.3m over all, which is featureless except for a doorway at the centre of the SW wall. It appears to have been built across the line of an earlier building, part of which was retained as an annexe to the NE.

No documentary references to this site have been identified, and no settlement is shown on Pont's map (en.3), although it names 'Yl(en) Kerk' and identifies the narrows to the SSW as 'Cheulis (caolas, 'channel') na Kerk'. Simpson, who knew the site only from Christison's description, interpreted it as an Early Christian monastery, with building B as its chapel (en.4). However, the enclosure-wall is more probably of late medieval date, and the buildings perhaps of the 17th or 18th century. The local tradition that it was formerly used as a refuge by 'the laird of Ob's is confirmed by its omission from a 1747 map of the Taynish estate, which included the farms on the W shore of Caol Scotnish. It was presumably attached to the lands of Oib Campbell or Oib Mor on the E shore.

RCAHMS 1992, visited April 1984


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