N E W S F E E D S >>>
Cemeteries Index Historical Articles

Reay Cemetery Pictures 

Reay Sculptured Stones
A S Cowper

The old burial ground at Reay has a number of heraldic, sculptured, flat gravestones worthy of preservation as historical monuments of the families who commissioned them and the masons who cut them.

Near the entrance gate Robert Munro "a discreet gentlman sometyme lyferenter of Borlum" who died 4 December 1681 has a stone with two shields and the initials R M and M C. One shield bears the Munro eagle. The other has the shakefork, an ordinary rare in English heraldry but in Scottish heraldry associated with the Cunningham family. The Cunninghams of Caprington, Ayrshire, and of Broomhill were connected with Caithness from the early 17th century. Margaret Cunningham who married Innes of Borlum wrote in 1683 that she was unable to support herself and her son, Henry Innes, "as becomes a person of my quality". One wonders if she could be the M C on Munro's stone.

Close by is another stone with a Latin inscription, initials I M I and E[I], and two shields. The dexter shield has the Innes arms - three stars and a crescent at fess point. The sinister shield displays a saltire and a chief charged with three cushions for the Johnstone family. William Innes from Moray acquired in 1625 the estate of Sandside to which his grandson James was served heir in 1640. James married Elizabeth Johnston who, according to Thomas Sinclair in his account of Sandside - A Highland Estate 1792-1800 - was a sister of Archibald Johnston the celebrated Covenanting Lord Wariston. James Innes was MP for Caithness and Commissary for Caithness and Sutherland. The Latin inscription is:

Vox dixit praedica/dixit que quid/praedicaturus/sum omne carn/em esse gramen/pulvis et umbra/sumus pulvis ni/hil est nisi fumus/sed nihil est fum/us nos nihil ergo/sumus quem non/[fa]lce metit fera/mors quis mole/sepulchr[i]obrut/[us] inferno vict[or]/ ab orbe redit.

A short distance below the enclosure containing the Innes and Johnston stone lie two weathered stones. The one commemorating "William Maky" of Forsnain has two shields: the dexter shows a chevron between three bears' heads couped and there appears to be on the chevron an animal head, perhaps a buck's head erased. The sinister shield is quarterly, 1 and 4 a ship, 2 and 3 an animal - possibly a lion rampant; the condition of the stone made it difficult to identify with certainty that the quartering was engrailed but it seemed possible so that the wife may have been a Sinclair.

The other stone lying to the north of the Forsnain stone has two shields: the dexter looks like three bears' heads couped while the sinister has a chevron between three bears' heads couped. The only legible part of the inscription records John Simson tacksman in Reay. However, in The Celtic Monthly, vol. 8, 1899-1900, Simson is said to be a weaver but this was not evident in 1982. It could be that Simson's family used a Mackay tacksman's stone, simply adding or substituting their name. Near the south west corner of the burial ground lies Barbara Campbell who died in 1760: she was the wife of Alexander Sinclair "taksman of Strubster". The dexter shield for Sinclair is quartered by an engrailed cross, 1 and 4 a lumphad, 2 and 3 the lion rampant. The sinister shield is quartered, 1 and 4 a lymphad, 2 and 3 the gyronny of eight associated with Campbell heraldry.

In the row east of Alexander Sinclair's stone is another with Campbell arms. This commemorates James Campbell of Shurrery who died 16th May 1738 and bears a single shield quartered, 1 and 4 a galley with three oars or "sweeps", 2 and 3 the gyronny: the quarterings are transposed here. James Campbell of Shurrery was a MacIver Campbell.

Campbells settled in Caithness at various times. The Macivers (Breadalbane "broken" Campbells) came in 1580 to help Oliphant of Ackergill to defend himself against the Gunns; others came in 1675 as kinsmen of John Campbell of Glenorchy (the Sinclair opponent at the Battle of Altimarlach 1680) to whom George, 6th Earl of Caithness, sold his estates to meet his debts. An earlier Campbell of Glenorchy connexion was made in 1638 when Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy's illegitimate sister, Mary, married John Henderson of Brabsterdorran. The Campbells who settled in Achvarasdal towards the end of the 18th century came from Tongue and were not Clan-Iver Campbells.

Within the Mackay aisle (a reconstruction of part of the old kirk of Reay) there is set into the wall a sculptured stone with an inscription recording that the aisle or part of it belonged to Angus Mackay of Bighouse. The two shields on this stone are - dexter, on a chevron between three bears' heads couped, a buck's head erased between two hands holding daggers, all proper; and, sinister, quarterly 1 and 4 a Sinclair galley, 2 and 3 a lion rampant, dividing the quarters a cross engrailed. Angus Mackay married Janet Sinclair, daughter of Patrick Sinclair of Ulbster according to Thomas Sinclair the historian of the Gunns, or, according to Angus Mackay in The Celtic Monthly (vol. 8) the lady was a Sinclair of Brims.

Also set into the wall at the right of the entrance to the aisle is a sculptured stone with initials D M M and M M, the date 1691, the motto Timeo deum, and a shield in the centre. This shield is charged with an eagle's head erased. The inscription records that a fourth part of the "ile" belonged to Mr. David Munro and Margaret Munro. The Munro family provided ministers for Reay from 1623 to 1722. David's father was John, a third son of John Munro of Pittonachy. David's wife Margaret was a sister of Andrew Munro of Coul, Minister at Thurso.

More historic than these heraldic stones is the early Christian monument, a rectangular slab of grey sandstone finely sculptured in relief, set into the west wall of the Mackay aisle. it is 6'4" in length and 2'31/2" in width at the top, 1'11" wide at bottom, and 31/2" thick. In the centre is a cross with square ends to the arms, round hollows in the angles and a ring connecting them: the shaft is short and the rectangular base is the width of the stone. The ornament on the right and left arms and the base is key pattern: circular knot work adorns the shaft. Though lacking the symbolism and animal features found in the Farr, the Ulbster, and the Skinnet stones the Reay stone had no mean place in the list of northern sculptured monuments.

When viewed last summer the condition of the heraldic stones and the Mackay aisle monuments gave cause for concern. It is hoped that the local authority and the local historians will act now to preserve for posterity these valuable sculptured records of northern Scotland's great historic past.

This article was first published in Caithness Field Club Bulletin April 1983