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The Massacre of Neish Island

Without a doubt, Perthshire can be one of the most beautiful regions of Scotland to travel. The roads run through the long winding valleys, occasionally rising high above sea level to negotiate one of the many hills and mountains which dominate this area as you travel through picturesque villages and past many natural geographic features.

In my opinion, one of the most scenic routes is that which takes you westwards from the town of Crieff. Before long, you will pass through the conservation village of St Fillans before the view opens up to Loch Earn. It should be little surprise that this is a popular stopping point for travellers to grab photographs to document their journey.

From this view point, a small island can be seen just a short distance out into the loch and, while it will be in the background of many photographs taken, few people realize just what they are looking at, or its alleged gruesome history.

Neish Island, Real or Fake?

Neish Island is heavily overgrown and tiny in size, with nothing visible from the lochside that would indicate this is anything other than a natural feature of the loch.

It is, however, man-made. It is thought the island could have started life as a Crannog, a type of house constructed on artificial islands above water during the Iron Age which were found across Scotland 2500 years ago. There is, however, no conclusive evidence that the island was ever home to a Crannog, and so the exact reason for its existence is not completely certain.

The Clan MacNeish

The MacNeish (or Neish) Clan has a long association with this area, and they are known to have later occupied Neish Island (which is the origin of the name). They had a stronghold built here which they are believed to have occupied from the 13th century until the 15th century, with it remaining in use by them until the 17th century. Records indicate that the structure was a substantial stone-built fortified tower with a shelter for the boats.

The Clan MacNeish had a long-standing dispute with the neighbouring Clan McNab. The exact reason for this is not known, yet it spilled out into bloody battle several times, and an incident in 1612 nearly wiped out the MacNeish Clan. It is said that the McNabs had collected considerable quantities of food and drink from Crieff, and when they were transporting their supplies back to their home they were attacked by members of the MacNeish Clan who stole a cartload and took it back to their island fortress.

The Massacre

Local legend tells that the Clan Chief of the McNabs was furious, and prepared with his 12 sons to settle this dispute once and for all. There was only one boat on Loch Earn, that being the one owned by the MacNeishes, and so if they were to reach the island, they had no option but to take their own. This was no easy task, with the boat having to be physically carried over rough and mountainous terrain, yet they were successful and silently launched their boat under the cover of darkness.

It is said that they found the MacNeishes heavily under the influence of the alcohol which they had stolen. The McNabs launched an attack on their old enemies, massacring all but 1 child (or 2 children depending on which version you read) who hid below a table.

The slaughter is thought to have fulfilled a prophecy that had warned the Clan MacNeish to beware of the time when there are 2 boats on Loch Earn.

Paranormal Activity

It is said that the ghost of Dhonuil Dhu, the chief of the MacNeish Clan who was beheaded in the massacre, with his head being taken as a morbid trophy, is still seen wandering the island and that on a still, quiet night, the cries of the clansmen can still be heard echoing over the loch in a replay of that fateful night.

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