a hero’s graveyard

Zecharia’s Cemetery (Cill Sgàire) in Bragar, Isle of Lewis

gravestones on a hill

Zechariah or Zacharay Macaulay’s father was the Chamberlain of Lewis and owned the land around Valtos, Kneep and Reef. Zachary lived in the first part of the 18th century. He grew up to be a hero and well remembered in the oral tradition of Lewis. The graveyard of Bragar bears his name.

single stone withered One day, when Zacharay Macaulay was still but a boy, he went fishing with his brothers John and Donald in Loch Langavat (Langabhat), when his brother John noticed a strange stag on the island called Eilean Dubh, the black Isle. John took his gun and swam over but once there, the deer hed disappeared. So he swam back and as soon as he was with his brothers again, the deer was back on the island. So Donald decided to come along and both brothers swam to the island. The deer was gone again and they searched everywhere. John felt suddenly very ill. On the islands the belief was strong, that animals appearing and disappearing were a sign of approaching disaster, in Gaelic folklore this is called a tàbhoradh.

flower and stoneBoth brothers swam back but John never made it to the shore. He drowned. His body was found a few days later.

Zachary or Zechariah is an unusual Scottish name and peculiar to the Macaulays of Uig (Clann mhic Amhlaigh).

white flowers on graveyardThe Macaulays were something like the third power on the island. The major and most influential clan were the MacLeods of the Lewes, second came the Morrisons of Ness. The Morrisons and the Macaulays had been in a bloody feud for centuries.

total view Bragar cemetery

Once the Morrisons stole wool, eggs and seabirds from the island of Rona, so the Macaulays went to Ness and stole the Morrison’s cattle. When the Morrisons came back and saw what had happened they pursued the Macaulays who were on their way back home. They caught up with them somewhere around this cemetery. A bloody skirmish ended the lives of many Macaulays. Only three escaped: Zachary, the best fighter of the all and two other Macaulays. They fled but were found and killed in their sleep. The three had been hiding near Callanish.

standing stones

This was the last battle fought between the Macaulays and the Morrisons. Local legend has it, that Scotlands tallest free standing stone, the Clach an Trushal (Stone of Comapssion), marks the site of the battle. This is rather unlikely though and probably more legend than historical fact.

standing stone

sources and further reading:

Donald Macdonald: Tales and Traditions of the Lews. Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2009


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