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A Visit to St Colm's Isle

A Visit to St Colm's Isle

An account of a visit to St Colm's Isle in 1876, by J Sands, from his book Out of the World; or, Life in St. Kilda:

 

On the 12th (June) I made a trip on board the Vigilant to Loch Erisort, a few miles to the south of Stornoway. We anchored near the mouth of the Loch, and Captain M'Donald took me in his gig to see a churchyard situated on an island called St Colme. It is quite close to the water, and is about sixty feet square. It might have been originally large enough for the district, but now the accommodation is shockingly insufficient. Although there seems plenty of suitable ground outside, the people persist in interring the dead within the ancient limits. Nay, not interring, but piling the coffins one on the top of the other, until they have risen to a height of ten feet above the surface. The coffins are not even covered with earth, but are only wrapped in turf. In some places they look like the steps of a stair covered with a carpet. One can count the tiers. As Captain M'Donald stepped before me, I expected to see his nautical, square-built figure sink, like the ghost in Hamlet, through the hollow turf. I myself felt as if I were walking on thin ice, which might give way any moment and bury me in corruption. I was surprised that no foul smell pervaded this charnel pit, until the Captain pointed out that there were two holes made in every coffin by the rats, and that a body was no sooner left than it was devoured. He poked his cane, like a tide-waiter, into a new coffin, and found nothing but bones. The place swarmed with rats. We could hear them in the still evening air squeaking and fighting over their horrible banquet under our feet, and a shoal was running along the beach to whet their appetites with a limpet and a breath of fresh air. Some of the sailors, full of morbid curiosity, knelt on the coffins, and with their heads upside down peered into the holes. There is a small chapel in ruins in the midst of the ground, but its walls are half buried in graves.

Title: A Visit to St Colm's Isle
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Date: 1876
Record Maintained By: HC
Subject Id: 47169