Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter III -
"These are but dreams
and wishes of our forefathers."
Sheena.—Again we waken in Oban,
the "little bay," a good name.
Cameron—That definition is
from ob, a bay, and an, a diminutive. Some of my friends object to
this and call it the white bay. I cannot consider it white, although
the derivation may be made to fit.
a sheltered spot, and no one need fear here if in any vessel, at
least when there is a good anchor, for one may run aground of
course. Oban, at least, is new enough. Imagine it early last century
having only one house. One wonders why such a fit spot should be so
forget; look at Dunolly, that old castle. It was destroyed by
Selvach in 701, and built again by him after thirteen years. Do not
suppose that one of the divisions of the Dalriad kingdom had no
inhabitants but such as could live in that tower. When Loarn came
over and gave his name to this district, he had to conquer his
position as his brethren had to conquer theirs, and it is more than
probable that he lived at a spot which had been inhabited by his
opponents. Whether their bones were found under the castle, who can
tell ; but some one's were. We must imagine the little bay filled
with Loarn's boats, and his people living along the shore, and the
same state of things we may look on as continued far down to the
times when the older system was broken up by the Norse, perhaps even
when the Celtic power revived with the only semi-Norse Somerled and
continued with the Macdougalls; but, at any rate, the followers of
the Highland chiefs have left few of their dwellings, which we
suppose, therefore, to have been slightly built.
should have thought that the chiefs would have lived at Dunstaffnage.
and Bocce have given much prominence to Dunstaffnage, but its origin
Cameron.—To-day we are in a hurry to see one great object of our
visit, and we shall take a boat and row to Loch Etive. The day being
fine, we can at least see the lower part and entrance; some other
day we shall see more. Four rowers are waiting for us at the quay,
and we may walk down quietly through Oban, looking at its streets
and new shops, perhaps seeing faces from home, since many strangers
show themselves here, as in a moving panorama, for they arc soon
gone, leaving no marks.
here is something really new. They are actually digging pots out of
enough, Willie, and you are lucky to see one. I have known of
thousands, but I never saw one actually emerging. This is an urn,
and it is a very pretty one. Was there a cairn here?
sir, no cairn that we know of, but there was, I dare say, a cairn
once. We were digging a foundation for a house, and here we found a
stone kist with this in it.
many a day since the man who buried that lived, and the man whose
dust was in it. But here is Mr. Noble, and he's going to photograph
it, so we shall see a good memorial of it when we return perhaps,
and it will remain with Captain M'Dougall or Sir Dugald. [Campbell
they burn the people here?
the old Celts did, and the Romans sometimes did the same, you know,
and you will see thousands of urns in Rome put up in places so like
pigeon holes that they have got that name in Latin (columbaria).
we must not stay here, because the boat is waiting, and it is eight
o'clock, and the tide turns about nine.
a beautiful morning. What a pity we cannot paint it and keep it to
Watch that land opposite, it is a long island called Kerrera. I hope
you observe the pronunciation, and do not fancy it like Carrara,
where the fine marble of Italy is quarried. We have no such lofty
mountains as the Alps, or even the Apennines, and we have not the
forests, but Kerrera is so romantic it requires no trees. The rocks
jut up so wonderfully that they take the place of the forests, and
the numerous glens are like glades among the woods.
seems good enough land, why cannot they grow trees?
will think differently in a while; if all the land were covered with
trees how should we see the varied surface, the hills and dales and
long grass; and where would the sheep live, and where would men get
food? We like the rich sweet grass to look at; under the trees you
see nothing; here we live in the weather, and the heaven is our
very well to-day, but when the ceiling is a black cloud?
the grass is sweetened and fattened, and the green rejoices our
are steamers taking people everywhere, and they are flying over the
fine sea among the many islands, whilst we only crawl along the
how lovely, there are trees as fine as ours on the right, and a
beautiful walk and rocks standing up quite straight. And a fine
castle is Dunolly on the very edge of a rock; all this where a waste
won't be a guide book, remember; because it is too systematic, and
it will weary you and me, and I shall only tell you little incidents
unless you ask questions.
I shall ask a question: what is that pillar? is it built?
it is natural, and they connect it with the name of Bran, one of
Fingal's dogs, and people say that on hunting days the dogs of the
castle were tied there. But that is a fancy; it is far too big to
tie dogs to. Finn and his dogs have each been made gigantic, but it
is the fate of strong creatures. Bran was the most talented of the
rock is evidently a remnant of the ocean border; when the sea
washed. higher up it broke down the rocks, and this would have been
broken down too had the whole land not risen up, and so left this
mark as a piece of history, the date of which is not found yet. It
is an ornament to a fine shore, and had we been in a steamer we
should have passed it without time to observe it.
now I want to know why they built the castle so high.
rough times the great went high for shelter and the poor clung
around for the same, and that you find over all the world.
we pass we must remember the little trace of fact. The castle was
built in the eighth century by the Lorn leader, Selvach.
if you will, I believe it was only a small castle attached to
Dunstaffnage where the kings lived, and this was the Dun or castle
of the Oileamh, Ollamh, physician or learned man.
don't think Dunstaffnage was ever so great as to have an official or
lawyer so important. More likely it was the Dun of Olave which is a
well known Scandinavian name, and we know that these people had
great power in the west and were long in fact the rulers.
But some say that the
name of this castle is from aille, a precipice—the Dun of the
precipice. P. W. Joyce says that aille takes the form oil,
and I think this the most probable derivation.
sounds well; look into your own annals and you will see that
Norsemen did not come till the ninth century. A cave with
stalactites was found under the castle. In this was a number of
burials and coins, but although proving it not to be excessively
old, we must believe the annals of Tighearnach of your own country,
and that it was indeed the place of the rulers of Lorn. Somerled may
have lived in it, and the Macdougalls also, for centuries; they are
said to be descended from him, and they live still just below in a
After all it was a
foolish thing of these old Highlanders not to have written more; you
Irish have beaten them thoroughly, and most of our information is
got from your books. Surely we cannot blame the Norse for all the
loss of literature, when they have kept so much of their own. If the
people here ever had writings they were probably good at their
destruction, and by that means they have brought the age of romance
nearer to us. Romance belongs to the days of ignorance and
must receive that cautiously even from you, and my authority is
Tennyson, who speaks of "the fairy tales of science and the long
results of time."
corrected; I meant the romance of our Romantic ages so called. After
a time however every great historic age becomes romantic, and to one
who looks widely on history and on the present there is a romance
over all time and space.
now that we are past Dunolly, let us look forward, there is an
island in the way.
rower.—That is Ellen's Isle.
who was Ellen?
question is often asked ! There was no Ellen, however, I may tell
you. The Gaelic for an island is Eilean, and that is easily turned
into Ellen. This is also called the Maiden isle, perhaps ° by some
similar misapprehension. But now look at the view. There is
Mull,-and Morven and Appin and Cruachan; if you are not satisfied
with this I shall be disappointed, and perhaps return. Still, I will
give you another chance, as we do not see so well from a small boat.
Macculloch, who was no sentimentalist, was roused to admire the
beauty of the view from that small tower on the left. It is on the
point of Ardnamuic.
book spells it Ardnamucknish.
is very long, and the writer ought to know better. It is a doubled
name, Ard is point or promontory, and so is Wish or ness; evidently
it was called Ardnamuck by the Gaelic people before the Norse came;
it meant the promontory of the swine or boar, and when the Norse
came they called it the promontorry of the boar point, simply
because they did not know the meaning of the words. That is a common
occurrence in naming places, and it is a good proof of great
antiquity. Now remember that when I speak of wild boars.
bay is a fine one with that point on the left, and the old castle on
the right, and Cruachan before us. Is it not Lochnell Bay?
means; and it is annoying to see the names of places changed.
Lochnell is fresh water, six miles south of this, but the estate is
called after it, and the proprietor built his house on this bay.
intended to take you to Loch Etive above the falls first, but as we
go close by Dunstaffnage — a name much better known—we may as well
land there for a little. There is a fine sheltered bay when we get
round these rocky islands. The castle itself is on a rock, a square
enclosure. One wonders at the smallness of these ancient castles or
palaces. Nowadays we require so much more room.
but this is larger than you would suppose. You will find the wall
quite broad enough for a good walk. If you go into the court below,
you find a comparatively modern house built on one side of it found
to be large enough for the abode of the baronets of Dunstaffnage. It
resembles the later buildings of Scotland before 1745, when lofty
houses were not used as in Edinburgh, but very small solid stone
Willie. — Is
not this castle the very first that our early kings inhabited, and
the spot where the sacred stone was kept, which is now in the
Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey?
can scarcely be the case; at least we recognized Dunmonaidh in Dun
Add, and we looked on that as being the seat of the chief king of
the Dalriads, so we must seek another history for this.
has always been considered the great deposit of the stone that came
from Tara, the Lia Fail, the stone of destiny. That certainly was a
wonderful stone; it sounded when the true king stood upon it. It
came from Egypt, having been brought by Pharaoh's daughter Scota.
think your fairy tales are quite as true as all that. Surely we know
that the Tuatha De Danaan came from Scandinavia or Lochlan, and
brought a wonderful sword, a wonderful spear, a wonderful cauldron,
and this wonderful stone to Scotland. They afterwards took it to
Ireland, and we know how it returned. Wherever the stone is found a
sovereign of Scotland reigns, as witness now the Queen, who reigns
by virtue of even the small amount of Scottish blood in her veins.
thought the stone was used by Jacob for a pillow on the memorable
night when he saw the angels ascending and descending.
and afterwards it was the judgment seat used by Gathelus in the time
of Moses, and after many adventures it was taken to Spain by
Gathelus, who was a Greek, and who married Pharaoh's daughter, one
of the Egyptians who was not drowned in the Red Sea. Simon Brec, his
descendant, took it out of the sea when the chair—for it was then a
chair of marble—stuck to his anchor. I have read all this I know,
and it was called the anchor of life. Ferchar took it to Ireland,
and Fergus took it to Scotland in the fifth century. This seems
are fairy tales, and not so contradictory. Will you believe me when
I tell you that it is all false, and Mr. Skene, than whom I know no
better authority, only believes that a stone was found at Scone and
was taken from it in 1296 by Edward 1st, and is in Westminster Abbey
now. The stone is old, and it was customary for the Celtic races to
be crowned on a stone, and there was one at Tara. Some people say
that it is there yet, but that which I saw there is not such a thing
as any one would sit or stand upon in its present position, or with
its present shape. The Westminster stone seems to have been used by
the Pictish kings from time immcmorial at Scone, their capital—at
any rate it was their capital in 710, when Nectan expelled the
Columban clergy, accepted the forms of the Italian church, and
promulgated them from the Moat Hill. [See Skene's Celtic Scotland,
vol. I., p. 278.] The stone is broken from the red sand• stone of
that district of Scotland, according to Professor Ramsay. I like to
think of it as having belonged to the old Pictish kings, perhaps
also true Caledonians. [See the volume on the subject by Mr. W. F.
You forgot to mention
another story that it came from Iona, where St. Columba used it as a
pillow. But it is not a stone of that island: the Iona stone is
probably there still, and is supposed to have been found only last
year by digging. I believe in wonders, because nature and history
give us plenty, but let us have true wonders if we must have them.
After all you never mentioned to what place the stone first went
from Ireland; some say it was to a place called Bercgonium, which
others have fancied to be Dunstaffnage, also a mistake.
by what right do you destroy all our stories?
know little myself on this point, but I follow Skene, because I
think he has proved his points. If I follow our latest authorities,
it is because our early ones, like your own, invented so much ;
although we had fewer than you in Ireland, probably because fewer of
us could write.
must not leave us in this confused state with all these
contradictory tales in our ears. I want to know the exact case as it
now stands. I understand you to mean that the history of the stone
does not go farther back than its appearance at Scone, and that it
has been taken from the rocks there. As if to increase the
difficulty, you have introduced a new name — I3eregonium, and I
should be glad to hear its connection with our object. Willie seems
to have read a good deal about it, and I should like him to give us
what he knows. It will at least be the learning of the schools as he
is fresh from one.
I knew that I was to be brought here this summer on a holiday, and
as I was obliged to write a historical essay at school I thought it
better to choose this spot, and I was glad because I found it
remarkably easy to arrive at the material. There seems to be no
historian on the subject, except Hector Boece of Aberdeen, and his
translator into the Scottish tongue, John Bellenden. It was also
translated from "Scottish" into English, instead of taking it from
the "Latin copie which is far more large and copious." Now tourists
are an impatient race, and I do not think you would listen to the
long account of kings who lived near here. In my essay I shortened
the account, I assure you, as much as I dared, and I feel it
needf'il to make it still shorter, knowing how few care for these
We are now in the
region that first gave kings to Scotland, in a land where kings
reigned in great splendour, when England was barbarous and unknown
even to the Romans; a land which had its men of Iearning, its
Druids, its physicians, and its poets, where now there are only
ruins and heather; a land to which ambassadors came from Spain
before the Christian era. The Picts and Scots, as well as Britons of
the southern part of Scotland, quarrelled, and the Scots sent for
aid to their brethren in Ireland, and Fergus, the son of an Irish
king, came over in the year 327 before Christ, and was crowned king,
being the first Scot that ruled in Albion. He made a treaty with the
Picts because the women were powerful enough to demand, with
success, a peace; but Coile, the king of the Britons, attacked them
both, and they met on the river Doon in Ayrshire, where King Coile
was defeated and slain. His tomb is to be seen at this day, and the
land Coilsfield is called after his name, and the district of
Ayrshire also now called Kyle. Now, Fergus built a great castle in
Argyleshire, and I believe it is only a few miles from us : it was
called Bcregonium, and in this he reigned. ' Bocce says that it was
in Lochquaber, which is a good deal north, and in which Fort-William
is ; but whether it extended so far as this spot, on which we now
are, at any time, I can only take the opinion of my authorities for
concluding. Fergus was drowned in going to Ireland, and Feritharis,
the brother, was made King. He had a reign of peace, he was wise and
great, since even Charlemagne made a treaty with him. You may
stumble as I do at this chronology, but you may call this a
quotation and wait for the reply at any rate. Maims succeeded him.
Besides wise laws he made temples of rings of stone, with one stone
at the south greater than the others, and on these sacrifice was
made to the Gods. He appointed also livings for the priests, and
died after reigning 29 years. Dornadille, his successor, made the
first hunting laws.
It would be long to
tell you of the attacks of the Britons, and how they were overcome
by a union of the Picts and Scots under King Reuther, who then came
hack and lived at Beregonium, where he died in peace, after having
introduced into Albion many of the arts and sciences before unknown
Ewin was also a wise
king, and he lived after his necessary wars quietly in Beregonium,
but he preferred the site of Dunstaffnage, and he there built a
castle, calling it after his own name—Evonium. It is also said that
he was crowned sitting on the marble chair that came from Ireland.
Afterwards many kings
lived in Dunstaffnage, until the capital was transferred to Scone. I
might keep you longer, but I think I have given you a good specimen
of one of our earliest historians existing ; he said he obtained the
material from other still earlier writers.
Willie, I am so far pleased that you have given us in few words a
specimen, although of course quite a schoolboy's one, of Boece's
early Scottish history, but do not wonder when I tell you that none
of these kings ever lived. Probably no kings of the name, not even
petty chiefs, have existed, nor could any of the events have
happened in your chronology, which ends about the time of Julius
Caesar. We may banish it; still some of the events may have occurred
centuries after. However, I3eregonium is a mistake, and Evonium is
not known to us, and Dunstaffnage was not the seat of the kings, and
the stone of destiny was never in Dunstaffnage, neither was it ever
a marble chair—that I told you of already. Where the inventions were
made no one can tell. But remember that the main object of this
journey is to see the place called by some Iieregonium, and we must
go there and discuss all the themes, this of yours coming up again,
of course, among the rest.
confess it interests me to hear these things. I rejoice to live on a
spot which so many generations of men have peopled in their own
minds with great kings. It has been no dead place, but one fertile
at least in imaginings, and it has borne many heroes for some
centuries at ]cast. I remember when walking about the Palatine Hill
in Rome, to have come upon an opening in the rock which attracted
the attention of myself and friends. There was no name, no mark to
teach us what it was. It received a careful examination, and then we
learnt that it was called the cave in which the wolf lived that
suckled Romulus and Remus, and was therefore their first home. Vow,
you may call that nonsense. I do not know how much is nonsense, but
I say that a place supposed to be sacred by a great people for more
than two millenaries is one crowded about with so many memories that
it becomes sacred, if only by the amount of human faith, interest,
and reverence devoted to it. This reasoning would be enough to make
Loch Etive interesting.
are right, but it needs none. Look at that mountain, and the deep
cuts along the side, each, we know, a clear, bright stream or a wide
loch; look at the beautiful woods towards the base, the endless
dells and crags that one sees, indicated by slight shadows
everywhere on the rocks and on the rising heath opposite, and you
see yourselves in a land of romance at once. This scene produces
imaginary incidents; valleys are places out of which people come,
and if there are no people we must suppose their substitute ; and if
they came out they must go in again, and we thus in our fancy pursue
them home. It is an unavoidable act of the mind, and this for these
reasons has been, and ever will be, a land of imagination and
but Hector Boece, or rather the people he followed, had no right to
put romance for history. The place he is said to have called
Beregonium is over this bay; you can see from this spot a green
mound, to the left of the point of that long hill of Ledaig. I want
to impress you with its situation. It is said that Ewin called this
Evonium; but the origin of the word may have been Dun Monaidh or
Mhonaidh (mh is pronounced v), which place we have looked at as Dun
Add. Dunstaffnage is said by Boece to be called after St. Stephen.
It has been remarked that this saint is not much honoured in
Scotland, and the favourite derivation of the word here is Dina ages
da Innis, pronounced Dun's da nish, meaning the Dun and the two
islands. It might be called so very properly. Still one fears the
slippery character of Celtic etymology.
affords a fine view, of sea, of island, and of hills, up towards
Fortwilliam and to Morven. It was a fine place of shelter from
English and Scottish power in early days, a safe station, but not a
good position from which to conquer Scotland. A direct road never
existed till of late, unless it were a road for a few mountaineers.
One sees why the Dalriads kept their centre at Dun Add. It is
probable that the road was over the Druim Albin, which, although, as
the meaning shows, a great region of hills, was practical for armies
at Tyndrum. This place was naturally shut out a good deal from
Scottish mainland influence, and became more directly connected with
the lordship of the Isles under Somerled, whilst Dun Add became
secondary and decayed.
a pleasant place, and one rambles among these rocks, and finds woods
and morasses and fine little bays with shells, and an old church and
many recent head-stones, which show that a spot is still used as a
sacred burial ground.
As we are here, I may
as, well tell you of the piece of carved ivory that was found,
representing a king sitting in a chair, and it has even been
supposed that it was intended as a representation of the fabulous
marble chair and the stone of destiny, and so forth. It is in the
possession of Sir Donald Campbell of Dunstaffnage, but we do not
require to seek far for its meaning. Chess was a very old and
favourite game, and a chessman it evidently was ; who carved it we
fear you will find that carved chessman very like the Norwegian
ones. Some have imagined for it a very great age.
The day is fine, and
we have made this only a short excursion; but as to-morrow we may
have a long way to run, we shall leave the boat here and walk,
returning here in the morning by the coach.
at high water, we cannot pass Connel, so it will be safer to take
the boat whenever the tide is up, and leave it at Ach a Lieven (Leamhan.)
boatman).—The tide is up at about nine in the morning, and we can
easily pass the boat over then, and either take you in here when the
coach arrives, or at Ach a Leamhan.
then meet us in the morning, and now we can have a quiet walk to
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