Massacre Cave

Uamh Fhraing - Cave of St. Francis - Cave of Francis - Cave of Frances - St. Francis Cave

Useful Information

Location: Isle of Eigg PH42 4RL.
(56.873690, -6.145606)
Open: No restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologySea Cave
Light: bring torch
Dimension: L=78 m, W=8 m, H=6 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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Massacre Cave was used as a hideout by the population of the small island Isle of Eigg during the violent times of dueling Scottish clans. During the 16th century, the Island of Eigg was home to Clan MacDonald, which often had quarrels with Clan MacLeod.

One day some rowdy MacLeod men were visiting the island and molested the local women. The MacDonalds rounded them up and set them adrift at sea. They were rescued, but this expulsion demanded a retribution and Clan MacLeod decided to take the island by storm. The MacDonalds learned of the impending siege, informed the entire population of Eigg and led them to the underground hideout called the Cave of Francis. The entrance to the cave was narrow but further inside the cave widened. In total, about 400 people were hiding in the cave. When the MacLeods found no one on the island, they made their way home. But then they spotted a careless scout, which told them the location of the hideout. Instead of storming the easily defensible cave, the MacLeods covered the cave entrance with wet straw and set it on fire. The Cave of Francis quickly filled with thick, acrid smoke and all 400 people suffocated. From that day on, the place was known as Massacre Cave.

That's the legend, thought to have happened around 1577, according to Clan Ranald tradition. There are different versions though, some tell the MacLeod men were survivors of a shipwreck and they stole food and killed cows. Some versions tell there were 395 in the cave. Also, there is a version that someone left the cave and the MacLeods followed his tracks. Then there is one version telling that an old woman survived because she refused to hide in the cave. All in all the whole story is told about several caves all over the world, and seems to be a sort of meme. There are serious doubts about the veracity of the tale, probably it was just fictional to explain why the MacDonalds despised the MacLeods.

Nevertheless, there are numerous stories about human bones found at the cave over the centuries. Victorian tourists took them home as souvenirs, before islanders insisted that the bones were buried. In 1814, Sir Walter Scott found remains, which he described as "numerous specimens of mortality". Archaeological investigations confirmed that they are indeed from the time of the Eigg massacre.

The cave entrance is big enough to stand upright. But soon the passage narrows down and there is a 7 m long crawl which is only 60 cm high. We recommend to bring kneepads. After the crawl the cave opens to a huge chamber which is 78 m long. Nearby is a second cave which is called Cathedral Cave. As it is necessary to walk to the caves from Eigg harbour, we recommend to visit both caves.