Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Netherlorn and its Neighbourhood
Chapter VI - The Holy Islands


"A characteristic still more distinctive of the Irish monks, as of all their nation, was the imperious necessity of spreading themselves without, of seeking or carrying knowledge and faith afar, and of penetrating into the most distant regions to watch or combat paganism." MONTALEMBERT, Monks of the West.

ABOUT five miles south-west of Easdale is a group of islands called the Garvelloch or Holy Islands. They form a chain about three miles long, and are individually known as Dun Chonail (once a royal fortress), Garbheileach, Culi-Bhreanain and Eileach a' Naoimh, The exact meaning of the word Eileach, in Eileach a' Naoimh and in Garbheileach has given rise to much difference of opinion. With regard to the latter place-name it is pronounced locally Garbh-bhileach, that is, "rough-lipped " or "edged," and the name so rendered is descriptive, but this may be a modified Garbheileach, as in Eileach a' Naoimh. Eileach, or more properly Aileach, is variously translated as a "mound " or "stony place," and is certainly connected with the obsolete word Al, a stone. So that the "rough stony mound " would be appropriate enough when applied to the rugged contour of Garvelloch. Similarly, Eileach a' Naoimh would mean the "stony mound" or "heap of the saint," or if the terminal word is an adjective - Eileacha Naomh - the "holy mounds."

Skene, Beeves, and others, have fallen into the usual error of considering Aileach a corruption of Eilean, an island. This it certainly is not. Skene quotes Fordun, who wrote about the end of the fourteenth century, saying: - "The earliest notice of these islands is by Fordun. Insula Helant Leneow, scilicet insula sanctorum, et ubi refugium. Insula Garveleane, juxta magnum castrum de Donquhoule, distans ab aliis insulis sex milliaribus in oceano"; and goes on to say, "The rendering of Helant Leneow by 'Insula Sanctorum' shows that the name in Fordun's day was not Eilean Naomh, or Holy Island, as it is usually called, but Eilean na Naoimh, or the Island of the Saints, and it is so called still by the Gaelic-speaking people of the neighbourhood; while Garvelloch appears under the older form of Garbheilean; but those names had passed into their present corrupted form as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, for in 1629, Archibald Campbell of Kilmelfort resigns to Archibald, Lord Lorne, the islands of Garvelach and Dunchonill, and in 1630 Andrew, Bishop of Raphoe and prior of Oransay, grants to John Campbell, Rector of Craigness, the isles of Ilachinive and Kilbrandon" (Kilbrandon is not the parish of the name, but Cull Bhreanain, one of the Garvelloch group). Now the Gaelic-speaking people of the district never do say Eilean na Naoimh, but Eileach a' Naoimh. Fordun was a foreigner, and probably had not visited the islands; and we might as well believe his statement regarding Scarba, which he says is fifteen miles long, whereas it is only three!

Dean Monro calls these islands Eluch na naose and Garowhellach.

In the monkish chronicle Vita Brendani, the following passage occurs:- "Et in alio regione in Britannia, monasterium nomine Ailech, sanctissimus Brenclanus fundavit." In the Brussels edition of the same work, it is stated more explicitly that the monastery was founded in the island of Ailech, "unum monasterium in insula Ailech, alterum in Terra Ethica." Terra Ethica is Tiree, and there can be no reasonable doubt that Ailech is Eileach a' Naoimh. St Columba was not by any means the first Christian missionary to these isles. St Bridget or Bride, who died in 525, was probably an early visitor; and St Brendan, who died at a great age in 577, had, we know, frequently visited these islands before the middle of the century. We may place the foundation of the monastery of Ailech at about 542.

Of the Holy Islands, then, Eileach a' Naoimh, containing as it does the ruins of a monastic establishment of Columban or pre-Columban days, probably the oldest vestiges of the sort standing in Scotland, is by far the most interesting. It was Dr MacCulloch, in his description of the Western Isles, who drew the attention of the outside world to this beautiful spot, and the description of his visit is worth quoting. "On traversing Ilachanu I was surprised at the singularity and beauty of a spot which seemed at a distance to be a bare hill, and of which, even from the creek where our boat was drawn up, no conjecture could have been formed. Surmounting one ridge after another, a succession of secluded valleys appeared, which, although without other wood than a few scattered hushes, were beautifully disposed, and were rendered interesting no less by their silence and seclusion than by the intermixture of rock and green pasture, among which were wandering the cattle of the adjoining farm of Garvelloch. It was impossible to imagine that we were here on a narrow spot surrounded by a wild sea, and far remote from the land; no sounds of winds or waves, nor sight of water interfering with the tranquillity and retirement of scenes which made us forget that the boisterous ocean was breaking all around.

"While I was amusing myself with imagining a hermit here retired from the world and its cares, I came, most unexpectedly, on a heap of ruins accompanied by characters which left no doubt of their original design. I had no great cause for surprise perhaps, after my experience at Inch Cormac, to find that no account of this establishment should exist either in the legendary or antiquarian lore of Scotland. It had not even been mentioned to us in the islands which we had left; and appeared, indeed, utterly unknown except to the tenant, who did not seem to think much of anything but his farm, and to the very few fishermen who occasionally touched at this place.

"The ruins of that which must have formed the monastery are sufficiently extensive to show that the establishment must have been considerable; at a small distance from these ruins was the burying-ground, containing many ornamental stones, with remains of crosses - apparently votive, as most of those in Iona probably were. On some of the tombs are carved the usual objects: ships, arms, and the cognizances of MacDonalds, MacLeans, and MacKinnons. But all is quiet about their graves, and the turbulent chiefs now sleep below, in that peace which, when living, they never knew."

MacCulloch's description of the scenery is very true. I know of no sweeter spot: its verdant slopes and grassy hollows, its miniature glens and rippling burns give it the character of a secluded country retreat; while its deep goes, cruel skerries, and resounding sea-caves truly proclaim its maritime nature.

The principal constituent rock of the island, owing to a large admixture of calcareous material, weathers very unequally, resulting in many curious and fantastic shapes. One peculiar effect is to be noted at the north of the island, where a magnificent arch many feet in height has been left abutting the face of a cliff. The arch has a striking resemblance to a harp, and has consequently received its Gaelic title, A' chlarsach. Close to the ecclesiastical buildings another peculiar effect is to be seen. Standing isolated in the middle of a small amphitheatre is a large pillar of rock; the bottom part of the column is of reddish stone, and at the base a small seat has been left; while capping the pillar is a perfect canopy of grey stone: the whole makes an excellent pulpit, and it is therefore known as A'chrannag. Local tradition speaks of it as having been used as such by no less a personage than Columchille.

The same unequal erosion has produced in the coast-line long, narrow creeks or goes called "geodha": the names of these are interesting, as showing the association of the island with saints of pre-Columban days. Geodha Bhreanain (St Brendan's creek), Geodha Bhride (St Bride's or Bridget's); while another, Geodha na-h-aithne, may refer to Aethne, the mother of St Columba.

The creek usually selected for landing is called "Am port," and a few yards above there is an excellent well of fresh water, at parts artificially constructed, known as Tobar Choluim Chille. The ascent to the north-west is by a series of parallel sloping ridges, with little fertile valleys between, until the topmost peak of the island, which bears the name of Dun Bhreanain (St Brendan's hill), a height of 272 feet, is reached. Another eminence lying to the north, and about 160 feet high, is called Carn-na-manich (the cairn of the monks). One other interesting place-name in the Garvelloch group may be mentioned. On the island of Garbheileach there is a very old graveyard known as Claodh Dhubhan (the burying-place of Duban). More than one prince and certainly one king of Alban was called Dubh; and Dubhan seems to have been a common name; while in 927, Dubthach, son of Duban, fourteenth in descent from Conal Gulban the great-grand-father of Columba, became Superior or Co-arb in Iona.

With regard to the buildings upon Eileach a' Naoimh, Bishop Reeves, who visited the place in 1852 along with Mr W. F. Skene and Cosmo Innes, says: - "The number of remains grouped together on the south-east side of the island are evidence of its early importance as an ecclesiastical establishment, and the simplicity of their structure supports this claim to antiquity."

The chapel is fairly entire, its internal measurements are 21 feet 6 inches by II feet 4 inches; the walls are 3 feet thick; the doorway faces the west; while in the opposite wall, facing east, there is a double splayed window contracting from 3 feet to 1 foot 6 inches in the centre of the wall. The other buildings are, a many-chambered house known as the monastery, a large house with a rounded gable sitting on a hill, and oriented like the chapel, and a peculiar building called locally "the oven." The latter has a deep, well-built, oven-like hole, with a fireplace and flue below: it may have been a cooking-house, or more probably a kiln for drying corn.

Some distance from these buildings there are the remains of two beehive cells, connected with one another and forming one building.

Close to the chapel is an underground cell called Am priosan (the prison), and tradition tells very circumstantially the mode of confining prisoners. There was a large stone in the bottom of the cell with a V-shaped depression; the prisoner placed his clasped hands in the hollow, and a wedge-shaped stone was securely fastened down over the palms of the hands, and so tightly that it was impossible to extricate them: the whole arrangement was called, A' ghlas laimh (the hand-lock). Probably, however, the underground cavity was a well, or maybe a cellar for storing the "elements."

MacCulloch speaks of many ornamental stones and crosses. If this be true, then, with the exception of one broken carved stone, all have disappeared; some may be buried, but the majority were undoubtedly stolen. In 1879 the Rev. Dr Hugh MacMillan of Greenock visited the island, and, by probing with an iron rod in the graveyard, discovered lying about two inches below the surface a perfect specimen of an Irish cross miniature in size. The stone was raised and placed at the head of its grave, but within a year it too was gone and no trace could be found. Poor Hinba! perhaps it had been better that it had remained comparatively unknown, for the vandal hands of modern holiday-seekers have done more in half a century to destroy antiquarian remains of an almost unique character than the effects of natural forces extending over a period of fourteen hundred years.

About 200 yards south of the burying-ground, situated upon a grassy eminence, there is a small cairn with an erect slab of stone at each end of the grave. One of these slabs bears a rudely incised Greek cross. Tradition has tenanted this solitary grave with Aethne, the daughter of Dimma, and mother of St Columba.

The history of the Garvelloch Islands carries us back to the early centuries of the present era, to a time when the misty legends of the heroic age of the Gael were being replaced by the more or less authentic details of written story. And yet, in a country where oral tradition was carefully kept alive by trained reciters, these tales would for centuries be quite as credible as the annals of written history, and perhaps run less risk of being corrupted.

The Western Isles had often been visited by the Gael and Cruithnigh of Ireland before the permanent settlement of Dalriada, and the legend which tells of the doings of the sons of Uisneach is one of the most beautiful in our literature.

Cathbad, a Druid of the Cruithnigh of Ulster, had three daughters: the eldest was the mother of Cuchullin, the second, Albe, was the mother of Naisi (Nathos), Ardan, and Ainle, the three sons of Uisneach, while the third was the mother of Conal Ceatharnach. These young men were sent to Skye to be trained in the art of war. On attaining manhood the children of Uisneach returned to Ireland, and Naisi fell in love with Deirdre, a beautiful girl, the ward of Connchubar, King of Ulster, who was bringing her up in a secluded palace with the intention of making her his wife. Naisi takes her sway by stealth, and, accompanied by his brothers and a chosen band of followers, settles in the district betwixt Loch Etive and Loch Creran in Lorn. Their place of dwelling is still known as Dun-mhic-Uisneachan: in the guide-books it is called Beregonium. Here they spent a romantic life, straying in their expeditions over central Argyllshire, delighting in the chase and sylvan sports, and glorying in the scenery of a country which Nature has endowed with unstinted hand. But Connchubar, their relentless enemy, determined to be revenged. Making specious promises, he invited them back to Ulster, but they, suspicious of the man whom they had offended, refused to go unless Cuchullin or Conal Ceatharnach, the greatest champions of the age, would ensure their safety. This these warriors refused to do: but Fergus, another hero, agreeing to do so they return to Ireland. On leaving Alban, Deirdre pours forth her regret in impassioned language - The Lament of Deirdre. Indeed, as Dr Skene says, "it (the lament) contains such a tender recollection of, and touching allusion to, Highland scenery, that it is hardly possible to suppose that it was not originally composed by a genuine son of Alban." These events happened in the third century.

Dean Monro, in his description of the Hebrides, speaks of Dunchonail as "ane iyle so namit from Conal Kernache, ane strength, which is alsmeike as to say in Englische, ane round castle." The ruins of the "strength" testify to its former importance; the island, the most northerly of the Garvelloch group, presents a practically unclimbable scarp all round, with the exception of a little defile above the landing-place, which was defended by a thick stone curtain. The summit of the rock, about 90 feet above sea level, shows traces of numerous hut circles, and a deep well. The castle became the abode of powerful chiefs, and was a residence of the early kings of Alban or Dalriada; while it continued to be a royal fortress until at least the fifteenth century, and may be so still, the hereditary keeper of which would be MacLean of Duart, as descended from Lachlan of Duart, who received from Robert III this royal castle and others to watch and ward for the King.

With the dawn of the sixth century the authentic history of the Gael in Alban begins: the invasion of Southern Argyll, and the founding of the kingdom of Dalriada by the Scots under Fergus, Loarn, and Angus, the sons of Erc, about the year 500, marks an epoch in our history. The narrative, though still garnished with extravagant tales, begins to show a connected sequence.

Fergus mor Mac Erc was succeeded by his son Domangart, who was succeeded by his son Comgal, who died in 539. These Kings of Dalriada are called in the Annalists Righ Albain (Kings of Alban), and they seem to have quietly and effectually extended their territory until it included the greater part of old Argyllshire. Comgal was followed on the throne by Gabran, Righ Albain, and his reign was a stormy one. The Cruithnigh of Northern Pictavia, who until then had treated the Scots leniently, were ruled by Brudei, son of Maelchon, a strong man and great statesman. He, foreseeing the dangers of the growing power of Dalriada, went to war with Gabran; and we find the following significant entry in the Annalists under the year 560: - "Bass Gabrani m. Domangairt R. Albain. Teichedh do Albainchab ria m. Brudei mc Maelchon R. Cruithnechaib" (" Death of Gabran, son of Domangart, King of Alban. Flight of the Scots before Brudei, son of Maelchon, King of the Picts").

Conal, son of Comgal and nephew of Gabran, was the next king, and, as showing the low ebb of the fortunes of the Scottish colony, he is called Righ Dalriada, not Righ Albain: king of a colony, not of a nation. But greater misfortunes were to follow, until at the end of Conal's reign the territory of Dalriada was restricted to a portion of Kintyre and some of the neighbouring islands. Now it was, when the fortunes of the kingdom were low and its future appeared dark and hopeless, that Columba and his band of twelve faithful disciples crossed from Scotia (Ireland) to Alban (Scotland). St Columba was of princely race. He was related to Diarmait, the reigning King of Ireland, both being descended from Nial Naoighiallach (Neil of the Nine Hostages), one of the demi-gods of ancient Irish history; his great-grandfather, the son of Nial, was Conal Gulban, a great warrior and the hero of many West Highland Tales; his mother Aethne, the daughter of Dimma the son of Nave, was of the princely house of Leinster; while through a female alliance he was kin to Conal, the reigning King of Dalriada; and it may have been from a desire to help by his presence and counsel his relation Conal, whose kingdom was then in dire strait, that he passed over to Kintyre, thereafter getting a grant of the island of Ii (Iona). Many facts in the history of the time support this view, and Columba's first monastic settlement is said to have been at the head of Loch Killisport in Knapdale.

But another cause has been assigned for the Saint's self-imposed exile. Adamnan, in his Life of St Columba, tells us that "in the second year after the battle of Culedrebina (Culdreimhne or droighneach, the thorny hollow), and in the forty-second year of his age, St Columba, resolving to seek a foreign country for the love of Christ, sailed from Scotia to Britain." From this it would appear that Adamnan ignores any cause but that of missionary enthusiasm; and yet his reference to the battle of Culdreimhne conveys a suggestion of cause and effect. The story of the events which led up to that great clan fight is, shortly, as follows. St Finnian of Moville (Magh bile) had returned from Italy with a very rare and precious copy of part of the Scriptures, nothing less than a copy of St Jerome's edition of the Psalms, and in that Saint's handwriting. St Finnian, for some reason or other, refused access to the book, which he kept in a room under lock and key. While St Columba was a guest of Finnian's, he, by some means unknown to the latter, got entry to the room, and night after night busily engaged himself in transcribing a copy. St Finnian, upon a certain occasion wishing to consult the manuscript, sent his servant for it, and the man, finding the door of the room barred, peeping through the keyhole, saw St Columba busily at work upon the transcription. It is also told that a pet crane, seeing something glaring through the keyhole, pecked at the eye, wounding it severely. The man ran howling to his master, and Finnian, in a great passion, demanded the copy from Columba. Columba refused, and after a hot quarrel the matter was referred by both to Diarmait, King of Ireland. Columba was the king's kinsman, both being descended from the famous Neil of the Nine Hostages; but, on the other hand, the Saint had reason to dread the arbitration of the stern king, who had sometime before deliberately disregarded the sanctuary afforded by the Saint to a young friend who unwittingly had killed a playmate in a boyish quarrel. Diarmait sent his executioners to St Columba’s abode, and they ruthlessly slew the boy before his eyes, despite the protection which St Columba had promised, and which his profession and sanctity should have guaranteed.

When the case of the stolen copy was laid before Diarmait, he pronounced sentence in the oracular words: "Le gach bo a boinnin, 's le gach leabhar a leabharan" ("To every cow its calf and to every book its booklet"). St Columba, who when aroused had all the fierce passion of his race, delivered the copy; but, bursting from the place of judgment, he flew to his friends, the chiefs of the northern O’Nialls and O’Connells, and these clans, aided by the King of Connaught, whose son it was that Diarmait had slain, fought a great battle against Diarmait and his army at Culdreimhne. The result was a complete victory for St Columba's friends; and the book was regained.

But Columba was seized with remorse. That battle, so disastrous to his enemies, so destructive to his reputation as a saintly monk, and so damaging to his self-respect, was the outcome of Columba's pride and Celtic impetuosity, and shortly thereafter he decided to leave for ever the land of his birth and labours, to go into an unknown and barbarous and hostile country, there to expiate his sin by the conversion of other nations to the Christian religion, by the winning to Christ of as many people as he had caused to be slain in battle. If this story be true it helps to support the tradition of the route chosen for the voyage. It is said that the exiles came first to Oransa; but St Columba, being able to see Ireland therefrom, built a cairn - Carn cul ri Erin (Cairn of exile from Ireland) - and set sail for Eileaeh a Naoimh. Here he dwelt for some time, but one day, being on the topmost peak of the island, he saw, faintly outlined beyond the western shores of Islay, the bluff form of Malin Head, so, leaving his uncle Ernan with his mother Aethne, he sailed for Iona, arriving there on Pentecost eve in the year 563. There also he built a Carn cul ri Erin, to remind him of the past, and to keep before him the memory of his great sin. His life thereafter was a busy one. He founded monastic establishments in many of the Western Isles; in the Long Island, in Tiree, in charge of which he placed Baithen, his successor in Iona. His follower Donan founded one in Eigg; another was founded in Canna. He visited Inverness and Aberdeen, Christianised Northern Pictland, Brudei, the King, becoming his especial friend. He journeyed to Clydesdale, and spent many days there with Kentigern (St Mungo), the great missionary of the Britons of Strathclyde. These and many details may be found in the old historians, Adamnan, Cumineus, Bede, and others.

While the restless energy of those early Irish evangelists impelled many of them to surrender all the associations of their dear homeland, and travel to strange countries, prepared to give up their life for the furtherance of their faith and Church, some wished for a retreat or hermitage where they could spend their days in solitude, engaged in meditation and prayer. These retreats were called "diseart" (Lat. desertum), and perhaps all the great missionaries had a retreat for a temporary withdrawal of this nature. One of the Garvelloch islands is called Cull Bhreanain. Here St Brendan had his "diseart"; his monastery of Ailech was about a mile distant. St Columba, as we shall see, had such a refuge in Hinba; while we hear of St Cormac, the restless contemporary and fellow-student of Columba, making many and hazardous voyages in his frail "curach" to discover "in oceano desertum." On one occasion, when St Columba visited Brudei, the Pictish king, at Inverness, the King of the Orkneys came to see Brudei. Columba knew that Cormac was at this time sailing round the north of Scotland in his fruitless quest, and knowing the Orcadians to be a savage people, he asked the king, should Cormac arrive, to succour and shelter him. Cormac did arrive, and eventually became the Apostle of the Orkneys, but it is likely that on this occasion St Columbia’s intercession saved his life.

In Adamnan's Life of St Columba frequent mention is made of Hinba (Insula Hinbinae) in one edition of the work, and in Cumin's Life, it is called Hinba. This island was a favourite retreat of Columba when he wished to depart for a while from the busy stir of Iona. We read, for instance, that at one time four holy founders of monasteries, Brendan amongst them, came from Scotia to visit St Columba, and found him in Hinba. They all wished, with one consent, that he should consecrate, in their presence, in the church, the holy mysteries of the Eucharist, and during the celebration St Brendan saw a ball of fire like a comet burning very brightly on the head of St Columba, and thus it continued during the consecrating of the holy oblation.

At another time, when the saint was living in Hinba, "the grace of the Holy Ghost was communicated to him abundantly and unspeakably, so that for three days and as many nights, without either eating or drinking, he allowed no one to approach him, and remained in a house which was filled with heavenly brightness."

On the death of Conal the king, the succession reverted to the sons of Gabran. Now Gabran had five sons; and St Columba, who by this time (A.D. 574) had acquired great influence, and seems practically to have had the nomination of a successor, preferred Eoghan to Aidan. We read that while the saint was staying in Hinba he saw in a vision an angel sent to him from heaven bearing a book of glass (Liber vitreus), regarding the appointment of kings; the venerable man began to read it, and when reluctant to appoint Aidan, the angel struck him with a scourge, the marks of which remained on his side all his life. The saint then, in obedience to the command, sailed to Iona, and there ordained, as he had been commanded, Aidan to be king.

Again, we find his uncle Eman, an aged priest, being sent by the saint to preside over the monastery founded some years before in Hinba. We further read of one Virgnous, years after the saint's death, spending his later days on Hinba, in the hermitage of Muirbulcmar. Another story is told relating to the misdeeds of a certain man who was called "Manus dexter" (or in Gaelic, Laimh deas=right hand). "On one occasion when St Columba was living in Hinba, and set about excommunicating some persecutors of the churches, amongst them the sons of Conal, the son of Donald, one of whom was called Joan, one of their associates was instigated by the Devil to rush upon the saint with a spear on purpose to kill him. To prevent this, one of the brethren named Findlugan put on the saint's cowl and interposed, being ready to die for the holy man; but in a wonderful way the saint's garment served as a strong and impenetrable fence, which could not be pierced by the thrust of a very sharp spear, though made by a powerful man." Lainnh Deas was killed in a battle fought on the island of Luing exactly a year from that day, his death being foretold by the saint.

Joan, the son of Conal, the son of Donald, of the royal race of Gabran, probably had for his headquarters the castle of Dun Chonail, which is about two miles distant from Eileach a' Naoimh. On his return voyage from a piratical expedition to Mull, where he had plundered the house of Columbanus, a dear friend of St Columba, the latter had called down upon the marauder the wrath of heaven, with the result that the pirates' boat and all it contained were engulfed in a raging sea which arose between Mull and Colonsay, "and in this wonderful manner, by such a singular storm, while the whole sea around remained quiet, were the robbers miserably but justly overwhelmed and sunk into the deep."

Now from the time of Adamnan, who died in the year 709, we find few references to Hinba, and these merely quotations from the early historians. The identity of the island was completely lost. Apart from the very few who studied the ancient manuscripts, even the name was unknown, No mention of Hinba is made by Fordun, Munro, Boetius, Buchanan, Martin, Pennant, MacCulloch, or others who wrote descriptions of the Hebrides; and this is an extraordinary fact when we consider that to St Columba it appears to have been as dear as his beloved Ii. If`Ii was the place of his labours, Hinba was his resort for repose. In the crisis of his life, when a false step in the settlement of the throne of Dalriada might have lost him the fruit of his life's work, and been the ruin of his nation, it was to Hinba he retreated for meditation and that intense devotional introspection which produced the state of ecstasy or trance in which he beheld the vision of the angel with the "book of crystal." While we read of his strenuous life as an evangelist, of his adventures in field and flood, and amongst foreign and savage tribes, it is in Hinba we find him in that closer communion with God and halo of sanctity which the credulity of the time in the course of a generation converted into a personal intercourse with the Almighty in chambers filled with heavenly light; a light which human eyes could not see without the risk of blindness. No wonder that Dr Peeves says: - "The identification of Hinba is the great desideratum of Hebridean topography".

There can be no doubt that Hinba lay to the south of Iona. As already mentioned, St Columba placed his uncle Ernan in charge of the monastery there. It is very unlikely that he would have placed an aged relative in a position of trust and importance further north; for Iona was on the confines of the territory of the Picts, and the Picts at the time were hostile to the Scots. Again, this retreat would be in all likelihood nearer the seat of Dalriadic power than the outpost on Iona: it would be between Iona and the district of Lorn and Knapdale, and was evidently within easy access of Iona. Again, when Brendan and other founders of monasteries came to visit the saint, they found him, unexpectedly it would seem, in Hinba. What more likely than that Brendan, who must have been close upon ninety years of age at the time, took the easiest and safest route from Ireland, passing along the coast of Kintyre, through the Sound of Luing, and then crossing the comparatively small space of open sea to Iona? Calling at the old foundation of Ailech on the way and finding the saint unexpectedly there, they were so delighted with the meeting that immediately arrangements were made for the celebration before alluded to. Eileach a' naoimh was undoubtedly the Ailech of St Brendan. Fordun, writing in the fourteenth century, calls it "insula sanctorum," and mentions the fact that it contained monastery; and yet, in the space of the century which elapsed between his description and that of Dean Monro, we find the latter passing it by with the mention of its name and the comment "ane very little ile." It must have been deserted about this time; and we need not wonder at this, for life and property were at that period of little account in the islands, and since then the island has been uninhabited. It may safely be said that the ailech a' Naoimh (the mounds of the saints) of Brendan was the same as the Ii Naomha (Hinba, Holy Island) of Adamnan. There is no other island on the west possessing such unique relies of antiquity; their extent shows that the establishment was of great importance; they are certainly the oldest Christian monuments in the Western Isles; that they have been so well preserved is due to the secluded nature of their situation. We can therefore picture the quiet retreat of St Columba, the last resting-place of his mother Aethne. We see the chapel in which, with his friends, he celebrated the holy mysteries of the Eucharist; the house on the hill in which he saw the incomparable vision, and which was filled with heavenly brightness; the monastery of Ernan; and the anchorite's lowly cell at Muirbulcmar, where the saintly hermit Virgnous spent the evening of his days.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast