Dùn na Cille

Context
Dùn na Cille refers to an island located in Loch Dùn na Cille NF746189, where the name of the loch derives from that of the island. The OS Name Books (OS1/18/12/75) state that ‘This is the site of what is thought to have been a Danish fort, of which no traces remain. It is said to have stood on Eilean Buidhe in Loch Dun na Cill, & It means “Fort of the Grave yard”.’ It is unclear why they have interpreted the cill-element as ‘grave yard’. The island is located less than a kilometre from the settlement of Cille Pheadair and less than two kilometres from Cladh Pheadair. Raven and Shelley (2003, 137) describe the site as follows: ‘the site of a possible Early Christian and later Norse church (NF71NW 1). The island is artificial or at least highly modified […] There are two possible phases of buildings on the island […] The southern structure may be the remains of a church, although the turf gives the footings a more cellular appearance.’

It may be significant that there is a Sgeir na Cille NF732170 on the coast, 2.5km south-west of Dùn na Cille. This site is right next to a burial ground (at NF736173) which according to the OS Name Books (OS1/18/12/92) ‘is the supposed site of an ancient chapel’.

Discussion
As with other place-names in Uist using a word for ‘church’ as the specific element (cf. Kirkidale) it is not entirely obvious what it refers to. It is conceivable that the name itself did not denote to a direct church-site, but rather a site which was associated with another church, most likely Cille Pheadair considering their direct proximity. On the other hand, if the assertion that the Kilmonie (?Kilmorrie) described by Pont (ca. 1583-1614)  ‘is presumably to be identified with Dun na Cille’ (Parker Pearson et al. 2018) is correct, the site may indeed represent an early church-site and the archaeological evidence may support this. The chronology of such a church is difficult to ascertain but could potentially be pre-Norse and it has been suggested that it was ‘later replaced by Cille Pheadair’ (Papar Project). An early date for such a church would be consistent with the fact that by the sixteenth century the site appears to have been known only as ‘Dùn na Cille’ based on the map form provided by Pont. However, whether or not the site is likely to represent an early church, equating it with the Kilmonie (?Kilmorrie) described by Pont (ca. 1583-1614) is problematic since he states that ‘the church of Kilmorrie [?Kilmonie] is now called Kilpetil, that is the church of the muir, for so it lay of old neerest the muirs, but now the sea and the sands have approached it.’ Not only would this phrasing imply that it is Cille Pheadair he is referring to, but the topography described would be more consistent with that of Cille Pheadair than the site at Dùn na Cille. Thus, the chronology and exact relationship between Cille Pheadair, a potential church at Dùn na Cille, and a possible early dedication to St Mary must be left open to further discussion at this stage (See Cille Pheadair for further discussion on Pont’s text).

Other sources
OS Name Books (OS1/18/12/92) on the burial ground: ‘there is the supposed site of an ancient chapel. John Ferguson who is a mason to trade maintains that there is no doubt about a chapel being on the site marked on [?] as he destroyed what remained of the formations when building the tombs in this grave yard Mr McAngus who is a much older man contradicts the above man’s statement and points out a spot a short distance to the north as the site of a chapel and says that it is traditionally known as the chapel where McDonald of Boisdale seceded from the Roman Catholic faith’

Other resources
Canmore ID 9788, 9796