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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."

Cameron.—Your 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.

Loudoun.—He 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.

Margaet.—Darthula is a far more beautiful name than Deirdre. I wish you would use it.

O'Keefe.—In Ireland it is never used. I do not know well its authority, but there is some for it.

Margaet.—Darthula must have been a kind of Helen.

Loudoun.—Yes; 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.

Cameron.—You 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.

O'Keefe.—I3efore 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 Christ.

Cameron.—Mr. Skene says that the names Cuchullin, Deirdre, and sons of Uisnach, were connected with vitrified forts.

O'Keefe.—I 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.

Cameron.—Still, some of the Fingal family have left their name in this locality. We have Tom Ossian near Barcaldine; that was the favourite seat of Ossian.

O'Keefe.—I 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.

Cameron.—Frequent 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 Sruth—now 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." [1]

Teamhra must have been very close to the sea when its smoke could be reflected in the smooth water.
"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.' [2]

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. [3] 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?"

Loudoun.—I 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 place.

O'Keefe.—I 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 speak of.

Cameron.—\Nell, take that passage

"O Snivan of greyest locks,
Go to Ardven of hills,
To Selma surrounded by the wave."

O'Keefe.—Who 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.

Cameron.—Let 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 haste,
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."

Dr. M'Lachlan's 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.

O'Keefe.—The 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 very much.

Cameron.—Perhaps 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.

O'Keefe.—I 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?

Cameron.—I 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 alone."

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?

Loudoun.—The picture is fine, and I confess there is room for a new criticism—esoteric—rather than one relating only to authenticity. Still the scene would suit many places, and Cona is mentioned, which brings great confusion—at 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 atopic—that 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 it—with 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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