The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

Our Claymore Stones

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photos as given below each image

One of the great under-researched subjects in kirkyard studies is Scotland’s heritage of Claymore Stones.

Thus far we have discovered eight Claymore Stones at Kirkmichael. Almost all of them have been re-used since their first placement, some of them several times over. Most of them carry a date, ranging from 1600 to 1630. A ninth, dated 1605, lies in our complementary kirkyard at Cullicudden.

My theory is that post-Reformation, when the ornate crosses and symbols of Scotland’s Roman Catholic memorial past had become anathema, and before the late 1600s when the Protestant symbols of mortality became common in the Highlands, the only symbol families felt comfortable with was the Claymore. At a time when even the Cross was considered taboo, the Claymore was considered a respectable symbol. That its shape evoked the Cross was perhaps more than just coincidence.

The great length of the hilt on the Claymore was to allow both hands to hold the sword at the same time. The weight and length of the Claymore required a double-handed grip, especially when the fearsome weapon was being swung around one’s head, scything down any opponent who came within its deadly orbit. The image below is from Wikipedia and is of a replica of a Scottish claymore. This replica is a “Chieftain Limited Edition Medieval Scottish War Sword”, sold by Albion Europe. The sword measures: Total length: 118 cm (46.46 in); Blade length: 92 cm (36.02 in); Weight: 1.8 kg (3.968 lbs); Grip length: 18.3 cm (7.205 in). Note the inclined quillons and pierced quatrefoil terminals which are represented on some of the carvings at Kirkmichael.


Claymore replica; source Wikipedia, Creative Commons Licence

The Claymore Stones in Kirkmichael are variable in design as will be seen from the following images.

 

1601 The Keren Family (our reference Stone 1047)

This slab was, curiously, the most recently exposed of the group. Each year for the Highland Archaeology Festival we invite visitors to attend while we uncover a previously unrecorded slab. We always do a little keyhole investigation first, to ensure there is something there, but we are as much in the dark as our guests as to what we will find.

On 5th October 2019 everybody was delighted to experience a rarity being uncovered. I think everybody sensed our own excitement as the slab was revealed.


Our visitors were delighted as the new Claymore Stone emerged; photo by Andrew Dowsett


I elegantly illustrate the length of the new Claymore; photo by Andrew Dowsett

It took some time to extricate the date as the top was more badly eroded than the remainder. We thought we had a date from a session late at night with extreme oblique photography and a 100 Watt lamp (nicknamed the Kirkmichael Lampie). However, subsequent photogrammetric images indicated in fact the correct date is 1601. It was less ornate than some of the slabs, and instead of the usual clockwise inscription around the perimeter, it bore a simplistic and apparently incomplete dedication at the top:


Kirkmichael outlined by lamplight during an evening session with this stone; photo by Andrew Dowsett


The date 1601 appears on the Keren stone thanks to the photogrammetry of Andy Hickie

The Claymore runs most of the length of the slab which is 1.88 m long, 0.68 m wide at the top, 0.53 m wide at the base, and 0.16 m deep at a point midway across top. The inscription startled us, as the surname of the family was one we had never seen in the Resolis records:

1601 FOR THOMAS / KEREN IN BRAY / LANGAL & DON / ALD KEREN IN TA / ENENICH / I•K


image by raking light at night on left: Andrew Dowsett; photogrammetric image on right: Andy Hickie

I have no Resolis records of the family of Keren, but I note from the Cromarty church registers, which commence in the mid 1600s, that there were families named Keren and Keran in Udale, Peddieston and elsewhere in the parish at that time. Resolis church records do not exist for this period, but it would be safe to assume that with several Keren families in Cromarty, there would also be several in Kirkmichael.


The marriage of Thomas Keran and Janet Tailour in Cromarty in 1680

Tenenich (and variant spellings) lay between Kirkmichael and Udale, a bit to the west of modern day Jemimaville (red spot on the map from approximately this period by Gordon). There was once a market here. Braelangwell is in blue, Kirkmichael in pink.


Gordon map of Kirkmichael in the 1600s

 
 

Undated Re-used by W McK / IF / 1782 (our reference Stone 1088)

Having uncovered the “Keren” Claymore stone for the first Saturday open day of the Highland Archaeology Festival on 5 October 2019, we anticipated that the slab we uncovered the following weekend, on 12 October 2019, would be a more typical slab from the 1700s. We knew it was there from some “keyhole investigation” in advance but more than that was just guesswork. And so it appeared on first uncovering, a rather challenging exercise in itself as it lies very deep, partly under the main path to the south of the nave and partly under the corner of the Peter Mackenzie headstone. One set of initials near top:
    W McK / I F / 1782
Set of initials below W McK:
    W V / E MK or E MR [ligature M and leg of next letter]
Set of initials in middle, but first letter of each lost by a hole in the stone:
    … K / … C / 1731
About two thirds of the way down:
    I MK [ligature M and R] / HC
Given its proximity to the Peter Mackenzie headstone and related tablestone, it is possible this is a memorial commemorating earlier members of this Mackenzie family, but of course it might be a different family of, for instance, Mackeddie. More research on the family is required.


Excitement as another Claymore emerges; photo by Andrew Dowsett


From left, the Keren Claymore stone still exposed, path, the new Claymore stone, behind it the Peter Mackenzie headstone, and next, the related Maceknzie tablestone; photo by Jim Mackay

And then Davine suggested there was part of a sword visible. She took some chaffing for wishful thinking following our discovery of the previous week, but sure enough when the stone was washed and cleaned up another Claymore stone was revealed! This Claymore stone runs most of the length of the stone, the left quillon lost in the same hole as the sets of initials. The quillon unusually is straight out, although the terminal dips a little. We subjected the stone to night-time oblique photography, and Andy Hickie kindly carried out a photogrammetric exercise. It was a challenge due to the depth of the stone, the proximity of a headstone and having to excavate under the path, but the results show the Claymore to be very worn but distinct enough!


The Claymore can be seen when viewed at an angle; photo by Jim Mackay


But is clearly seen in this photogrammetric image by Andy Hickie


The pommel of the hilt of the sword extends above the 7, although overwritten in places; photo by Jim Mackay

 
 

1600 Jhone Hosok in Kirkmichael and his spouse Marion Patirson (our reference Stone 1049)

This slab appeared when the shallow trench for the new path was being excavated in 2017. It was an exciting moment for volunteers and supervising archaeologists.


photo: Andrew Dowsett

The arms or quillons of the Claymore are represented with quatrefoil terminations, and although the stone has spalled on the left arm, the overall sword looks terrific.

The date is set out on the top line. The inscription then runs clockwise from top right around the slab. I suspect the final line was inserted somewhat later by his indignant wife!

19 APRILIS 1600 / JHONE HOSOK IN KIRKMICHAEL HES PREPAR/ID THIS SEPULTURE FOR HIMSELF & HIS POSTERITIE / AND MARION PATIRSON HIS SPOUS / WH


photo: Andrew Dowsett

Note that John Hossack in Kirkmichael hadn’t actually died at this time – he had obviously had a millennial urge to prepare a special tomb (the meaning of “sepulture” in this context) for his family. The final great “WH” placed across the hilt of the Claymore I would take to be either John Hossack honouring his father or one of John’s posterity recording his own initials on this fabulous stone.

 

1600 Iames Holm slab (our reference Stone 1015)

This is the faintest of our Claymore Stones. This slab should take a prize for the number of re-uses it has survived.

The more recent inscriptions are:

DH / 1777 / MM
IH IB / 1806

This slab is from a line of Holm stones, so we can assume these are Holm inscriptions. Below these modern carvings are an earlier pair of defaced initials and overwritten earlier date: DA, perhaps, and 1723 or 1725.


photogrammetric images by Andy Hickie

I noted that the top right corner of the perimeter inscription was temptingly close to readability and so I asked Friend of Kirkmichael and photogrammetry enthusiast Andy Hickie if he could develop some photogrammetric images of this slab to assist. Lo and behold, a date and name appeared on the corner:

1600 IAMES HOLM

And what should faintly appear but the hilt and blade of a Claymore!

 

1603 Euphemia in Belcherrie (our reference Stone 1038)

This slab is 1.84 m long, 0.80 m wide at the top and 0.55 m wide at the base. The Claymore runs most of the length of the slab, and there is an axe to its left. The hilt of the sword has not been accurately carved in line with the centre of the sword blade, being a little too far to the left.

The original names on this slab have been obliterated to be replaced with a more modern Urquhart inscription:

17 THOMAS 39 / URQUHART

The obliterated inscription includes:

…… / EUPHEMIA … / IN BELCHERRIE / 1603


Axe and Claymore; photo by Jim Mackay


The obliterated text lies between the red spots; photo by Jim Mackay

 

1605 Donald H … K (our reference Stone 148)

This slab is 1.90 m long and (surprisingly) rectangular, being 0.63 m wide at both top and base. A faint Claymore runs down the length of stone. It has downward pointing quillons, and perforated terminals to both quillons and hilt.


The faint Claymore can only be picked out on the wetted stone, at an angle; photo by Jim Mackay


The downward sloping quillons are difficult to pick out; photo by Jim Mackay


photo by Jim Mackay

The modern inscription is:

JOHN HOLM / MARGRAT / HOSAK / 1728 / JOHN:TOLM / ISBL MORRO

The original inscription around the perimeter was mostly unreadable, but much is now known due to the photogrammetry of Andy Hickie.


photogrammetric image by Andy Hickie

Running clockwise, starting on right side:

… … MAN DONALD H … K WHO DEPARTED YIS / LYFE … / …ALIE YE 10 DAY OF MARCH 1605

 

1630 Henrie Urquhart in Birks (our reference Stone 1036)

This slab was the subject of a mild discussion during the restoration works. Our excellent archaeologists were supervising the excavation by the volunteers of the new path close to the church, recording as we went. A corner of what was clearly an interesting stone appeared. A debate then ensued as to whether or not it was appropriate to expose the remainder of the stone. I’m afraid I was rather blunt in that if it wasn’t exposed then, it would soon be exposed after working hours! It turned out to be a beautiful Urquhart Claymore slab, of the latest date of the seven we have found at Kirkmichael.


A corner of the intriguing old stone projects into the route of the path; photo: Jim Mackay

The Claymore bears lobated pommels (i.e. quatrefoil terminals on the quillons, as per our leading photograph). It is the shortest of the Claymore swords seen so far, and the latest. I suspect the length was due to the flaw in the stone further down the stone into which the sword should have extended – the carver negotiated it with his border lines with some difficulty and simply avoided it with the sword by keeping it short.

HENRIE WRQWHART ⚬ IN bIRRKS ⚬ HES PREPARIT ⚬ THIS SEPWLTVR / FOR ⚬ HIM ⚬ SELF / & ANNAS ⚬ WRQWHART ⚬ & THAIR ⚬ POSTERITI ⚬ 1630 / 17 JOHN 39 / URQUHART / EUPHIEM / PATERSON / THOMA/S . URQUHART


photo: Andrew Dowsett

There were many Urquharts in Resolis in 1630. I presume Henry Urquhart’s wife’s maiden name was Urquhart too, so Henry Urquhart of Birks married Anna Urquhart. There is no guarantee that the John Urquhart from a century later (1739) was a descendant, but it is likely. I take it that John married Euphiem Paterson, and their son was Thomas Urquhart. The slab immediately to the north is also an Urquhart stone, with a curious “inkwell” feature.

 

Undated slab (our reference Stone 1011)

This stone shows evidence of several later uses. The most recent inscription is probably:

AH IF / IH / 1758

It lies within a long line of Holm stones, so it can be safely assumed the most recent re-user was an Andrew or Alexander Holm. The original perimeter wording at the base seems to have been replaced with a crudely carved heart and letters:

RE FOR HIM

The original inscription is worn away. This slab is trapped under the thick adjacent stone so inspection is very challenging. However, a faint Claymore can be seen – the blade and the hilt, including the pommel at the end, are just visible, and the terminals on the quillons can also be distinguished. Were we to free this slab from the memorial pressing down on it, we could probably recover more information from it.


The curious heart and cryptic letters at the base; photo by Jim Mackay


The perforated pommel of the hilt; photo by Jim Mackay

 

1605 Wiliam Maccae, The Cullicudden Claymore

It would be remiss of me not to include the Claymore slab located in our complementary kirkyard of Cullicudden. This was in fact the very first Claymore Stone I knew about. It had been recorded by Ian Fisher of RCAHMS, under the prompting of local schoolteacher Mrs Penny Poole, who had been promoting the marvellous medieval stones in Cullicudden, several of which are now safely on display in the nave at Kirkmichael. Ian Fisher described the sword as having “inclined quillons and pierced quatrefoil terminals of true ‘claymore’.” The inscription is very crudely written:

This stone / pertins to / WILIAM MACCAE / 1605


 

Click here to return to the Story behind the Stone gallery