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"DORNOCH, a parish in the county of Sutherland, Scotland. It contains the royal burgh of Dornoch, and the villages of Clashmore and Embo, in the south-eastern corner of Sutherlandshire. The name Dornoch is said to be derived from the Gaelic words Dorn Eich, meaning a horse's foot or hoof, according to a tradition which asserts that in 1259 a Danish leader was slain by William, Thane of Sutherland, by means of a horse's leg which he made use of when disarmed. A horse-shoe is still retained as the arms of the burgh. The parish extends 9 miles along the Firth of Dornoch, and 15 miles from S.E. to N.W. It is bounded on the N. by Rogart and the Loch of Fleet, on the E. and S. by the Dornoch Firth, and on the W. by Criech. The district of Kinauld and Rhimusaig is situated N. of the Fleet, and is separated from the rest of the parish, being surrounded by the parishes of Golspie and Rogart. The surface is flat and sandy near the coast, but is loamy inland as it approaches the hilly districts towards the N. and W. Whinstone and freestone are quarried. Near the Earl's Cross (erected in memory of the encounter mentioned above) a woman was burned in 1722 for witchcraft. This was the last instance in which such a punishment was inflicted in the N. of Scotland, that in the S. of Scotland being at Paisley in 1697. The ruins of the castle of Skelbo, demolished in the last century, are picturesquely situated on an eminence near the Little Ferry; it was a seat of the noble family of Sutherland. A little to the N. of the Meikle Ferry is Skibo Castle, once the residence of the bishops of Caithness and Sutherland. The famous Marquis of Montrose was confined in it for two nights on his way to Edinburgh after his capture in Assynt. The principal landowners are the Duke of Sutherland, Dempster of Skibo, and two others. The road from Inverness to Wich traverses the parish. This parish is in the presbytery of Dornoch, and synod of Caithness and Sutherland, and in the patronage of the Duke of Sutherland. The minister has a stipend of £267. The parish church is a restoration of the old cathedral of Dornoch, made more than twenty years ago by the Duchess of Sutherland, at an expense of £6,000. There is also a Free church, with a large attendance. The town of Dornoch, erected into a royal burgh by charter of Charles I. in 1628, is the political capital of Sutherlandshire, and stands on the N. coast of the Dornoch Firth, 1 mile E. of the Great North road, 6 miles N. of Tain, and 12 W. of Tarbetness. It is situated among hillocks of sand in front of a high gravel terrace, the base of which was evidently in former times washed by the sea. The streets are wide, regular, and remarkably clean, the houses being built of a yellow freestone. The court-house, prison, record-room, and county meeting-room occupy the site of the castle and palace of Dornoch, which continued in ruins from 1570 to 1813. The high western tower alone remains. The cathedral was built in the 13th century by Bishop Gilbert de Moravia, and after having experienced many fortunes it now, as restored, consists of a chancel, nave, transepts, and central tower. Sixteen earls of Sutherland are said to be buried in the S. transept, and the whole chancel is now appropriated as a tomb for that family. The date of the erection of the see of Caithness and Sutherland is unknown, but Andrew, Bishop of Caithness, was bishop here in 1150, having witnessed a donation by David I. to the abbey of Dunfermline. Gilbert Moray was consecrated bishop here in 1222. Dornoch is a place of little trade, owing to a bar of sand stretching across the mouth of the Firth, and rendering the navigation difficult. The burgh is governed by a provost (the Duke of Sutherland), 2 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 6 councillors. It unites in sending a member to parliament along with Tain, Dingwall, Wich, Cromarty, and Kirkwall. There are no burgesses. Population in 1851, 599; in 1861, 647. Houses in 1851, 109; in 1861, 138. Children at school between the ages of 5 and 15, 481. Fairs are held in February, March; November, and December."

Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)


Episcopal Church of Scotland
St Finnbarr, Dornoch, Scottish Episcopal
Presbyterian / Unitarian
Dornoch, Church of Scotland

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1851 - Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, Samuel Lewis

  • DORNOCH, a parish and burgh (royal), the county town, in the county of Sutherland, 201 miles (N. N. W.) from the city of Edinburgh; containing 2714 inhabitants, of whom 451 are in the burgh. This place is supposed to have derived its name, Dor-Neich or Dor-Nach, signifying in the Celtic language a horse's hoof, from the slaughter of a Danish general, who made a descent upon this part of the coast in 1259, and was encountered by William, Thane of Sutherland, who, having lost his sword in the battle, seized the leg of a horse lying on the ground, with which he killed his adversary, and put his followers to flight. It is of considerable antiquity, and in 1150 was an episcopal city, the residence of the bishops of Caithness, within whose province the county of Sutherland was included, and of whom Andrew is supposed to have erected the cathedral. His successor, Gilbert Murray, who was consecrated in 1222, greatly enlarged and beautified the church, in which, upon his decease in 1245 at Caithness, where the bishops had also a residence, a statue was erected to his memory, under the designation of St. Gilbert. All the glass used in the erection of the cathedral is said to have been made at Sydderay, about two miles from Dornoch. After the death of John, Earl of Sutherland, and his countess, who in 1567 were both poisoned at Helmsdale at the instigation of the Earl of Caithness, Mc Kay of Far, taking advantage of the minority of the young earl, then only fifteen years of age, invaded the county of Sutherland, set fire to the town of Dornoch, and laid waste the barony of Skibo. The young earl, who then resided in the castle of Skibo, was, through the persuasion of the bishop, given up to the Earl of Caithness, by whom he was carried off, and, although but fifteen years of age, married to his daughter, aged thirty -two; "an unfit match indeed", says Sir Robert Gordon in his history of the Earls of Sutherland. In 1570, the town and castle were besieged by the Laird of Duffus and his adherents; but being obstinately defended, they set fire to the cathedral, which, with the exception only of the tower, was completely destroyed.

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