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Pygmies Isle

Pygmies Isle

Plan of the chambers

All the early accounts of the Hebrides are interesting and varied. The first of those writers was Dean Monro whose account appeared in the 16th Century. Three 17th Century accounts have survived. Martin Martin's accounts are classics. Two shorter descriptions were given by Capt. Dymes, an Englishman, and John Morison, 'Indweller', a renowned tacksman in Bragar.

Something common to all these accounts is their description of one of the most enigmatic sites in Lewis - the Pygmies Isle or Luchraban (Martin's 'Lusbirdan') near the Butt of Lewis. It is also located on most of the early maps, such a Bleu's map of Lewis and Harris (1654), as 'Ylen Dunibeg', Eilean nan Daoine Beaga - the Island of the Little People. The English poet Collins, in an Ode of 1749, refers to the 'Herbid Isle... in whose small vaults a pigmy folk is found'.

So, what is the strange island renowned as the home of pygmies? It is a small 'dry' island, a mile west of the Butt of Lewis and known locally to this day as the Luchraban. (Some seek to link this name with the 'Irish' word leprechaun). It is covered in thick tufted vegetation, especially thrift, and blackback seagulls nest there.

There is an archeological structure set deep in this thick padding of vegetation, above its southern cliff-face. The denuded drystone structure, less than 30 feet long, consists of two unroofed chambers, one circular and the other oblong, connected by a passage. This is surrounded by a turf-grown stone wall of which the diameter is about 40 feet.

Peat ash, small bones and unglazed shards of pottery were excavated; the bones being those of mammals, such as oxen and sheep, and birds. "Alas for the pigmies!" as the Lewis historian, W.C. MacKenzie had it.

It is always possible that this secluded structure was a cell used by an anchorite during the early Christian period. It is useful to be reminded of the Christian structures on the far-flung islands of Sulaisgeir, North Rona and the Flannen Isles, as well as early early chapels of St Ronan's and St Moluag, no more than a mile's distance from the Luchraban.

Local Ness oral tradition comes at it from another direction. Dr Ross, who was a wellknown local doctor gives this account to W. C. Mackenzie: "The pigmies were Spaniards who originally came to Lewis 500 years BC. They lived on buffaloes which they killed by throwing sharp-pointed knives at them. Their descendants were contemporary with St Frangus, an outlaw who lived on the sands of Lionel in Ness. He was unkind to the pigmies who hanged him on a hill which is still called Bruich Frangus. In the year 1AD, yellow men from Argyll drove the pigmies from Cunndal (a cave near Luchraban) to the Pigmies Isle. When they got too numerous to be accommodated there, they migrated to Eoropie and Knockaird in the same vicinity."

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