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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XX - Hill of Ledaig and Cromlechs


Willie.—It is very early, and I should like to go farther. Sheena and I could run up the hill.

Ian.—I dare say we could all go up; it is not far. We must go to the next farm house; here you see is a precipice. They say, and it seems true, that it was produced by the washing of the waves at the foot of the rock, at a time when these very waves nearly levelled all that ground which is now moss.

Willie.—There is no sea now, so let us run; you can follow.

Loudoun.-We who are calmer can go up behind the house, and a fine walk it is to the well. You see near this well a few bushes, and on the bushes there used to be a few trifles—pieces of cloth, or string, or buttons, or needles; these latter were also put into the well.

O'Keefe.—That is a relic of very old times, when perhaps they worshipped wells.

Loudoun.—I do not think that they ever worshipped wells; but spiritual beings are often connected with them in history and tradition. I think this a good proof of an Eastern origin of the fancy. Wells are valuable there; they are of little consequence here.

It is a steep road up this hill, and even these youngsters must creep.

Margaet.—But, oh! how glorious on the top. Lismore is below, Loch Linnhe all in our view, and Kerrera is near; even Mull comes close, and these distant islands are scarcely far away in this fair weather; I mean Colonsay and Oronsay.

Londoun.—The view is grand; but it will not allow us to look at it long. It is cold up here; at first we walk about thinking that we should like to live on such an Olympus always; whilst in ten minutes we lose the warmth got by climbing, or we become hungry. Sometimes the mist comes and we lose our way, and if we go straight down there we shall come to the precipice. Indeed it is a hill of abundant danger, and we must keep to the road by the well.

Cameron.—I hope you will all stay a little; we cannot often see so far, and this is like a map of the world. Our vision is multiplied by ten, and our spirits rise in proportion. The passage down is pleasant and not too far to weary us; there we have some interesting things to see that were passed over when we went along the moss looking at the cairn and the lake dwelling.

CROMLECHS.


CROMLECHS AT ACHNACREE BEG

Loudoun.—Be it so. We have to go by the road, and as it turns near the joining of the way to Achnaba, there is a short walk to a very interesting spot. We pass down to the stream, and cross it either at the little cottage on its steep bank, or below where it is lower, and among some bushes and deep grass and nettles we come upon two cromlechs, megalithic or big-stone structures, standing not so high as those before seen, but clear and distinct. The largest and most easterly has a great granite table on ten boulders ; the smaller has only five boulders for supporting the top stone. The arrangement is as if for a grave. Around both there is the evident remains of a cairn, and I doubt not that each was heaped over with the smaller boulders of the district exactly as the large cairn spoken of was. These two stand close to each other; the two circles of the cairns must have met, and now these stand in a romantic spot, hidden, however, from the view of all passers on the roads. One wonders why the cairns have been laid low, but the boulders were small whilst the cromlechs are formed of great masses. Is the ring a symbol of Honour around the great heroes, or was it only left because some one found it convenient to take the stones to build a little house near the cairn as a home for old Duncan Stewart, who used to live there, or some one before him? That is most probable. (See Fig.)

Some have denied cromlechs to be in Scotland. These are two cromlechs—certainly not one stone on two, but one stone on a few. I prefer the word cromlech, which seems to have been made so long ago that we have lost the certainty of its meaning, to any name such as dolmen, foreign to our country, but more applicable to the structures of Brittany with galleries such as we have not.

Masgaet.—What is a cromlech?

Willie.—If you put two stones up and one across, that is a cromlech, just as we have in graveyards now, only at present they are cut smooth and thin and don't last at all. Crom is bent and leach a stone; but why these words are so united who knows? The stones are not bent.

Loudoun.—It is true they are not ; but the Welsh word cromen is a dome or cupola according to the dictionary, and here we have a stone, if not bending, one may say leaning over from one stone to another and making a covering. These were called in Ireland Leaba Diarmaid agus Grainne (i.e., beds of D. and G.), which shows again that they were capable of being used as coverings. But it is believed that these stones were in the centre of mounds or cairns, of which the tops have been removed. It is probable that there were earth mounds over them in some cases; but stones are more apt to be removed than earth. If they were covered the name must have been given them after they were uncovered.

O'Keefe.—But do not the French call these dolmens and the standing stones cromlechs?

Loudoun.—A good deal of confusion arises here; it would be well for us to keep our native names until we know their origin. Dolmen may be good; it is a table stone, or a hole stone; there are good authorities for both. Here uncertainty arises; but the meaning "table stone" suits well those large broad masses in Brittany.

Margaet.—I think I have heard them connected with religion.

Loudoun.—Certainly they have been; and it connected with worship we should expect the word to apply to standing stones also, which seem at times to have been used for purposes much greater than the ornament of a tomb, although such ornamentation has called forth great architectural efforts. There is a great desire to reduce all our knowledge to some small facts, and the eminent antiquary, Dr. John Stuart, led the way to prove that even the largest circles were more tombs ; but we know that man is very low indeed, when an idea of worship does not animate him in connection with death.

O'Keefe.—Croon Cruach was a great idol of the Milesian branch of the Irish. It stood in Magh Slecht, in Cavan, and was ornamented with gold and silver, surrounded also by twelve other idols ornamented with brass. St. Patrick visited the place along with King Laeghairc or Lire and struck at the idol with his crozier; but although the crozier did not reach the image it made a mark in its side. The earth swallowed up the other twelve idols, and O'Curry thinks that the circumstance is so carefully recounted that one may probably find them still there. It seems to be indicated that the chief idol was swallowed more deeply than the more earth would answer for. The story is a most probable one so far as the destruction of the idols by St. Patrick is concerned, and as the name has no meaning at all clear it is not likely to have been manufactured; but people make great difficulties about believing nowadays ; they are afraid to believe in the worship of horrid idols or human sacrifices or anything they dislike. To me the more horrible the more probable. Man has emerged from a lower state than even the worship of Crom Cruach.

Loudoun.—But does not crom in Irish mean a maggot? And is it not the maggot stone—the stone of corruption?

O'Keefe.—This is a new derivation, and it seems true. It has been called the bending stone, or the stone of worship, but it does not appear as if these smaller or common ones at least were other than places of burial.

Sheena.—If crom is a maggot, why is it the name of an idol, and what is cruach?

O'Keefe.—Cruach may be held to have its common meaning of red, or gory or deadly, in which case the Crom Cruach would be a power to be appeased. The people were afraid of it, and were afraid of dying until St. Patrick had sent this demon to Tophet. The word cram is in another place the name of a pestilence: for example Crom Chonnaill in Ulster, in the sixth century. It was killed by fire from heaven at the prayer of Mac Creiche, and it was reduced to dust and ashes in the presence of the people? It is spoken of as if it were an animal destroying the people : it is not an unusual thing for men to personify a pestilence. In Squier's Peru we find that a man seeking shelter after having lost his clothes when bathing, was taken for the impersonation of a plague. "The word connall signifies the yellow stubble of corn." O'Curry says, "It is a remarkable fact that the name of the celebrated idol of the ancient Pagan Gaedhil was Crone Cruach, which would literally signify the 'bloody maggot,' whilst another idol, or imaginary deity, in the western parts of Connacht was called `Croni Dubli,' the black maggot, a name still connected with the first Sunday of August in Munster and Connacht."

"The word Buidhe chonnaill or `yellow stubble' would appear to be a particular disease of the jaundice kind, but not produced by the presence of any animal like a maggot or fly."

Still here we have a rude connection of disease in animal and vegetable.

Another connection is less rude; crom or crum may be the same as worm or worm, and this brings us to the serpent form of power for good or evil, or serpent-worship. In France the standing stones and circles are called cromlechs. This removes all idea of crookedness and bending ; indeed, it is not easy to connect the idea with any form which we have, and the old object of worship, Crom, seems to me by far the most probable source. This is not fashionable, however, but that is not against it. The stones set up for Crom and the other gods destroyed by St. Patrick suit the account of the temple given in the Kjalnesinga Saga remarkably well, and point to early communication unknown to us. But this Crom theory is against the burial theory apparently, and is therefore disliked. There need be no opposition; it is but natural to devote the dead, when loved, to the gods, or to appease these when feared. At any rate you have seen two cromlechs of a great size, and you have heard several opinions curious to me at least, and consistent with the wild nature out of which we seem to have sprung.

Cameron.—It seems to me that we have done enough, and I have asked the men to bring the boat to the kirk at Achnaba. It is, as you say, not beautiful, but I like it. The building belongs to the kirk of my fathers and it is one which is associated with many early days; let us sit for awhile in the churchyard, and look at the beautiful loch, thinking of the monks on the island opposite, and even of the Druids on the shore by the great stone circle that once stood there, and of Kilmaronaig and the saint that left his name near the point a little to the right of it. I cannot forbear alluding to the places more than once, or whenever we come near; if we do so, we remember better.

When we have seen these long enough we shall row to Acha-Leamhan, near Connel, and find the coach which will take us rapidly to Oban, as I fear the falls will not allow us to pass, and the men must wait there for two hours before they can begin to row home.

O'Keefe.—Meantime I shall give you a part from the Saga spoken of. "Thorgrimr Godi was a great worshipper, and built a temple on his farm (in Iceland) a hundred feet long and sixty feet broad. All the people were to pay a tax towards it. Thorr was most worshipped there. It was made round within like a skull-cap. It was hung with tapestry, and there were windows in it. Thorr was standing in the middle, and the other gods on both sides. In front of Thorr stood an altar finely made, and covered on the top with iron. There was to be the fire which should never go out; we call that consecrated fire. On that altar a large ring made of silver was lying. The temple priest wore it on his hand at all public meetings. By it all people were to swear in giving evidence. On that altar there stood a large bowl of copper, into which the blood of cattle or men sacrificed to Thorr was to be poured. This they called Hlautbolli (bloodbowl). From this bowl men and cattle which were sacrificed and feasted on were to be besprinkled when there were sacrificing feasts. But the men who were sacrificed were thrown down into a pool close to the door." (That is, the cattle were eaten and the men thrown into a pool. Human remains do not always prove honest death and burial. The above was kindly translated from the Icelandic by Mr. Hjaltalin,)


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