North Uist Summary

North Uist


Principal Sources


RMS II (2286) 1495, (2873) 1505

RMS VI (472) 1596

RMS VII (1087) 1614, (1795) 1618

RMS VIII (547) 1623

RMS XI (902) 1666


RSS II (4995) 1542


Inverness Retours (32) 1617, (68) 1644

CD II p 753 ff Sasine of Sleat etc 1597

CD II p 783 ff Sasine of Sleat etc 1657

CD III p 494, pp 650-4

CRA pp1-4, 298


E656/1 1718 Rental (& CD III pp 659-662)

ER XVII p 557 1542


GD 403/2 Report on Value of N Uist in 1813

RHP 26 Rocks off N Uist, Richmond, 1766

RHP 143 1837

RHP 1306 Plan of N Uist by R Reid, 1799


JB Caird, Early nineteenth-century Estate Plans, Togail Tir, pp 61-6

R MacLagan Gorrie, The Siol Gorrie, Scottish Genealogist XV No 2,

H Moisley, N Uist in 1799, Scottish Geographical Magazine Vol 77, 1961

RW Munro, ALI, pp 13-14, 29, Inchaffray Charters p 136 No 142, CD I pp 506-7

I Fraser, The Place-Names of Illeray, Scottish Studies Vol 17, 1973

Catriona M NicIain, Ainmean-Aiteachan Sgire Sholais, 1999

E Beveridge, N Uist, 1911 & 1999

KM Mackenzie, The Macleans of Boreray

F MacLeod, The Chapels in the Western Isles, 1997

Bill Lawson, N Uist, Edinburgh 2004

WF Skene, Celtic Scotland Vol III p 430

A Easson, Systems of Land Assessment in Scotland before 1400, unpublished PhD thesis, Edinburgh, 1986, quoting GD 221 Bundle 105 No 19 of 1679 & Bundle 106 No 31 of 1619



RMS II (2873) of 1505 provides our earliest and most detailed indication of the land-assessment pattern of North Uist:

60m in capite boriali de Euist, viz. davatas Scotice dictas

le Terung de Yllera                                                     (Illeray)

le Terung de Paible

le Terung de Pablisgervy                                             (Paiblesgarry)

le Terung de Bailrannald                                             (Balranald)

le Terung de Holf

le Terung de Watna, Scolping et Gremynis

le Terung de Wala                                                       (Vallay)

le Terung de Solos                                                      (Solas)

1 ablatam terrarum de Walis                                       (½d Veilish)

1 ablatam terrarum de Ylandgarvy

6d Orwansay                                                               (Oronsay)

2d Talmertane                                                             (Balmartin)

2 davatas Scotice dictas

le Terungis de Sanda et Borwira                                 (Sand & Boreray)

et 1d Gerrymare


This charter establishes that North Uist was composed of 10 davachs or tirungs (the two are specifically equated) and was worth 60m altogether. This would imply an exchange rate of 1 ounceland to 6 merks, as in the rest of Uist and the other Macruari possessions. Ten tirungs also mean a total of 200 pennylands.


The figure of 60m (or £40) as the total value for N Uist is confirmed by many later documents. However there are other problems. Firstly another 10 pennylands are specified in the same charter. I suspect they are actually component parts of the before-mentioned 60m but do not know why they are also stated separately. RMS II (2286) of 1495 specifies an extra 15d rather than 10d but certainly 3 (and possibly four) of these additional properties are the same in both charters.


In Exchequer Rolls XVII p 557 of 1542 there is an account for North Uist for 3 terms from May 1541. This has a memorandum to the effect that Uist extended to 60m of which 12m (or two ouncelands) belonged to the church. The rest belonged to the king but 2m (=c. 7d) of this had been destroyed by the sea so the balance of his property was 46m. This would be equivalent to 7⅔ ouncelands or c. 153d. However in ER XVII p 649 (also 1542) there is a reference to N Uist being only 45m.


Unfortunately pinning down the 12m of church property is rather more difficult. We have a charter of 1389 (original perhaps c. 1320) which tells us that all of Carinish and 4d in Illeray were granted to the Abbot of Inchaffray (ALI No’s 10 & 18). In 1561 (CRA p 2) the 24d of ‘Unganab’, ‘Baillenakill’ in Illeray and ‘Kirkapost’ in Illeray, as well as ‘Cairenische’, belonged to the Abbot of Iona. (Presumably there had been some sort of exchange between the two monasteries). Just south of Carinish there was, in 1878, a Loch an Aba (the Abbot’s loch). In 1575-6 (CRA p 10) the lands of ‘Vngenab’, ‘Kirkebost’, ‘Balnakelie in Illera’ and ‘Carinche’ were included in an obligation by James Macdonald of Sleat to the Bishop of the Isles. The payment for the lands of ‘Vngenab’ was ’48 males of beir’. This is reminiscent of the situation in Tiree where an ounceland was the same as 48 maill-lands. In a rental of 1587-8 (CRA p 171) three separate ouncelands of Tiree each pay 48 ‘malleas’ of oat meal. (However, to confuse the issue we also have a reference to Unganab as only 12d in Inverness Retours (68) of 1644). Nevertheless Unganab seems to be a tirung or ounceland of the abbot, notionally worth 20d, associated with properties in Carinish, Illeray and Kirkibost. (Kirkibost lies just North of Illeray and was conceivably once part of the same island). I suspect Ungenab lies concealed within the 1505 charter and was part of the 60m there detailed.


In 1630 we have a tack by the Bishop of the Isles to Macdonald of Sleat (CD III pp 651-4) which tells us that of the £40 of N Uist “thair was 8 merkland haldin of auld of the bischopes of the Isles”. Writing later in the same century Hugh Macdonald of Sleat (CRA p 298) tells us these 8 merklands (=c. 27d) were mortified by John of the Isles. He also tells us that Amy Macruari (John’s first wife) built “the little oratory in Grimsay”. It seems reasonable to conclude therefore that these 8 merklands included the isle of Grimsay.


Grimsay contains St Michael’s Chapel which is Amy Macruari’s “little oratory”. It also contains Kallin (= Na Ceallan, the cells or churches) and another Loch an Aba (= the Abbot’s loch). In later centuries Grimsay was part of what was known as the ‘Boreray Tack’ or those lands held by the Macleans of Boreray. Several of these have strong ecclesiastical associations. Boreray itself was, according to Martin Martin, the burial site of all monks who died in the islands north of Eigg. He also states that Lingay ‘was held as consecrated for several ages, insomuch that the natives would not then presume to cut any fuel in it’. Eilean a’ Ghiorr (= Island Yirr of the 1712 Boreray lease) lies in the channel between Grimsay and North Uist and contains a conical mound known as Crois Eilein Ghiorr. Beveridge (p 280) thought this was likely to have been the site of a cross. Boreray is stated to be a tirung or ounceland in 1505 but the tack of 1626 only gives it as 8d. It may be that the sum of all the widely-separated lands of the Boreray tack were anciently an ounceland belonging to the church and that this is what is implied by the 1505 charter. However this is not likely to be the same as Unganab. The Boreray tack included Claddach Chairinish but not Carinish itself or Illeray. In addition we have a written lease for the Boreray lands dated 1626 which is not that long after the Reformation. If in the 1560s they had been regarded as church lands (as Unganab was) I think we would have had some indication of this in subsequent leases. In his book The Macleans of Boreray, Hector Mackenzie, reckoned the family first obtained Boreray c. 1460. This is well before the Reformation and I do not know how or when the church lost its lands in Boreray, Lingay and Grimsay. However it is perhaps significant that in the 1505 charter quoted above there are two tirungs which are tacked on at the end, as if distinct from the other tirungs. One of these was Boreray whilst the other was Sand, of which Iona held the parsonage (CRA p 3 1561 & p 10 1575-6). It may be that in 1505 there was still a memory that Boreray had once belonged to the church.


Unfortunately we do not know anything like 200 pennylands in N Uist. However, just as in Lewis, we do know the names of most of the farmland units even though we do not know their valuations. We have the 1718 rental preserved in E656/1 and we have the list of farms in 1813 given by J Blackadder in GD403/2. I have included farms from the former within the table on the grounds that if these units were significant in 1718 they may well have been so for many centuries previously.


Some further support for the contention that North Uist contained 200 pennylands can be found by comparing the average silver rent per pennyland with other estates assessed in 1718. Rentals for Eigg, Canna and North Uist all suggest that the ‘going rate’ for a pennyland was then between 20 and 26 marks.


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