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History - Parish of Dornoch, Sutherland

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The Parish of Dornoch, located in the historic County of Sutherland, consists of 15,238 hectares of land (as of 1930). Established as a civil parish in 1845, the Parish was abolished as an administrative entity in 1975.


Name Origin

According to the Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1845, both the town and parish take their name from the Gaelic words Dorn Eich, meaning a horse's hoof.[1]

About the year 1259, the Danes and Norwegians having made a descent on this coast were attacked by William, Thane or Earl of Sutherland, a quarter of a mile to the eastward of this town. Here the Danish general was slain, and his army beaten, and forced to retire to their ships, which were not far distant. The Earl of Sutherland greatly signalized himself upon this occasion; and appears, by his personal valour and exertion, to have contributed very much to determine the fate of the day. While he singled out the Danish general, and gallantly fought his way onward, the Thane, being by some accident disarmed, seized the leg of a horse which lay on the ground, and with that dispatched his adversary.

A second claim for the origin of the name made in Discovering Place Names, by John Field (1984), is that the name derives from the Gaelic word for pebbly place. This reference is also made on the Ainmean-Aite na h-Alba website A primary source for this claim has not been found.[2][3]

Clans and Surnames

The following is a list of Clans and Surnames associated with the parish and burgh of Dornoch:

  • MacKay (McKay)
  • Murray
  • Sutherland

Historic Places

  • Dornoch Cathedral
  • Old Town Jail
  • Dornoch Castle
  • Witch's Stone

Historical Timeline

This timeline relates to the burgh.[4]

1222 - Dornoch Cathedral was begun by Bishop Gilbert de Moravia.
1239 - The first service was held at the cathedral
1245- Bishop Gilbert de Moravia died and was canonised
1500 - Dornoch Castle was built
1570 - Dornoch was besieged and plundered by the forces of John Sinclair and Iye Mackay of Strathnaver. The cathedral was burned, leaving only the tower standing.
1616 - The first record of golf being played at Dornoch was made
1628 - The town of Dornoch was made a free royal burgh and port by Charles I
1708 - The town of Dornoch was made a parliamentary burgh
1727 - Janet Horne was burned at the stake, for witchcraft. This was the last judicial execution for witchcraft in Scotland.

Boundary Changes

In 1891, 725 acres was transferred to the parish of Rogart. It received a portion of the parish of Rogart in return, described as:

So much of the parish of Rogart as lies to the south of a line starting at a point on the boundary between the parishes of Dornoch and Rogart at the head of the Allt Reidh Chalnac and running in a generally westerly direction first to craig-a-bhlair, thence along the watershed between Starth Fleet on the north and Strath Carnach and Strath Tollaidh on the south to a knoll a little to the east of Loch na Saobhaidhe, from which knoll it runs direct in a southwesterly direction to the forkings at the head of the Allt an Cealgaiche, and thence down the said burn until it meets the boundary of the parish of Creich.[5]

Population Statistics for the Parish

  • 1801: 2,362
  • 1811: 2,681
  • 1821: 3,100
  • 1831: 3,380
  • 1841: 2,714
  • 1851: 2,981
  • 1891: 2,331
  • 1901: 2,794
  • 1911: 2,670
  • 1921: 2,475
  • 1931: 2,086
  • 1951: 1,921
  • 2001: 1,206

Statistical Information on Total Population[6]

Settlements in Dornoch Parish

  • Dornoch
  • Embo, Sutherland
  • Clashmore, Sutherland


  1. The Statistical Accounts of Scotland 1791-1845
  2. Wikipedia article: Dornoch
  3. search result
  4. Timeline History of Dornoch
  5. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Dornoch ScoP through time | Census tables with data for the Scottish Parish, A Vision of Britain through Time; Dornoch Parish Boundary Changes, (accessed 13 Dec 2019)
  6. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Dornoch ScoP through time | Population Statistics | Total Population, A Vision of Britain through Time.; Population Table, (accessed 13 Dec 2019)

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