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Wednesday, 06 March 2019 08:00

Dunvegan and its link to the TV Series Outlander Featured

Written by Chris

All across Skye there are ruins of Churches and Cemeteries, many of which contain the graves of clan chiefs.  St Mary's Church is situated at Kilmuir, just outside Dunvegan, and is very typical of the ruins you find on Skye.  Dunvegan is known for being the home of Clan MacLeod, Dunvegan Castle being the ancestral home and 5 clan chiefs are buried in the graveyard at St Mary's.  The ruin is clearly visible as you drive down into the village along the road from Portree.  St Mary's is an interesting place to visit but also has some fascinating links to today and in particular the fictional series Outlander, more of that later. There is a lovely walk between St Marys's and Duirnish Church located just outside Dunvegan as you head towards the Castle.  For obvious reasons this is called the two churches walk.  The walk takes in the hills and woodland between the Churches and is good underfoot for the most part even when the weather is poor.

At St Mary's there are between 100 and 200 graves in the cemetery, and the lintel of the Northern door is enscribed "I ML 1694" giving indication of when the church was constructed.  At the west gable there is the remains of a Renaissance doorway and balustrade which can be dated from 1735 and it is believed it fell out of use in the 1800s, the roof collapsed in approximately 1868.

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  • The Outlander Connection

    The burial ground contains an early carved grave slab and obelisk with a weathered inscription to Lord Thomas Fraser (father of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat), who died at Dunvegan while visiting his brother in-law in 1699.  The Frasers of Lovat were and are a real clan in the Scottish Highlands.  Simon Fraser was a Jacobite and Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat.  He was one of the highlanders defeated at the Battle of Culloden (1746) and subsequently found guilty of treason and beheaded in London at Tower Hill in 1747.  It is written that a scaffold bearing spectators collapsed at the beheading, and Lord Lovat found the incident so funny that his death was the origin of the phrase "laughing your head off".  He was the last man in Britain to have been beheaded, even though beheading was not formally abolished in UK Law until 1973.  For fans of the series Outlander, Simon Fraser was the Grandfather of the fictional character Jamie Fraser, Diana Gabaldon having grafted on a branch to the family tree via another fictional character Brian Fraser (Jamie's father), the bastard of Simon, Lord Lovat.

    Simon was believed to have been buried on London but there has always been the suggestion that his body was returned to Scotland and his final resting place was a mausoleum at Wardlaw, Kirkhill, near Inverness,  There are 6 crypts there, and he is said to be buried in the furthest to the left.  In October 2017 an excavation was commissioned by the Trust that looks after the family cemetary to try to prove whether the body was indeed Simon.  Dame Sue Black, Professor in Forensic Science at Dundee University has been conducting the excavation checking whether the body in the crypt resembles what is known of Simon, his size, age, and whether it shows signs of decaptation.  The body buried is headless, but the remaining neck bones can be checked for evidence of cuts!  There are also records to suggest that Simon suffered from Gout, and his portrait was painted shortly before he died so there is a lot of information to compare the body to.  There is also the hope that some DNA maybe recoverable from the body although it is not believed that there are any descendents.  The investigation is on-going at the time of writing this but I will update when more information is released.

    Latest news from the Scotsman

    Obtaining DNA looks to be possible as bone in good condition found - Times, registration required, no payment


    Following a detailed examination of the remains Professor Black said "We can say with absolute certainty that these are not the remains of The Old Fox."

    "The area of the body most indicative of whether remains are male or female is the shape of the pelvis, and two areas of the pelvis in particular. In both areas, these remains were very feminine." 

    "There is no way that these were the remains of an 80-year-old, 6ft man who suffered from gout and arthritis." 

    “We estimate these are the remains of a young woman, probably aged 25-35."

    "We understand that there are some possibilities that she might be a member of the Fraser family, and further DNA testing is being carried out."

    Professor Black added: "We simply don’t know what happened to the head, but it may be that it has been taken as a trophy many years ago."

    "The DNA testing should confirm whether the remains are those of a member of the Fraser family, in which case the casket may well have simply been put to use. But if the remains are not a member of the family, then we are faced with more of a poser as to how she came to be buried in the casket."

    So, as one mystery is solved, another opens.

    For a good summary of the mystery see the Highland News.

    Update 2

    Professor Black has concluded that the remains are that of 5 different people, with the majority belonging to a headless woman. For more details see the Press and Journal.

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