St Machor was one of the disciples of St Columba, the famous apostle of the Northern Picts and founder of the celebrated monastery of Iona. According to the ‘Aberdeen Breviary,’ “sanctum virum gignit Hibernia, educavit illum Albania, cujus corpus in reverentia Turonensis tenet ecclesia.” He was the son of Syaconus or Fiachna, an Irish kingling, and Synchena or Finchœmia, his wife, both of whom appear to have been Christians. At baptism, a rite which, according to the ‘Aberdeen Breviary’ was performed for him by St Colman, he received the name of Mocumma. St Colman was also his first instructor. Proofs and indications of his sanctity were vouchsafed while he was yet a child. Angels visited him, and hovered around his home and cradle; at the touch of his body his dead brother was restored to life, and twice he was miraculously delivered from death by drowning and by fire. Sent by his father to be instructed by St Columba, he soon became a most devoted scholar and disciple of that saint. When Columba was about to leave Ireland for Scotland, Mocumma refused to be left behind, and resolved to leave his country and home and friends in order to be with him. Overjoyed with the zeal and attachment of his disciple, Columba changed his name from Mocumma to Machor or Machar. When they landed on the island of Iona, Machor was carried ashore by a certain Melluma. After the cells had been built and the community thoroughly established in their new home, St Columba sent Machor to evangelise the island of Mull. There he preached the Gospel over the whole land and healed seven lepers. Returning to Iona after the completion of his work in Mull, he devoted himself to study and to the copying of the Scriptures, one of the chief works in which the disciples of Columba were engaged. One day as he wrote the light failed him, but blowing on “his fyngre-end,” a bright light immediately issued from it, and lighted him until his task was done. The fame which this and other miracles brought him, soon caused great companies to gather around him, offering him gifts, all of which, however, he refused to accept. On the other hand, his fellow-disciples were moved with jealousy, and attempted to poison him. Alarmed for the personal safety of his favourite disciple, Columba advised him to withdraw from the island, and preach the Gospel elsewhere. Machor accepted his advice, and Columba gave him seven, or, according to another account, twelve companions, a bishop’s staff, a girdle, two coats, and a number of books, and then sent him away in a “galay” or boat, but not before his fellow-disciples who had made the attempt on his life had been reconciled to him. Machor landed in the north of Scotland, where a Christian man named Farcare resided, who received him with great joy, and allowed him to choose any portion of his land on which to build his cell. After much searching, he selected a piece in the shape of a bishop’s staff, which answered to the description Columba had given him of the place where he was to fix his dwelling. Here he caused a “costly kirk” to be built, and miraculously provided a supply of water for the thirsty workmen. Here also he collected round him a great company of disciples. St Devenick came to visit him, and the two agreed that St Devenick should preach the Gospel in Caithness, and that St Machor should confine himself to the Picts. St Machor threw himself into his work with great earnestness, and converted a large number of Picts and wrought numerous miracles. He changed a bear, which was destroying the harvest, into a stone; he overcame a heathen sorcerer named Dinon or Dron, and then converted and baptised him; he gave sight to a man that was born blind, and raised Synchenus, who belonged to the kindred of St Columba, from death to life; two young Irishmen, attracted by his fame, having mocked him, came by a violent end; having ploughed a large field which was lean and dry, and seed failing him with which to sow it, he sent to borrow some from St Teman, who sent instead a sack of sand — but sowing this, it sprang up and bore an abundant harvest; a bone which had stuck in the throat of a man Avho had despised him, he safely extracted, and received in return a piece of land on which to build a church. One day St Teman came to visit him; he entertained him, and the two held a long conversation on heavenly things, Machor becoming the instructor of his visitor, and causing him to marvel at his wisdom. As he lay on the point of death St Devenick besought his disciples to carry his dead body to one of the churches of St Machor for burial, and, instructed by a vision, the latter went to meet the funeral procession. He met it near the Hill of Croscan, and accompanied it to Banchory-Devenick, where the saint was buried, and a church erected over his tomb. When St Columba proceeded on his pilgrimage to Rome, Machor accompanied him. Both were graciously received by Gregory the Great, who appointed Machor bishop of the Picts, or, according to another account, bishop of Tours, changed his name to Morice or Mauritius, and instructed him in the duties of a bishop. On their return journey Columba and Machor visited Tours. The clergy of that city were then searching for the body of St Martin. On applying to St Columba for assistance, he promised to help them on the condition that he should have whatever he found with the body. His search was successful and along with the body he found a missal or “a book of the Gospel,” which he treasured all the remainder of his life as a precious relic. St Columba then took his way home, but left Machor, much against his will, though at the earnest request of the people of Tours. For the space of three years and a half St Machor occupied the Chair of St Martin, by whom he was visited. His deathbed was visited by St Martin from heaven, by St Columba from Iona, and by the Son of God, and ever and around it were the company of the Apostles, and a great host of heavenly beings.
The old Latin life from which the six lections in the ‘Aberdeen Breviary,’ November 12, and the passages in Colgan’s ‘Trias Thaumaturga,’ 318, 514, appear to have been taken, is now lost. Besides these, cf. Reeves, ‘Life of St Columba by Adamnan’; Forbes, ‘Kal. of Scottish Saints,’ sub Mauritius; J. Smith, ‘Life of St Columba.’ The narrative given in the Legend is the longest and fullest and most important known. Machor is mentioned in the Arbuthnott and Aberdeen Calendars, and in Adam King’s, where he is said to have lived during the reign of ‘King Soluathius in Scotland.” The ‘Menologium Scotium’ refers to him, January 15 and November 12. and in the Calendar of David Camerarius he occurs under November 13.
His day is November 12.
— John Barbour, Legends of the Saints, ed. W. M. Metcalfe, Vol. III, Edinburgh: Wm. Blackwood and Sons, 1896.
CAMPBELTOWN is built on what was originally the seat of the Dalriadan monarchy. About the middle of the third century Cormac, King of Ireland, quelled a dispute which had arisen between two tribes, and during this civil war Cormac’s cousin, Cairbre-Riada, conquered a district in the north-east of Ireland, which he called Dalriada, or the portion of Riada. About 503 A.D. the three sons of Erc, the then King of Dalriada, named respectively Loarn, Fergus, and Angus, settled a colony on the promontory of Cantyre, which was effected by peaceful means. These three chiefs then each took possession of a separate territory. Fergus took Cantyre, Loarn took what is now known as the district of Lorne, and Angus is said to have taken possession of Isla. When Campbeltown was the seat of the Dalriadan monarchy it bore the name of Dalruadhain. In the sixth century St. Ciarnan landed here, and lived in a cave known as Cove-a-Chiarnan. He became the patron saint of all Cantyre or Kintyre, and having founded a church at Dalruadhain, the place became known as Chille-a-Chiarnan, which has been modernised to Kilkerran. After this the Macdonalds of the Isles took Kilkerran for a capital, built a castle, and rebuilt the town, calling it Kinlochkerran, which means the head of Ciarnan’s Loch. It is said that King James IV. built the castle, and called it his “new castle of Kilkerane in Kintyre.” He seemed to have resided here in 1498. King James V. had many conflicts with the Macdonalds, and as he was unable to subdue them, he granted the place to the Campbells of Argyle, and they, after many fierce struggles, almost depopulated it. On account of this grant the place once more changed its name, and has since been known as Campbeltown.
The town was erected into a Royal Burgh in 1700, and the charter states that this was done at the desire of Archibald, the tenth Earl of Argyll, who was made Duke of Argyll in the following year. Previous to this it had been a Burgh of Barony, and the charter quotes a charter of King James VI., which ordained that “for the better entertaining and continuing of civility and policy within the Hielandes and lies,” . . . “that there be erected and builded within the bounds thereof, three burghes and burrowetowns, in the maist conuenient and commodious partes meet for the samen; to wit, ane in Kintyre, another in Lochaber, and the third in the Lewis.”
The Seal of the Burgh of Campbeltown is as follows: A shield divided into four. In the first quarter a castle; the second quarter gyronny of eight; the third quarter a lymphad, with sail furled and oars in action; and in the fourth quarter a fret. Beneath is the motto, “Ignavis precibus fortuna repugnat,” meaning “Fate is deaf to idle prayers.”
The castle represents the old castle of Campbeltown, the site of which is now occupied by the parish church, which was built in 1780.
The gyronny of eight is the armorial bearings of the Clan Campbell. Nisbet speaks of the gyronny as follows: “The giron is a French word which signifies the lap—one sitting with knees apart if line drawn from one knee to the other the space within makes a giron with the point in gremio. So all girons are of a triangular or conal form, broad at one end and sharp at the other. The first is at the sides of the shield, and the other ends at the naval, or centre point of the shield. They are said to represent triangular pieces of stuff, commonly called gussets, placed in garments and women’s smokes, to make them wide below and narrow above. . . . This armorial figure is frequent in armorial bearings in Europe, and . . . has its rise in armouries from the robes, gowns, and coats of armour used by the ancients.”
The lymphad, an old-fashioned ship with one mast and oars, is the armorial bearings of the ancient House of Lorne, because in ancient times the Island chiefs held their lands under the tenure of providing one or more ships for the use of the sovereign.
The fret sable is the armorial bearings of Baron Tollemache. At the time of the erection of the Burgh, Lady Elizabeth Tollemache was the wife of the then Earl of Argyll, and the device was adopted by the Burgh in compliment to her. The fret is a figure composed of a narrow saltire or cross and a mascle, which are interlaced. Nisbet says that the mascle “is a lozenge voided of the field—i.e., with the centre cut out. Heralds make it represent different things—the eye or ring to fasten a coat of mail. Others the mesh of a net; others mirrors.” And regarding the fret, he says: “Mr Thomas Crawford, in the fragments of his ‘Manuscript of Heraldry,’ . . . says the fret is . . . a badge of fastness and fidelity, like a knot or tie of ribbons . . . is called by some English heralds the herald’s love-knot, because it is devised by them as an armorial bearing.” In Seton’s “Heraldry” it is said that the origin of the lozenge has been variously accounted for, and Sylvanus Morgan says that while the form of the shield was taken from Adam’s spade, that of the lozenge was derived from Eve’s spindle.
THE earliest notice of Inverary is in a charter dated 8th May 1472 granted to Colin, first Earl of Argyll, erecting Inverary, or “Inoureyra” as it is there spelt, into a Burgh of Barony. It takes its name from being situated “on the Aray,” and Queen Mary in 1554 “for policie to be hade within this realme, and increasing of vertue within the samyn, created the burgh of the Innerrara a free royal burgh forever—appointed Archibald, Earl of Ergile, customer of the burgh for life, and gave power to the Provost, Baillies, Councillors, community and inhabitants to build a pretorium for the administration of justice.” This “pretorium” was used till about 1754, and was the first of the kind in Argyleshire. Then another court house and prison were built, which is now used by the Chamberlain of Argyll as an office. The town obtained another charter from King Charles I. in 1648.
The Seal bears in the centre a shield, with horizontal wavy lines representing the sea, and with five herrings swimming into a net which is shown suspended at one side. Above the shield is the name Inverary, and surrounding the lower part, the motto “Semper tibi pendeat halec” which may be freely translated “May the fish sauce always be ready for you.”
As the principal industry of the Burgh is the herring fishing in Lochfyne, the design speaks for itself, and is intended to represent a net set in the loch with herrings entering it.
The motto, however, requires a word of explanation, as it seems to refer to the fishing industry being the most important of all industries, and the Lochfyne herrings being the finest of all fish. The Latin word halec or alec is translated in dictionaries as “the sediment of a costly fish sauce called garum; and the meaning of garum is given as “a thick sauce-fish sauce.” This garum was much used by the Romans in almost all their dishes, and seems to have been very expensive. It is said that the most esteemed was that which came from Antipolis and Dalmatia, but Horace praises that made at Byzance, and says that it was considered the best as well as the most expensive. Pliny says that garum is a liquid of a very exquisite nature made from the intestines of fish, and several parts which would otherwise be discarded. These are macerated in salt, and, he says, garum is, in fact, the result of their putrefaction. He also remarks that it was originally prepared from a fish called “garos” by the Greeks. He then proceeds to speak of “alec” which, he says, is the refuse of garum, or its dregs when imperfectly strained. He also tells us that in course of time this alec became a great object of luxury, and that an infinite number of different kinds of it were made, and he adds that garum also became much improved, and was made to resemble the colour of old honied wine, and that it was so pleasantly flavoured as to admit of being drunk as a beverage. Possibly the Romans knew the delicacy of the Lochfyne herrings, and from their indulgence in them, or the alec made from them, the motto may have originated.
From time immemorial this part of Lochfyne has been celebrated for its herrings, and the “Old Statistical Account” says that the harbour of Inverary was anciently called Slochk Ichopper, meaning a Gullet where vessels bought or bartered for fish, and it goes on to say that “anciently the French merchants used to come and barter their wines for herrings, as there is a point of land, about 3 miles south of Inverary, still called the Frenchman’s point; and the tradition of the country is that it was to that particular spot the herrings were in use to be brought, in order to be cured and sold.”
LOCHGILPHEAD came under the provisions of the various previous Police Acts in 1858, and under the Burgh Police Act of 1892 adopted as the Common Seal a design illustrative of the fishing industries of the place. The Seal is—On a shield an anchor with a cable, and across the anchor and in front is a herring. The whole is encircled by a cable. Beneath, as the motto, is the Gaelic word “Dochas” meaning “Hope.”
Loch Gilp, at the “head” of which the town is situated, is said to take its name from the Gaelic Gilb meaning a chisel, from the shape of the loch bearing a fancied resemblance to that tool.
THE “Old Statistical Account” tells us that about 1714 the first house of any consequence was erected in Oban by a trading company of Renfrew, which used it as a storeroom. In 1736 a custom-house was erected “Oban being reckoned a proper place for clearing out vessels for the herring fishery.” About 1774 “there were from 20 to 30 vessels registered at Oban which were chiefly employed in the fisheries; but from the decrease of that trade on the N.-W. coast the number of vessels is now much smaller.” In 1811 it was erected into a Burgh of Barony in favour of the Duke of Argyll. But the Court of Session afterwards set this charter aside, and another charter was granted in 1820 in favour of the Duke of Argyll and Mr Campbell of Combie. The town was made a Parliamentary Burgh in 1833.
The Seal of the Burgh is a shield in the base of which is a representation of the galley of Lorn with oars in action, and beneath, in the sea, a fish swimming. In the left hand chief is a lion rampant, the Scottish Arms; and in the right hand chief the Campbell Gyronny. The motto beneath “Air aghart” is in old Celtic characters, and is the Gaelic for “Forward.” The fish refers to the nature of the industry long carried on by the inhabitants of the town before it became famous as a watering-place.
DUNOON adopted the Lindsay Act of 1862 in that year, and, under the provisions of the Burgh Police Act of 1892, took the following device as the Common Seal of the Burgh.
The lower division of the shield on the Seal bears a representation of the ancient Castle of Dunoon, beneath the shadow of which the town of Old Dunoon arose. The old castle, which crowned a rocky headland between the east and west bays, takes one back into the dark mists of antiquity. Some antiquarians think it was founded by remote Dalriadic chieftains in the early years of the sixth century, and, later on, to have been a stronghold of Scandinavian rovers. Some allege that it was at one time a nunnery, and that the name of the town comes from the Gaelic Dun-no-oigh, meaning “the house of the virgins.” But the origin of the name is uncertain, though Buchanan derives it from the Gaelic dun, a castle, and nuadh, new, and calls it Novio-dunum.
From the reign of Malcolm Canmore the castle was the seat of the Lord High Stewards of Scotland, and when King Robert II., son of Walter Stewart, and grandson of King Robert Bruce, came to the throne, it became a Royal palace, and was placed under the hereditary keepership of the Campbells of Lochow, the ancestors of the Dukes of Argyll. As they lived in it, their vassals and attendants had houses built in the neighbourhood for them to reside in, which houses were the origin of the town, and the ferry between this place and Greenock gave an additional importance to it. Part of the feudal tenure by which one of the proprietors in the vicinity holds his lands is that of maintaining this ferry across the Clyde.
The castle seemed to have covered an acre of ground, and to have had three towers. By Royal charter of 1472, Colin, Earl of Argyll, Lorne, and Campbell, obtained certain lands round the Castle of Dunoon. These lands he held of the crown for a white rose, shown at the bottom of the Seal. In 1544 the castle was besieged and taken by the Earl of Lennox, who had desired to be Regent during the infancy of Mary Queen of Scots, and on 26th July 1563 Queen Mary herself visited it. In 1646 it was the scene of a cruel atrocity perpetrated by the Campbells on the Lamonts of Cowal and Bute. Thirty-six of these were conveyed from the houses of Escog and Castle-Toward to the village of Dunoon and hanged on an ash tree at the kirkyard. “Insomuch that the Lord from heaven did declare His wrath and displeasure by striking the said tree immediately thereafter, so that the whole leaves fell from it, and the tree withered, which, being cut down, there sprang out of the very heart of the root thereof a spring like unto blood purpling up, and that for several years till the said murderers or their favourers did cause howk out the root.” After this the castle was utterly neglected and fell to ruin. Its stones were taken to build neighbouring cottages, and now its outline can hardly be traced, but it is believed there are a vast number of vaults underground.
The upper division of the shield bears a steamboat, indicating that the town received a new lease of life by the introduction of steamers on the Clyde. The shield is surrounded by Scotch thistles, and the recently added motto, “Forward,” shows that continuous prosperity is looked for.
TOBERMORY, in the island of Mull, was founded in 1788 by “The British Society for extending the Fisheries and improving the Sea coasts of the Kingdom.” In 1875 it adopted the Lindsay Act, and under the Burgh Police Act of 1892 designed a Common Seal as follows:—
On a background of thistles a shield divided into four. The first quarter bears a representation of the Virgin and Child, the Virgin being the patron saint of the Burgh, hence the origin of the name from the Gaelic Tobar Moire, the Well of the Virgin Mary. This was originally a fountain which, in the days of popery, was dedicated to the Virgin. In the second quarter is a dolphin spouting water; in the third, an ancient galley with flags on the mast and at the stern; and in the fourth, a fish, probably a herring. These three latter devices are emblematic of the scheme for the foundation of the town, and its subsequent development as a fishing centre.
Regarding the dolphin, we are told by Nisbet: “The dolphin is taken for the King of Fishes . . . for his strength and swiftness in the pursuit of other fishes his prey, and is said to be an admirer of men, so as to be humane, and a lover of music, for which he is often used in arms and devices. Ulysses is said by Aldrovandus to have carried the dolphin on his shield. . . . Hopingius says, that Ulysses carried the dolphin on his shield and signet-ring, upon the account of that creature’s humanity for saving his son Telemachus when he fell into the sea.”
The motto “Ceartas” is a Gaelic word, meaning justice or equity.
— Porteous, Alexander, The Town Council Seals of Scotland; Historical, Legendary and Heraldic, Edinburgh: W. & A. K. Johnson, 1906.
“Son of Brendan, I have willed it;
I will leave this land and go
To a land of savage mountains,
Where the Borean breezes blow;
To a land of rainy torrents,
And of barren, treeless isles,
Where the winter frowns are lavish,
And the summer scantly smiles;
I will leave this land of bloodshed,
Where fierce brawls and battles sway,
And will preach God’s peaceful Gospel
In a grey land, far away.”
Beathan spake, the son of Brendan—
“Son of Phelim, art thou wise?
Wilt thou change the smiling Erin,
For the scowling Pictish skies?
Thou, the lealest son of Erin,
Thou, a prince of royal line,
Sprung by right descent from mighty
Neill, whose hostages were nine?
Wilt thou seek the glens of Albyn,
For repose from loveless strife?
Glens, where feuds, from sire to grandson,
Fan the wasteful flame of life?
Wilt thou leave a land of learning,
Home of ancient holy lore,
To converse with uncouth people,
Fishing on a shelvy shore?
Wilt thou leave the homes of Gartan,
Where thou suck’d the milky food
From the mother-breast of Aithne,
Daughter of Lagenian blood?
Wilt thou leave the oaks of Derry,
Where each leaf is dear to thee,
Wandering, in a storm-tost wherry,
O’er the wide, unpastured sea?
Son of Phelim, Beathan loves thee,
Be thou zealous, but be wise!
There be heathens here in Erin;
Preach to them ‘neath kindly skies.”
Then the noble son of Phelim,
With the big tear in his eye,
To the blameless son of Brendan
Firmly thus made swift reply—
“Son of Brendan, I have heard thee,
Heard thee with a bleeding heart;
For I love the oaks of Derry,
And to leave them gives me smart;
But the ban of God is on me,
Not my will commands the way;
Molaise priest of Innishmurry
Hights me go, and I obey.
For their death is heavy on me
Whom I slew in vengeful mood,
At the battle of Culdremhne,
In the hotness of my blood.
For the lord that rules at Tara,
In some brawl that grew from wine,
Slew young Carnan, branch of promise,
And a kinsman of my line;
And the human blood within me
Mounted, and my hand did slay,
For the fault of one offender
Many on that tearful day;
And I soil’d the snow-white vestment
With which Etchen, holy man,
Clonfad’s mitred elder, clad me
When I join’d the priestly clan;
And my soul was rent with anguish,
And my sorrows were increased,
And I went to Innishmurry,
Seeking solace from the priest.
And the saintly Molaise told me—
‘For the blood that thou hast spilt,
God hath shown me one atonement
To make clear thy soul from guilt;
Count the hundreds of the Christians
Whom thy sword slew to thy blame,
Even so many souls of heathens
Must thy word with power reclaim;
Souls of rough and rude sea-rovers,
Used to evil, strange to good,
Picts beyond the ridge of Albyn,
In the Pagan realm of Brude.’
Thou hast heard me, son of Brendan;
I have will’d it; and this know,
Thou with me, or I without thee,
On this holy hest will go!”
Beathan heard, with meek agreement,
For he knew that Colum’s will,
Like a rock against the ocean,
Still was fix’d for good or ill.
“Son of Phelim, I have heard thee;
I and Cobhtach both will go,
Past the wintry ridge of Albyn,
O’er the great sea’s foamy flow;
Far from the green oaks of Deny,
Where the cuckoo sings in May,
From the land of falling waters
Far, and clover’s green display;
Where Columba leads we follow,
Fear with him I may not know,
Where the God thou servest calls thee,
Son of Phelim, I will go.”
“Son of Brendan, I am ready;
Is the boat all staunch and trim?
Light our osier craft and steady,
Like an ocean gull to swim?
I have cast all doubt behind me,
Seal’d with prayer my holy vow,
And the God who heard me answers
With assuring presence now.”
And the son of Brendan answer’d—
“Son of Phelim, thou shalt be
Like God’s angel-guidance to us
As we plough the misty sea.
We are ready, I and Cobhtach,
Diarmid in thy service true,
Rus and Fechno, sons of Rodain,
Scandal, son of Bresail, too;
Ernan, Luguid Mocatheimne,
Echoid, and Tochannu brave,
Grillan and the son of Branduh,
Brush with thee the briny wave.”
Thus spake he: Columba lifted
High his hand to bless the wherry,
And they oar’d with gentle oarage
From the dear-loved oaks of Derry;
Loath to leave each grassy headland,
Shiny beach and pebbly bay,
Thymy slope and woody covert,
Where the cuckoo hymn’d the May;
Loath from some familiar cabin’s
Wreathy smoke to rend their eye,
Where a godly widow harbour’d
Laughing girl or roguish boy.
On they oar’d, and soon behind them
Left thy narrow pool, Loch Foyle,
And the grey sea spread before them
Many a broad unmeasured mile.
Swiftly now on bounding billow
On they run before the gale,
For a strong south-wester blowing
Strain’d the bosom of their sail.
On they dash: the Rhinns of Islay
Soon they reach, and soon they pass;
Cliff and bay, and bluffy foreland,
Flit as in a magic glass.
What is this before them rising
Northward from the foamy spray?
Land, I wis—an island lorded
By the wise Macneill to-day,
Then a brown and barren country,
Cinctured by the ocean grey.
On they scud; and there they landed,
And they mounted on a hill,
Whence the far-viewed son of Brendan
Look’d, and saw green Erin still.
“Say’st thou so, thou son of Brendan?”
Quoth Columba; “then not here
May we rest from tossing billow
With light heart and conscience clear,
Lest our eyes should pine a-hunger
For the land we hold so dear,
And our coward keel returning
Stint the vow that brought us here.”
So they rose and trimmed their wherry,
And their course right on they hold
Northward, where the wind from Greenland
Blows on Albyn clear and cold;
When, behold, a cloud came darkling
From the west, with gusty bore,
And the horrent waves rose booming
Eastward, with ill-omen’d roar;
And the night came down upon them,
And the sea with yeasty sweep
Hiss’d around them, as the wherry
Stagger’d through the fretted deep.
Eastward, eastward, back they hurried,
For to face the flood was vain,
Every rib of their light wherry
Creaking to the tempest’s strain;
Eastward, eastward, till the morning
Glimmer’d through the pitchy storm,
And reveal’d the frowning Scarba,
And huge Jura’s cones enorm.
“Blessed God,” cried now Columba,
“Here, indeed, may danger be
From the mighty whirl and bubble
Of the cauldron of the sea;
Here it was that noble Breacan
Perish’d in the gulfing wave—
Here we, too, shall surely perish,
If not God be quick to save!”
Spake: and with his hand he lifted
High the cross above the brine;
And he cried, “Now, God, I thank Thee
Thou hast sent the wished-for sign!
For, behold, thou son of Brendan,
There upon the topmost wave,
Sent from God, a sign to save us
Float the bones of Breacan brave!
And his soul this self-same moment,
From the girth of purging fire,
Leaps redeem’d, as we are ‘scaping
From the huge sea-cauldron dire.”
Spake: and to the name of Breacan
Droop’d the fretful-crested spray;
And full soon a mild south-easter
Blew the surly storm away.
Little now remains to tell ye,
Gentles, of great Phelim’s son;
How he clave the yielding billow
Till lona’s strand he won.
Back they steer’d, still westward, westward;
Past the land where high Ben More
Nods above the isles that quaintly
Fringe its steep and terraced shore.
On they cut—still westward! westward!
On with favouring wind and tide,
Past the pillar’d crags of Carsaig
Fencing Mull’s sun-fronting side,
Pass the narrow Ross, far-stretching
Where the rough and ruddy rocks
Rudely rise in jumbled hummocks
Of primeval granite blocks;
Till they come to where lona
Rears her front of hoary crags,
Fenced by many a stack and skerry
Full of rifts, and full of jags;
And behind a small black islet
Through an inlet’s narrow space,
Sail’d into a bay white bosom’d,
In the island’s southward face.
Then with eager step they mounted
To the high rock’s beetling brow—
“Canst thou see, thou far-view’d Beathan,
Trace of lovely Erin now?”
“No! thou son of Phelim, only
Mighty Jura’s Paps I see,
These and Isla’s Rhynns, but Erin
Southward lies in mist from me.”
“Thank thee, God !” then cried Columba;
“Here our vows are paid, and here
We may rest from tossing billow,
With light heart and conscience clear.”
Downward then their way they wended
To the pure and pebbly bay,
And, with holy cross uplifted,
Thus did saintly Colum say—
“In the sand we now will bury
This trim craft that brought us here,
Lest we think on oaks of Derry,
And the land we hold so dear;
Then they dug a trench, and sank it
In the sand, to seal their vow,
With keel upwards, as who travels
In the sand may see it now.
— John Stuart Blackie, Lays of the Highlands and Islands (1872).
BY REV. DUGALD MACECHERN, B. D. (Translated by Author.)
HARP of my own dear country,
Trembling against my bosom,
Sweeter to me are thy strains
Than all of the wide world’s music,
Shapely thy curving neck
Like the wild swan afloat on the ocean,
Gleaming thy sun-bright strings,
Like the golden hair of my dear one.
What ah! what can express
Like the harp’s wild tender trembling,
Love that lies in the heart
Like a precious jewel hidden?
Sweet to me is the viol
When move in the dance the maidens,
Dear to me are the pipes
When my sword is red in the battle,
But ’tis the harp should be tuned
With slender and swift-moving finger,
When in her song my dear one,
Sweet-throated, her love confesseth.
Tell me thy secret, my harp,
Who taught thee to tremble in music?
Was it the ocean crooning
To th’ yellow sands and the sea-wrack?
Say, were thy tutors the lark
And the tuneful thrush of the wild-grove,
Blast of the giant bens
And whisper of wind-kissed forest,
Chant of the waterfall where
The stream leaps down from the mountains,
These, and in glens of our love
The songs of the sweet-throated maidens,
Say, were thy tutors these?
Who taught thee to tremble in music—
Music of kings in the times
When the Sun in his youth was shining,
Music of more than heroes
In the days of Fingal and Ossian.
Coll of the waves! Eilean Chola,
Musical were thy children,
Thine was the last of the line
Of the old-time harpers of Albyn,
Sad was thy heart, oh Murdoch!
When last thou tunedst the harp-strings,
Sad was thy heart, and the ship
Like a seagull out on the ocean,
Passing tby spray-swept island,
Bearing the Prince of thy bosom,
Bearing Prince Charlie an exile
Out on the sorrowful ocean,
Saying good-bye to Albyn
And to the crown of his fathers—
The golden crown of his fathers
Lost on the field of battle,
And to the land of the heroes
Who unto death were faithful.
Passed thy prince from thy view
Till the sail seemed merged in the ocean,
Passed—and together that hour
Thy harp and thy heart were broken.
Never again did thy song
Rise in the halls of the chieftains,
Never in Coll of the waves
In the eyrie of Tighearn Chola.
Even as the rose will shut
When her lover the Sun is departed,
So didst thou close thy heart,
The music, the glory departed.
Music with thee was laid
In thy grave in Mull of the mountains.
How could the strings be tuned
When lost were the rights of our fathers.
Banned was the tartan plaid
And they cursed the tongue of the mountains;
Who, who could tune thy strings
And the land of the Gael dishonoured?
Harp of the kings, let us sing
In the ears of the wise of the nation,
Standing on steps of the throne
Of the Scot-descended Edward,
Close to the Destiny Stone,
The stone of the Scots and of Aidan—
Sing how a nation alone
May stand forever unshaken.
Red and strong is the blood
Where the wind is scented with heather,
Races of heroes are bred
On the purple breasts of mountains,
Often the heroes of hills
Have hurled back doom from a nation—
Have we forgotten Omdurman
And Hector in crisis of battle?
Sing how the blood of the cities,
Swiftly degenerate, faileth,
Sing of proud kingdoms that fell
Their children forsaking the mountains.
Harp of the Scots, thou art kin
To the harp that is slumbering in Tara,
Shall we not therefore sing
Together our songs, O Erin?
Branches we are of the stem
Whose roots reach the ages forgotten,
Proudly the harp of the Gael
In the banner of Erin is floating,
Proudly in veins of the king
The blood of the Gael is flowing—
Blood of the Scots of Dalriad,
Blood of O’Neil and of Canmore.
Here in the hands of our love
Is balm for the wounds of thy bosom,
Thy deep, red wounds—and thy grief
Shall vanish like visions with morning.
Cease from your terrible tears,
O dark-haired daughters of sorrow,
Golden and beautiful breaks
The morn on the hilltops of Erin!
Harp of the world-scattered Gaels,
Sing how the Gaels are in number
Even as the stars; how in strength
They are sinew and muscle of empires.
Brothers they are, of our blood,
Though spread to the four winds of heaven,
Brothers, if exiles, still,
Though their white-sailed ships return not.
What if the straths are forlorn,
The Blood of the race is not passing,
What if the language should fail,
The Race of the Gael is not dying!
See how the Gaels are in number
As sands on the marge of the wild wave,
Conquering with hands of toil
The cities and lands of the stranger;
Under the sun of the Indies
And in the lands over ocean,
Wielding the axe of the settler
Far in the depths of the forest,
Digging the yellow gold,
Low in the depths of the canyon,
Struggling on far fields of battle
Struggling—and falling with glory!
Tell me, my harp beloved,
Shall the hope that I cherish fail me—
Shall I behold the Gaels
To the glens of their love returning,
Men at work on the crofts
As I saw in the times unforgotten,
The mother in musical Gaelic
To the babe at her bosom crooning.
Friendly at feast of the Old-Year,
Chieftain and clansmen together,
Cheeks of the youth aglow
At the Shinty on New-Year’s morning—
Every old custom so dear
To our beautiful glens returning,
Bagpipes on fields of battle
Chanting their war-notes defiant,
And, in the halls of peace
The harp with its wild sweet trembling,
Why should I thus drop tears
On the ruins of old homes broken—
Spanning the bens, behold!
The rainbow, the rainbow is shining!
Listen, my harp, my beloved!
When cometh the time of my changing,
When my hand white as the snow,
To dust in the grave shall crumble,
Do not let any man’s hand
Strike from thee chords of sorrow —
Shall I not rise again
To the wind my boat’s sail spreading,
For the beautiful Island of Youth
In the gold of the Sea of the Sunset.
There I shall practice thy music,
There in the Hall of the Noble—
Beloved! when I am dead,
For me let no wail of sorrow
Rise from thy sun-bright strings,
But a song—a song victorious.
Icollumkill, antiently called Iona, lays from Colle to the south and south-east about thirty-six myils of sea, and is distant from the south end of Mulle about one myil of sea. It is two myills in lenth, and almost from east to west, and one mile in bredth. It is very fertill; commodious for fishing and fowling. It hes two fresh water lochs, goud springs, and medicinall herbs.
Here the sea casteth up in one place a number of small stones of divers collours, and transparente, very fair to looke upon; they are really peculiar to the place, for the longer they lay upon the shoar, they reapen and turn more lively in their coulors, yield to the feil, and admits of gouid polishing and engraving. Marble also, of divers colours, and with beautyful vains, is found in this Illand. It hes been counted renound pairtly for the goud discipline of Columbus, who is buried in it, and partly for the monuments of the place; for it has two monastryes, one of monks, another of nuns; a church of considerable dimensions dedicated to Columbus.
This hes been the Cathedrall of the Bishops of the Illes since Sodora in the Ill of Man came into the Englishes hands. In this Illand are many other small chapells; the vestiges of a citie is yet visible in it, which, as some old manuscripts testifie, was called Sodora.
Many of the Kings of Scotland, some of the Kings of Ireland and Noraway, were buryet heer. Many tombs appropriat to the families of the Illanders, as ther inscriptions, though now allmost obliterate, do testify; heer the famous Columbus himself was also interred. The coast round about Iona is very bade, full of rocks and violent tides. The whole Illand is Church land, so is also a goud pairt of Tyrie, the Ill of Gonna wholly, and the two ends of Colle. It is remarkable that there is in Iona a few people called to this day Ostiarii, from their office about the Church in Columbus’ tyme; this people never exceed the number of eight persons in perfyte age; this is found to had true, and there is a tradition that for some miscarriage in ther predecessors in Columbus’ tyme this malediction was left them. The inhabitants of all the said Illands are naturally civill and bountiful, right capable of all goud instructions. All thir Illands have been possossed by M’Leane and the cadette of his family.
— Description of Iona by Rev. John Fraser, an Episcopal clergyman in the Highlands, who was the author of a “Treatise on Second Sight,” printed at Edinburgh, 1707; from the collections of MacFarlane of MacFarlane and published in The Spottiswoode Miscellany: A Collection of Original Papers and Tracts, Illustrative Chiefly of the Civil and Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, Spottiswoode Society, 1845.
OF THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WHO APPEARED VISIBLY TO
ST. COLUMBA WHILE STAYING IN HINBA ISLAND, WHEN SENT TO ORDAIN AEDHAN TO BE KING.
At another time, while the famous man was staying in Hinba island†, one night in an ecstasy of mind he saw an angel of the Lord sent to him, who had in his hand the glassy book (vitreum librum) of the ordination of kings, which the venerable man, when he had received it from the hand of the angel, at his bidding began to read. And when he refused to ordain Aedhan to be king, as was recommended to him in the book, because he loved logenan his brother more; suddenly the angel put out his hand and smote the Saint with a scourge, the livid mark of which remained on his side all the days of his life. And he added this word, saying, “Know for certain that I am sent unto thee from God with the glassy book (vitreum codicem), that, according to the words which thou hast read in it, thou mayest ordain Aedhan to the kingdom. And if thou art not willing to obey this command, I will smite thee again.” When, therefore, this angel of the Lord appeared for three nights in succession, having in his hand that glassy book, and committed to him the same commands of the Lord concerning the ordination of that king, the Saint, obeying the word of the Lord, sailed over to the Iouan island (Iona), and there ordained Aedhan, who arrived in those days, to be king, as he had been commanded. And among the words of ordination he prophesied future events concerning his sons and grandsons and great grandsons, and, placing his hand upon his head, ordained and blessed him.
Cuimine (Cummian) the Fair, in the book which he wrote of the virtues of St. Columba, has thus said, that St. Columba began to prophesy of Aedhan and his posterity, and of his kingdom, saying, “Believe without doubting, Aedhan, that none of thine adversaries will be able to resist thee, until thou first actest fraudulently against me and against my successors. Wherefore, then, do thou commend it to thy sons, that they may commend it to their sons and grandsons and posterity, lest they through evil counsels lose the sceptre of this their kingdom out of their hands. For at whatsoever time they do anything against me or against my kinsmen who are in Ireland, the scourge, which for thy sake I have endured from the angel, shall by the hand of God be turned upon them to their great disgrace and the heart of men shall be taken away from them, and their enemies shall be greatly strengthened over them.”
Now this prophecy has been fulfilled in our own times, in the battle of Roth‡, when Domhnall Brecc, grandson of Aedhan, without cause wasted the province of Domhnall, grandson of Ainmire. And from that day to this they are ever on the decline through means of strangers, which excites in the breast deep sighs of grief.
— St. Adomnán’s Vita Columbæ, Book III, Chapter v.
† The Columban retreat isle of Hinba is perhaps Eileach an Naoimh (Eilean-na-Naoimh) [rocky place/island of the saint], the Holy Isle, southernmost of the Garvellachs archipelago, lying in Firth of Lorne between Mull and Argyll.
‡ The Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Mag Rath, was fought in the summer of 637 by the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dalriada. The battle was fought near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what would become County Down. It was allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and resulted in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc.
After a tedious sail, which, by our following various turnings of the coast of Mull, was extended to about forty miles, it gave us no small pleasure to perceive a light in the village of Icolmkill, in which almost all the inhabitants of the island live, close to where the ancient building stood. As we approached the shore, the tower of the cathedral, just discernable in the air, was a picturesque object.
When we had landed upon the sacred place, which, as long as I can remember, I had thought on with veneration, Dr Johnson and I cordially embraced. We had long talked of visiting Icolmkill; and, from the lateness of the season, were at times very doubtful whether we should be able to effect our purpose. To have seen it, even alone, would have given me great satisfaction; but the venerable scene was rendered much more pleasing by the company of my great and pious friend, who was no less affected by it than I was; and who has described the impressions it should make on the mind, with such strength of thought, and energy of language, that I shall quote his words, as conveying my own sensations much more forcibly than I am capable of doing:
We are now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona! [Footnote: Had our tour produced nothing else but this sublime passage, the world must have acknowledged that it was not made in vain. The present respectable President of the Royal Society was so much struck on reading it, that he clasped his hands together, and remained for some time in an attitude of silent admiration.]
— The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell;
Tuesday, 19th October 1773: Inchkenneth, Icolmkill (Iona).
ST MARTIN’S CROSS. A high cross of red granite, probably dating from about 800 AD. It is sculptured in low relief and stands 16’8″ high in its stepped base. The name is of no great age.
This cross, whose name was recorded by Lhuyd in 1699, stands in a granite base (no.97) 21m W of the abbey church. It is carved from a single block of grey epidiorite, probably from the Argyll mainland, and is 4.3m in visible height by 1.19m in span. The diameter of the pierced ring is 1.09m and that of the armpits 0.24m. In the ends of the arms are vertical slots, open at the top, which may have housed ornamental panels rather than extensions for the arms. The angles bear roll-mouldings which on the W face extended below the lowest panel to flank an inscription, now indecipherable. The shaft of the E face bears three roundels of snake-and-boss ornament, a coarser variant of that in the same position on St John’s Cross. In the top of the shaft are seven interlaced bosses, each producing two snakes, and the largest of these is also one of the group of five high-relief bosses in the cross-head. That at the centre is set in a ring of nine small bosses linked by spirals, and in the side-arms each boss produces three snakes, while that in the top arm lies between two pairs of rampant leonine beasts. The E face of the ring bears knitted interlace.
On the W face the lowest panel bears six bosses with intertwined serpents, followed by four rows of figure-scenes on an undivided field.
Two pairs of figures, too simplified for identication.
A harper, seated with outstretched legs as on St Oran’s Cross and facing a kneeling man with a (? triple) pipe; a rectangle between them may represent a drum or a book symbolising David’s authorship of the psalms.
Abraham’s sacrifice, with a central figure holding a sword across one shoulder and grasping the hair of Isaac, whose arms are extended above a rectangular altar; the small winged figure of the angel stands at the left.
The seated figure of Daniel between two rearing lions, with a lump which may be the head of another lion to the right.
This theme may continue in the side-arms, where two passant leonine beasts flank a central roundel with the seated Virgin and Child between four small angels, the upper ones forming a canopy. The top arm bears three pairs of back-to-back leonine beasts with intertwined tails.