Monday, October 19, 2015

Massacre Cave - Eigg

If you like crawling into dark caves with even darker histories, then Uamh Fhraing is for you. The name has been translated as St Francis Cave, but it's usually called Massacre Cave. Sometime in the 16th century (some sources say 1577), about 400 residents of Eigg were smoke-smothered in the cave by the Macleods.

The cave can be reached by a one mile walk from the pier. The first time I crawled into the cave was in 1997, when I took MV Shearwater to Eigg from Arisaig. Most of the passengers were hillwalkers intent on bagging the Sguir. I was the only one who'd come to see the cave (which was fine by me). After walking a quarter-mile up the road from the jetty I crossed a stile and headed south across a stretch of boggy ground. After passing a derelict croft house, a turn to the southwest led to the bluffs above the shore. A trail down a ravine led to the shore, and after walking a little way to the east I found the small mouth of the cave.

The entrance was three feet high and two wide. Flashlight in hand I crawled inside. After a dozen feet the cave expanded enough for me to stand. I wished I'd brought a powerful lantern, for my small flashlight barely lit the way as I walked two hundred feet to the end of the cave.

The cave was full of bones for a long time after the massacre. The geologist Hugh Miller entered the cave in 1844 and wrote this about it in The Cruise of the Betsey (1869):

The floor, for about a hundred feet inwards from the narrow vestibule, resembles that of a charnel house…the skulls, with the exception of a few broken fragments, have disappeared…but enough remains to show that the hapless islanders died under the walls in families, each little group separated by a few feet from the others.

At some point the bones were gathered up and buried. But even so, in 1979 a skull was found here. Once you've found the tiny entrance to the cave, and crawled inside to see how large it is, you'll realize what a good refuge it had been. But not good enough on a winter's day four centuries ago, when footprints in the snow are said to have allowed the Macleods to find it. See this CANMORE page for more on Massacre Cave.

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