36370: The taking of the Priam

In the early 16th Century there was conflict between the Macleods of Lewis and the Mackenzies and from time to time when things got too hot for Neil Macleod, he would take his family and followers on to Berisay, a small island off Bosta, where they would be safe. During one of these times while fishing off Berisay, he noticed a ship heading towards Kirkibost. The ship was named “Priam” and it was registered in the Isle of Man and commanded by Captain Peter Love. It is not known why the Priam was making for Kirkibost but it became reasonable to Neil Macleod to assume that here was an opportunity for him to benefit from whatever misfortune caused the Priam to seek the safety of Dubh Thob.

He decided to plunder the cargo and hand the ship over to the authorities in exchange for a pardon being granted for whatever unlawful exploits he and his followers had been up to during the preceding years. He came up with a cunning plan to gain control of the ship. They took a fishing boat to Grimersta bay and half filled it with water and live salmon. They took the boat alongside the Priam whose crew were fascinated by the salmon swimming in the boat. Meanwhile a raiding party set up by Domhnall Cam Macaulay, an ally of Neil Macleod, boarded the Priam from the starboard side and while the ship’s crew were all leaning over the port side watching the salmon, he and his crew heaved all the Priam’s crew over the side. Most of the crew swam ashore and one of them, a hump-backed fellow, was captured on a hillside, which was subsequently called ‘Cnoc mac ille Chrotaich’. Another one was caught on a hill later named ‘Cnoc mac ille Shordail’ – presumably this being the prisoner’s name.

On board the Priam was a cow, which was taken ashore at a place, since then called after her – ‘ Leana na ba mhanaich’ i.e. the pasture of the Manx cow. This is a flat green area near to Loch na Cuilc. There is also a place in Kirkibost called ‘Ard a Mhanaich’ where the Priam’s crew swam ashore. Some people are of the opinion that Ard a Mhanaich is named after some monks who had some kind of connection with the place, but there is little proof of this and the naming of a headland after a plundered ship registered in the Isle of Man is a more convincing story.

The crew members of the Priam who survived were rounded up and handed over to the constabulary. They were then taken to Edinburgh and brought to trial for murder and piracy on the high seas. They were found guilty and hanged in Leith.

On board the Priam was a considerable amount of gold and silver amassed during their exploits in the Atlantic. Some of this hoard was plundered in turn by Neil Macleod and his cohorts, and shared out from Domhnull Cam’s hat. Some of the local lads were arrested for looting and impressed into the army – a standard punishment at the time for miscreants.

Two young men detained by the authorities when being escorted to the place of detention were rested at a place called ‘Gobhlinn Eitseal’. One of them while looking west to the ‘Grianan beag’ said to his companion ‘A Ghrianan bhig on whose side the sun shines in the early morning and goes down in the early evening – under your turf is buried the means to help a poor man.’ His companion replied ‘whoever finds yours will not be far away from mine’.

It is thought that in the early 1800’s one of the pots of gold was found but the finder, not knowing what was in the pot, asked a passing Irish tinker if he had seen anything like that before and if it had any value. The peddler, rubbing his hands in glee said he had no idea what the contents were, but that he would do him a favour and take the pot and the value of its contents back to him on his return visit, and as a gesture of goodwill would leave him a pair of boots to be paid for on his return. Needless to say the peddler was never seen again.

The other pot of gold has, so far as we know, never been found.

Record Type:
Story, Report or Tradition
Type Of Story Report Tradition:
Newspaper Article; Legend
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