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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XII - Chiefs of Streamy Etha


"Who but the sons of Usnoth, chiefs of Streamy Etha."

O'Keefe.Now that we have heard all your theories let us go to the spot, and as my countrymen from Uisneach were the men who have really given this place fame, I will stand by them, and also be your guide, and first we shall go by coach in the morning to Connel Ferry.

High above Oban, that busy maker of happy summer days, which flow from it in a long stream, I feel that I could sing with Deirdre, "Delightful to look on these islands and bays and harbours, those endless hills and changing forms of land, making us wonder as we turn every corner of rock."

Cameron.I agree with you that we should give up our time to the Uisnachs. They were our guests many years ago, and you shall be their representative, and we can rejoice as we go along looking at the lofty Cruachan and the rich Lismore, and even turn round to see the distant Mull and the range of Morven.

O'Keefe.Yes, this is a day to their memory. We pass Dunstaffnage, and cross Connel. The falls are violent and, I must confess, rather frightful today, but it is said that no one has been drowned here in the oldest memory, and this was even said by a writer in the appendix to Sir John Sinclair's Ossian in i 8o8. It certainly is remarkable, since many people pass at night coming from fairs. Now, having crossed the ferry, we are in Benderloch.

Loudoun.I think we shall drive from Connel. The Lochnell Arms can give us a dog-cart, and a friend here has left us another until he returns from Oban. If we walk on this warm day we may find ourselves too lazy to go about the Dun, which it is well to see when we are vigorous. Thus, too, we can better carry our lunch, which is a good excuse for us.

Cameron.Now we come on to the heath, which I greatly admire; it is too interesting to me to be improved by cultivation. It is the moss of Ledaig in common phrase; I prefer to call it the heath of Lora, whilst the falls of Connel are to me the falls of Lora, but that you don't sympathize with; and that overhanging rock is Dun Valanree (Dun Bhaile an Righ), the fort of the king's town, under the Ledaig post office. And did you ever see a more charming cottage? the wall covered with ivy, the front garden full of flowers, the side garden rich in strawberries that climb up to the very foot of that great rock. The rock itself is beautiful in colour, yellow with its lichens, and grey and black in parts to vary the scene.

Loudoun.We must stop here. This is the entrance to the Fort lands, and the tenant could not allow any acquaintance to pass by; but I must tell you who he isa poet, and well known among the Gacls over all the world. Let us cross the road from his house and pass through the little garden : we enter a room between two great rocks and part of a third, which form the walls ; the rest, with the roof and floor, was made by the poet himself. This is a grotto, a school, a chapel, and a drawing-room, with a window looking to the islands, the shores, and the ocean.

O'Keefe.I am anxious to visit the Dun. We drive on a furlong and there it is before us, a long rocky mound 150 feet at the highest point, nearly perpendicular at the end on the sea, whilst the eastern end slopes down to the plain. This was the scene of much romance, and nature has made it a centre, an isolated rock, wonderfully defended, being precipitous on nearly all its length, one end only and a part at this side having a somewhat moderate ascent.

Let us first go to the top. We look past the island of Kerrera, the one on which we saw the old and perhaps sacred enclosure, and past the lower end of Mull, along which so many pilgrims and holy men sailed going to Iona; between Kerrera and Mull in the far distance are the islands of Colonsay and Oronsay, both with their sacred buildings and their memories of saints. There, near the shore, and at the cottage we have left, the great rock of Valanree hangs over an old burying ground that formerly went down to the sea and made this place also sacred. The village, or clachan, is called Keills, or Cills, a cell or church of a holy man, and probably Columba himself consecrated the spot.

You see that standing stone in the field, it is one of several I cannot doubt; there were at least two last century according to Pennant. That stone is worn so much that even the rocks themselves have no such look of decay. That, I believe, stood before the Christians came; we must look to earlier days. But the sons of Uisnach were earlier than Columba's monks; and, if you do not believe me, I will again quote Skene, who says, "The children of Uisnach were Cruithne, and must have preceded the Scots, for the great scene of their Scotch adventures are the districts of Lorn, Loch Awe, and Cowal, afterwards in possession of the Dalriadic Scots," and it is curious that Adamnan's life of St. Columba, speaking of the journey to the king of the Picts, mentions "three localities, near Loch Ness, and these are Cainle, Arcardan, and flumen Nesac." It would seem as if then in the sixth or seventh century, the names were already old, and had attached themselves to places; the men half forgotten.

Loudoun.I have to remark that the family is called Cruithne in your quotation, elsewhere they were called Milesian, and we were told that they were also called Firbolgs. This is the introduction of a good deal of uncertainty in details.

Margaet.I suppose we may despair of absolute accuracy; let us drink in the beauty of that varied sea, with islands and lochs and hills; the long romance that has glowed upon them seems only a match to light the glory that so often appears.

Loudoun.Do not geologists speak of some of the western hills of Ross farther north as the oldest part of the world above the sea, but this too is wonderfully old; the Himalayas seem half finished and young; these are venerable, and men must come to them as to a shrine of nature for ages yet to be. Lismore lies beautifully there, and its rich lands brought many quiet people, but pity it is that the Dean did not know more of the value of his work when he collected the poems. He would have told of every habit, superstition, and legend, and we should have thanked him.

Margaet. Let us be more active and gather every sound from the valley of the past, and write it in music; even that old worn-out standing stone in the field will raise the notes, and the other in the field to the cast, both I doubt not remnants of pagan days, seems ready to add to the chorus.

Cameron.I quite agree; standing stones and circles were not a few in that plain with the fine background of the Appin hills; but the greater part are now removed, and farmers that waste their good land by carelessness are afraid to lose as much as will allow a standing stone or a circle, if the place suits their fancy. But the past can only live in our memories, for after all it goes and it cannot reappear.

Londoun.-It seems to me that I can imagine why that standing stone in the field below may have been so much worn. The whole ground was covered with peat, which, we know, dissolves readily some chemical bases, such as lime, soda and potash, which occur in rocks, although it preserves also many organic substances.

Now that Mr. O'Keefe has shown us the ground, I shall read you from a description of the Dun, which appeared in the proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

In the depression between the two divisions of the rock, and at the south side, the most convenient entrance exists. We see distinctly the remains on the turf of a zig-zag road; five of the angles may be observed. If this place is ever examined, great care must be taken not to destroy its present appearance. This road is called Queen Street, or Sraid a Bhan Righ. It would be interesting to learn the age of the name. It is, probably, a modern caricature; nicknames and fancy names abound there.

The raised beach along the shore to the south is natural; but it is said to have had a different appearance formerly, having had artificial work upon it. The field along the fort and shore was covered with peat. This was removed. Duncan Stewart, who was ploughing on the spot afterwards, was interrupted by great stones, which he thinks must have been 12 feet long. One of these he broke up. The others, which did not so much interfere with the plough, were allowed to lie. He thinks they are about 6o feet to the south of the standing-stone in the middle of the field. Still the memory may not be exact, as he says he remembers three standing-stones. When Pennant mentions only two, he would probably be correct on that point, although his observations on this place are, on the whole, very absurd. This field, as well as the circle and enclosures above, will probably give something new to inquirers, if any portion will, but the writer found nothing: you will see that Duncan Stewart had not a memory to be trusted.

The standing-stone gives one an idea of great age. It is a piece of conglomerate, with the connecting aluminous metamorphic rock a good deal washed out, whilst the hard old pebbles that it had embedded remain. There are no artificial markings but one, and that is a hole little more than an inch deep, as if made not very long ago. Its edges have none of the appearance of being weather-worn like the rest of the pillar. The reason of the stone looking so worn may be that it has been under peat, as has been said.


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