Teampull na Trionaid

Context
Located at Càirinis on the south-western coast of North Uist, the extant ruins of the medieval church are still present (see header). According to the OS Name Books (OS1/18/8/97):

This name means The Trinity Church and is applied to an ancient building situated in the district of Carinish the walls of it stand about 15 feet high except at the east end which is broken down nearly to the ground inside it is full of Graves and a railed tomb a grave yard is also adjacent and on the south side which is full of graves.

Loch na Trionaid (NF819601, ‘the Loch of the Trinity’) lies nearby and presumably takes its name from the church. Attached to the church is also the structure known as Teampull Clann a’ Phiocair which is believed to have been built in the 16th century (RCAHMS (1928, 48), most likely as a priest’s house (Stell 2014, 293). In addition to the church-site, several place-names in the surrounding landscape attest to the importance of Teampuill na Trionaid as a Christian centre. These include Tobar na Trionaid, Loch na Trionaid (‘The Loch of the Trinity’, NF818600), Cnocan na Cròise Beaga (‘The Hillock of the Small Cross’, NF817601), Cnocan na Cròise Mòr (‘The Hillock of the Big Cross’, NF818602), and Cnoc Aingeal (‘Angel Hill’, NF818604). None of these sites now have a cross, but according to Beveridge (1911, 288) the ‘base, or perhaps merely the socket’ of a cross at Cnocan na Cròise Mòr remains.

Discussion
There is little evidence to support a pre-Norse date for the site at Teampull na Trionaid and it is very likely that it does not pre-date the 12th century. The lands surrounding Teampull na Trionaid have a long history as church lands, having belonged to Inchaffray Abbey before 1389 and to Iona by 1576 (MacDonald 2010, 165). Various dates have been proposed both for the foundation of the church ranging from the early twelfth century to the late fourteenth century.

We know that by at some point in the 14th century Christina (13th-14th C), daughter of Ailéan mac Rúaidrí granted Teampull na Trionaid to the abbey of Inchaffray, and it must have been known by that name by at least 1389 when it is described as capelli sancta trinitatis de uuyst et terre de karynche in a charter by her son Godfrey confirming this grant.

According to several sources (see NSA, OPS, and OS Name Books below), a traditional narrative would associate the building of the church with Amie (14th C), daughter of Rúaidrí in the late 14th century, but they also state that it is more likely that she was involved in the rebuilding or repairing of the church. As discussed by Capt. Thomas (1871, 229) this narrative most likely stems from the History of the MacDonalds (17th C, 297-8) which states that Teampull na Trionaid was built by the ‘concubine’ of John, Lord of the Isles:

This gentlewoman [Amie / Algive] that was their mother, being a good virtuous woman, procured to her children from their father their proportion and estates before he married. She built the Trinity church at Carinish in North Uist. This John of the Isles mortified much land to the church in his time, and enriched the family church with several privileges. Algive likewise built the castle of Borve in Benbicula, and castle Tiorim in Mudart. She built the parish church of St Columb in Benbicula, and the little oratory in Grimsay, all at the expense of John of the Isles…

On the other hand, The Book of Clanranald (18th C) asserts that it was founded by Bethag (Bethóc) (12th-13th C), daughter of Somerled and first prioress of the Iona nunnery:

Bethog, daughter of Somerled, was a religious woman and a Black Nun. It is she that erected Teampall Chairinis, or the Church of Cairinis, in Uist.

Although this claim cannot be substantiated, it has been argued that the church may have been built c.1200 on an existing site (Miers 2008). This would be consistent with a scenario where the church was known by its current name in the early 14th century when Christina originally granted the lands to Inchaffray abbey, making it at the very least likely that there was a church at Càirinis by the end of the 13th century. Additionally, this would also make it more likely that Amie rebuilt or repaired the church rather than founded it. Thus, a late 12th or early 13th-century date for the church is likely, but it does not exclude the possibility of an earlier church having been located here.

Other Sources
OSA (1794, 320-1): ‘In a part of the parish, called Carinish, there is a church called Teampul na Trianade, or Trinity Temple, which tradition gives out to be the oldest building of the kind in the Highlands. What corroborates this tradition is, that from the circumstance of its being dedicated to the Trinity, it seems to have been built before the Romish calendar was made known in these parts; all churches built since that period being dedicated to saints.’

NSA, (1845, 169): ‘At Carinish, the south-west point of the parish, there is a ruin of a large dimensions, called Teampul na Trianaide, or Trinity Temple, which, by the tradition of the inhabitants, is said to have been built by the daughter of Lorn, when she was separated from the Lord of the Isles. I have in my possession a document, which is a copy of what is said to have been the original charter of dedication of some lands in Uist to the Trinity and blessed Virgin Mary Church at Carinish, by Godfrey Macdonald, Lord of Uist, in the year 1389.’

OPS (373): ‘In 1389 Godfrey of Ile, lord of Wyst, confirmed to the monks of Inchaffray the chapel of the the Holy Trinity (at Karynch) in Wyst, as granted to them by Cristina the daughter of Alan the true heiress and Reginald called M’Rodry the true lord and patron. About 1390 the chapel of Carinish was probably rebuilt or repaired by Amie M’Ruari, who is traditionally reputed its founder.’

OS Name Books (OS1/18/8/97): ‘This name means The Trinity Church and is applied to an ancient building situated in the district of Carinish the walls of it stand about 15 feet high except at the east end which is broken down nearly to the ground inside it is full of Graves and a railed tomb a grave yard is also adjacent and on the south side which is full of graves - "We read in the Origines Parochiales that in 1389 Godfrey of the Lord of Uyst confirmed to the monks of Inchaffray the Chapel of the Holy Trinity (at Karynch) in Uyst as granted them by Christina the daughter of Alan the true, heiress and Reginald called McRoury the true, lord and patron about 1390 the Chapel of Carinish was probably rebuilt or repaired by Amie McRuari who is traditionally reputed its founder and its ruins are locally known as Teampull na Trionaide (The Trinity Church) "Vide" Notes by F. W. L. Thomas Capt. R. N. F. S. S. Scot’

RCAHMS (1928, 48): ‘The church appears to date from the 16th century on the evidence of the lancet, which resembles those at Rodil Priory, but the proportions of the structure are in keeping with a 14th-century origin. The house is evidently subsequent and possibly dates from later in the 16th century.’

Other Resources
Canmore ID 10265, 10286
Saints in Scottish Place-Names (DoSH) ‘Teampull na Trionaid, North Uist’