Dun an Sticir, North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Dun an Sticir is located on a small island in Loch an Sticir on the east side of the B893 road, where you can park with consideration with a short walk across the ancient causeways.
The name Dun an Sticir is derived from "dun", which means "fortress", and "sticir" which means "skulker". Thus Dun an Sticir means Fort Skulker.
Dun an Sticir is a place I have wanted to explore since researching the history of Castle Uisdean on Skye and its infamous leader Hugh MacDonald, who escaped to and hid out in the ancient stronghold, until his eventual capture and death.
The Dun can only be accessed by a series of steppingstones that make up the multiple causeways to the small island, across the mirror like waters that form the primary defense of this fortress. Like other ancient fortifications, it was still used periodically as late as the medieval period.
The dun is not as in a good state of repair as other ancient brochs and duns we have visited, with much of the internal area covered by its stones now much overgrown. However, for me this has to be the most enjoyable and stunning locations to explore, especially at sunset which gives the whole site an air of mystery and feeling of isolation. The only trouble with this, is that during sunset the midges do start to come out in force!
This Iron Age broch was built and first occupied sometime between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, a great circular drystone tower house was built, which functioned as a well-defended family residence, and as a conspicuous demonstration of power. The walls are about 12 feet thick and 8 feet high, within which are chambers and galleries, but the only opening to the outside world is a single small doorway. The causeways were narrower than they are today, and may have included a "rocking stone", which could alert the occupants of the broch to the approach of unwelcome visitors.
~ History & Legend ~
1560 ~ Scotland is declared a Protestant nation. Catholic power is feared as a threat to the Crown and the authorities..
1581 ~ With the reformation now well underway on the Scottish mainland, the authorities are keen to spread their control to the Catholic Hebrides, including Uist. However, they recognise this would be near impossible due to the influential MacVicar family, some of whom being lecturers at Teampall na Trianaid. This Catholic power and influence is seen as a direct challenge and threat that needed the MacVicar's disposed of.
Donald Gorm Mor, 8th clan chief of the MacDonald's of Sleat, decides to send his nephew Hugh MacDonald, a notorious pirate and threat to his own position, to North Uist to dispose of the MacVicar's and their lands.
Hugh gathers his men and waits for Donald MacVicar, head of the family to sail from North Uist to the mainland. They set sail and land at Carinish, where they slaughter the eldest son, Donald, setting fire to his building and burning all the family documents pertaining to their lands. Before they can be discovered they set off to find the remaining brothers. Under pretence of friendship they invite them to meet at the ancient and remote island stronghold of Dun an Sticir, and there in cold blood kill each in turn, taking the stronghold for himself.
1586 ~ Hugh MacDonald, regarded by all who know him as a treacherous and ruthless man, hatches a plot to murder his uncle and chief, Donald Gorm Mor, who has no children of his own to inherit his title. The title of Clan Chief would, in due course, pass to Hugh's half-brother, Donald Gorm Og. Hugh resolves to usurp the title ahead of his brother.
Hugh's plot is to arrange a feast to celebrate the completion of his new stronghold on Skye, Caisteal Uisdean. There, an assassin would murder his uncle. However, Hugh inadvertently mixes the two letters up, sending the invite to the hired assassin, and the details of the plot to his clan chief. Donald Gorm Mor, now aware of his nephew's treachery, sends a party of loyal clansmen to arrest him. Hugh is made aware of his error by the would be assassin and so flee's into hiding at Dun an Sticir on North Uist.
1587 ~ Donald Gorm's men's continued search finds them back at Dun an Sticir, where they sit, wait and watch. Eventually out of the mist they see a woman appear with a basket and head for the local village. They resolve to wait for her return and this time follow her across the secret paths that lead out across the loch to the ancient stronghold. At low tide, silently and under cover of darkness, they find their way across the two stone causeways that lead to Dun an Sticir.
Domhnall mac Iain Mhic Sheumais, leader of Donald Gorm's men discovers Hugh taking refuge within its walls, disguised as a woman. He is arrested and taken to the chief's cliff top fortress on Skye, Duntulm Castle. Upon arrival he is thrown into the dungeon with just a meal of salted beef. Famished, he eats the meal without giving it a second thought. A jug, devoid of any water is provided. There, in the castle dungeon he is left to die of thirst. Hugh's body is later found still clutching the empty jug.
The local residents of North Uist believe the woman who led Donald Gorm's men to Hugh MacDonald across the secret ways to Dun an Sticir, was none other than the wife of Hector MacVicar, who had formally lived in Dun an Sticir before Hugh's murder of her sons.