Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Monks' Field - Boreray

Cladh Mhanaich, the Monks Burial Ground, is an enigmatic place. It is found on the island of Boreray, in the Sound of Harris, and is usually referred to as 'The Monks' Field'. It is a large tract of ground, dotted with a dozen or more large mounds. Aside from the mounds, any obvious signs it had been a cemetery were destroyed when the area was cultivated, long after its use as a burial ground.

Mounds on the Monks' Field 
Erskine Beveridge reported seeing a crossed marked stone here, along with two cup-marked stones. You can see a drawing of the cross-stone on the CANMORE page referenced below, but on my two visits to Boreray I was unable to find it. But I was able to find one of the cup-marked stones, which also had a deep font chiseled in it.

Cup-marked stone & font
It is odd that no excavations of the mysterious mounds has been done, as it would be interesting to know if there are any remains to be found. It was Martin Martin, writing in 1695, who reported that:

The burial place is called the Monks-Field, for all the monks that dyed in the islands north of Egg. Each grave has a stone at both ends, some of which are 3 and others 4 foot high. There are big stones without the burial place, several have little vacuities in them as if made by art; the tradition is, that these vacuities were dug for receiving the monks knees, when they prayed upon them.

Martin’s report has an interesting interpretation of the cup-marked stones - the vacuities being made to receive the knees of kneeling monks. The two 'vacuities' can be seen in the above photo (my knees fit perfectly - maybe I was a monk in a previous life).

The Monks' Field
The people of Boreray did not make use of the Monks' Field for burials. They chose a patch of holy ground on Aird a' Mhorain, a mile away on the shore of North Uist.

Cemetery at Aird a' Mhorain
Boreray is a beautiful, peaceful island; covered in short grass that makes for easy walking. It also has spectacular views over the Sound of Harris. Speaking of those views, on my first visit, several years ago, I saw an amazing sight. Far off on the western horizon was Boreray of St Kilda - I was seeing Boreray from Boreray. During my second visit, last May, the sky was hazy, and Kilda was not visible.

Boreray seen from Boreray (Hirta on left - Boreray on right)
See this CANMORE page for more on Cladh Mhanaich.

Looking to Boreray village from the Monk's Field

No comments:

Post a Comment