St. Michael’s Chapel

Context
St Michael’s Chapel or Teampall Naomh Mhìcheil is located on the island of Griomasaigh between North Uist and Benbecula. According to the 1928 RCAHMS survey:

The ruins of St. Michael’s Chapel occupy a very prominent position on a small plateau on the highest point of the promontory at the southeast end of Grimsay, about 500 yards southeast of the school at Kallin. It has been built in a small enclosure, the foundations of the boundary wall, overgrown with grass, being traceable all round.

In addition to the name of the chapel, St Michael’s Point (NF883854) and Eileanan an Teampull (NF881533) both appear to relate to the same site. The nearby settlement of Ceallan (NF876548) may also be associated with St Michael’s Chapel.

Discussion
The earliest attestation of St Michael’s Chapel is the 17th century History of the MacDonalds which states that Amie (14th C), daughter of Rúaidrí ‘built the little oratory in Grimsay’.  According to Carmichael (1869, 277): ‘The founder is said to have built it as an oratory wherein she might worship while detained from crossing the Minch by stormy weather, when going to visit her relations in Lorn’.

Based on the available evidence, the earliest definite attestation of this chapel means that it cannot date later than the 17th century and, if the association with Amie is genuine, it must be at least a 14th century site. However, as highlighted in discussions of other sites (see Teampull na Trionaid and Teampull Chriosd), such associations are often problematic. Although Capt. Thomas (1871, 245) believed that this church was more likely than Teampull na Trionaid to have been built by Amie the possibility of an earlier site should not be excluded. It is tempting to suggest the possibility that the chapel here predated its association with Amie, especially considering that other St Michael dedications in Uist may be of an early date (see *Àird Mhìcheil).

The name Ceallan may also be significant. Located ca. 700m from St Michael’s Chapel, it appears to denote a church setting. Usually found in the dative form as cill in place-names it is only in the nominative form that we see the development of EG cell ‘a church’ into G ceall ‘a cell, church’ (Butter 2007, 1; Dwelly 1901-11; eDIL). Most likely is perhaps a nominative plural form of G ceall. Such a coining could describe existing ruins or cells. There is also a Cidhe nan Ceallan NF881554 ‘The Pier of the Cells’ nearby.

Other Resources
Canmore ID 10193
Saints in Scottish Place-Names (DoSH)‘St Michael’s Chapel, North Uist’; ‘St Michael’s Point, North Uist’