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
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
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
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
'Lazybeds' or 'runrigs' on
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
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
Some of the many performers, both young
from Taransay Fiddlers 2002 workshop.
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
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.
Natural Rock Arch
The Old Mill
....and a final poignant reminder of the past
to McLean Main Page
to Burge-McLean Family Album
*Disclaimer: I understand that no images on this page are
copyrighted unless this is cited. If this is not the case, I would love
to use your photo's anyway! Please let me know if you would like them credited
or removed. Feel free to email
me for this or for any other reason.