The tight opening of what is now known as Massacre Cave is a bit hard to find which made it the perfect hiding place for the surrounding population during the violent times of dueling Scottish clans, but it was this same constricted cave mouth that stopped anyone from escaping when a rival clan decided to smoke them out.
In the 16th century, the Island of Eigg was home to a large population of Clan MacDonald, a clan which shared a contentious relationship with rival, Clan MacLeod. As the story goes, some rowdy Macleod men were visiting the island and got a little too handsy with the local women. Not about to allow this behavior to stand, the MacDonalds rounded up the rowdy rivals and set them adrift at sea. While the floating Macleods were eventually rescued this expulsion demanded a retribution.
Clan MacLeod went on the warpath and decided to take the island by storm. The MacDonalds, getting wind of the coming siege, took the entire population of Eigg and led them into the secretive underground bastion called the Cave of Frances. The cave’s entrance was cramped and only allowed for people to enter a few at a time, before opening up later on down the path. Around 400 people in total were led into the cave.
When the MacLeods could find no one on the island they began to depart, but spotted a careless lookout who gave away the location of the cave. Instead of storming the close quarters interior, the MacLeods instead covered the cave mouth with wet straw and lit it on fire. The Cave of Frances quickly filled with thick, acrid smoke, suffocating all 400 people inside. From that day on, the site was known as Massacre Cave.
Human remains were found at the site for a number of years after the storied massacre, and today the cave can still be visited. The memory of the hundreds of tragic deaths create an eerie atmosphere that is enhanced by candles laid around the entrance.
Know Before You Go
The path is marked out with purple waymarkers and paint in places, but they're easy to miss. The shop in the village sells maps of walks on Eigg, including to the Massacre Cave. Follow the road up past the stone commemorating the island's purchase by its residents, and the start of the walk is further up on the left.
There are two caves, the larger one is called the Cathedral Cave and is only accessible via the rocks at low tide. The much smaller entrance of the Massacre Cave is set in lush greenery.