Some ancient stone crosses are yet standing near this ancient pile [i.e. the ruins of Iona Abbey], with inscriptions no longer intelligible. Previous to the Reformation, there existed 860 of various sizes and beautiful workmanship. Many of which, were carried away to adorn the streets of distant towns and villages; and in Cowal, there is a popular tradition, that a great number of crosses and tomb-stones were sunk in Loch Fyne opposite to Strachur, where, if we believe the fishermen of that place, they are still to be seen at low water.
Steam-boat Companion, or Stranger’s Guide to the Western Isles & Highlands of Scotland, Glasgow, James Lumsden & Son, 1839, p. 175.
The island of Canna, along with the islands of Eigg, Muck, and Rum, form the parish of Small Isles, in Inverness-shire.
The church of Canna, dedicated to St. Columba, stood about the centre of the island, in the bottom of a narrow glen. There are two burying-grounds close to each other. In the older one, now disused, are traces of the old church. In it also stands the sculptured cross here figured.
Unlike most of the crosses of the Western Highlands and Islands, the monument is formed of yellow sandstone. It is cruciform in shape, and is about six and a half feet in height.
Isin bliadain sin tucad in camall, quod est animal mírae magnitudinis, o ríg Alban do Muircertach U Briain
Annals of Innisfallen, I1105.7.
On the east side of the remaining limb of the cross is a well-sculptured camel, of which there is no other example on our Scotch crosses.1 That this creature was not, however, unknown in Scotland in early times, we may gather from an entry in the Annals of Innisfallen, which, under the year 1105, records, “In this year a camel, which is an animal of wonderful size, was presented by the King of Alban [Edgar] to Mucertac O’Brian.” Some of the knotted work and patterns are the same as those on the early crosses on the east coast, but the figures of men and beasts on the east face are of a different contour, and the design and general idea of the monument is peculiar.
1 A camel is depicted on the reverse of the Pictish cross-slab Meigle 1 (Meigle Museum).
The parish of Kildalton, of which the church was dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, forms the south-east side of the island of Islay. The original church of the parish stood at Kildalton, a few miles south-west from the entrance to the sound of Islay, where its cemetery, walls, altar, and font still remain.
The large cross in these plates stands in a stone base in the burying-ground, on the north side of the ruined church. It differs entirely in form from all the other crosses on the west coast, and also in style of ornamentation from all except that called Martin’s Cross at Iona and the cross at Keils, which it greatly resembles in many of its details, but is richer than either of them. It partakes very much of the character of the Irish crosses — especially in the length of the arms and in the circle which connects them with the stem; and in outline and some details it may be compared with the south cross at Clonmacnoise. The disengaged circle, which is so common on the Irish crosses, occurs only on two of the Scotch ones — viz., the present example, and Martin’s Cross just referred to. It has been elsewhere remarked that on the cross slabs on the east coast this circle appears as if in embryo on the slab, preparatory to the monument being shaped into the form of a cross with the circle cut into a free ornamented band.
On the east side of the cross the figure of the Blessed Virgin and Holy Child, with a male figure on either side, is cut, and at the extremities of the arms of the cross are groups of figures apparently of ecclesiastics. This cross is, in my opinion, of a style greatly earlier than the class of monuments represented by that at Campbelton, and comes much nearer in character to the Irish examples, which are ascribed to the tenth and eleventh centuries.
The smaller cross, of which the shaft is unsculptured, stands on the outside of the churchyard.
On the hill of Dun Borreraig are the ruins of a circular hill-fort 52 feet in diameter inside, with walls 12 feet thick, a gallery within the walls, and a stone bench 2 feet high round the area. Near the bay of Knock are two large upright flags called “The Two Stones of Islay.” Monumental stones, as well as cairns and harrows, occur, and stone and brass [bronze] hatchet-shaped weapons or celts, elfshots, or flint arrow-heads, and brass fibulae, have been frequently dug up.
The chapel of Kilmorie, in South Knapdale, has been already referred to as having traditionally been erected by St. Charmaig (Cormac). Its walls are still almost complete, and it is surrounded by a burying-ground. In both the chapel and graveyard are many slabs ornamented with the sword and shears. The cross figured in this Plate is in the churchyard. On one side is represented the crucifixion of our Lord, with figures which may be meant for the Blessed Virgin and St. John. Beneath is a two-handed sword. On the other side of the shaft is a stag-hunt, the dogs being represented with collars, as on some of the early east cross slabs, and lower down is an armed man holding in his hand a battle-axe, with a large horn suspended from his shoulder. Beneath his feet is the inscription — HEC EST CRVX ALEXANDRI MACMVLEN. The Macmillans, according to their traditions, were connected with the clan Chattan, and a branch of them possessed the greater part of Southern Knapdale, where their chief was known under the title of Macmillan of Knap; but although they were at a very early period in Knapdale, they probably obtained the greater part of their possessions there by marriage with the heiress of the chief of the Macneils in the sixteenth century. To an early part of this century the cross is probably to be ascribed. A drawing and notice of this monument occurs in Archæologia Scotica, vol. iv. p. 377.
— Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
This parish [Kilchoman] consists of the south-west portion of the island of Islay, known as the Rinns. The church, apparently dedicated to St. Comghan, stood on the west coast, to the south of Loch Guirm. In the surrounding graveyard the present cross stands. Near to it is a fragment of another cross, and in the neighbouring fields are two small crosses of a peculiar type, said to have been two of three crosses which marked the limits of the sanctuary. There are five churches in ruins, to each of which a burying-ground is attached, in some of which specimens of the sculptured slabs so common on the west coast are to be seen. There are also several unsculptured obelisks in the parish, and many fortified sites. Two gold ornaments were found under a large pillar near to Sunderland House, which weighed 22 ½ sovereigns. About thirty years ago several stone coffins, of from 2 ½ to 3 feet in length, were discovered in the conical hills below Sunderland Farm. Some of them contained one or two clay urns; others contained skulls and other human bones.
This monument, which is of the Campbelton type, has on the east face a representation of our Lord on the cross, surrounded by four figures within the disc, and an angel in each arm of the cross. Near the top of the shaft are two figures under a cusped arch, and beneath them an inscription in fourteen lines, mostly illegible. Towards the bottom is a horseman under another arch of like form. The west side is covered with foliated patterns on the shaft, with knot-work on the arms of the cross.
— Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
This beautiful cross measures 8 feet 4 inches in height, and with the exception of the inscription it is in a very perfect state of preservation, though the design is in places obscured by lichen. An illustration of it appears in Dr. Stuart’s Sculptured Stones of Scotland.
Beginning with the east face we find on the circular head a representation of the crucifixion. The upper part of the cross head is filled with plaited scroll-work, in each of the arms is the figure of an angel, while to the right and left of the crucified Saviour are four figures in the attitude of adoration. The upper figure on the right is winged and below it is a fragment of scroll-work like that at the top. Below this group and at the top of the shaft are two figures in a niche, and these have probably some connection with the inscription immediately below them. The same arrangement of niche and lettering is to be seen on the Campbeltown Cross with which this has many points of similarity.
I think the following can be fairly made out of the inscription. The illustration shows all that can be obtained from a photograph of the cast. The cast itself is naturally easier to make out, though extremely difficult at the best.
Below the inscription there is foliated scroll-work surmounting another niche which contains a mounted figure, and below that again there is a panel of simple but effective interlaced bands.
The reverse of the cross head is singularly rich and the combination of bands more elaborate than is generally to be met with. A sketch is given on the next page to show the way in which these bands interlace.
It will be seen that the design consists in part of a series of circles each complete in itself: there are five of these counting from top to bottom, six counting from arm to arm. Again there is a continuous band crossing in the centre and forming four heart-shaped loops, in the direction of the circular segments of the cross head. Again, close to these segments and forming the outer part of the design are eight more loops complete in themselves, not circles this time, but arranged to work into the geometrical pattern already arrived at; within the scolloped pattern formed by the inner edges of these eight loops there is another complete band of an octagon form. The whole design is completed by the scroll which forms into loops at the extremities; this can be traced working its way in and out through the maze of circles and loops about half-way between the octagon band and the edge of the design. It will thus be seen that no less than twenty-three different bands are introduced into this elaborate composition.
The cross-shaft is adorned with foliated scroll-work which springs from the tails of two animals at the base.
The cross still stands in its original three-stepped pedestal of which the two lower steps are protected with concrete; but the top one is untouched, and at its angles may be seen four curious depressions varying greatly in depth, as one is only a slight hollow while another goes through the entire thickness of the stone.
A pear-shaped stone which tradition says was used to form these depressions is kept at the manse. At one time it lay in one of the holes, but it has had many vicissitudes. Once it was thrown into the sea but in a short time was found again lying on the shore. At another time it was buried in a grave, but before many years had passed it had found its way to the surface. What the object of these holes was is unknown, but a local tradition gives the curious explanation that they were made by expectant mothers anxious to secure male offspring.
— Robert C. Graham, The Carved Stones of Islay, 1895.
Dumgarth rex Cerniu [id est Cornubiæ] mersus est.
Dungarth king of Cernyw ‡that is of the Cornish‡ was drowned. Annales Cambriae, A.D. 875.
The site consists of the remains of two 9th-11th century granite cross-shaft fragments and an underground rock-cut passage that starts to the south-east of the crosses and terminates in a cross-shaped chamber beneath the two stones, thought to be either the remains of tin workings or a possible oratory.
King Doniert’s Stone stands about 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 metres) high, and is decorated on three of its faces with interlaced ornament of a style common throughout Britain. The upper end of the stone has a deep mortice in the top to take an upper shaft or cross head. The east face bears a weathered inscription which reads:
DONIERT ROGAVIT PRO ANIMA
Doniert has asked [for this to be made] for [the sake of his] soul
The southern cross-shaft fragment is taller, about 7 feet (2.1 metres) high, and one face has a panel of interlaced decoration.
Mael Ísu Ua Brolcháin, the sage of Erinn in wisdom and in piety, and in the poetry of either language, suum spiritum emisit. Annals of Loch Cé.
Moyle Issa o’Brothloghann, the ealder and sage of Ireland was soe ingenious and witty, and withall soe well learned that he composed great volumes containing many great Misteryes and new sciences devised by himselfe, died this year. Annals of Clonmacnoise.
The Age of Christ, 1086. […] Maelisa Ua Brolchain, learned senior of Ireland, a paragon of wisdom and piety, as well as in poetry and both languages. His wisdom and learning were so great, that he himself wrote books replete with genius and intellect. He resigned his spirit to heaven on the seventh of the Calends of February, as is stated [in this quatrain]:
On the seventeenth of the Calends of February,
The night of fair Fursa’s festival,
Died Maelisa Ua Brolchain,
But, however, not of a heavy severe fit. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (Annals of the Four Masters), likewise in the Annals of Ulster.
The patron saint of the parish of Cloncha, in Inishowen, was always regarded as being the present Maelisa Ua Brolchain. In this parish, there stood an ancient monastery, known as Temple Moyle, or Tapal Moule. An old graveyard, surrounded by a stone wall, with an iron gate entrance, is found at this place. John Canon O’Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints.
The following hymn attributed to one Máel-ísu is to be found at fo. 31b. col. 2 of the Liber Hymnorum, Trin. Coll. Dub. E. 4. 2.
mæl ísu dixit
INspirut nóeb immunn
innunn ocus ocunn
inspirut nóeb chucunn
tæt achríst cohopunn
INspirut nóeb daittreb
ronsóera dospirut. INspirut.
The Holy Spirit (be) around us, in us, and with us! Let the Holy Spirit come to us, O Christ, forthwith!
The Holy Spirit to possess our body and our soul, to protect us with swiftness against danger, against diseases!
Against demons, against sins, against hell with manifold evil, O Jesus, may thy Spirit sanctify us, save us!
The Máel-ísu by whom this little poem was written, was perhaps Máel-ísu Hua-Brolcháin, who died (according to the Annals of Loch Cé) A.D. 1086. He was the author of two hymns, one in the Lebar Brecc, p. 501, half in Latin and half in Irish, beginning thus:—
Deus meus adiuva me
tucc dam doserc amaic modé1
In meum cor ut sanum sit
tucc arí rán dograd cogribb.2
And another in H. 2. 16, col. 336, to S. Michael the Archangel, beginning—
beir a michil morfertaig
cuinnig codia ndilgudach
dilgud muilc adbail uile
“O Angel! bear, O great-miracled Michael, my complaint to the Lord.
Hearest thou? Ask of forgiving God forgiveness of all my vast evil.”
1 “Give me thy love, O Son of God!”
2 “Give, O right noble King, thy love quickly!”
— Whitley Stokes, Goidelica, Old and Early-Middle-Irish Glosses, Prose and Verse, 1872.
At Inveraray there is a beautiful Cross, which is well known to tourists, but which (so far as I know) has not been the object of much antiquarian research. It is commonly said to have been brought from Iona; but I never met with any historical proof that this was the case. The stone crosses and sculptured tombstones in Argyllshire are commonly called Iona Crosses and Iona Stones; and it is a prevailing belief that they were all brought from that celebrated place of sepulture. But as to the Crosses,– it can be proved that some of them never came from Iona; and if all the tombstones of the same character were collected there, they would far more than fill even S. Oran’s burying-ground. I have little doubt that the Inveraray Cross stood in the old town, near the old chapel. It was, until late years, lying at the entrance of the great beech-avenue; and it is now erected on the edge of the Loch, at the end of the main street. In shape it might be called a cross-flory. The upper part of the south side is overrun with foliage, moving in very capricious lines and passing below into a trefoiled arch, which seems to have been meant for a figure or inscription. Below this is a complicated arrangement of similar foliage, falling into two divisions, the stems of which become the tails of two fantastic animals. Under these animals are four others, on one side a pig and a dog, on the other apparently a larger and a smaller monkey. Under them again is a horseman; and at the base of all a rectangular space inclosing the end of the inscription, which with its earlier portion covers the west side of the Cross. This inscription is as follows in Lombardic characters.
Haec. est. crux. nobilium. vivorum. videlicet. Dondcani.
M’Engyllichomghan. Patrici. filii. ejus. et. Maelmore.
filii. Patrici. qui. hanc. crucem. fieri. faciebat.
I believe nothing is known of the personages here mentioned. I once saw a curious paper in possession of one of the parish school children, containing a translation in English, French, Gaelic, and Greek, where Mc Eichgyllichomghan is turned into Cunningham: but I apprehend this is merely a conjecture. It is to be observed that the leaves in the foliage are mostly double, a larger and smaller; and this is the character of the ornament of the east side. The north side is covered with foliage of a different and still more beautiful character.
— Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Argyllshire, No. V. Stone Crosses,
Transactions of the Cambridge Camden Society, 1841.
Nar this forsaid iyle on the west syde of it layes Ila, ane ile of twentie myle lenthe from the north to the south, and sixteen myle in breadth from the eist to the west, fertill, fruitfull, and full of natural grassing, with maney grate Diere, maney woods, faire games of hunting beside everey toune, with ane watter callit Laxay, wherupon maney salmon are slaine, with ane salt water Loch, callit Lochegunord, quherin runs the water of Gyinord, with high sandey bankes, upon the quhilk bankes upon the sea lyes infinit Selccheis, whilkis are slayne with doges learnt to the same effect. In Ila is meikle lead ure in Moychills. In this iyle there is ane guid raid for schipps, callit in Erische Polmoir, and in English the Mechell-puill, this layes at ane toune callit Lanlay Vanych, ane uther raid layes within Ellan Grynard, callit in English the isle at the poynt of the nesse, the raid is callit Leodannis. Within this iyle ther is sundrie-freshe water Lochis, sic as Lochmoyburge wherin ther layes ane iyle perteining to the Bishopes of the Isles. The loch of Ellan Charrin, quherin ther is ane iyle pertyning to M’Gillane of Doward. Loch Cherossa with ane iyle perteining to the Abbot of Colmkill. In this iyle there is strenths castells, the first is callit Dunowaik the biggest on ane Craig at the sea side, on the southeist pairt of the countery pertaining to the Clandonald of Kintyre; second is callit the castle of Lochgurne, quhilk is biggit in ane iyle within the said fresche water Loche far fra land, pertaining of auld to the Clandonald of Kintyre, now usurped be M’Gillayne of Doward. Ellan Forlagan in the midle of Ila, ane faire iyle in fresche water.
— Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, called Hybrides; by Mr Donald Monro High Dean of the Isles who travelled through the most of them in the year 1549.
Muiredach’s High Cross is one of three surviving high crosses located at Monasterboice (Gaeilge: Mainistir Bhuithe, “Buithe’s monastery”). The monastic site is said to be founded in the 6th century, by St. Buithe. It is most famous for its 9th and 10th century high crosses—most notably Muiredach’s High Cross. These crosses are all made of sandstone and are referred to as the North, West, and South Crosses. It is not certain whether they stand in their original locations. The South Cross is commonly known as Muiredach’s cross because of an inscription on the bottom of the west-face. The inscription reads ÓR DO MUIREDACH LAS NDERNAD IN CHROS, which translates from Gaeilge as “a prayer for Muiredach who had this cross made”. It is thought that this Muiredach is likely Muiredach mac Domhnall (died 923), who was one of the monastery’s most celebrated abbots; he was also the abbot-elect of Armagh and also the steward of the southern Uí Néill. There is, however, another abbot named Muiredach who died in 844. Another possibility is that Muiredach may refer to Muiredach mac Cathail (died 867); a king whose territory included the site of the monastery.
The cross measures about 19 feet (5.8 m) high; including the base, which measures 2 feet 3 inches (0.69 m). The cross is made of sandstone which is yellow in colour. The main shaft of the cross is carved from a single block of sandstone; the base and the capstone on the top are carved from separate stones. The base is the shape of a truncated pyramid of four sides. It measures 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 m) high and 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 m) at the bottom; it tapers to 3 feet 8 inches (1.12 m) by 3 feet 4 inches (1.02 m) at the top. The main shaft is rectangular, measuring 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) high; 2 feet 2 inches (0.66 m) by 1 foot 8 inches (0.51 m) at the bottom. tapering to 2 feet 4 inches (0.71 m) by 1 foot 7 inches (0.48 m) at the top. The topmost stone, or capstone, is carved in the shape of a house, with a sloping roof; and has a crescent-shaped finial at each end. It is thought that such house-shaped capstones may represent reliquaries, which, like the Monymusk Reliquary, typically took this form in Celtic Christianity.
Every piece of the cross is divided into panels which are decorated with carvings. The carvings are remarkably well preserved; however, they certainly would have originally had much finer detail. Even so, certain details about clothing, weapons, and other things, can still be clearly made out. Biblical themes dominate the carved panels; though there are pieces which feature certain geometric shapes and interlace ornaments.
XXth century Irish archaeologist Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister noted that there are 124 figures sculpted upon the panels of the cross—119 of which shown in some form of costume. The cross is not unlike other works of Insular art where the artist has represented people in contemporary costume. All, except one, of the figures is depicted bare-headed. The lone figure with headgear is Goliath, who wears a conical helmet. Generally the hair is worn clipped in a straight line over the forehead, though in some cases it is shown to be distinctly curly. Many of the figures have no facial hair, though several of them wear very long moustaches, with heavy ends which hang down to the level of the chin. There are very few beards represented; those shown with beards are Adam, Cain, Moses and Saul. Macalister considered that the artist excelled in the geometric and abstract patterns which appear on the cross. On the ring surrounding the head of the cross, there are 17 different patterns. Macalister stated that Celtic geometric patterns fall into three categories: spiral, interlace, and key-patterns.