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Lewis, Tigh Nan Cailleachan Dubha

House (Period Unassigned), Nunnery (Period Unassigned)(Possible), Township (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Lewis, Tigh Nan Cailleachan Dubha

Classification House (Period Unassigned), Nunnery (Period Unassigned)(Possible), Township (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Mealista

Canmore ID 3983

Site Number NA92SE 3

NGR NA 9911 2407

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Western Isles
  • Parish Uig
  • Former Region Western Isles Islands Area
  • Former District Western Isles
  • Former County Ross And Cromarty

Archaeology Notes

NA92SE 3 9911 2407.

(NA 9911 2407) Tigh nan Cailleachan Dubha (Nunnery) (NR) (site of)

OS 6" map, (1965)

The alleged site of a Dominican nunnery, dismissed by Easson as a fanciful explanation of the Gaelic name, which means 'House of the Old Black Women'. The Ordnance Survey Name Book (ONB) states that a number of chess-men were found here about 70 years ago (ie c. 1780) and that they were sold to a society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh. This is presumably a confusion with the find of chess-men from Uig Bay (NB03SW 5) and a 'cloister for black nuns' (NB03SW 7).

Name Book 1851; D E Easson 1957.

The name applies to the remains of a typical black house structure oriented N to S and measuring 11.2m x 4.6m internally within walls 1.3m thick. There is still a strong local tradition regarding the site.

Visited by OS (R L) 30 June 1969.

An oblique photograph showing the remains of the house and possible nunnery (CEU 1980), has recorded the remains of the blackhouse orientated from N to S, with sheep pens about 20m to the SW. This blackhouse was recorded as roofed on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Rosshire, Island of Lewis 1854, sheet xxix). The sheep pens overlie the footings of further N-S oriented structures which were recorded as unroofed ruins on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Rosshire, Island of Lewis 1854, sheet xxix), but do not appear on the current edition of the OS 1:10,000 map (1973). To the W of these footings are the remains of another slightly shorter possible blackhouse, also recorded as roofed on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map, which overlies more footings. Further similar building footings visible on the aerial photograph are recorded as ruins on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Rosshire, Island of Lewis 1854, sheet xxix), to the N and on the rocky edge of the coast to the NW.

Information from RCAHMS (ALD) 9 June 2004

This chapel site was included in a research project to identify the chapel sites of Lewis and surrounding islands. The Lewis Coastal Chapel-sites survey recorded 37 such sites.

Tigh nan Cailleachan Dubha is well known as a possible ecclesiasticalsite. However ... it is highly unlikely that this is the case. The site is a typical deserted pre-crofting settlement.

R Barrowman 2005 (RCAHMS MS2384)

Detailed topographic survey undertaken of the township, together with Teampall Mhealastadh, a chapel and burial ground to the NW (see NA92SE 1).

R Barrowman and J Hooper 2006 (RCAHMS 2626)


Ground Survey (19 September 2011 - 21 September 2011)

NA 9911 2407 The project aimed to sample the archaeological deposits within the scheduled area at Mealasta. The work undertaken, 19–21 September 2011, recovered dating material and assessed the nature of occupation. Recent research on the Lewis Chessmen (Caldwell et al 2009 and 2010) suggested that the pieces belonged to an important person living on Lewis, for instance a prince of the Kingdom of the Isles, a bishop or a clan chief. The souterrain recorded (NA92SE 2) from Mealasta is described in some sources as the findspot for the Lewis Chessmen. The project cleaned the eroding section of machair at Mol Tiacanais, recording an enhanced soil horizon below the turf, several shallow pit or ditch features and the potential eroding corner of a dry stone walled building. Samples were recovered from each of these features and the eroding edge backfilled; the samples will be analysed at Durham University. A series of boreholes were cored with a bucket augur behind the eroding edge to test the potential for further deeper soil or midden horizons within the scheduled area. These indicated that below the visibly eroding horizon, machair sand extended to the base, up to 3m deep in places.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Hunter Trust

National Museums Scotland, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and University of Durham, 2011

Field Visit (10 February 2015)

NA 99049 24019 Possible site of kitchen? Most likely relates to the site in ruins to the east. Midden to north of the ruin, on coast edge. Severely eroded after this winter's storms.

Visited by Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) 10 February 2015

Field Visit (February 2015)

This is an area of buildings now ruins covered by vegetation with two more modern buildings also ruined. There are 2 obvious flatter areas with field walls, which might have been used for cultivation. The coast edge has eroded severely after the storms, with collapsing banks and revealing a midden.

Visited by Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) February 2015


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