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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XXII - Christian Memories


"Thy saints take pleasure in her stgnes,
Her very dust to them is dear."

Loudoun.—We shall go again to Keills; I never can weary contemplating that old burying ground, and the small remnant of the chapel hidden in the long grass. The men who built it are forgotten, but the place has remained sacred. The chapel must have been very small, showing that the attendants were few; but the church-yard was comparatively large, strikingly reminding us that "the many" are laid there. The sanctity of the place is shown by the growth of the burial ground, which, even after the church was forgotten, was used until it reached the shingles on the beach and the rocks which the higher waves wash. When the present road was made, not very long ago, remains were found in great numbers. There never could in Christian times have been a great population here, although it may have been, and probably was, much greater than it is now; and as this is the only way to pass from the south of Benderloch to the north without going far round; a road, or at least a path, must be supposed to have always existed. But a road for carriages would not be required, and we know that men and horses can do with a very narrow one, such as would scarcely desecrate a burial ground. If even in old times it was necessary to bring a body of men somewhat closer than in single file, there would he abundance of room before the church-yard was made, and there would be no hindrance to mountaineers even after it was held sacred. In later times the road went behind, and nearer the rocks.

I have sometimes asked myself if this were not a sacred place before the introduction of Christianity; but as we know nothing certainly, we can only imagine what may have been. It is true that the place itself under the shadow of the great rock inspires awe and is, as it were, sacred by nature, and it is also true that a greater reverence is due to it from the long period during which it has received the remains of many inhabitants; the little chapel also suggests the struggle of a very small band in a place only in the process of Christianizing, and we may add that the people would be only in the process of civilizing. But was there another period when the instincts of men ruled and nature awed them more than now; when its worship in times of danger caused them to seek the rocks for shelter, and when they chose this spot for meeting together to communicate their fears, as sheep would do, or to hide from the spirits of the hill that had inspired awe, and finally to pray to them or to the manes of the dead? Modern reasoning would lead us to say this simply because the church was there and probably built on an old sacred spot; but then the nature of the place, and its 'convenience for meeting the inhabitants of both sides of the hill would themselves give consequence. Then the urn found in the cave is another proof of a very ancient attachment, whilst the great collection of urns found at the entrance to the garden of the hexagon school-house shows that a burial place existed before Christian times. I view the place, therefore, with the belief that it was probably sacred at a very early period; certainly a part of the ground under the rock was devoted to the dead in pre-Christian as in Christian days. Then there was another importance belonging to it. It is evident that the kings lived near. This rock is called the Dun of the King's town as we found, and what is meant by a town? It really means a house; it is a Baile, a Bally, a Vaille in the aspirated case, or a villa; the origin being the same. At any rate we know that the name is given even to single residences (perhaps with outhouses); but people forget to be careful in these cases. However, if a chief of an outpost or small king lived here, it is probable that there would be several houses around his. It is a remarkably safe place; it is more easily defended than the chief Dun. With his men on either side the chief could be well looked after, and he could readily guard the narrow pass and also have an outlet by the shore, whilst from the height above he could see farther than from the vitrified fort, which, however, would hold a much larger garrison and would be much more convenient; it would be resorted to by men not driven to extremities. In those days the lower ground would be safer than now, because there was the small lake which has been said to have existed at the south end of the hexagonal schoolhouse and on to Tir-na-birlinn, acting as frontier.

This presence of a chief generally indicates the nearness of sacerdotal dignities and rights, whether of the higher or of the more savage kind. There is an alliance of the power of the growing soul and the rude body, and their representatives, priest and king; and religious rites, I cannot doubt, were performed under this hill. It is here, we may believe, where a king, however small, ruled; and where priests, however ignorant, performed solemn acts in memory of the dead. It is a place where for ages the love of power inspired a ruler, and the dark thoughts and bright hopes of the future inspired a people, headed, as they must have been, by some who thought more of these things than the commonalty. And who were these quasi-priests, we may ask? Modern inquiries incline to throw greater darkness than ever upon them; but I can readily believe in a long train of worshippers from the lowest to the highest—from the most distant to the latest times. The highest class I have seen in two positions: one in the wood leading up the little gully behind the school-house; the congregation sat on the slopes, and were sheltered by the trees, and the minister's voice resounded over the waters; another instance was in the little rock chamber below and looking on the shingles, when the voice of children's hymns came up as through a subterranean opening into the pleasant little ,garden.

You may imagine the lowest. Indeed I have seen a remnant of these up the Ledaig hill, on the slopes of which and over Achnacree there is the well we saw with some superstitious memories, and on the side of which people leave little presents—a remnant of fairy worship or Fetishism of some kind. There was, however, a worse, with scenes of blood, as we may fairly be sure of.

As we began amongst Christians to-day we shall keep to their society, and take a rapid drive up the loch as far as Ardchattan.

Willie.—Look at that little island, only a collection of pebbles, and it seems to have a great black swan on it. Let us shout and throw a stone. It is off. What is it?

Cameron.—That is too far for you to throw; the bird is a cormorant or scart; we see them here occasionally. They are good fishers, indeed I believe they are used for fishing in China, and as soon as they catch a fish the fishermen squeeze the neck to prevent swallowing, or they keep a ring round the neck for the same purpose. It is rarer than the heron in this place, and so more interesting but not so graceful.

Loudoun.—This is a day for churches; we shall pass Achnaha, which we have already seen, and go through the grounds of the Priory, and behind through the picturesque field on the side of the hill, and up to the old ruin that was a church, long probably before Ardchattan, and dedicated to St. Modan. Very little stands. Perhaps it was a ruin when King Robert Bruce met his friends at Ardchattan, and even when the founder of the Priory admired the site; but the reason for admiring would be different in old times. There could have been no good road by the side of the loch then, and probably there was much wood ; whilst here on the pleasant slopes there were perhaps both pasture and dwellings with protection.

It is not at all needful to believe that the church was built in the time of St. Modan. It is more probable that it was called after him when he was dead; but as he came here he would have a place for worship—a predecessor to this, most likely. Some people call this St. Bede's Church, because the aspirate of B and of M are both sounded as V; but Bede had nothing to do here, and the vowels and consonants differ. Modan was a great saint, known from Dumbarton and Roseneath in a Iarge semicircle. (Maodan, in the genitive case, is pronounced very nearly like Mddan, using the German speIling, or it is like the word "maiden" spoken with the mouth rounded when sounding ai; aspirated it is Mhaodan, pronounced Vaidan.)

We do not know much of St. Modan's life, but it is just possible that he may have lived a good deal here. The place is called Baile Mhaodan, the town of Modan. We have seen that Baile may be applied to a very few houses or even to one house. The place is not called after the church of Modan; the church is ignored, not a common thing, and we have here no word for Saint, but that omission may be too common to teach us anything. We may have some idea from the name, that the Saint did his work from this point at times. When ruling the church at Dumbarton, he is said to have gone often for long periods among the mountains, spending his life in solitude and in prayer. Most probably he did not give all this time to his own improvement, but devoted it to the education of others, and we can at any rate imagine the hills around Loch Lomond reflecting his labours, and we may look even farther, and, with sufficient reason, think of him wandering towards Loch Awe and Loch Etive. We must remember, however, that saints do not dedicate churches to themselves, and not only is it probable that the church was not built by him, but it is nearly certain. The church affords of itself no proof that St. Modan came quite so far, but it is believed that he did come, and his reputed labours are in this direction.

Cameron.—We visited Ardchattan before, and now we may return to Oban. I was sorry when we passed Ledaig hill that I could tell you nothing of a burial place up above those precipices that stand behind Achnacree, but nearer to Bhalanree. The place seems to be Christian, but I know nothing of any chapel there, and have heard of no traditions. Was the moss too wet ? and if so, why did the people leave Keills of which we have spoken? Very likely there was a chapel on the hill, and if so this district would be visited more by men who met to worship, than it has been in known historic times, until very Iately, when the two Free Churches have been built, one at Barcaldine and one at Ardchattan, and the little cave room below the post-office has been occupied.

In any case it is interesting to see the various traces of deep devotion and love to man and to God, that churchyards and churches show, whether by the rude burials or other memorials of the darker times, or tiny chapels of early Christians, or the simple but practical and comfortable churches of to-day. We love to look at them all, and grieve with poor man in his troubles, struggling to make a more decided connection between this world of sorrows and the future of calm, and to us this whole region seems peopled with many generations of dreams and hopes, so that even the winds and storms of winter cannot remove them. Every ruin seems to show how rich the place was in sorrow and in love.

Since the above was written, St. Modan's life has been looked up by Dr. Story, and published in a most interesting little volume. He gives the latest opinion—viz., that the saint was an Irish missionary who came to the shores of Loch Etive, and went to Appin and Morven, then passed by Loch Awe to Strachur on Loch Fyne, and on to Loch Riddan (called also Loch Ruel), Kyles of Bute, where is a Kilmodan. He then passed to Roseneath, and from that centre went to the Loch Lomond district, and by the Campsie hills, as far as Falkirk, going back to Roseneath, where he died. He was buried on the spot where the parish church now stands. It was then called Rosneve, the promontory of the sanctuary.

Skene finds the name Modan also at Kingarth in Bute, and looks on the saint as a companion of St. Ronan. Both in Lennox and in Lorn the name Kilmaronaig is near the church of St. Modan.

St. Modan must have passed over wild ground, but we do not know that the people were wild ; a man cannot leave a fine memory among men who have no sympathy with him; his name is everywhere in the district remembered in some form, less at Roseneath because of its destructive nearness to modern activity. One instance of his power may be given in an interesting letter of the Rev. Dr. Clerk's (of Kilmally) quoted by Dr. Story in a note. The Saint's Well was resorted to by the sick within the last sixty years, and many offerings were left beside it (very trifling ones, not above a halfpenny). There was a bell called—to quote from Dr. Story's book—"Clag Buidhe Bhaile Mhoadain, the yellow bell of Baile Mhoadan, which was held in higher veneration for its curative powers than even the well. As a matter of very special favour it was sometimes allowed to be carried to the sick in other parishes; and, if, after accomplishing its benevolent errand, it was not immediately carried back, it would take the matter into its own hands and fly through the air to its home, all the while ringing out the most melodious music ever heard by mortal ear. I remember conversing with old people who believed as firmly as possible that the boatmen on Loch Etive often heard the Clag Buidhe singing its saintly hymns in the sky above them as it returned to its home. I never heard what became of the tuneful yellow bell."

I have never seen Suidhe Mhaodain, or Modan's Seat, which was up in Glen Salach, through which you pass when going from Barcaldine to Bunawe. We learn from Dr. Story that it was hewn into pieces a few years ago for building purposes, and this in a land of good granite stones. I fear the saints of the time had no comfortable houses—they chose high and windy places to sit in, but it may have been from pure love of nature.

I know you want to cross to the Abbot's island, but I have not landed there, and cannot tell you what to see; I understand the remains do not seem to indicate important buildings. They are said to have belonged to the monks of Inchaffray, near Crieff, and if so they are a memorial of connecting links between the Eastern and the Western churches of Scotland. The establishment may have been used to give a change of air to the monks of Inchaffray, or a place of shelter in times of fear, or a corner from which to issue to civilize the district. I may remind you of the stone circle on the mainland opposite, now destroyed, but indicating that a native population was interested in pre-historic times in Ach-na-Cloich. There is no church exactly here, no public institution, no church land I believe; the next church foundation is not far down the loch—namely, over there at Kilmaronaig, or Kilmaronag.

Ronan is supposed to have gone with Modan in evangelizing, since their churches are sometimes together. Poor St. Ronan is a good deal neglected; he is left out of the Roman calendar. Skene says, "He has left his trace in Iona, where one of the harbours is Port Ronan. That church, afterwards the parish church, was dedicated to him, and is called' Teampull Ronaig,' and its burying ground Cladh Ronan, Then we find him at Rona in the Sound of Skye, and at another Rona off the coast of Lewis; and finally his death is recorded in 737 as Ronan, Abbot of Cinngaradh or Kingarth, in Bute." We may be glad to find him in a peaceful bay in Bute; he went there soon after St. Cathan, who used to enjoy the place, sitting upon the little hill of Kilchattan bay called after him, and making it so much a habit that the hill is called his seat—Mount Sui (or Suidhc) Chattan. Ronan had difficult work in the Western Isles, and when he was very much troubled with rough people in Eorrapidh, a whale came and took him on its back to the island now called Ronag. This island was then inhabited by hardy creatures who went into the sea, leaving deep scratches on the rocks. There is now upon it the remains of an interesting little chapel called Teampull Ronaig, and the account is very pleasantly given, in a handsome volume full of interesting matter, by Mr. Muir, of Edinburgh. This work was published anonymously, and I do not know the full name. We like to know the name of one who does such good and loving work. The labour to obtain the information was not trifling; he visited all the little islands of Scotland, and even nearly bare rocks, and I know that it is not always easy to get through the seas that surround Ronag, which is some sixty miles from Lewis.

When these two saints, Modan and Ronan, became old they gave up their Highland adventures and settled down in Roseneath and Kingarth, very much as their successors do now; and we may believe that they met with that respect which the devotion of all their best days to the good of their fellowmen well deserved. This is seen in the name Moronog, a word of affection, as Mr. Skene shows, meaning my little or dear Ronan, a similar phrase not being unusual among the names of saints. Did I say "poor Ronan"? Ronan was called "the kingly bishop."

This name is found at the spot where was the nearest mainland church to Abbot's Isle, and where little else remains —Kilmaronaig. We can imagine the two friends, Ronan and Modan, working on each side of the loch, and occasionally meeting to speak of their labours and their plans. They would have friends among the people, or they would not so frequently have returned as it is supposed; these men would act as assistants probably, and by degrees centres of faith would grow. The monks of Inchaffray came to a place already prepared, and they came perhaps with a certain fear and sought an island for shelter at a time when lake dwellings were by no means uncommon.

In looking over our Scottish history we certainly find terrible accounts of battle and murder, and we are glad to think of any quiet spots in which some men had the privilege of finding shelter. In the lower Iands there was more wealth and more temptation to display, and among the early Celts there was always much attention to the rights of the Church and to the ideal. With the Scandinavian element came heathen opposition, and the great preponderance of that race has hitherto prevented the Church from ever attaining that influence which it has kept in Ireland among a more purely Celtic people.

We must again return to our hotel, after a peaceful, pleasant day.

Londoun.—Thanks for telling us so much ; but I must tell you as we are going what became of the Clag Buidhe (pronounced bui), quoting Dr. Story. The bell was taken to Scone, and one night the people of Baile Mhaodan (pronounced Bailyivaidan) heard a noise and jingle in the air, when lo! the tuneful bell was flying home, but instead of its own grave sweet melody it was clanging out harsh sounds like "An rud nach buin dhuit na buin dha"—"Don't meddle with what meddles not with you."

Sheena.—I hope that was not his bell that was lost "in a forgotten mere on the tumbled fragments of the hills," and that it was not the same that was called "Maidie's bell," which was sold this century as a bit of old iron.

Loudon.—It was taken again to Scone, and never returned to Loch Etive. Some say it was lost in a mere; but why should it go there? We may find it again some day, as we have found St. Fillan's bell and crozier, which are now safely deposited in the Museum of Antiquaries of Edinburgh. It is better to leave it with hope, and after all we do not know the end.


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