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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
CHAPEL AND BURIAL GROUND AT ACH'NA H-UAI KINBRACE
To the WNW of Kinbrace railway station, and 3.5km distant, at Ach'na h-Uai', (NC827321), are the remains of a chapel and burial ground (Fig. 4) by the side of an old road.
The chapel has been a long building with interior dimensions 20m x 4.5m, and aligned 239 deg. (true). There is also a wing extending from the centre of the north wall having interior dimensions 3.2m x 5.4m with an entrance where its E wall joins the N wall of the main building.
The walls of the building are constructed of large rounded boulders of local stone and the greatest remaining height is at the W end where the wall still stands to a height of 2.16m. Along its top is placed a row of turves. The entrance to the chapel is to the W of the centre of the S wall and the building would appear to have been approached through the burial ground which has an opening in its enclosing wall at the SW corner of the chapel. The N wall of the chapel, and also the walls of the N wing are mostly fallen.
To the S of the chapel is the burial ground. It is enclosed at the N by the S chapel wall, and elsewhere by a four-sided retaining wall which is complete, and with its entrance at the W. The surface of the burial ground is grass covered and uneven, suggesting that there may be burials beneath the surface. Only three tombstones are visible. These stand in line near the W wall with their inscriptions facing E.
The inscriptions on the three tombstones read as follows:
1. ERECTED BY GEORGE GORDON / CRAGGIE ROGART IN TESTIMONY / OF HIS PARENTAL AFFECTION / TOWARDS HIS BELOVED DAUGHTER / WILLIAMINA GORDON WHO DIED / AT KILDONAN 15 JULY / 1845 AGED 22 YEARS
2. ERECTED BY JOHN / CHISHOLM shepherd / in memory of his / beloved spouse MARGARET / NICOL who departed this / life at Badenclevan / on the 18th of April 1837 /Aged 52 years.
3. ERECTED BY JAMES AND / JOHN Chisholm Shepherds / in Memory of their / Grandmother JEAN / HENDERSON who departed / this life at Badenclevan / on the 18th of / June 1838 Aged 78 years
Mention is not made of the chapel and burial ground at Ach'na h-Uai' in either RCAMS Sutherland (1910) or Origines Parochiales (Innes 1841-5), but a reference is found in Memorabilia Domestica (Sage 1899 P.60}. In his chapter on the topography of Kildonan, describing the river Helmsdale in the year 1800 he writes.
"From the loch of Badenloch the river takes an easterly course, and after a short run of about five miles, enters Loch Achnamoine (or peat field), a small lake, on each side of which are the farms of Achnamoine to the south, and Ach-na-h'uaidh (field of the graves), to the north. The latter was so called from a burying-ground which has been used from time immemorial. In the midst of this place of graves stood a rude and homely church, or meeting house, as it was more appropriately called. The building was constructed of the simplest materials. The lower part of the walls, to the height of about two feet, was built of dry stone; the walls and gables were then brought to their full height by alternate rows of turf and stone. The roof was constructed of branches of birch laid on the couples, covered with divot, and thatched with a thin layer of straw which was secured with heather ropes. The windows were merely a few shapeless holes left in the roof and the walls for the admission of light, and were furnished with boards to prevent the ingress of sheep and cattle. The seating was originally a few planks of moss-fir, dug out of the bogs in the neighbourhood, and placed upon turf or stones. This was one of the preaching stations intended for the use of the itinerant minister of Achness".
When Donald Sage was appointed to Achness (Achadh an Eas, NC668371 on O.S. map) in 1816 he would preach two Sundays out of three at Achness, and on the third at Ach'na h-Uai'. The extent of his mission was quite considerable in area, extending from Mudale, 4km west of Loch Naver, to almost the middle of Strathnaver in the west, and over as far as Kinbrace in the east. The purpose of such missions being established by the Church was to supply a ministerial service to the extensive parishes of the north, but by the time Sage was appointed many of the small townships in the area had become depopulated due to the Highland Clearances of 1814. He was, in fact, the last minister to be appointed to Achness, where he eventually preached his last sermon at the beginning of April 1819, and the following Sunday at Ach'na h-Uai' just previous to the Strathnaver clearance of this year.
The area surrounding the chapel at Ach'na h-Uai' is very rich in antiquities. There are chambered cairns, stone rows, hut circles and enclosures. Mr. A. F. M. MacLennan, Brora (private communication) has brought to my attention the name of one of the chambered cairns. This is Carn Richard, also known as Carn Tigh Nan Coileach (Henshall 1963), 0.8km to the east of the chapel. He points out that Richard was not found as a personal name here in the past, but that there was a 6th century Celtic saint by the name of Erchard or Yrchard. Could, therefore Richard be a corruption of Erchard, suggesting an early church dedicated to this saint? Furthermore, he comments on the alternative name for the cairn, Carn Tigh Nan Coileach, which translated means 'cairn house of the cock', which is rather unusual. Coileach is pronounced 'kull-ach', which sounds very similar to Cailleach, pronounced 'kaely'-lyach', meaning an old woman and also a nun. The question then arises, could there have been a nunnery associated with the chapel? This is an interesting speculation and Sage does suggest that the burial ground was very old, even in his time.
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