Scottish Gaelic: "Port Mo-Chalmáig") is a small fishing village in Easter Ross, Scotland. Situated 9 miles east of Tainon the northern coast of the Tarbat Peninsula, Portmahomack has long been known to be on the site of early settlements. The earliest evidence of habitation is provided by shell middens pointing to settlement as early as one or two thousand years BCE. There are the remains of an Iron Age brocha little to the west of the village, and aerial photography has revealed cropmarks of a large ditched enclosure centring on the former parish church. Finds of elaborate early Christian carved stones dating to the 8th-9th centuries AD (including one with an inscription), in and around the churchyard, had long suggested that Portmahomack was the site of an important early church.
Portmahomack is the site of the first known
Pictishmonastery and the subject between 1994 and 2007 of one of the largest archaeological investigations in Scotland (see link to Tarbat Discovery Programme) directed by Martin Carver. The monastery began around 550 AD and was destroyed by fire in about 800 AD. It had a burial ground with cist and head-support burials, a stone church, at least four monumental stone crosses and workshops making church plate and early Christian books. The making of vellumin an early medieval site was detected for the first time here by Cecily Spall of FAS Ltd. Over two hundred pieces of sculpture have been found(see link to Portmahomack sculpture fragments), some of it broken up in a layer of burning suggesting that the monastic buildings were violently destroyed, possibly in a Vikingraid, about the year 800. The tradition of holiness survived sufficiently strongly to allow the site to become that of the later medieval parish church of St Colman. The present restored building, adapted to house a museum after lying empty for a number of years, has been shown by archaeological investigation to be itself a monument of great interest, of multi-phase construction, the oldest part (the east wall of the crypt) having been built as early as the ninth century AD. The museum and visitor centre in St Colman's Church is managed by the Tarbat Historic Trust.
Today, Portmahomack is a tourist destination with its traditional harbour, swimming beach, golf, dolphin watching, fishing and other watersports. It has a permanent population of between 500 and 600 residents. The Tarbat Discovery Centre, in the former parish church, houses displays on local history, and many of the finds from several seasons of excavation within the church itself, and in the fields surrounding the churchyard. Notable among these are a large collection of fragments of Pictish stone sculpture, many of them superbly carved with figures of ecclesiastics, fantastic and realistic animals, 'Celtic' interlace and key-pattern, and other motifs. The unusually large elaborate late 17th/early 18th bell-turret on the west gable of the church is an unusual and distinctive feature.
Some important Pictish carved stones from Portmahomack are on display in the
Museum of Scotland, Edinburghwith replicas in the Tarbat Discovery Centre.
Two other important historic buildings in Portmahomack are adjoining 'girnals' (storehouses), built in the late 17th century and 1779, overlooking the harbour (restored as housing). The former is one of the oldest such buildings to survive in
Scotland. The village also features a number of attractive 18th-early 19th century houses lining the shore.
The harbour was improved by the famous engineer
Thomas Telfordand was important in grain export in the 19th century.The murder-mystery writer Anne Perrylives in the village.
Portmahomack sculpture fragments
Tarbat Ness Lighthouse
Carver M.O.H. 1999 "Surviving in Symbols. A Visit to the Pictish Nation" (Birlinn);Carver M O H 2004 An Iona of the East: The Early-medieval Monastery at portmahomack, Tarbat Ness "Medieval Archaeology" 48 (2004): 1-30;Carver, M.O.H. 2006. A Columban Monastery in Pictland. "Current Archaeology" 205: 20-29;Martin Carver, 2008. "Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts" (Edinburgh University Press).
* [http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/arch/staff/sites/tarbat/ Tarbat Discovery Programme]
* [http://www.portmahomack.net Portmahomack.net]
* [http://www.carnegie-hall.co.uk Carnegie Hall, Portmahomack]
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