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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter III - Evonium


"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.

Sheena.—It is 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 long uninhabited.

Cameron.—You 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.

Willie.—I should have thought that the chiefs would have lived at Dunstaffnage.

Loudoun.—Tradition and Bocce have given much prominence to Dunstaffnage, but its origin is obscure.
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.

Willie.—Well, here is something really new. They are actually digging pots out of the ground.

Loudoun.—True 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?

Digger.-No, 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.

Cameron.—It's 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 of Dunstaffnage.]

Willie.—Did they burn the people here?

Loudoun.—Yes, 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).

Cameron.—But we must not stay here, because the boat is waiting, and it is eight o'clock, and the tide turns about nine.

Margaet.—What a beautiful morning. What a pity we cannot paint it and keep it to show.

Cameron.—Yes. 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.

Sheena.—It seems good enough land, why cannot they grow trees?

Cameron.-You 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 ceiling.

Loudon.-All very well to-day, but when the ceiling is a black cloud?

Cameron.-Then the grass is sweetened and fattened, and the green rejoices our hearts.

O'Keefe.—There are steamers taking people everywhere, and they are flying over the fine sea among the many islands, whilst we only crawl along the coast.

Margaet.—But 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 was expected.

Cameron.-Now I 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.

Margaet.—Well, I shall ask a question: what is that pillar? is it built?

Cameron.—No, 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 dogs.

Loudoun.—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.

Sheena.—And now I want to know why they built the castle so high.

Cameron—In rough times the great went high for shelter and the poor clung around for the same, and that you find over all the world.

Loudoun.—Before we pass we must remember the little trace of fact. The castle was built in the eighth century by the Lorn leader, Selvach.

Cameron.—Well, 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.

O'Keefe.—I 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.

Loudoun.—That 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 modern house.

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 uncertainty.

Margaet.—We 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."

Loudoun.—I am 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.

O'Keefe.—And now that we are past Dunolly, let us look forward, there is an island in the way.

John, a rower.—That is Ellen's Isle.

Margaet.—And who was Ellen?

Cameron.—That 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.

Margaet.—My book spells it Ardnamucknish.

Cameron.—That 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.

Loudoun.-This 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?

Cameron.—By no 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.

Loudoun.—I 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.

Cameron.—True, 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 ones.

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?

Loudoun.—This 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.

O'Keefe.—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.

Cameron.—I 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.

Willie.—I thought the stone was used by Jacob for a pillow on the memorable night when he saw the angels ascending and descending.

O'Keefe.—Yes, 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 plain enough.

Loudoun.—So 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. Skene.]

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.

O'Keefe.—And by what right do you destroy all our stories?

Loudoun.—I 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.

Margaet.—You 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.

Willie begins.—As 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 themes.

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 there.

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.

Loudoun.—Now, 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.

Margaet.—I 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.

Cameron.—You 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 romance.

Loudoun.—True; 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.

O'Keefe.—This 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.

Cameron.—It is 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 cannot tell.

Londoun.—I 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.

Cameron.—Unless 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.)

Ian (a 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.

Cameron.—Good; then meet us in the morning, and now we can have a quiet walk to Oban.


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