Grave Slabs at Keills

Two grave slabs at Keills, Knapdale, Plate LVII from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.
Two grave slabs at Keills, Knapdale, Plate LVII from Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Volume II, Aberdeen: printed for the Spalding Club, 1856.

The grave slabs here represented are in the ruined chapel at Keills, Knapdale. Both of them are early and interesting specimens of the class to which they belong. In each case the two-handed sword is obviously a portrait of the real weapon. On the first there appear on one side of the sword a harp, comb, shears, and mirror, besides an object which may be a case or cover, and a smaller figure which may be meant for a box containing some toilet appendage. A surrounding inscription is almost entirely defaced.

The second slab has on one side of the sword an inscription, and on the other a deer-hunt and some grotesque creatures, with a galley at the bottom.

Keills Chapel, Knapdale.
Keills Chapel, Knapdale.

The simple, rectangular Keills Chapel, dedicated to St. Cormac, served as the parish church of Knapdale until the parish was split into two in 1734. It is one of few churches from the 1100s and 1200s surviving in Argyll. What sets it apart is what it contains: a sculptural feast of almost forty carved stones, ranging in date from the 8th to the 16th century. Pre-eminent among them is the 8th-century Keills Cross.

Wall Tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod

Wall tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, 8th Chief of Clan MacLeod, St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, 1528.
Wall tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, 8th Chief of Clan MacLeod, St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, 1528.

Reputed to be the finest medieval wall tomb in Scotland, the monument to Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, 8th Chief of Clan MacLeod of Harris, is located on the south side of the choir of St. Clement’s Church (Tùr Chliamhainn in Gàidhlig or “Clement’s Tower”), Rodel, Harris.

Effigy of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, in full armour and with sword, in his elaborate wall tomb, St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris.
Effigy of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, in full armour and with sword, in his elaborate wall tomb, St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris.

Over a carved effigy of the chief, four angels circle above the Virgin Mary and two bishops, the chief’s castle at Dunvegan, and his birlinn (galley); below is a hunting scene, the weighing of the chief’s soul, and an inscription. The tomb is crowned by an arch bearing carvings of the Twelve Apostles, two angels, and God the Father holding the Cross, surrounded by the beasts of the Four Evangelists.

Detail of a bishop, wall tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris.
Detail of a bishop, wall tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris.

The 9th Chief of Clan MacLeod, Alasdair’s son William, had his tomb prepared in the south wall of the nave of Tùr Chliamhainn in 1539. In the south transept, there is a third grave probably belonging to John MacLeod of Minginish, the 10th Chief. There are five more grave slabs leaning against the wall of the north transept. The graveyard surrounding St. Clement’s Church contains a number of additional MacLeod tombs.

According to Donald Munro, High Dean of the Isles, in his work, Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1549), St. Clement’s Church itself was built for the MacLeods of Harris.

Within the south pairt of this ile lyes ane monastery with ane steipell, quhilk was foundit and biggit by M’Cloyd of Harrey, callit Roodill.

Beannachadh Luinge

Detail of birlinn from the wall tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, 8th Chief of Clan MacLeod, St. Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, 1528.
Detail of birlinn from the wall tomb of Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, 8th Chief of Clan MacLeod, St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, 1528.

God bless the good ship of Clan Ranald,
The first day it leaps on the wave,
The ship and the sailors who man it
The first on the roll of the brave!

May the Three and the One be their guidance,
Who tempers the blasts when they bray,
Or tossed mid the war of the billow
Or lulled in the sleep of the bay!

Great Father that gathered the waters,
Whose breath is the strength of the storm,
Bless Thou our frail bark and its men
When the rage of the tempest is warm.

O Son of the Father give blessing
To anchor and rudder and mast,
To sail and to sheet and to tackle,
When they stand the rude strain of the blast.

Bless yard and halyard and stay,
All gear both above and below,
Give soundness to rigging and rope,
That no flaw and no fault they may know.

May the Spirit the Holy protect us,
Whose grace we devoutly implore,
Who hath fathomed all depths of the ocean,
And numbered all bays of the shore!

— Form of prayer for the blessing of a ship on going to sea Beannachadh Luinge, from the Gàidhlig poem, Birlinn Chlann Raghnaill, Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, Englished by Professor John Stuart Blackie.

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Beannachadh Luinge

Maille ri brosnachadh fairge, a rinneadh do sgioba is do bhirlinn tighearna Chlann Raghnaill.

Gum beannaicheadh Dia long Chlann Raghnaill
A’ cheud là do chaidh air sàile,
E fèin ‘s a thrèin-fhir da caitheamh,
Trèin a chuaidh thar maitheas chàich.

Gum beannaich an Coimh-dhia naomh
An iùnnrais, anal nan speur,
Gun sguabte garbhlach na mara,
G’ ar tarraing gu cala rèidh.

Athair, a chruthaich an fhairge
‘S gach gaoth a shèideas às gach àird,
Beannaich ar caol-bhàirc ‘s ar gaisgich,
‘S cum i fhèin ‟s a gasraidh slàn.

A Mhic, beannaich fèin ar n-acair,
Ar siùil, ar beartean, ‘s ar stiùir,
‘S gach droineap tha crochte ri ‘r crannaibh,
‘S thoir gu caladh sinn le d’ iùl.

Beannaich ar racain ‘s ar slats,
Ar crainn ‘s ar teudaibh gu lèir
Ar stagh ‘s ar tarraing cùm fallen
‘S na leig-s’ ann ar cara beud.

An Spiorad Naomh biodh air stiùir,
Seòlaidh e ‘n t-iùl a bhios ceart;
‘S eòl da gach longphort fon ghrèin,
Tilgeamaid sinn fèin fo ‘bheachd.

— Form of prayer for the blessing of a ship on going to sea, Beannachadh Luinge, from the Gàidhlig poem, Birlinn Chlann Raghnaill, Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair.

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A considerably more literal English translation by Gordon Barr (1924):

Blessing of the Ship

Including encouragement of the ocean which was made for the crew and ship of the Lord of Clan Ranald.

May God bless Clan Ranald’s ship the first day it went to sea, itself and the strong men driving it, warriors who went beyond the excellence of the rest.

May the sacred Lord bless the storm, the breath of the stars, and may the stony river bed of the sea not be hit and may he pull us to a smooth harbour.

O Father, you who formed the ocean and every wind that blows from every direction, bless our narrow bark and our champion heros and keep herself and her crew in good health.

O Son, bless even our anchor, our sails, our mast rope-rings, our rudder and all the rigging which is bound to our mast and take us to a harbour with your guidance.

Bless our mast rings, our yard-arms, our masts and all our mooring ropes, and keep safe our stays and our halyards and don’t allow any messing up of our direction.

Let the Holy Spirit be at the helm and he will sail a route which will be correct; let him have discernment about every boat-harbour under the sun and let us move ourselves with care.