Township: Balephetrish

Map Reference: Balephetrish 300

Name Type: township

Meaning: See Ballyphterish in Longships on the Sand.

Other Forms: Balfedre - Atlas Novus Joan Blaeu 1654 based on work by Timothy Pont who mapped Scotland between 1583 and 1596. From Illustrated Maps of Scotland Jeffrey Stone, Studio Editions, 1991.

Balephetrish - Tiree Rental 1747.

Balephetrish - The Turnbull Map of Tiree 1768 and accompanying survey text.

Ballifatrish - Island Mull with Islands Tiri and Coll, M MacKenzie, 1775.

Ballafetruis - Typed List of Inhabitants of Tyree and their Age in September 1779.
Taken from an unknown publication, 1998.201.1

Balephetrish (1771) - Argyll Estate Instructions, ed. Eric Cregeen, Scottish History Society, 1964

Related Places:

Information:This week we take a trip to Balephetrish, or Baile Phèadrais, the town of Peter. According to the Rev Hector Cameron, the Peter in question is named in a letter to the Bishop of Lismore in 1375 as Ayg MacPetri, Hugh the son of Peter, who was the minister at the time of the parish of Kirkapol. The eastern end of Beinn Bhaile Phèadrais, Balephetrish Hill, is called Beinn Iolaireach, which is translated as the hill of the eagles. A huge chunk of the west end of the hill was blasted away in 1940 to make hardcore for the airport runways and this destroyed part of the Iron Age hill fort on the summit which was known as Dùn Taelk.
The road winds around the hill at Cumhang Dubh Bhaile Phèadrais, the black narrows of Balephetrish. Donald Sinclair, West Hynish, told the story of three women (two from Balephuil) who were surprised at this spot making the last black magic clay figure on Tiree. They intended to kill the Scarinish shopkeeper at the time, called MacQuarrie, by sticking a pin through the figure’s chest. Iain MacLean (Iain mac Eachainn Bhàin), from Hough, was droving cattle along the road early in the morning and came over to the women and broke the figure, warning them that if they continued he would give evidence against them.
The main beach of Balephetrish is known as Cladach a’ Chrògain. This is usually translated as shore of the graip, the two-pronged fork used to lift seaweed onto the carts. And ther is plenty of seaweed at the west end! Above the beach opposite the house of Margaret and Jim McDowell is a spot called Lag na Luaithre, the hollow of the ashes. Hector Campbell, Cornaigbeg, told me that if he could hear "Lag na Luaithre ag eigheach" [the hollow of the ashes shouting - i.e. the waves pounding there] from his house, bad weather would be on its way from the Atlantic. In the bay there is a fearsome reef called An Grà'dar, where the Finnish vessel The Malve, carrying a cargo of pulp, was wrecked in February 1931.
East of Balephetrish Hill is a rise called Àird Chircnis, the headland of the (headland of the – it’s one of these Gaelic-Norse double names!) church. Around this there was a graveyard, and Angus MacLean tells the story of a murder there. A man was coming home late after visiting a smithy. He had a coulter [the blade that cuts into the soil ahead of the plough] and a plough shoe in a sack over his shoulder. Another man thought he would play a trick on him and hide behind the cemetery wall to frighten him. When he jumped out the first man was so shocked that he pulled out the coulter and split the other’s skull. The rocks there have been stained red ever since. This ground was ploughed during the First World War.
The last person to be buried in this graveyard was murdered at Taigh Mairi Chladaich in Scarinish, which used to be a drinking house. One day a MacLean and another man started arguing there and it led to a fight in which the other man was killed. MacLean ran off and hid for two days. On the day of the funeral the cortege started off from Scarinish for the graveyard at Àird Chircnis. When blood began to drip from the bottom of the coffin an old man in the party said that this was a sign that the murderer was near at hand. At that moment MacLean and his brother, both big men, were sighted walking down Ben Gott. The party tried to apprehend the two, but they fought their way free and ran off to the harbour at Skipnish in Ruaig. There they manhandled a large fishing boat into the sea and set off for Mull, never to be seen again on Tiree. To the east of Parkhouse is a field called Pàirc Cnoc Chrisnis, the field of the hillock of the headland of the cross. It is likely that all these religious sites were related to a monastery in the times of St Columba.
As the road from Scarinish enters Balephetrish there are two hillocks on the left known as Grèineabhal Mòr and Grèineabhal Beag. Their names come from the Norse of the Vikings - Grønefjall, or green mountain. The gate on the main road is known as Cachaileith Ghrèinebhail or Cachaileith Bhaile Phèadrais.
The south of the township is part of The Reef, or Ryfmoir as it appears on a map of 1590. This is a corruption of the Gaelic An Ruighe, meaning the large common grazing. This is so flat that “in instances of very high flood-tides, with north-west gales of wind, the sea has been known to overflow it and join the sea on the south side three miles away, dividing Tiree into two islands.” In the Balephetrish part of The Reef is Loch nam Braoileagan, loch of the whortleberries, and around this is a boggy area with the superb name of A’ Bhriolachanaich (get a Gaelic speaker to roll this around his or her tongue!).
On the shore is the township’s most famous monument, The Ringing Stone. This is also known as Clach a' Choire, rock of the hollows, and on a 1590 map as Kory Finmackoul, which would nowadays be spelt Coire Fionn mac Chumhaill. This granite boulder originated in Rum and is said to have been left on Tiree after the last Ice Age. It is covered with 53 cup-markings from the Bronze Age and the well-known legend has it that if it is split in two Tiree will sink below the waves. Fionn mac Chumhaill was the hero of many old Irish ‘Fenian’ legends.
The last tenant of Balephetrish Farm was Tom Barr who came to Tiree from Dalry in 1864, aged 16. He ended up with a farm stretching from the Vaul boundary to Paterson’s in Crossapol, including the whole of the Reef. His family gave up the lease in 1920 and new crofts were created for returning servicemen in Balephetrish and Crossapol. As Donald Sinclair, West Hynish, said of him, “His farm was so big, you know. He’s got the Reef, he’s got Crossapol, he’s got Balephetrish. Oh! He’s got hundreds of beasts! He left [when he died], was it £300,000 he left? He was a rich man. And he was a liberal man too, he was a nice man.”

Extracts from 'The Gaelic Otherworld' by John Gregorson Campbell, Edited with commentary by Ronald Black, (Edinburgh; Birlinn, 2005), p37:

Dòmhnaill Dubh an t-sluaigh (‘Black Donald of the Multitude’), as he was ever afterwards known, was ploughing on the farm of Baile Pheutrais, in the island of Tiree, when a heavy shower came on from the west. In these days it required at least two persons to work a plough – one to hold it, and one to lead the horses.
Donald’s companion took shelter to the lee of the team. When the shower passed, Donald himself was nowhere to be found, now was he seen again till evening. He then came from an easterly direction with his coat on his arm. He said the Fairies had taken him in an eddy wind to the islands to the north – Coll, Skye, etc. In proof of this, he told that a person (naming him) was dead in Coll, and people would be across the next day for whiskey for the funeral to Kennovay, a village on the other side of Baile Pheutrais, where smuggling was carried on at the time. (Footnote 132)

Cachla nam Fidean ‘the Fidden Gate’ (Tiree) Page 75

A large black dog, passing by with a noiseless and gliding motion, was a common object of terror in the Hebrides on winter nights. The coil in the animal’s tail was alone sufficiently alarming. Much of its shape depended, no doubt, on how his own hair hung over the eyes of the frightened spectator.
A man coming across the links near Kenavara Hill in Tiree, came upon a large black dog resting on the side of a sandbank. On observing it he turned aside and took another road home. Next day he recovered courage and went to examine the spot. He found on the sand the marks of a dog’s paw as large as the spread of his palm. He followed these huge footmarks till he lost them on the plain. The dog had taken no notice of him, and he felt assured from its size it could be no earthly hound.
On the north shore of Tiree there is a beach of more than a mile in length called Cladach a’ Chrògain, well calculated to be the scene of strange terrors. The extensive plain (about 1, 500 acres in extent) of which it forms the northern fringe is almost a dead level, and in instances of very high flood-tides, with north-west gales of wind, the sea has been known to overflow it and join the sea on the south side three miles away, dividing Tiree into two islands. The upper part of the beach consists of loose round stones, a little larger than a goose’s egg, which make – when the tide is in, and under the influence of the restless surf – a hoarse rumbling sound sufficiently calculated, with the accompaniment of strange scenery, to awaked the imagination.
An old woman, half a century ago, asserted that when a young girl she had heard on this beach the bark of the Fairy hound. Her father’s house was at a place called Fidden, of which no trace now remains beyond the name of Cachla nam fidean (the Fidden Gate) given to a spot where there is no gate. It was after nightfall, and she was playing out about the doors when she was suddenly startled bya loud sound like the baying of a dog, only much louder, from the other end of the shore. She remembered her father having come and taken hold of her hand and running it with her to the house, for it the dog was heard to bark thrice it would overtake them. It made a noise like a horse galloping. (Footnote 243)
Footnote 243: Cladach a’ Chrògain is the shore of Balephetrish Bay (see noe 36^); JGC calls it ‘Crogan Beach’ at p. 76. The ‘extensive plain’ to which he refers is an Ruighe (‘the Common Shieling’), generally anglicised as ‘the Reef’’ it is now the location of Tiree Airport. JGC’s Cachla (properly Cachaileith) nam Fidean, ‘the Gate of the Raised Greenswards,’ appears to be in Balephetrish. A fidean is a grassy spot which remains uncovered even at a high tide (Dwelly 1997, p. 434, cf. MacQuarrie 1983, pp. 71), a reference presumably to the occasional flooding of the Reef.

At the foot of Heynish Hill, in the extreme south-west of Tiree, there is one of those small forts to be found in great-numbers in the Hebrides (and said to have been intended, by fires lighted upon them, to give warning of the approach of the Danes), called Shiadar Fort. In former days a family resided, or was out at the summer shielings, near this fort. The byre in which the milch cows were kept was some distance from the dwelling-house, and two boys of the family slept there to take care of the cows. One night a voice came to the mother of the family that the two best calves in the byre were at the point of death, and as proof of the warning, she would find the big yellow cow dead at the end of the house. This proved to be the case, and on reaching the byre the anxious woman found her two boys nearly frightened to death. They said they heard Fairy dogs trampling and baying on the top of the house.
There is natural recess in the rocks of the shore at Baluaig in Tiree to which tradition has given the name of the Bed of the Fairy Dog. It is not far from Crogan beach, already mentioned as a place where the Fairy dog was heard, and opposite the Gràdor, a low-water rock over which the sea breaks with terrible violence in stormy weather. The loneliness and wildness of the spot might well cause it to be associated with tales of superstition. (Footnote 244)

Footnote 244: The place is at the east end of Balephetrish Bay.

Footnote 132: By ‘smuggling’ JGC means cùl-mhùtaireachd, the illicit distillation if whisky. On being lifted by the sluagh see Dalyell 1834, pp/ 591-92; Bruford and MacDonald 1994, pp/ 358-59, 476. Our sources seldom make a direct connection between ‘lifting by the Fairies’ and madness, but it can be traced in one of W.B Yeat’s essays (Welch 1993, p. 209): “A man whose son is believed to go out riding among them at night tells me that he is careless about everything, and lies in bed until it is late in the day. A doctor believes this boy to be mad.”
This turned out to be the case. Donald said he had done no harm while away, except that the Fairies had made him thrown an arrow at (and kill) a speckled cow in Skye. When crossing the sea he was in great terror lest he should fall.

Page 56
The places in Tiree where cailleacha sìth (Fairy hags) were seen were at streams and pools of water on Druim Buidhe (‘the Yellow Back’), and the links of Kennavara, and the bend of the hill (lùbadh na beinne) at Baile Pheudrais. They have long since disappeared, the islanders having become too busy to attend to them. (Footnote 193)
Footnote 193: Niall M. Brownlie points out to me that Cnoc Ghrianal, properly Cnoc Ghnrianail (Gaelic cnoc ‘hillock’, Norse groene ‘green’ and vollr field’), is very close to a flat grasy area which may be the site of a chapel dedicated to St Mo-Bhì. ‘The Yellow Ridge,’ an Druim Bhuidhe nowadays, is a stretch of desolate moorland on the west side of the Cornaig road, see note 941.

Page 191
A man, going in the evening to see a girl he was courting, was met at a lonely part of the road (near the end of Balefetrish Hill in Tiree) by seven cats, and was so terrified that he turned back and thereby lost his sweetheart. She married an old man from the village of Hianish, where a noted witch dwelt. The old man got the blame of bribing the witch to send the cats.
Page 646
Chaidh mi leath ‘don Bhriolanaich
‘S gur iomadh ian chaidh spilgean ann,
‘S gun rinn i euchdan iomraiteach
Mu thimhcheall Bhaile Pheutrais

I brought her to the Briolcanach
And many birds got lead in htem,
And she performed famous deeds
Round about Balephetrish.

Page 647
The Briolcanach is a bog in Balephetrish near the source of the river called Abhainn na Fadhlach or an Fhadhail, which drains the Reef into Baugh Bay (Tràigh a’ Bhàigh).

Balephetrish - “The first reference in literature to Balphetrish we find in a document of 1375 addressed to the Bishop of Lismore in favour of ‘Ayg’ MacPetri perpetui vicarii parrochialis ecclesiae sante Columbe de Kerepol Sodorensis diocesis...Ayg is the Latinised form of Aedh or Aodh (Hugh)...[he goes on to match Dun Taelk – Martin Martin – to Ayg]... Eilean Mhic-Aoig, a rocky islet on the extreme north of Balephetrish.” Handbook to the Islands of Coll and Tiree, Hector MacDougall and Rev. Hector Cameron, Archibald Sinclair, p81.

Balephetrish was a large farm for centuries. From 1754 until his death in 1779, at the age of eighty, it was tenanted by the Rev Charles Campbell, a native of barmollach in Glassary. He had four of a family, three sons and a daughter. At the time of his death his wife was 36 years old and his youngest son four.
He was succeeded by his nephew Colin Campbell, who in turn was succeeded by an uncle of the gaelic poet Dr John MacLachaln of rahoy. Then came another Colin campbell, the father of Colina, the much esteemed wife of Dr Buchanan. Bailtean is Ath-Ghairmean, Townships and Echoes by Niall M Brownlie, Argyll Publishing, 1995, p28.

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Languages : Gaelic