Photograph of Dùn nan Nighean at Balephuil in 2000
The remains of twenty-five fortresses from the Iron Age (600 BC – 400 AD) survive on Tiree. It is likely that these were unsettled times caused by a worsening of the climate, a growing population, thinning of the first farmed soils and the use of new iron weapons.
These fortresses, all now called ‘dùn’ in modern Gaelic, are either forts large enough to hold a community of 30 to 40 people, small duns made to shelter one family or brochs with double-skinned walls containing a staircase and guard cell, probably standing around 8 metres tall.
The forts and duns had simple defences and usually stood on inaccessible crags away from their accompanying farms. Tradition has it that a group of nuns was cornered at Dùn nan Nighean and slaughtered by the Vikings. There is also said to have been an escape tunnel out of the dun.