TARANSAY - Taransaigh

Taransay - aerial shot

Taransay lays about two miles west of the coast of Harris, on the far north western corner of Scotland. Part of the 'Outer Isles' of the Hebrides. The area is also known as the edge of the world.... There is  nothing between Taransay and America but the very large expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.


 Taransay was populated since at least the Bronze Age, evident in shell middens and pottery artefacts.  The earliest known inhabitants were Picts in 300 AD, during the late Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Originally having a matrilinear system of succession, it is likely they were converted to Celtic Christianity by the arrival of St Columba in the Hebrides in the 6th Century. Pre-Christian Standing Stones abound in the area, likely of Druid origin. There are practicing Druids in the Harris area to this day. 

Standing Stones on Taransay and Harris 

Top left and right are on Taransay - note the cross carved on the stone on the left. Bottom left: also on Taransay, note fallen companion stone. Bottom right: across the Taransay Sound on the Isle of Harris, the impressive McLeod Stone, Taransay is in the distance. This stone is almost 6 metres tall.

All are likely part of a network of stones linked to the Callanish Stones to the North on Lewis. These rival Stonehenge in their magnificence, but unlike the Henges of the South, are still readily accessible to the public.

Callanish Stones - Lewis
Photo by Ann Bowker - Homepage Mad About Mountains

The Picts were then invaded by the Norse in the 8th Century, who remained for over 400 hundred years. Many place names in the area reflect this Norse heritage, including Taransaigh - the 'aigh' meaning 'island' in Norse. The name translates literally as 'Taren's Island'. Although there are a number of theories of who 'Taran' was, it is most likely he was Saint Ternan or Torannan, known as the Bishop of the Picts. One of Taransay's two churches was dedicated to St Taran. These churches were both at the village of Paible, only women could be buried at St Tarans, and only men at St Keith. Tradition stated that if the wrong gender was buried at a church, the bodies would be disinterred overnight! I rather hope that all my ancestors were buried in the correct place.....

Loch an Duin - Taransay

Evidence of the Iron Age may be seen in ruins on Taransay, such as the ancient courseway to a Dun on Loch an Duin, which may be seen as a perhaps last ditch effort at defense, too tiny to do anything but simply not be killed on the spot - but easy to lay under siege for a determined attacker. 

Clan Macleod... and Clan McLean

Taransay was part of the area to come under the rule of Leod or Loyd, son of Olave the Black, brother of Magnus, the last Norse King of Man and the Isles. Leod had two sons, Tormod, who became the progenitor of Harris (and Taransay), and Torquil, progenitor of  Lewis. Tormod's grandson, Malcolm, went on to marry the daughter of MacArailt (known as a Norse nobleman, but by his name, was probably actually a Celt).  Through this marriage, in addition to Harris, he inherited part of the Isle of Skye, and Tormod's line acquired Dunvegan, still the ancestral home of  Clan MacLeod. 

My Taransay McLean family appear inextricably linked to the McLeods, my great great grandmother was a McLeod, I have records of another Taransay couple at the same time Margaret McLean and John McLeod (one or both of them is probably a sibling of one or both of my gg grandparents). On nearby Harris at the same time, I've been given the following information for one family- Donald McLean, wife Catherine McLeod, parents Hugh McLean and Catherine McLeod.  Catherine McLeod’s father was Donald McLeod and her mother was Salvia McLean from Lochs area Lewis. The McLeans were obviously another large family, and McLeod Clan could marry into them with no difficulty of being too closely related. Exactly how the McLeans came to be in the area is unknown to me though. Their ancestral home is far to the South, on the Isle of Mull.

By the time my ancestors, Roderick and Mary McLean (McLeod) were on Taransay, there was little sign of the greatness of Tormod's line. Taransay was once made up of three villages: Raa, Uidh and Paible. Victims of the Clearances, the cotters were impoverished, scraping a living from unfriendly soils until there was simply no more living to be scraped. If left to their own devices, they may still be there, but sheep and red deer came in, rents increased in 1835, and many of the Islanders scattered to the far corners of the earth. My family came to Australia, as did many others from Harris, but most went to Canada. The situation was made worse in Taransay in 1883, when new orders came that cotters could no longer keep livestock or grows oats or barley. By 1961, the only family left on the island were the MacRae's, of Paible. They left in 1974 following the death of Ewen Macrae, and the island has had no permanent residents since.

'Lazybeds' or 'runrigs' on Taransay

This farming method enabled the growth of oats and barley in the wild winds off the Atlantic ocean.

Ruins on Taransay

Members of the 'Taransay Fiddlers' at remains of a tiny building on Taransay - hopefully a sheepfold? Hopefully not my great grandfather's house ;-)

Present day Taransay

'Taransay Fiddlers'

The concept of the Taransay fiddlers camp was originally concieved to introduce young local fiddlers to tuition and workshops. This has been very successful, but the concept of the weeklong workshops have achieved popularity well beyond this ambition! The annual camps in July are now into their third year, and have had students from as far as the USA and Australia. The Taransay workshop has been voted the UKs most successful fiddle school by readers of Fiddleon Magazine, with a massive 40% of the vote. The music is traditional, and organised by Fidhlearein Eilean an Fhraoich, or Fiddlers of the Heather Isles from Lewis. Their homepage and much more information may be found here. All I can say is that I wish I could play the fiddle, and I wish I could go! Any possible future I may have had on Taransay was lost to me as an descendant of the early inhabitants, and I wholeheartedly support any initiative that encourages the regrowth of the culture belonging to the island. My grandfather was a piper, and I feel he would also be very happy that his father's birthplace is being used in this way once more. Thank you to all involved!

Some of the many performers, both young and old, 
from Taransay Fiddlers 2002 workshop.

Castaway 2000

I didn't get to see any of this show - I didn't know it was on, didn't find out about it until my family history research led me to Taransay, and would only have watched it see the island and blank out the participants if I had known! I'm not a fan of reality TV, and could live without ever seeing another such advertising dollar driven show. I'm also a sociologist, and don't think much of the media hype of shows such as this being called a 'sociological experiment'. However, I'm sure the show served a purpose in giving a huge boost to the area's tourism industry. 

Rocket Post

This was a movie filmed in part on Taransay, about German Gerhard Zucher’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to send mail from the isle of Scarp to Harris by rocket. The £10 million production employed some locals as extras, and two boys from Lewis in larger roles, but the makers have so far been unable to find a distributor. I hold my breath for this one!


As mentioned above, tourism to Taransay has grown since it's exposure from Castaway 2000, but the island has long been renowned for it's beauty. Although it is officially uninhabited, there are two sites for tourist accomodation between April and October, the MacKay Farmhouse and the Old School Chalet. Both sleep six people, more details may be found here. Day trips to the island are also available. In addition to the above photo's, there are very good reasons for this! A small slice of the incredible beauty of the island is shown below.

Coastal rocks

Natural Rock Arch


The Old Mill

....and a final poignant reminder of the past


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