PLACE OF THE
Dunlichity Church looking east from the top of the graveyard. At left by the walk and gate can be seen a part of the wall of the MacGillivray Enclosure.
Situated centrally in the hinterland of upper Strathnairn, Dunlichity for centuries was a place of great importance to the MacGillivrays and several other nearby clans. It served them not only as a place of worship but as a gathering place for many social activities, in times of both peace and war. And, of course, it was the sacred ground where they buried and remembered their dead.
Dunlichity has been a site of Christian worship since the 7th century, and was dedicated to St. Finan, an early evangelist of the Celtic Christian Church. A statue of the saint was kept there until 1643, when it was taken to Inverness and burned in a fit of Reformation zeal. An older church was rebuilt in 1569, and the present structure mainly dates back to 1758. Originally separate, the
parishes of Dunlichity and of Daviot, about four miles downstream on the River Nairn, were united in 1618. Today its Church of Scotland congregation is under the stewardship of the Rev. Lilian Bruce.
In times of war and danger Dunlichity was a rallying point and defensive outpost. On the rocky height just north of the church, sheltered by a large stone called the Clach na Faiere, or "Lookout Stone," clansmen kept watch against the "Lochaber robbers,"Camerons and Keppoch McDonnells from the south who would periodically raid the area for cattle. Archery practice was held in the field between the rock and the church. And Dunlichity was the usual gathering place when the Clan mustered for battle. Until a vehicle demolished the southeast corner of the outer graveyard wall recently, marks were visible on it where clansmen sharpened their broadswords before battle. Similar marks are still visible on the wall of the Shaw Enclosure. In 1820 a watch-house was built into the south wall of the graveyard, a measure to protect against graverobbing for the grim but lucrative market of the time in bodies for medical dissection.
Looking west, the front of the MacGillivray Burial Enclosure, the first structure seen when approaching Dunlichity.
For centuries, Dunlichity has been the burial place for not only MacGillivrays but other adjacent Clan Chattan families--Mackintoshes, MacBeans, Shaws--as well as for Frasers occupying the eastern shore of Loch Ness. Dunmaglass, seat of the chiefs of Clan MacGillivray, is only 6.5 miles to the south, while Tordarroch, seat of the chiefs of Clan Ay, the Shaws of Tordarroch, is in the immediate neighborhood. Both clans have walled enclosures at Dunlichity containing the remains of chiefs and their families.
The present MacGillivray Enclosure dates to 1968 and replaced a smaller one containing only the graves of John Lachlan (1782-1852), Chief and 10th laird of Dunmaglass and the last of the old Dunmaglass line, and his wife Jane Walcott. The present larger structure now encloses adjacent graves and markers memorialising members of three further important local MacGillivray families--of Knocknageil, Dalscoilte (or Clovendale) and Dalcrombie--including
Neil John (1827-1886), Chief and 12th Laird, of the later Dalcrombie line. Also within the enclosure are stones in memory of Alexander of Knocknageil (1700-53)and Archibald of Daviot, two grandsons of Farquhar MacAlister (Chief 1614-79). Farquhar of Dalcrombie (1727-1797?), ancestor of the Dalcrombie chiefs, has two stones, one with each of his two wives. Donald of Dalscoilte (1740-1803) and his wife Ann McTavish are also present. They were the parents of William,
Duncan and Simon McGillivray, distinguished principals of the NorthWest Company fur trading empire in Canada.
Plaque within the Enclosure showing the arms of the Dunmaglass chiefs.
The Enclosure was erected in 1968 by Col. George B. Macgillivray of Thunder Bay, Ontario, at a time when his own petition to be recognized as Chief of the Clan was pending before Lord Lyon King of Arms. Though he was not ultimately successful, the works he left are a testament to the one-time prominence of the MacGillivrays in this area and a gift to the whole Clan. Certain features of the Enclosure are worth noting.
On the north wall within the Enclosure, Col. Macgillivray placed a handsome granite plaque (at right) displaying the arms of the MacGillivray chiefs. The arms too were a product of Col.
Macgillivray's efforts. Though the Strathnairn MacGillivrays did use arms locally in early times, these were never officially recorded in the Public Register as required by law. In 1967 Col. Macgillivray
had the arms shown on the plaque matriculated, or officially recorded, in favour of earlier MacGillivray chiefs. The plaque records this site as the burial place of the MacGillivray chiefs of Dunmaglass and Dalcrombie and cadet families of Dalscoilte and Knocknageil, and is dedicated in the name of the Colonel's father, Dr. Thomas Dow Macgillivray. The plaque was carved by the noted Scottish scuptor, Charles Pilkington-Jackson, who also created the monumental equestrian statue of King Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn Battlefield, near
Stirling. A similar armorial plaque by the same artist is located within the adjacent Shaw Enclosure, attached to the end of the church, showing the arms of the chiefs of Clan Ay, the Shaws of Tordarroch. This was commissioned about the same time by the late Maj. Ian Shaw, who succeeded in restoring the Tordarroch chiefship in his own name.
The yett, or gate, of the MacGillivray Enclosure is of wrought iron and the transom above it also carries armorial and decorative elements: the cat crest and boxwood embellishments from the Chiefly Arms, along with maple leaf flourishes invoking the donor's Canadian origins.
Details of arms on Dunlichity gravestones.
It is significant to note that the source of the design for the arms Col. Macgillivray recorded for the Chiefs
is several MacGillivray gravestones found at Dunlichity which carry armorial carvings. The design is consistent among these examples, and quite recognizeable, and is therefore good authority for this design as one that was known locally during the 18th century as signifying the Clan MacGillivray. Two examples are shown at left.
Top, within the Enclosure: at left, Alexander MacGillivray of Knocknageil; at right, his wife Ann Fraser.
Bottom, in the outer graveyard: the "Lagg" stone.
All of these arms are quartered, and at least two of the charges are familiar Clan Chattan elements found on other amorial stones at Dunlichity: the right hand cut off at the wrist, in this case upright, and the sailing ship, a galley or lymphad, with its oars crossed in front of the mast. The fish, a salmon, appears to be distinctive to MacGillivrays. But most distinctive of all, in the
very first quarter is what appears to be a seated cat, its tail turned forward and its left forepaw raised. While the cat is very common among the Clan Chattan clans, it is usually found as the crest, or sometimes the supporters on either side of the shield. The MacGillivray stones are the only ones to show the cat as a charge on the shield itself, and its placement in the first quarter must have been a significant distinguishing sign for the Clan.
For a comparison of these arms with others used by MacGillivrays over time, and further discussion on MacGillivray heraldry, click on the hotlinks below to view the pages on heraldry found elsewhere on this website.
Recently, in July 1997, two new memorial plaques were added at the McGillivray Enclosure at Dunlichity. The occasion was the 2nd International Gathering of the Clan in Inverness, which brought close to 150 MacGillivray clansfolk from around the world together in the homeland of their ancestors. Use the hotlinks below for more details on the Gathering and the dedication of the new plaques.
Today, when our Clan is no longer a local community in Strathnairn and elsewhere in Scotland but instead a great worldwide family, Dunlichity still serves as a gathering place, drawing us with its rustic Highland beauty, a nexus sacred to the memory of our ancestors and their times.