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Dornoch, pp.232-234.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   DORNOCH,1 a parish in the county of Sutherland, extending 9 miles along the frith of Dornoch, and from north-west to south-east about 15 miles. It is bounded on the north by Rogart, and by the Loch of Fleet, which separates it from Golspie; on the south-east and south by the Dornoch frith; and on the west by Criech. The district of Kainauld and Rhimusaig is isolated from the rest of the parish by the Fleet, and surrounded by the parishes of Golspie and Rogart. The shores are flat and sandy, but the surface gradually rises as it approaches the hilly districts towards the north and west. The soil is sandy, approaching to loam as it recedes from the coast. The small river Evlix or Evelicks, which rises in Strath Achvaich, and falls into the frith near the Meikle-ferry, after a course of 9 miles, affords a few salmon and trout. In the hilly district there are three or four small lakes, the largest of which is about a mile in length. There are several quarries of whinstone, and one of excellent freestone near the town of Dornoch. Upon an eminence not far from the Little ferry, is the old castle of Skelbo. Not far from the Earl’s cross, mentioned in a previous note, is the spot where an unhappy creature was burned in 1722, for the imaginary crime of witchcraft, in transforming her daughter into a pony, and getting her shod by the Devil! This was the last instance of these frantic executions in the North of Scotland; as that, in the South, was at Paisley, in 1697.2 Population of the town and parish in 1801, 2,362; in 1831, 3,380. Houses, in 1831, 628. Assessed property £3,484. Besides the town of Dornoch, there are two villages within the parish, – the fishing village of Embo, with a population of about 200, and the inland village of Clashmore, which is not so large. – This parish is in the presbytery of Dornoch and synod of Sutherland and Caithness. Patron, the Duke of Sutherland. Stipend £266 15s. 4d.; glebe £10. The parish-church is the renewed cathedral church of Dornoch described in the following article. Sittings 900. – Schoolmaster’s stipend £36 6s. There are 6 private schools. 

   DORNOCH, a royal burgh in the above parish, is situated on the north coast of the frith of Dornoch, nearly opposite to the burgh of Tain, which lies on the south side of the frith. It is 201 miles north by west of Edinburgh; and 12 south-west of Golspie. The population, in 1831, was 504; the number of houses 109; and the assessed property, in 1815, £3,180. Although within a mile of the Great North road, the municipal commissioners report that “there appears to be no inducement for so altering the line as to make that road pass through the town.” It is literally a village, consisting of a church, a gaol, and a very few houses; and has been decreasing for several years, although it is the county-town, and the seat of the sheriff-depute. By charter of Charles II., dated July 14th, 1628, Dornoch was erected into a royal burgh, with the ordinary privileges, but a reservation in favour of the Earl of Sutherland’s hereditary rights. The town-clerk reports that “the family of Sutherland have, and especially of late have claimed, as interjected superiors, a right to certain feus within what is termed the royalty of the burgh of Dornoch, but the declarant has no access to know on what written title this right is founded; and it consists with his knowledge that there are various tenements within the burgh who still hold by written titles, in burgage of and under the magistrates as superiors, and infeft by hasp and staple.” The revenue of the burgh is £3 15s. To manage this large income, there are 14 councillors, over whom the Duke of Sutherland, the wealthiest nobleman in Britain, is provost! It was formerly governed by a provost, 4 bailies, a dean-of-guild, treasurer, and 12 councillors. Along with Tain, Dingwall, Wick, Cromarty, and Kirkwall, it unites in sending a member to parliament. Its parliamentary constituency, in 1839, was 22. The property of the burgh consists of the links in the neighbourhood, which, for the year 1832-3, were let by public roup, for the sum of £2 1s. A right to a salmon-fishing appears also to have been claimed, but never to have been rendered effectual. The rest of the annual income is derived from custom and market-dues. Small, however, as the revenue is, no debts are owing by this burgh; and no taxes or assessment are imposed. A claim is made for a very extensive and apparently undefined royalty, greatly exceeding the parliamentary boundaries; but the territory over which jurisdiction has been exercised is understood to be limited to what may be called the burgh proper. The magistrates appoint the town-officers and gaolers. The salaries are, town-clerk, £5 3s. 4d.; head-gaoler, £20; and under-gaoler, £15. These salaries are paid out of the common good, as far as it will go; but, it being inadequate, the difference has for many years been made up by the Duke of Sutherland. The burgh has no church or school patronage. There being no privilege attached to burgess-ship, there are no burgesses. – Dornoch was formerly the seat of the bishop of Caithness. The precise time of the erection of the see is not ascertained. Andrew, bishop of Caithness, is witness to a donation by David I. to the monastery of Dunfermline. He was bishop here in 1150, and is probably the first of whom there is any authentic account. In 1222 Gilbert Murray was consecrated bishop here. While yet a young man, and a canon of the church of Moray, Murray greatly distinguished himself in behalf of the independence of the Scottish church. Attempts had been made to bring the clergy of that church under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York. The project was not only patronized by the King of England, but favoured by the Pope’s legate, who held a convention on the subject at Northampton, in presence of the Kings of England and Scotland, in 1176. Murray was one of the inferior clergy, who attended the Scottish bishops cited by the legate on this occasion. After the legate had addressed a speech to the convention, warmly recommending the measure in contemplation, a long silence ensued, – the bishops of Scotland being intimidated by the legate’s presence and authority. At length, Murray arose, and asserted the independence of his church, in terms of such manly determination and vigorous eloquence as at once revived the courage of his associates, and extorted the applause of his adversaries; whereupon the legate, apprehending that he had spoken the prevailing sentiments of his country, broke up the assembly. The young orator was, on his return home, universally caressed, and afterwards promoted to the see of Caithness. He built the cathedral of Dornoch; and died at Scrabster, in Caithness – where the bishops had also a residence – in 1245. A statue of him is still shown in the church here, under the name of St. Gilbert; but it is not entire. The last bishop, Andrew Wood, was translated here from the Isles, in 1680, and remained till the Revolution. – Some writers tell us, that Dornoch was also the seat of one of the monasteries of the Trinity, or Red Friars, otherwise called Mathurines, – from their house at Paris dedicated to St. Mathurine. The great professed object of the institution of this order appears to have been the redemption of Christian captives; to which purpose a third part of their revenue is said to have been destined. “Tertio vero pars,” says their constitution, “reservetur ad redemptionem captivorum, qui sunt incarcerati, pro fide Christi, a Paganis.” Of 13 of these monasteries, which are said to have subsisted in Scotland at the Reformation, one was at Dornoch, founded in 1271 by Sir Patrick Murray. Not the smallest vestige of the building, however, can now be traced; the very site of it is unknown at this day. The lands belonging to the ministry of Berwick were given to this place, after that city had fallen into the hands of the English. – Here stand the ruins of the bishop’s castle, which appears to have been a stately and sumptuous edifice. The two upper stories of an old tower, formerly a part of the palace, have been converted into a county-gaol. – About the year 1567, George, Earl of Caithness, who claimed the wardship of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, then a minor, had got the person of the latter into his possession. A tribe of Murrays, inhabiting this part of the country, who were firmly attached to the noble family of Sutherland, and beheld the conduct of Caithness with a jealous eye, contrived to get the minor conveyed from Caithness, and put under the protection of the Earl of Huntly. Caithness in revenge invaded this country, by his son John, who invested the town and castle of Dornoch, of which the Murrays had possessed themselves. Several skirmishes took place with various success. The Murrays, no longer able to maintain the ground they had occupied, retired to the castle. Upon this the master of Caithness  burnt the town and cathedral; but the besieged defended themselves in the castle for a month longer.  At length, however, they were obliged to capitulate, having undertaken to depart out of Sutherland within two months, and delivered three hostages into the hands of the conquerors. The Murrays fulfilled their engagement; yet the hostages were treacherously murdered. – The fine church of Dornoch stands in the centre of the little town. It is as nearly as possible a fac simile of the old cathedral, the proportions and elaborate decorations having been carefully copied. It cost £6,000, which was solely defrayed by the Duchess-countess of Sutherland. Unfortunately, it has so loud an echo inside, that the minister’s voice is nearly unintelligible to a part of the congregation. 

1  “The town and parish of Dornoch derive their name from the Gaelic words DornEich, which signifies ‘a horse’s foot’ or ‘hoof;’ concerning which the current tradition is as follows. About the year 1259, the Danes and Norwegians, having made a descent on this coast, were attacked by William, Thane or Earl of Sutherland, a quarter of a mile to the eastward of this town. Here the Danish general was slain, and his army beaten, and forced to retire to their ships, which were not far distant. The Thane greatly signalized himself upon this occasion; and. appears, by his personal valour and exertion, to have contributed very much to determine the fate of the day. While he singled out the Danish general, and gallantly fought his way onward, the Thane being by some accident disarmed, seized the leg of a horse which lay on the ground, and with that despatched his adversary. In honour of this exploit, and of the weapon with which it was achieved, this place received the name of Dorneich, or Dornoch, as it is now called. This tradition is countenanced by the horse-shoe, which is still retained in the arms of the burgh. In memory of the same event, a stone pillar was erected on the spot, supporting at the top a cross encompassed by a circle, which went under the name of the Earl’s cross. Standing on a sandy hillock, it was gradually undermined by the winds; several years ago it tumbled down, and was broke to pieces; at present, only scattered fragments of it remain.” [Old Statistical Account.] – This cross has recently been repaired and re-erected. 

2  Neither England nor Ireland was much in advance of Scotland in respect of this miserable superstition. In 1698, a girl, nineteen years of age, in the town of Antrim, having eaten a loaf of sorrel which she got from a woman reputed to be a witch, fell into convulsions and vomiting. She is said to have vomited horse-dung, needles, pins, feathers, bottoms of thread, pieces of glass, nails, an iron knife above a span in length, egg-shells, &c. The accused was immediately committed to the county-prison, and at the assizes held soon after, was hanged and burned! In 1716, Mrs. Hicks and her daughter, only nine years of age were hanged at Huntingdon, for selling their souls to the Devil, and tormenting and destroying their neighbours, by making them vomit pins, and raising a storm! The act against witchcraft was repealed in England and Scotland about 1750, but not in Ireland until 1821! 

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