*Àird Mhìcheil

Above: Cemetery at Àird Mhìcheil.

Context
There are three names of interest at this site, only one of which survives on the modern OS maps; Rubh’ Aird-mhicheil which incorporates the original *Àird Mhìcheil. There was also a Cladh Mhìcheil here (DoSH) which is now only marked as ‘cemetery’ on the map. The OS Name Books (OS1/18/12/5) only record Rubh’ Aird-mhicheil stating that: ‘This name is applied to a headland about one mile to the N.N. [North North] West of Ormaclate, and a little to the south West of Stoneybridge. It signifies “Michael's Headland.” property of John Gordon Esquire. On the East side of this point are two modern burial grounds and they are still used by the Inhabitants for Interments’. Martin (1703, 88) writes that one of the churches in South Uist is St. Michael, presumably referring to this site. There is also a Crois Chnoca Breaca NF734336 ca. 500m to the north where, according to Carmichael (1928, 262) ‘People from the south end of the island prostrated themselves […] being within sight of the churches at Hógh Mór.’

Discussion
Although the church dedicated to St Michael here no longer remains, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the chapel site mentioned in OPS and by Martin existed. The account by Father Alexander Campbell (see below) also supports the existence of a chapel which was in ruins by the 19th century. In fact, it may have been one of considerable antiquity in which case we should perhaps infer an original *Cill Mhìcheil. In particular, the tradition of celebrating Michaelmas which included horse-races on the shores along the South Uist coast may have its roots in the medieval period. As demonstrated by Stiùbhart (2008, 247), the accounts of Michaelmas provided by Carmichael are problematic the celebrations described may have been ‘both less archaeic and less “Celtic” than Alexander Carmichael’s account suggests’. However, this does not mean that the celebration of St Michael’s feast day at *Àird Mhìcheil could not have its roots in the Middle Ages. See Mìchael for further discussion on this saint and the context of celebrating Michaelmas.

Other Sources
Scottish Catholic Archives [SCA], DA9/45 “The Mission of South Uist: 1891” by Father Alexander Campbell (1818-93), cited in Stiùbhart (2008, 207-8): ‘It was customary for the priest in charge of the mission to celebrate mass on this day in the ruins of the Old Church, where almost all the people assembled from the ford of Benbecula to the sound of Barra. The most of them took their ponies with them, each lad having his lass en croupe behind him. When Mass was over, horse racing commenced. If the tide answered, they retired to the strand, where there were miles of the most beautiful and long stretch of plain, where they could [test] to perfection the mettle of their steeds. In case that the tide was not favourable, they were never at a loss, as there were other plains which answered well enough the purpose. The proceedings of the day ended by a ball in every township.’

OPS (368): ‘There were chapels at Kilchainie, Kileulay, Kilvannan, and Ardmichael, at the last of which the cemetery still remains’

Other Resources
Canmore ID 9898
Saints in Scottish Place-Names (DoSH)‘Ardmichael, South Uist’, ‘Cladh Mhicheil, South Uist’, ‘Rubh’ Àird-mhicheil, South Uist’