Two Oransay Grave-slabs

Slabs at Oransay, Argyll, Plate LX, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

PLATE LX.
AT ORANSAY.

The slabs on this Plate are selected from the many examples within the ruined church here.

The one represents an abbot1 in his rich ecclesiastical vestments, with one hand lifted up in the act of benediction, and the other holding his staff.

Grave-slab at Oransay Priory; photo credit: Andreas G. Wolff.

The other pourtrays a man in armour. Two figures, apparently ecclesiastics, are engaged in buckling on his Spurs. The sculpture of this slab is in high relief. One of the figures on the pillar may represent St. Michael and the Dragon.

1 Sir Donald MacDuffie, Conventual Prior of Oransay, d. 1554/5.


Grave-slab of Domhnall MacDubhtaich, Conventual Prior of Oransay (1538-1554/5); photo credit: Carron Brown.

[HIC] IACET D(OMI)N(U)S DONALLDUS / MACDUFFIE PRIO[R (CON)VEN/TUALIS DE O[RR]ANSAY QUI / OBIIT AN(N)O MDL-
“Here lies Sir Donald MacDuffie, Conventual Prior of Oransay, who died in the year 155-”

[This tombstone was originally in the mural recess of the MacPhie chapel, with the foot towards the east. He was appointed Prior by authority of the Pope in April 1538 and died in 1554; he had probably been in ill-health since an application had been made to permit him to retire, and since his gravestone was able to be prepared with confidence in advance.]

(http://www.colonsay.info/text/ORONRIPweb.pdf)

Last of the MacDonalds of Islay

“FOR it shall be known, I shall seek no other refuge but only your Majesty’s clemency, nor no other living, but that which your Majesty’s princely liberality, it shall please your Highness bestow upon me as at more length, the bearer will inform your Majesty, and so I beseech God to bless your Highness with a long and prosperous reign, your Majesty’s most humble servant, (Signed), Angus M’Connal of Dunivaig. From Iylaye, the tent of September, 1606.”

Bond of the men of Islay to the Privy Council of Scotland.
Bond of the men of Islay to the Privy Council of Scotland.

About this period the following affecting supplication was sent to the Council, whereof a fac-simile is given. The spelling is modernized:—

My Lords of Secret Council, please your Lordships to understand that we the tenants and under subscribers testify and approve to your Lordships that Angus M’Connell of Dunivaig and his forbears have been native superiors above us under His Majesty’s hands and grace. Now therefore we crave of your Lordships’ grace in respect of his native kindness of superiority over us, and specially seeing has nothing to say against him, but using us well, in all manner of form, and is willing to keep all good order that his Majesty and your Lordships will lay to his charge, therefore we beseech your Lordships for the cause of God to let us have our own native said Master your subject during his lifetime, and thereafter his eldest son and heir Sir James. This we beseech your Lordships to do for God’s cause, as we are ever bound to pray for your Lordships’ standing. We rest at Yllaye the [..] day of [..].

Your Lordships’ subjects to be commanded with service, (signed), Neil M’Ky, Officer of the Rinns, with my hand; Neil M’Kay, younger; Hector Mactavish in Kinibos; Archibald Makduphee in Ballijonen; Donald Makduphee in Killicolmane; Neil Neonach Makduphee in Migirnes; Archibald Makduphee of Skerolsay; Malcolme Makphersone in Mullindrie; Lauchlane Makirini levin in Gronozort; Neill Makphetera of Kepposiche; Donald Maktavish of Ardacheriche; Hew M’Ky of Killikeran; Donald MakGoin of Esknis.

No satisfactory reply was made. Angus’ name appears occasionally thereafter at meetings of Western Highland Potentates, and heading the Lists. But restoration was not to be; and baffled and unsupported Angus Macdonald on 1st January, 1612, for the trifling sum of 6000 merks renounced in favour of Sir John Campbell of Calder all his rights to Islay, and dying shortly thereafter, is referred to in 1614, as “umquhile Angus Macdonald called of Dunyvaig.”

The Last MacDonalds of Isla: Chiefly Selected from Original Bonds and Documents, Sometime Belonging to Sir James MacDonald, the Last of His Race, Now in the Possession of Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, F.S.A. Scot., Glasgow, 1895.

Canna, Cross, and Camel

Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate L, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate L, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate LI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.
Sculpted cross at Canna, Plate LI, Sculptured Stones of Scotland, Vol. 2, 1856.

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.

St. Columba's Church, Canna.
St. Columba’s Church, Canna.

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.

East side of Celtic cross at Canna.
East side of Celtic cross at Canna.

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).

“God thee bless, thou loved Iona.”

THE DEATH OF COLUMBA.

Saxon stranger, thou did’st wisely,
Sunder’d for a little space
From that motley stream of people
Drifting by this holy place;
With the furnace and the funnel
Through the long sea’s glancing arm,
Let them hurry back to Oban,
Where the tourist loves to swarm.
Here, upon this hump of granite,
Sit with me a quiet while,
And I’ll tell thee how Columba
Died upon this old grey isle.

I.

‘Twas in May, a breezy morning,
When the sky was fresh and bright,
And the broad blue ocean shimmer’d
With a thousand gems of light.
On the green and grassy Machar,
Where the fields are spredden wide,
And the crags in quaint confusion
Jut into the Western tide:
Here his troop of godly people,
In stout labour’s garb array’d,
Blithe their fruitful task were plying
With the hoe and with the spade.
“I will go and bless my people,”
Quoth the father, “ere I die,
But the strength is slow to follow
Where the wish is swift to fly;
I am old and feeble, Diarmid,
Yoke the oxen, be not slow,
I will go and bless my people,
Ere from earth my spirit go.”
On his ox-drawn wain he mounted,
Faithful Diarmid by his side;
Soon they reach’d the grassy Machar,
Soft and smooth, Iona’s pride:
“I am come to bless my people,
Faithful fraters, ere I die;
I had wish’d to die at Easter,
But I would not mar your joy,
Now the Master plainly calls me,
Gladly I obey his call;
I am ripe, I feel the sickle,
Take my blessing ere I fall.”
But they heard his words with weeping,
And their tears fell on the dew,
And their eyes were dimmed with sorrow,
For they knew his words were true.
Then he stood up on the waggon,
And his prayerful hands he hove,
And he spake and bless’d the people
With the blessing of his love:
“God be with you, faithful fraters,
With you now, and evermore;
Keep you from the touch of evil,
On your souls his Spirit pour;
God be with you, fellow-workmen,
And from loved Iona’s shore
Keep the blighting breath of demons,
Keep the viper’s venom’d store!”
Thus he spake, and turn’d the oxen
Townwards; sad they went, and slow,
And the people, fix’d in sorrow,
Stood, and saw the father go.

Street of the Dead, Iona.
Street of the Dead, Iona.

II.

List me further, Saxon stranger,
Note it nicely, by the causeway
On the left hand, where thou came
With the motley tourist people,
Stands a cross of figured fame.
Even now thine eye may see it,
Near the nunnery, slim and grey;—
From the waggon there Columba
Lighted on that tearful day,
And he sat beneath the shadow
Of that cross, upon a stone,
Brooding on his speedy passage
To the land where grief is none;
When, behold, the mare, the white one
That was wont the milk to bear
From the dairy to the cloister,
Stood before him meekly there,
Stood, and softly came up to him,
And with move of gentlest grace
O’er the shoulder of Columba
Thrust her piteous-pleading face,
Look’d upon him as a friend looks
On a friend that goes away,
Sunder’d from the land that loves him
By wide seas of briny spray.
“Fie upon thee for thy manners!”
Diarmid cried with lifted rod,
“Wilt thou with untimely fondness
Vex the prayerful man of God?”
“Not so, Diarmid,” cried Columba;
“Dost thou see the speechful eyne
Of the fond and faithful creature
Sorrow’d with the swelling brine?
God hath taught the mute unreasoning
What thou fail’st to understand,
That this day I pass for ever
From Iona’s shelly strand.
Have my blessing, gentle creature,
God doth bless both man and beast;
From hard yoke, when I shall leave thee,
Be thy faithful neck released.”
Thus he spoke, and quickly rising
With what feeble strength remain’d,
Leaning on stout Diarmid’s shoulder,
A green hillock’s top he gained.
There, or here where we are sitting,
Whence his eye might measure well
Both the cloister and the chapel,
And his pure and prayerful cell.
There he stood, and high uplifting
Hands whence flowed a healing grace,
Breathed his latest voice of blessing
To protect the sacred place,—
Spake such words as prophets utter
When the veil of flesh is rent,
And the present fades from vision,
On the germing future bent:
“God thee bless, thou loved Iona,
Though thou art a little spot,
Though thy rocks are grey and treeless,
Thine shalt be a boastful lot;
Thou shalt be a sign for nations;
Nurtured on thy sacred breast,
Thou shalt send on holy mission
Men to teach both East and West;
Peers and potentates shall own thee,
Monarchs of wide-sceptre’d sway
Dying shall beseech the honour
To be tomb’d beneath thy clay;
God’s dear saints shall love to name thee,
And from many a storied land
Men of clerkly fame shall pilgrim
To Iona’s little strand.”

Sunrise over Mull, from Iona.
Sunrise over Mull, from Iona.

III.

Thus the old man spake his blessing;
Then, where most he loved to dwell,
Through the well-known porch he enter’d
To his pure and prayerful cell;
And then took the holy psalter—
‘Twas his wont when he would pray—
Bound with three stout clasps of silver,
From the casket where it lay;
There he read with fixed devoutness,
And with craft full fair and fine,
On the smooth and polish’d vellum
Copied forth the sacred line,
Till he came to where the kingly
Singer sings in faithful mood,
How the younglings of the lion
Oft may roam in vain for food,
But who fear the Lord shall never
Live and lack their proper good.
Here he stopped, and said, “My latest
Now is written; what remains
I bequeath to faithful Beathan
To complete with pious pains.”
Then he rose, and in the chapel
Conned the pious vesper song
Inly to himself, for feeble
Now the voice that once was strong;
Hence with silent step returning
To his pure and prayerful cell,
On the round smooth stone he laid him
Which for pallet served him well.
Here some while he lay; then rising,
To a trusty brother said:
“Brother, take my parting message,
Be my last words wisely weigh’d.
‘Tis an age of brawl and battle;
Men who seek not God to please,
With wild sweep of lawless passion
Waste the land and scourge the seas.
Not like them be ye; be loving,
Peaceful, patient, truthful, bold,
But in service of your Master
Use no steel and seek no gold.”
Thus he spake; but now there sounded
Through the night the holy bell
That to Lord’s-day matins gather’d
Every monk from every cell.
Eager at the sound, Columba
In the way foresped the rest,
And before the altar kneeling,
Pray’d with hands on holy breast.
Diarmid followed; but a marvel Flow’d
upon his wondering eyne,—
All the windows shone with glorious
Light of angels in the shrine.
Diarmid enter’d; all was darkness.
“Father!” But no answer came.
“Father! art thou here, Columba ?”
Nothing answer’d to the name.
Soon the troop of monks came hurrying,
Each man with a wandering light,
For great fear had come upon them,
And a sense of strange affright.
“Diarmid! Diarmid! is the father
With thee? Art thou here alone ?”
And they turn’d their lights and found him
On the pavement lying prone.
And with gentle hands they raised him,
And he mildly look’d around,
And he raised his arm to bless them,
But it dropped upon the ground;
And his breathless body rested
On the arms that held him dear,
And his dead face look’d upon them
With a light serene and clear;
And they said that holy angels
Surely hover’d round his head,
For alive no loveliest ever
Look’d so lovely as this dead.

Stranger, thou hast heard my story,
Thank thee for thy patient ear;
We are pleased to stir the sleeping
Memory of old greatness here.
I have used no gloss, no varnish,
To make fair things fairer look;
As the record stands, I give it,
In the old monks’ Latin book.
Keep it in thy heart, and love it,
Where a good thing loves to dwell;
It may help thee in thy dying,
If thou care to use it well.

— John Stuart Blackie, Lays of the Highlands and Islands (1872).

The Sacred Wreck

An isometric drawing of monastery buildings restored by the Iona Community by the architect, Ian Gordon Lindsay. The restoration was completed in 1965.
An isometric drawing of monastery buildings restored by the Iona Community by the architect, Ian Gordon Lindsay. The restoration was completed in 1965.

XXX. IONA.

ON to Iona!—What can she afford
To us save matter for a thoughtful sigh,
Heaved over ruin with stability
In urgent contrast? To diffuse the Word
(Thy paramount, mighty Nature! and time’s Lord)
Her temples rose, mid pagan gloom; but why,
Even for a moment, has our verse deplored
Their wrongs, since they fulfilled their destiny?
And when, subjected to a common doom
Of mutability, those far-famed piles
Shall disappear from both the sister isles,
Iona’s saints, forgetting not past days,
Garlands shall wear of amaranthine bloom,
While heaven’s vast sea of voices chants their praise.

XXXI. IONA.

(Upon Landing)

HOW sad a welcome! To each voyager
Some ragged child holds up for sale a store
Of wave-worn pebbles, pleading on the shore
Where once came monk and nun with gentle stir,
Blessings to give, news ask, or suit prefer.
Yet is yon neat, trim church a grateful speck
Of novelty amid the sacred wreck
Strewn far and wide. Think, proud philosopher!
Fallen though she be, this glory of the west,
Still on her sons the beams of mercy shine;
And hopes, perhaps more heavenly bright than thine,
A grace by thee unsought and unpossest,
A faith more fixed, a rapture more divine,
Shall gild their passage to eternal rest.

XXXII. THE BLACK STONES OF IONA.

[See Martin’s Voyage among the Western Isles.]

Here on their knees men swore: the stones were black,
Black in the People’s minds and words, yet they
Were at that time, as now, in colour grey.
But what is colour, if upon the rack
Of conscience souls are placed by deeds that lack
Concord with oaths? What differ night and day
Then, when before the Perjured on his way
Hell opens, and the heavens in vengeance crack
Above his head uplifted in vain prayer
To Saint, or Fiend, or to the Godhead whom
He had insulted–Peasant, King, or Thane?
Fly where the culprit may, guilt meets a doom;
And, from invisible worlds at need laid bare,
Come links for social order’s awful chain.

— William Wordsworth, The Poetical Works, vol. 5, Sonnets Composed or Suggested During a Tour in Scotland, in the Summer of 1833, London: Edward Moxon, 1837.

Dean Monro on Jura

Map of Jura, Joan Blaeu, Theatrum orbis terrarum sive Atlas novus, vol. v., 1654.
Map of Jura, Joan Blaeu, Theatrum orbis terrarum sive Atlas novus, vol. v., 1654.

Duray. Nairest that iyle layes Duray, ane ather fyne forrest for deire, inhabit and manurit at the coist syde, part be Clandonald of Kyntyre, pairt be Mac Gullayne of Douard, pairt be M’ Gellayne of Kinlochbuy, pairt be M’ Duffithie of Colvansay, ane iyle of twenty-four myle of length, lyand from the southwest to the northeist twale myle of sea from Gigay above written, and ane myle from Ha, quhar is twa Loches meetand uthers throughe mide iyle of salt water, to the lenthe of ane haff myle, and all the deire of the west pairt of that forrest, will be cahit be tainchess to that narrow entrey, and the next day callit west againe, be tainchess through the said narrow entres, and infinit deire slaine there, pairt of small woods. This iyle, as the ancient iylanders alledges, should be callit Deiray, taking the name from the Deire innorne Leid, quhilk has given it that name in auld times. In this iyle there is twa guid and save raids for shipps, the ane callit Lubnalierie, and the uther Loche Terbart, fornent others; the greatest hills in this iyle are chieflie Bencheelis, Bensenta, Corben, Benannoyre in Ardlaysay, ane chappel sometime the paroch kirke Kiternadill. The water of Lasay ther, the watter of Udergan, the watter of Glongargister, the waters of Knockbraick, Lindill, Caray, Ananbilley, all thir waters salmond slaine upon them, this iyle is full nobell coelts with certaine fresche water Loches, with meikell of profit.

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.

Mecca of the Gael

Iona Abbey.
Iona Abbey.

In spiritual geography Iona is the Mecca of the Gael. It is but a small isle, fashioned of a little sand, a few grasses salt with the spray of an ever-restless wave, a few rocks that wade in heather and upon whose brows the sea-wind weaves the yellow lichen. But since the remotest days sacrosanct men have bowed here in worship. In this little island a lamp was lit whose flame lighted pagan Europe, from the Saxon in his fens to the swarthy folk who came by Greek waters to trade the Orient. Here Learning and Faith had their tranquil home, when the shadow of the sword lay upon all lands, from Syracuse by the Tyrrhene Sea to the rainy isles of Orcc. From age to age, lowly hearts have never ceased to bring their burthen here. Iona herself has given us for remembrance a fount of youth more wonderful than that which lies under her own boulders of Dûn-I. And here Hope waits. To tell the story of Iona is to go back to God, and to end in God. Fiona MacLeod (William Sharp), Iona.