The site of Teampull Mhuir is located on the island of Bhàlaigh in North Uist and contains the traces of a church, a graveyard, and several early medieval crosses. The [simple_tooltip content='OS Name Books, Inverness-shire Ordnance Survey Name Books, 1876-1878. ScotlandsPlaces <https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/inverness-shire-os-name-books-1876-1878>.']OS Name Books (OS1/18/6/41)[/simple_tooltip] describe the site as follows: ‘The walls of what appears to have been chapel are standing to a height of about five feet, other ruins close by a few inches above the surface. The boundary of Graveyard can be traced and it is still in use.’
The island-name Bhàlaigh is well attested and appears in charters from at least the early 16th century as Wala ([simple_tooltip content='RMS 2 = Paul, J.B. (ed.) Registrum magni sigilli regum Scotorum: The register of the Great seal of Scotland, A.D. 1306-1668, vol. 2 (Edinburgh).']RMS 2, 611[/simple_tooltip]). It is undoubtedly of Norse origin and most likely represents [simple_tooltip content='Old Norse']ON[/simple_tooltip] völlr ([simple_tooltip content='genitive plural']g.pl.[/simple_tooltip] valla) ‘a field, level ground’ + [simple_tooltip content='Old Norse']ON[/simple_tooltip] ey ‘an island’. The first element might refer to the fertile landscape described by [simple_tooltip content='Martin, M. 1703. A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (London).']Martin’s (1703, 67)[/simple_tooltip] as ‘very fruitful in Corn and Grass, Clover and Dasy’, the flat topography, or indeed both. Teampull Orain is located on the tidal island of Orasaigh, directly north of Bhàlaigh.
The most obvious evidence for early Christian activity on the island of Bhàlaigh is the presence of several early medieval crosses. These include a rectangular slab with a Latin cross, the fragment of a cruciform stone, and a cross ([simple_tooltip content='Fisher, I. 2001. Early medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands (Edinburgh).']Fisher 2001, 110-11[/simple_tooltip]). [simple_tooltip content='Beveridge, E. 1911. North Uist: its archaeology and topography; with notes upon the early history of the Outer Hebrides (Edinburgh).']Beveridge (1911, 297-8)[/simple_tooltip] argues that the remains of the church indicate that it ‘could not be earlier than the 12th century’ due to traces of nave and chancel, but [simple_tooltip content='Fisher, I. 2001. Early medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands (Edinburgh).']Fisher (2001, 110)[/simple_tooltip] views these traces as doubtful. Additionally, this would not exclude the possibility of an earlier structure on the site.
Although we know that there was an early medieval Christian presence here and most likely a medieval church, dating the dedication to St Mary is more difficult. The earliest certain reference to this site being dedicated to her is provided by [simple_tooltip content='Martin, M. 1703. A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (London).']Martin’s (1703, 67)[/simple_tooltip] who states that ‘It [Bhàlaigh] hath three Chappels; one dedicated to St. Ulton, and another to the Virgin Mary.’ Universally venerated saints such as Mary cover a considerable geographical and chronological span. Thus, her dedications are often very difficult to date and, in this case, could realistically belong to any period between the conversion to Christianity and the 17th century.
One of the three chapels mentioned by Martin was presumably Teampull Orain, but there are no traces of a third chapel existing on Bhàlaigh. This does not necessarily mean that one never existed, but perhaps the possibility that these dedications refer to the same chapel should be considered. However, any discussion of a dedication to ‘St Ulton’ must be treated with considerable caution since it is only mentioned by Martin (also see Cladh Chothain).
If the dedication to Mary is an early one, an original *Cill Mhuire would be likely since place-names with [simple_tooltip content='Scottish Gaelic']G[/simple_tooltip] cille in North Uist and Benbecula were often replaced by [simple_tooltip content='Scottish Gaelic']G[/simple_tooltip] teampull at some point after the Reformation (see Teampull Chriosd for further discussion of teampull).
[simple_tooltip content='RCAHMS = 1928. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Ninth report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles (Edinburgh).']RCAHMS (1928, 48)[/simple_tooltip] Teampull Mhuir, Vallay: ‘Only portions of the foundations remain about three-quarters of a mile east by north of Vallay House. These foundations are confined to what seems to have been a chancel, about 9 or 10 feet square. The walling is 3 feet thick. A depression in the ground probably indicates the lines of a nave some 3 feet wider than the chancel.’
- Grid reference: NF786763
[simple_tooltip content='Scottish Gaelic']G[/simple_tooltip] teampall ‘a church, temple’ + [simple_tooltip content='personal name']pn[/simple_tooltip] Mary (the Blessed Virgin)
(St Mary’s Church)
[simple_tooltip content='Six-inch 1st edition Ordnance Survey Maps of Scotland, 1843-1882 <https://maps.nls.uk/os/6inch/index.html>.']OS 6-inch[/simple_tooltip] Teampull Mhuire (Ruins of)