Scottish clan history: the gruesome tale of Massacre Cave

Entrance to the 'Massacre Cave' in Eigg
Entrance to the 'Massacre Cave' in Eigg
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DESPITE its tranquil beauty, the Scottish island of Eigg played host to one of the most brutal episodes in Scottish clan history.

In the 16th century, the small Inner Hebridean island was home to a large population of Clan MacDonald.

The Small Isle island of Eigg

The Small Isle island of Eigg

A long-standing and bitter feud between the MacDonald and MacLeod clans led to the gruesome death of hundreds of unfortunate souls, who lost their lives in one of the most grimmest ways imaginable.

In the winter of 1577, a band of furious MacLeods, intent on causing trouble, landed on the Eigg.

The group were desperate for revenge after its clansmen had been castrated by the MacDonalds for making unwanted advances towards the ladies of the island.

The terrified MacDonalds caught wind of the MacLeods plan and quickly rounded up all the island’s residents, seeking refuge in the gloomy St Francis Cave.

The tranquil beauty of Eigg hides a dark secret.

The tranquil beauty of Eigg hides a dark secret.

The cave’s entrance was hidden well and cramped, only allowing for people to enter a few at a time.

The secretive hideout at first seemed to have done its job, as disappointed MacLeods, unable to find anyone in the island, began to depart.

Unfortunately a careless lookout gave away the location of the cave at the last minute.

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The tight opening of the cave, that had made it so hard to find, was also to be the clan’s downfall as the same constricted cave mouth stopped anyone from escaping.

The MacLeods were able to cover the cave mouth with straw and lit it on fire.

As the cave filled quickly with thick smoke, all the people inside were suffocated.

Only one family on the island managed to escaped the massacre because they had taken refuge in a different cave.

The number of how many died is fiercely debated, with between 200 and 400 souls believed to have lost their lives.

The discovery by Scottish author Sir Walter Scott in 1814 of ‘numerous specimens of mortality’ in Eigg were presumed to be the remains of those who had taken refuge there.

He was so disgusted to hear that skulls and bones of the dead were still stacked there, that he started a fund for a Christian burial, which resulted in their removal.

The cave is still known to locals as ‘Massacre Cave’ and can be visited.

The MacDonalds took their revenge one year after the brutal massacre when they landed on Skye, barred up the entrance to a local church, set it alight and killed all but one MacLeod inside.

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