Township: Balephuil

Map Reference: Am Bail Ur 4

Name Type: fort

Meaning: Fort of the girls or nuns

I spent days and weeks in digging at the dun ... called Dun a' Nighean ... on a peninsulated rock ... Bones of small sheep, short-horned cattle, and of swine were abundant. I found many tusks of boars – one of them measuring, although the point seems to have been rubbed off, seven inches in length. Large quantities of limpet and periwinkle shells were amongst the rubbish, which lay to a depth of four and five feet on the floors of the citadel, and on the sides of the rocks. I found a crotag ['mortar'] and a pestle, which had been used for grinding (as I infer from the smoothness of the cavity) and not for pounding grain. This shows that the ancient tenants of those forts used meal to a certain extent ... I found pieces of the bones of a whale bearing the marks of a tool on the ends. I found no implements of bronze or iron, and I think if such had been used, I could scarcely have failed to discover a specimen ... I found innumerable flakes of stone, many of them ground flat on one side, which had apparently been used as saws and knives; I found a stone hammer and two pieces of bone that may have been the heads of spears. Every dish seems to have been decorated, and some with great taste and delicacy. The patterns are various, although the zigzag predominates. I found three clay whorls. (Sands 1881-2, 460)

This is a Gaelic construction meaning 'the fort of the maidens'. The folk etymology for the name is:
Dùn nan Nighean down there. It was a convent at one time ... there was a bridge then. And this could be raised so no one could get there or back. Over time, this bridge broke up ... I don't want to tell you the whole story! There was one amongst them – a red headed one. Soon every girl in that convent had a baby. It was a man! ... There was also a man supervising the girls. And there's a well over there still called Tobar na Gruagaich ['the well of the maiden']. The girls drowned this man that was governing them in the well ... It's good water (Donald Sinclair talking to John MacInnes on SA1968.029, translated by JH)
Another Dùn nan Nighean on Islay 'is said to have got this name from two young women taking refuge in it, and stayed there for some time' (OS1/2/33/82).

Other Forms: Dùnan Nighean - ONB, p224, "significance 'Daughter's Little Castle'."

Related Places:

Information:There were seven nuns living in this fort. They were murdered by a priest from Barra after they became pregnant - DMcC and NMcC.

Ceit Chailein in the Bail Ur had Dùn nan Nighean above the door of her house. The story was that a priest had got seven nuns in Dùn nan Nighean pregnant while the men were away fishing. Two men waited to see if the priest would return. When he did they killed him. David McClounnan, Balephuil, 6/2005.



Local Form:

Languages : Gaelic

Informants: David McClounnan, Balephuil, 2/1994