Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter VIII -
The Rocks of Naisi
"Are these the rocks of
Naisi? Is this the roar of his mountain stream?"
"I will go towards that mossy tower to see who dwells there."
tale is interesting, but notwithstanding all, I believe the greatest
resident of the fort to have been Fingal, and I will give you my
impressions. Meantime I may say that you have done your best to tell
the story fairly, and I cannot complain, but we here make the heroes
the real sons of the man Uisnach, who belonged to this place.
Besides, we have here a tradition that an Earl of Ardchattan went
over to Ireland and ran away with an Ulster princess, and lived up
at Ruadh nan Draighean. Then we call the heroine Darthula, and
several places are called after her. On the whole, I think you have
the best grounds for your version historically. The incidents may
have happened before Fingal's time, and no one can deny that the
names have a most tenacious hold of the land here. Besides, they
occur in no other place as they do here, so that we are not
distracted by contradictions. Everything is natural but the Druid's
wrath and power ; these are the only things in the story in the
least exaggerated so far as internal evidence goes. I find, too,
that the landing at Ballycastle on the return to Ireland is well
remembered by tradition. A rock there is called Carraig Uisneaclz.
The local pronunciation rather corrupts one name, and the lady is
called Gardrei, and it is said that the men were murdered near the
rocks, and that she was confined in Dunaveny Castle not far off.
Ballycastle is directly opposite Raghery Island, to which Deirdre
advised the band to retire. This removes the scene from Armagh where
the king was, but it might have been placed there for effect. In any
case, it seems a true story, and I confess the name "the sons of
Uisnach " is rather in favour of their having come from Ireland.
Uisneach is a central place in Ireland, and is in no way to be
attributed to Scotland. Still, I consider that Fingal lived here
after, if not before that clan, and he is by far the greatest
character, so I prefer to connect the Dun with some one of fame.
must have been a good Scot that made those poems, and he must have
loved this land. I should think Deirdre's poem the first recognition
of the beauty of the Western Highlands. Our forefathers in the
Lowlands had no idea of it till of late, they seemed afraid of the
hills. The writer admires the sons of Uisnach. He has really not a
word to say of the sons of Alban. He seems quite impartial. He
admires the people of Ireland and the land of Alban. I do not say
Scotland ; the time claims to be before that name was used here.
Fingal's claim is not clear to me at all.
is a far more beautiful name than Deirdre. I wish you would use it.
Ireland it is never used. I do not know well its authority, but
there is some for it.
must have been a kind of Helen.
a beauty about whom nations fought, places at least quite as
populous as Attica and the Troad probably; but not quite so far away
from Ireland as Troy from Mycenae, although the latter distance is
not much above two hundred miles. Deirdre was the Helen of the
Celts, and people still say "as beautiful as Deirdre." Do you remark
how true and how tender she was?truer than any ideal of Greece, and
wise and thoughtful. She seems to have been a very noble character,
and names of places do not grow from triflers. Even great beauties
may have character. We shall meet her again.
must know I am not so anxious to exalt these sons of Uisnach. I
still prefer to give the Castle of Berigonium to Fingal, and to call
it by the ancient name of Selma. I see Fingal at the feast of shells
on the top of that mound, and I see him stalking down the hill with
his great spear. I can imagine him meeting heroes, whom he kills on
the plains beneath, and seeing ghosts coming down from the Appin
hills or from Morven, for many a dark view have I seen of both.
It may appear strange
that the name of the Fingalian hero should not have been distinctly
preserved in connection with the palace or city. The latest poems
ascribed to Ossian may serve to throw some light on the subject,
particularly the piece called "Losgadh Theamhra" or the burning of
Tara. The burning of the home of his ancestors is particularly
referred to and lamented in the sad story of his old age. He himself
was the last of his race, and Ossian an deigh na Feinne, "Ossian
after the Finn," has become a proverb. He was an old man,
remembering great days. The description of Teamhra given by the
poets makes it exceedingly probable that Dun MacUisneachan (Selma or
Berigonium) was the place meant, and referred to, and tradition
concurs with the poet's account of the city and palace. Dun Valanree,
the king's town, near the chief Dun, is a name to be remembered in
considering this, the ancient capital Selma.
you give too many arguments let me answer those you have suggested.
According to our history, Finn lived nearly three hundred years
after Conor MacNessa and the Uisnach family. It is most natural,
certainly, to take the name from the earliest, but only when in want
of more famous men. If Finn, or Fingal, as you name him, had lived
at this Dun, his superior fame would have put the other aside,
although not quite of necessity. I do not know Tara as a home of
Finn, but of the kings of Ireland. Conor lived in the time of
Skene says that the names Cuchullin, Deirdre, and sons of Uisnach,
were connected with vitrified forts.
fear the connection is accidental. If in two or three cases it
exists, it only shows the style of building at the time and favours
no side, but the names of the family are connected with various
places, and these chiefly not forts at all. Deirdre's Grianan is a
rock. Eilean Uisneachan had cottages made of boulders on it. The bay
of Naisi or Camus Naois has no old building, and so of the wood.
some of the Fingal family have left their name in this locality. We
have Tom Ossian near Barcaldine; that was the favourite seat of
fear this is not well founded. There is also Carn Ossian at
Achnacree mor, and at least three urns were in it. Not that this
would prove that Ossian was not there, but it was not sacred enough
to be devoted to him alone. Besides, we have several graves of
Ossian, and that settles the point so far.
allusion is made as I remember to the burning of the ancestral home
in Ossian's lament for the Fingalians. It may be that the burning of
the palace and the extinction of the Fingalian dynasty were
remembered in connection with the contest between the kingly and
priestly power. There might be a feeling of awe connected with these
two events, which would prevent the name of any one of them being
associated with the scene of the disaster, in which fire was the
means of reducing the palace to ashes and the city to ruins.
Selma, which means
fine view, had the same meaning as Teamhra, the latest name used
by Ossian in describing the ancient palace.
Beregone and Dun
MacUisneachan are other names, both of which have been used down to
modern times. The locality is clearly indicated in the description
of other places in the vicinity, such as Lora or Lora nan Sruthnow
called Connel, and the favourite Cona in Glencoe, where Ossian spent
the evening of his life and composed his most touching lays. The
following passages are equally applicable to Selma and Teamhra:-
"In the unruffled
sea, with ivy covered rocks, might be seen children gazing with
wonder at the smoke of Taura reflected in the deep." 
Teamhra must have
been very close to the sea when its smoke could be reflected in the
"It is the sound of Lora to the stranger groping his way in the
dark. . . . He hears at last the sound of Lora, and exclaims with
joy `Selma is near.' 
Again, "A king of
future times shall stand on the slope of the hill, once the site of
Taura. He can see in the distance the trembling ocean with many
green islands. From this lonely spot," exclaims the king, "may be
seen many lions and hills.  The burning of Tara is minutely
described. Fingal was at the time on Ardbheinn, and was
forewarned by the
doleful tones of the harp. "The harp had a doleful tone like the
moaning sound heard on the lonely hill before the coming of the
fierce storm." "We arrived late at the palace. The flames were
flickering low, the house fallen to the ground, and smouldering in
the spent fire." "There were in the hall a hundred sets of bows and
arrows, a hundred sets of shields, also a hundred bright coats of
mail, as many glittering swords, a hundred dogs, and a hundred
bridles." Wives, children, and young maidens were among the ruins.
"They were surpassing fair, but the flame laid their beauty low."
Dun Lora was the name
of another fort near Luath Shruth on Connel. It is referred to by
Ossian in the third book of Temora, where Fingal asks, "Where is the
chief of Dun Lora? ought Connal to be forgotten at the feast?"
shall not enter into the controversy about Ossian, although my mind
is quite clear on the subject, but this I may say, that even with
the greatest belief in Ossian, Dr. Clerk, who edited the poems, does
not see any proof that Selma was at Dun Mac Uisneachan. In a word,
the names of the Uisnach family are inseparable from Loch Etive. The
Fingalians are everywhere, and have no special connection with this
gave you the groundwork of an epic of Deirdre. I leave Ossian and
Fingal to others; they certainly come later if our records are of
any value. We need not dispute therefore. I may quote, however, from
Sir John Sinclair's edition of Ossian, 3rd vol., p. 269, in a note
to Temora, Duan V. Speaking of Lora, he says, "There is no vestige
of this name now remaining, but a small river on the north-west
coast was called so some centuries ago." The phrase "north-west
coast" is vague, and can hardly have meant this neighbourhood. And
yet in the same edition the name Lora is given also to the hill
Ledaig. In the same book, Alex. Stewart, giving his evidence for
Selma, says that the white beach answers exactly the present aspect.
Now the beach is not white when compared with other beaches I could
take that passage
"O Snivan of greyest
Go to Ardven of hills,
To Selma surrounded by the wave."
Snivan was we do not know, but we know that the rock in question is
not surrounded by waves. It is at the head of the bay. Ardven
applies to many places, and less to our Dun than to Dun Valanree.
Then we have, "The
king . . . . will see Cona's pebbly streams rolling through woods
abounding with herds; he will see at a distance the trembling ocean
abounding with many green islands." This seems conclusive against
our fort being meant; we cannot see the streams of Cona or any other
streams from it, they are far away. We can see the ocean, but no one
would say it was the distant ocean, since one can scarcely creep
between it and the rock. True, we can look afar off, but we cannot
see many green islands; although that may be allowed, as we do see
islands. It is not a distinctive account that can prove anything.
The description is
not exact enough to enable us to identify any time, place, or thing.
Of course, if the description of the spot were exact I should then
attack the authorship.
us look at another poem; it is from the Dean of Lismore's book, the
manuscript of which is assuredly above three centuries old
:(English, p. 20 ; Gaelic, p. 15.)
"All of us rose up in
Except Finn of the Feinne and Gaul,
To welcome the boat as it sped,
Cleaving the waves in its course.
It never ceased its onward way
Until it reached the wonted port.
Then when it had touched the land,
The maid did from her seat arise,
Fairer than a sunbeam's sheen,
Of finest mould and gentlest mien."
translation does not mention the waterfall, which must be Lora,
while Sir John Sinclair's edition takes notice of the peculiarity of
a vessel crossing a fall.
poem in Dr. M'Lachlan's book does not speak of crossing the fall,
but then it depends on the reading. Is it thir an eas or
than an eas. The first would be the land at the fall, the second
over the fall, but it does not matter which, as the poem distinctly
says that it was at Easruaidh, where Finn was living in a tent: so
it was not near his halls. There are two "Essaroys," but neither fit
well the situation. Mr. Stewart seems to wish to make Lora the same
as " Cona of Cairns," but this appears to me to strain the meaning
you are too precise about Fingal's tent, but I cannot explain
Easruaidh. If you read on in that same poem, you will see the death
of the fierce Daire, who was killed at the landing; and I was
inclined to look at one of the Cairns at Connel as being placed over
him. You remember the passage (Dr. M'Lachlan's translation)
"We buried him close
to the (water) fall,
This noble, brave, and powerful man,
And on each finger's ruddy point
A ring was placed in honour of the king."
I should like to
distinguish the Cairn of Daire. He at least had no connection with
Macpherson, to whom you are always objecting.
should also be glad. I never r remove the traces of history or
romance from a place without regret. Still, the evidence is wanting
for this point also, but interest enough remains, for these are "the
rocks of Naisi," although, that the poet alluded to them when he
spoke of Selma, no one, in my opinion, can tell, and even if he did
allude to them, the question would still remain, who was that poet?
think you difficult to persuade. Listen to me again. Let us look at
"Carthon" together. I may say, as it is said there, "The murmur of
thy streams, O Lora, brings back the memory of the past. Dost thou
not behold, O Malvina, a rock with its head of heath? Green is the
narrow plain at its feet ; there the flower of the mountain grows,
and shakes its white head in the breeze; the thistle is there alone,
shedding its aged beard. Two stones, half stink in the ground, show
their heads of moss. The mighty lie, O Malvina, in the narrow plain
of the rock."
We had, not long ago,
the two stones standing in the field below the Dun to the south ;
now only one remains. We have the stream in Connel falls, the heath,
and the remains of the famous dead. Happy, I doubt riot, was the
feast on that lonely hill, even when the heroes round Fingal sang of
the death of Moina, which happened long before, when Clessammor was
obliged to flee in his ships from Balclutha (Dunbarton). But a
terrible memorial of that struggle soon appeared. In the morning a
mist rose from the linn. "It came in the figure of an aged man along
the silent plain. Its large limbs did not move in steps, for a ghost
supported it in mid-air. It came towards Selma's hall, and dissolved
in a shower of blood." Soon the sun rose, and there was seen a
distant fleet. The ships came like the mist of ocean, and the youth
poured upon the coast. The chief moved towards Selma, and his
thousands moved behind. Fingal was ready to receive him, and drew
this picture, in language very gentle in sound, but involving a
terrible threat: "How stately art thou, Son of the Sea; ruddy is thy
face of youth, soft the ringlets of thy hair, but this tree may
fall, and his memory be forgot! The daughter of the stranger will be
sad, looking to the rolling sea; the children will say, "We see a
ship; perhaps it is the king of Balclutha." The tear starts from
their mother's eye. Her thoughts are of him who sleeps in Morven.
Behold that field, O Carthon! Many a green hill rises there, with
mossy stones and rustling grass; these are the tombs of Fingal's
foes, the sons of the rolling sea." A struggle began; the stranger
killed Cathul and Connal; and this reminds us of the name Connel
ferry. Can you not imagine Carthon standin- there, looking at the
next champion, and saying to himself, "Perhaps it is the husband of
Moina, my mother, whom I cannot remember, and who died in sorrow on
the Clyde. I have heard that my father lived at the echoing stream
of Lora." Clessammor, the father, refused to tell his name, and was
mortally wounded, whilst he himself killed his son. "Three days they
mourned above Carthon; on the fourth his father died. In the narrow
plain of the rock they lie; a dim ghost defends their tomb. There
lovely Moina is often seen; when the sunbeam darts on the rock, and
all around is dark, there she is, but not as the daughter of the
hill. Her robes are from the, stranger's land, and she is still
Ossian was sorry for
Carthon, and spoke thus in a song: "My soul has been mournful for
Carthon, he fell in the days of his youth; and thou, O Clessammor,
where is thy dwelling in the wind? Has the youth forgotten his
wound? Flies he on clouds with thee? I feel the sun, O Malvina;
leave me to my rest. Perhaps they may come to my dreams; I think I
hear a feeble voice. The beam of heaven delights to shine on the
grave of Carthon: I feel it warm around.
"O thou that rollest
above, round as the shield of my fathers, whence are thy beams, O
sun, thou everlasting light?" . . .
I cannot finish that
address; it is too beautiful to utter except when I am alone. Is not
the whole picture very fine; does it not describe the spot exactly?
picture is fine, and I confess there is room for a new
criticismesotericrather than one relating only to authenticity.
Still the scene would suit many places, and Cona is mentioned, which
brings great confusionat least it is a favourite idea that it means
the stream of Glencoe. There is no name spoken of known on the
ground except that of Connal, and there is little said of him. But
you do not prove authenticity by proving that the writer had the
plain of Ledaig or any plain in his eye. The poems, which I call
Macpherson's, are remarkably atopicthat is, they seldom venture to
name a place that we can recognize, and my theory is, that, having a
desire to keep to the ancient legends and poems, but being only
imperfectly acquainted with the whole of the literature, he
preferred as much as possible indefinite scenes. All are vaguely
described. The new ordnance map has been formed by the advice of an
enthusiast of Ossian. These maps will be used as evidence, but as
such they must be put aside whenever they use a name which has been
first applied to a place since Macpherson wrote. This must be
remembered. It grieves me to say a word against the belief in the
ancient Ossian having written or spoken the words quoted ; since you
so strongly hold it, I would willingly do so also. Still the change
of authorship does not alter the intrinsic character of the poem. I
have given some time to the subject, and carefully examined itwith
the aid, of course, of the writings of J. F. Campbell (Campbell of
Islay) and others, and all doubt or hesitation is removed. Before my
careful study I was in difficulties, and feared to decide against
Macpherson. When you urge me strongly to believe, I feel it
painfully, and I say like "Clessammor with a tear," "Why dost thou
wound my soul ?"
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