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MARY ISLAND - EILEAN MHUIRE

Map of Mary Island Sites

Mary Island has a similar outline to House Island, being a long island orientated north to south, but is bent in the middle to form an L shape with a narrow prong of a headland thrust out to the east. Topographically there is little similarity between the two islands for Mary Island is uniformly high all around its coastal edge. There is a cobble beach on the southern side on which a landing can be made and from where it is possible to gain access, however, the ground rises, less than shear, climbable, but very steeply. Once on the ‘top’ the impression is that it is indeed a table top plateau, although the surface is far from level, it is even, gently undulating, with the broad ripples of lazy beds to be seen everywhere. Countering this impression is a steeply sloped hill dominating the southern central area barring the way to the east headland. The cliffs the north-east side of the hill have eroded back the hillside so that although the resulting cliff is spectacularly high it has negated the hillslope and a safe passage is possible along the cliff top. On the south side the erosion is less significant and the hill slope becomes dangerously steep as it gets lower, ending in cliffs that may not be as high as those on the other side, but which are still deadly. This steep, near vertical, grassy slope does however have one saving asset, it provides a suitable environment for Puffins to scratch out their burrow nests and one of the Shiant’s large colonies lives here. Once past the hill and the descending hillside becomes narrower until it is no more than a razor edge that gives exciting access to the east headland. Like the southern headland of House Island it appears to have been used little except for grazing and shows no sign of human intervention, remaining useful only to the seagull who uses its bare windswept surfaces as a nesting ground. Apart from the natural beauty and dramatic formations that must thrill anyone there is little to interest the archaeologist here and the focus must shift to the more northern area of the island. 

Where the island is bent across its widest central area there is a shallow valley which has gently sloping sides to the north and a stepped shelving side into the flank of the great hill. A small stream runs its length, appearing and disappearing into the earth at each end. On either side of the stream are a number of earthen mounds, and roughly rectangular and square turf banked structures. Further remnant turf structures are to be found where the stream turns to the south at its western end and also to the north, up the slope out of the valley, where a row of co-joining structures, orientated north to south, are sited. Several of the mounded structures are up to two metres high. This group of relic turf buildings appears to represent a settlement of village proportions.  The obvious fertility of the island, with its swath of verdant grass covering the regular undulations of cliff to cliff lazy beds, is self evident and settlement should be expected. Alternatively it is conceivable that the island was retained as a garden island with the regular settlements being restricted to the other two island and with the turf buildings representing the seasonal shielings of the agriculturists. This is an attractive idea, but as usual, without documentary evidence it is difficult to verify without excavation. There are several strands of argument that can be taken into account. One of the aspects that tends to suggest temporary accommodation is the fact that the relic buildings are constructed with turf which in itself tends to suggest impermanency to the modern mind more used to thinking in terms of stone. A swift tour of the island soon reveals that the smooth contours allow little possibility for blocks of stone to be readily available at the present day. This is not to say that in the past such stone was not commonly found when the lazy beds or their earlier predecessors were being cultivated.

Another argument for some permanent occupation is the presence of the chapel of St Mary, assuming that its identification is correct, and at present there is little to suggest that it is not, which is located to the north-west of the turf village.

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MI 1 Island Map NGR NG 4307 9861
Interpretation:
Sheiling. Tentative.
Location: Part of a small group of monuments that includes St Mary’s chapel situated on a low rise forming the north-west side of the central valley and to the north and west of the main body of turf structures that constitute the main body of the settlement in the valley.
Description: Orientated north-west to south-east this rounded rectangular building, 6x11.50m. externally, has been cut into a low mound that could be the cemetery mound associated to the chapel. The external wall face appears to be little more than an earthen bank, but internally the it is faced with dry-stone walling composed of rounded blocks of field stone piled 0.90m. high. The wall is up to 2m. wide in places. This building and the chapel are the only buildings to show stonework in their construction. The internal angles are more sharp, some acutely so, and there is an internal division wall, 0.75m. wide, that divides the internal space into two almost equal parts. There is a narrow, 0.50m. wide doorway at the west side of the division wall allowing access into the back room. The narrowness may be due the west wall bulging inwards. The building is connected at the south-west corner to a wide earthen enclosure bank that forms one element of a large enclosure to the east of the building. Curving south around the building in a broad bulge it eventually ends at the cliff edge to the north. A further length of enclosure bank approaches the building from the cliff edge to the north-west, but it impinges upon the chapel before reaching the sheiling. A further short length of bank almost fills the gap between the chapel and the sheiling but it appears to stop a few centimetres short of the sheiling wall. The enclosure is assumed to relate to the sheiling. A 6m. diameter (external) earth walled hut foundation (Site MI 3) is against the west wall of the shielding at the point where the enclosure bank also joins. The relationship between the various parts is not clear, but superficially the hut appears to be earlier, being slighted by the shieling wall.        
Provisional date: Early modern.
Recording: A measured ground plan drawn (V+J).
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2. print no. 20-22. Black and White: Film 2. print no. 22
Notes: Described in the SMR as ‘a sheep shelter’. Marked on the current OS map as a smaller rectangle than the chapel. Marked on the 1854 OS map and on Brown’s 1889 map. The enclosure is also marked on all these maps. 

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MI 2 Island Map NGR NG 4308 9860
Interpretation:
Chapel. Positive.
Location: 3m. north-west of the sheiling MI 1 on a low rise forming the north-west side of the shallow central valley.
Description: A rectangular single roomed building internally 5x3.60m. with walls of between 0.65m. and 1.25m. width of stone reportedly bonded with mortar. (SMR report of OS visit 1969). Unfortunately this was not verified during this rapid survey. The structure is covered extensively with vegetation masking some of the essential details such as the possible doorway in the west end of the south wall and the recessed appearance along much of the north wall internal face. There appears to be a further gap in the northern wall, but this narrow (0.65m wide) opening may just be an eroded portion of walling being used and emphasised by crossing sheep. The earthen enclosure boundary bank runs to the western half of the northern wall where it appears to expand and clasp the building. This may be due to the possible mound that the chapel appears to be built on and the boundary bank may actually be running into that rather than the chapel. There is a further, smaller, enclosure to the west of the chapel which begins from the main boundary bank at a point to the north of the chapel from where is curves south stopping to the south of the chapel just short of the turf hut foundation MI 3 close to the sheiling MI 1. This small enclosure may be related to the sheiling rather than the chapel as suggested in the SMR report. This building has always been marked on maps as the chapel of St Mary and has a long traditional pedigree which lend support to the identification. The regular well constructed walls and single squared room they enclose also all tend to suggest a possible chapel, but the dedication cannot presently be proven.
Provisional date: Medieval.
Recording: A measured ground plan drawn (V+J).
Photographic record: Coloured print: Film 2. print no. 18/19. Black and White: Film 2. print no 23/24.
Notes: Marked on all the maps and labelled ‘St Mary’s Chapel’.

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MI 3 Island Map NGR NG 4307 9859
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. positive.
Location: Against or cut by the sheiling (site MI 1 see above).
Description: A grasses over oval bank with a narrow (0.50m. wide) entrance to the south located against the west wall bank of the sheiling. The wall bank is a thick 2m. width except at the entrance where it is only 0.75m. wide. The internal space is 3.65x2.70m. in diameter although the bank may well have spread since its construction when the internal area may have been greater. Without excavation it is not possible to determine the true relationship between the two monuments, but it is considered that the hut may be earlier even though it is in close association with the sheiling to which it could belong as a store or byre. It should also be noted that its position against the west wall of the sheiling puts it outside the enclosure.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured ground plan drawn (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 4 Island Map NGR NG 4309 9855
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: The central valley and its small stream lie east to west across the central area of the island, but when it reaches the enclosure of the sheiling MI 1 it divides and a branch turns to the south. This site is located on an east facing slope at the northern end of this diversion of valley and stream.
Description: A rectangular earthen bank (10.50x8.80m. external measurements) forms the wall foundation of this single room hut. The bank is 1m. wide and without any apparent entrance. The height of nearly all of these turf hut wall is approximately 0.30m.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 1. print no. 9. Black and White: Film 2. print no. 18. 

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MI 5 Island Map NGR NG 4309 9854
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: A few metres south of hut MI 4 (see above).
Description: Not well defined, but a rectangular single roomed hut with a wall foundation of low earthen banks that have spread and are intermittent. Internally 3.90x2.40m. No entrance is visible.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 6 Island Map NGR NG 4310 9854
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: A few metres south of MI 5 (see above).
Description: A rectangular, but well rounded at the corners, single room hut of earth wall foundations that have spread, especially down slope to the east. No entrance is visible. A rounded internal space measures 1.80x2.40 in diameter, while the external measurements are 2.40x5.40m reflecting the eastern spread.
Provisional Date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording:
A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 7 Island Map NGR NG 4311 9854.
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Down slope east from hut MI 6 at the edge of the stream in the valley bottom.
Description: A square shaped single room turf walled hut with external measurements of 9m. and a wall bank width of 0.60m. without apparent entrance. Along the western side of the stream is a boundary bank and the east wall of the hut appears to use it as a foundation resulting in an combined height totalling 0.50m. This eastern wall is notably clear in its definition.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: Coloured print: Film 1. print no. 10. Black and White: 2. print no. 19.

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MI 8 Island Map NGR NG 4312 9855
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut group. Positive.
Location: To the east, on the opposite bank of the stream, and north from hut MI 7 (see above).
Description: Two turf huts (A and B), one with a small annex attached are joined from north corner to west corner by a single 1.60m. length of earthen bank. The group is orientated from south-west to north-east. The south-western hut (A) appears as a square shaped 0.30m. high mound 7.40x8m. in size. Its northern wall bank is extended o join the northern wall of the second hut (B). This hut is 4.80x3m. in size with an indistinct hollowed single room inside. Built in to the northern half of the eastern wall is a small annex or storeroom adding a further metre to the length of the group.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 1. print no. 13. Black and White: Film no. 2. print no. 20.       

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MI 9 Island Map NGR NG 4309 9855
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Tentative.
Location: Higher up the slope west from hut MI 4 (see above).
Description: A sub-rectangular hollow 1.80x2.90m. is bordered by the suggestion of a turf bank 1m. wide.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 10 Island Map NGR NG 4314 9852
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Tentative.
Location: At the north-west base of the central hill and to the east of the south flowing stream.
Description: A low, not more than 0.25m. high, irregular shaped nearly circular mound 6x6.50m. in diameter showing a vague outer bank.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: Field note of shape and measurements taken (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 11 Island Map NGR NG 4315 9852
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Immediately to the east of hut MI 10 (see above).
Description: Originally possibly rectangular but the south-eastern corner appears to have eroded away. Orientated east to west it is 6x8.50m. in size. mounded and lumpy with a slight hollow internally. Sheep have extensively tracked across it causing much of the deterioration.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 12 Island Map NGR NG 4314 9853
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: At the base of the hill north of hut MI 11.
Description: A nearly square sub-rectangular hut 4.70x5m. in size with a clear outline of low external turf banking to a hollow single internal room space.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 13 Island Map NGR NG 4314 9854
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Tentative.
Location: At the north-west base of the central hill.
Description: An oval 1m. wide bank 5.80x6.40m. in diameter with a concave hollow interior orientated east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: Measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 14 Island Map NGR NG 4314 9856
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: South bank central valley stream at west end.
Description: Oval 1m. wide bank 6.70x8.90m. diameter orientated north-east to south-west. Badly damaged by sheep tracking.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: Measured field note made (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 15 Island Map NGR NG 4315 9856
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: South side of the central valley stream at the west end but east of hut MI 14.
Description: Oval bank 7x8m. in diameter with a 5m. diameter hollow inside orientated east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 16 Island Map NGR NG 4315 9858
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: West end of central valley north of huts MI 14 and 15.
Description: Circular bank 6.40m. diameter greatly damaged by sheep tracks.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording:  Measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 17 Island Map NGR NG 4316 9856
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: At west end of the central valley on south bank of the stream.
Description: Slightly oval bank 5.30x6.40m. diameter orientated north to south.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: Measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 18 Island Map NGR NG 4319 9858
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Central valley on south side of stream and east of hut MI 17.
Description: Oval 1m. bank 7.40x9.50m. diameter orientated north to south with an entrance to the north. Bank is extensively damaged by sheep runs. 
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 19 Island Map NGR NG 4316 9862
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut on large mound. Positive.
Location: West end of central valley on north side of stream bank.
Description: A massive almost circular mound 14.60x15.50m. diameter and standing up to 2m high is hollowed out down to 1m. inside. The north side is open down to the full 1m. depth and the southern side has the edge of the mound reduced. Without excavation it is impossible to determine whether this is a later turf hut built into an earlier mound or an accumulation of rebuilt turf huts superimposed to form the massive earthwork now present.
Provisional date: Prehistoric to early modern.        
Recording: A measured field sketch drawn (V+J).
Photographic record: Colour prints: Film 1. print no. 14. Black and White: Film 2. print no. 21.

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MI 20 Island Map NGR NG 4317 9861
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: West end of the central valley on the north bank of the stream and a few metres south-east from hut MI 19.
Description: A circular 4.30m. diameter well defined bank 0.70m. wide. No entrance visible.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 21 Island Map NGR NG 4321 9861
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Tentative.
Location: Central area of central valley on north side of stream east from hut MI 19.
Description: A triangular shaped earthwork 7.50x8x9m. standing 0.75m. high with a slightly hollow central area.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 22 Island Map NGR NG 43239861
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Tentative.
Location: Central valley area on north side of stream in a line of earthworks between huts MI 21 and 22.
Description: An ill defined low and indistinct circular 3.80m. diameter bank.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 23 Island Map NGR NG 4324 9862
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: East end of the central valley in a line of huts on the north bank of the stream.
Description: Slightly oval banked earthwork 6.4x7.3m diameter orientated east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 24 Island Map NGR NG 4327 9863
Interpretation:
Turf walled huts. Positive.
Location: At the east end of the central valley close to the east cliffs and the last in a line of huts along the north bank of the stream. 
Description: Two huts A and B side by side. A to the west and B to the east. Hut A is slightly oval 7.40x8m orientated north to south with a 1m. wide bank. B a circular hut of 8m. diameter with a 1m. wide bank touching that of A to the west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 25 Island Map NGR NG 4318 9854
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: On a shelf at the northern base of the central hill.
Description: A sub-rectangular bank 4.10x5.80m. orientated north to south. Badly damaged especially at the south-west corner which appears to have eroded away and in general the banks have spread in all directions.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (PJF).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 26 Island Map NGR NG 4320 9864
Interpretation:
Turf walled huts. Positive.
Location: On the north slope of the central valley to the north of hut MI 21.
Description: Two huts A and B that appear to be merged at their touching point but this is most likely due to the turf walls spreading. A is to the west and B to the east. A is 6.20m. in diameter and B 4.70m. The distance of their combined structures is 8.80m. east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 27 Island Map NGR NG 4318 9865
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut tenement. Positive.
Location: This is the southern most hut in a linear tenement of at least six huts orientated north to south up the spine of the northern finger of Mary Island.
Description: Circular 7.60m. in diameter with metre thick wall bank.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 28 Island Map NGR 4 NG 4319 9866
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Second hut to the north in the linear tenement (see above).
Description: Circular 8.50m. diameter banked hut.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 29 Island Map NGR NG 4319 9867
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Third hut north in the linear tenement.
Description: A barely discernible hut circle slightly oval at 4x4.40m. in diameter.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 30 Island Map NGR NG 4319 9868
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Forth hut north in the linear hut tenement.
Description: A circular hut 3.30m. in diameter, but with the suggestion of a further hut to the east side, however this earth work is far from clear.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 31 Island Map NGR NG 4319 9868
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Fifth hut north in the linear hut tenement.
Description: Oval hut 4.20x7m. in diameter orientated east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 32 Island Map NGR NG 4319 9869
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Sixth and most northerly hut in the tenement.
Description: A large oval 6.40x9.30m. hut orientated east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 33 Island Map NGR NG 4316 9868
Interpretation:
medieval to early modern.
Location: In the central spine of the north finger of the island and to the west of the hut tenement.
Description: A slightly oval 7.20x8.20m. hut wall bank orientated east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 34 Island Map NGR NG 4314 9867
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Tentative.
Location: To the west of hut MI 33 on the north central spine of the island.
Description: An oval 5.20x6.20m. slightly banked indistinct shape of a hut orientated east to west.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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MI 35 Island Map NGR NG 4320 9877
Interpretation:
Turf walled hut. Positive.
Location: Attached to the outer face of the west wall of enclosure MIE 8 on the east coast of the northern finger of the island.
Description: An oval 2.70x4.30m. diameter hut with banked turf walls impinging onto the enclosure wall.
Provisional date: Medieval to early modern.
Recording: A measured field note made (V+J).
Photographic record: None.

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