Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Bagh Ciarach and the Pairc Murders

A few weeks ago John Randall and I did a charter trip with Lewis Mackenzie, who operates Hebrides Fish N Trips out of Keose in the Lochs area of Lewis. (Among many other things, John headed up the Islands Book Trust for several years.) We were hoping to visit some of the remote (and now abandoned) settlements on the south coast of Pairc. And after that we would be dropped off on the shore of Loch Claidh to make the eight mile walk out to Eisgean.

We were very lucky with the weather. I had planned to do this very same charter last year, but it was far too windy the entire time I was on Lewis. Conditions in the middle of last month were not great, but there was a one-day weather window, and so early on the the morning of July 18, under blue skies and wispy clouds, we set out from the quay in Lemreway.

Before dropping us for the walk Lewis landed us at four amazing, and historical sites: Bagh Ciarach, a location prominent in the story of the Pairc Murders; Bhalamus, once the center of the Pairc sheep farm; and Eilean Thinngartsaidh and the adjacent mainland, known as an ancient meeting place (from the Norse 'ting').

I had wanted to see Bagh Ciarach ever since reading about the Pairc murders. As the tale goes, in 1785 men from Mealasta, a settlement 20 miles away on the west coast of Lewis, had picked up a load of timber in the Gairloch, and were on their way back west when they became lost in a blinding snowstorm at sea. They eventually found shelter in the area of Loch Claidh. Some desperate men, Mackays from Bagh Ciarach, sensed an opportunity. They killed the entire crew and took the precious timber.

Heading west to Bagh Ciarach - no snow today
As our boat motored into Bagh Ciarach, even on a sunny day, it looked like quite a desolate place (the name may mean the Gloomy Bay). The shoreline was almost a continuous wall, with only one small pebbly beach to land on. For us, a beach landing was not possible, so Lewis nosed the boat into a section of kelpy boulders, and with some care John and I were able to get ashore.

Shoreline of Bagh Ciarach
Looking north from the settlement site
Once ashore we discovered that there was a second pebbly beach on the south side of the small peninsula, and just above the north beach lay the slight ruins of four stone dwellings, mostly tumbled and overgrown with heather.

South Bay - The Eilean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay can be seen in the far distance (upper left)

As John and I explored the site we came across a timber log, set well above the tideline. Could it be a remnant of the event? The murders happened centuries ago, and the log did not appear that old. However, it seemed an appropriate thing to find at the infamous Bagh Ciarach; something I've never seen in any other abandoned coastal settlement in the Western Isles.

Timber from Gairloch?
You can read a more complete description of the Pairc murders in Adam Nicolson's Sea Room (chapter 12). and on the Hebridean Connections website. 

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