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Reminiscences of a Highland Parish
The Old Stone Coffin; or The Tomb of the Spanish Princess


IN the year 1588, the good ship "Florida," one of the Spanish Armada, was driven into the harbour of Tobermory, in Mull, by the great storm which scattered that proud fleet. The ship was visited by the chief of the Macleans of Duart, the remains of whose castle are still among the most picturesque objects on the shores of the Sound of Mull. The clan Maclean had a feud at the time with the clan Macian, of Ardnamurchan, immediately opposite Tobermory harbour, and for some "consideration" or other, Maclean of Duart, their chief, induced a party of Spanish soldiers to aid him in attacking his rival. Having revenged himself by the powerful and unexpected aid of the Spaniards, he failed to implement his bargain with them, and shortly afterwards, whether through treachery or not is uncertain, the "Florida" was blown up. The body of a female was washed on shore and buried in a stone coffin in the consecrated ground of "the parish." She has ever since been dignified by the name of "the Spanish Princess."

Again, Oliver Cromwell sent a ship to the Highlands, commanded by a Captain Forrest, to coerce some of the rebellious Highland Popish chiefs. This, vessel was wrecked upon a rock opposite -Duart, and only a few years ago the spot was examined, in which, according to tradition, Forrest's body was buried, when human remains were discovered. Some of the guns of the vessel have also, I believe, been seen.

So much for true history: [In the year 1740, Spaldin, the diver, was sent by the British Government to regain some of the treasure which was supposed to have been sunk in the "Florida." He succeeded only in obtaining ten of the guns, which are now at Inverary Castle. I myself have a portion of one of the black oak planks which was raised at the time. Mr Gregory, in his learned and accurate History of the Highlands, confirms the tradition of Maclean-of Duart having been instrumental in destroying the "Florida." He states that Spain, being at that time at peace with Scotland, though at war with England, demanded reparation for the savage and inhospitable conduct of Maclean of Duart, and that the records of council in Edinburgh show that the Highland chief had to confess his guilt and sue for pardon, as one who had justly forfeited his life.] now for the Highland myth founded on these facts. It is literally translated from the ipsissima verba of an old woman.

"In the time that is gone, the daughter of the King of Spain, in her sleep of the night, beheld in a dream a -hero so splendid in form and mien, as to fill her whole heart with love. She knew that he was not of the people of Spain, but she knew not what his race, his language, or his country was. She had no rest by day or by night, seeking for the beautiful youth who had filled her heart, but seeking him in vain. At last she resolved to visit other lands, and got a ship built—a great ship with three masts, and with sails as white as the young snow one night old. She went to many countries and to many lands, and whenever she reached land she invited all the nobles of the neighbourhood to come on board her great ship. She entertained them royally. There were feasting, and wine and music, dice and dancing. All were glad to be her guests, and very many gave her the love of their hearts ; but among them all she found not her love, the hero of her bright night-dream, (her whisper.) She went from one harbour to another—from one kingdom to another. She went to France, and to England. She went to Ireland and to LochIinn. She went to the 'Green Isle of the Ocean at the end of the land of the world,' (Scandinavia.) She made feasting and music wherever she went. Around her all was gaiety and gladness—the song and the harp—the wine, and the voice of laughter —hilarity and heartiness, but within her breast all was dark, and cold, and empty.

"At length, passing by the land under the wave, (the flat island of Tyree,) she came near the kingdom of Sorclia, (Ardnamurchan,) and after this to 'Mull of the great mountains,' to the harbour of all harbours, curved like a bent bow, sheltered from every wind and every wave. Here the great ship of the three masts and of the white sails cast her anchor, and here, as in all other ports, the daughter of the King of Spain sent invitations to all the nobles of the neighbouring country to visit her on board her ship. Here many a bold steersman of the Birlinns who quailed not before ocean's wrath, many a brave swordsman who rejoiced in the field of slaughter, and many a daring rider who could quell the wildest steed, with the owner of many a hospitable house whose door was never shut, and many a leader of numerous hosts who never turned their face from the foe, came on board the great ship. But all were strangers unto her, until at length the Lord of Duart, the chief of the numerous, the warlike, the renowned Macleans, shone upon her sight. Then did her heart leap with joy, and soon turn to rest in gladness; for he was her vision of the night, and the desire of her heart, in quest of whom she had travelled to so many lands.

"It was then that there was the magnificent and royal entertainment. There was red wine in `cup, tern, and cuach,' (cup, goblet, and bicker.) There was music of sweetest sound. Sorrow was laid down, and joy was lifted on high. The daughter of the King of Spain had a sunbeam in the heart, and brightness in the countenance. The Lord of Duart was so blinded by her beauty and her nobleness that he saw not the black gulf before him. He surrendered himself entirely to her loveliness, and great was the happiness of their converse. He forgot that in the strong black castle of frowning Duart, he had left a youthful bride. On board of the great ship days passed like moments in the midst of enjoyment; but not faster flew the days than rumour flew to Duart, proclaiming to the forsaken lady of the castle the unfaithfulness of her lord. The colour left her cheeks, sleep departed from her eyes, gnawing jealousy entered her heart, and fierce revenge filled her mind. Often as she turned on her pillow, as often turned she a new plan in her head for the destruction of her who had robbed her of her love; but none of these did satisfy her. At long and at last, (at length and at worst,) she contrived a plan which succeeded in drawing the Lord of Duart, and him alone, to the land; and, one of her most attached followers ["Most attached folIower," Colaca-cneais—"coat of the vast," and Leine chrios—"shirt of the girdle," are the terms used in Gaelic to denote a thoroughly devoted follower. It was customary of old, when a lady married beyond her father's clan, as was generally the case, that she took with her two or more of her family followers, who always formed a sort of body-guard to her, considering themselves entirely at her disposal, and at her command were ready to stab husband or son. Many strange interminglings of names and races have thus arisen. In the very centre of Lochaber there are several Burkes and Boyles. On inquiry I found that these had come from Ireland ages ago, as the followers of an Irish lady, who had married MacDonald of Keppoch. There the descendants still are.] being on board the "It chanced, shortly after this, that two young men in Morven, bound in ties of closest friendship, and freely revealing to one another all that was in their hearts, began to speak with wonder of the many great secrets of the world beyond the grave. They spoke, and they spoke of what was doing in the habitation of the spirits beyond the thick veil that hides the departed from the friends who sorrow so sorely after them. They could not see a ray of light --- they could discover nothing. At length they mutually promised and vowed, that whichever of them was first called away, would, while engaged in the dread task of Fai1e'Clzlaidh, or, `Watching of the churchyard,' [This is a curious idea. In many parts of the Highlands it is believed to this day, that the last person buried has to perform the duty of sentinel over the churchyard, and that to him the guardianship of the spirits of those buried before is in some degree committed. This post he must occupy until a new tenant of the tomb releases him. It is not esteemed as an enviable position, but one to be escaped if possible; consequently, if two neighbours die on the same day, the surviving relatives make great efforts to be first in closing the grave over their friend. I remember an old nurse, who was mourning the death of a sweet girl whom she had reared, exclaiming with joy when she heard, on the day after her funeral, of the death of a parishioner, " Thank God! my dear darling will have to watch the graves no longer!" A ludicrous but striking illustration of this strange notion occurred some years ago in the parish of A—. An old man and an old woman, dwelling in the same township, but not on terms of friendship—for the lady, Aale Ruadh, (or red-headed Kate,) was more noted for antipathies than attachments—were both at the point of death. The good man's friends began to clip his nails —an office always performed just as a person is dying. He knowing that his amiable neighbour was, like himself, on the verge of the grave, roused himself to a last effort, and exclaimed, " Stop, stop; you know not what use I may have for all my nails, in compelling Kate Ruadh to keep Farre'Chlaidh, (to watch the churchyard,) in place of doing it myself!"] tell to the survivor all that he could reveal regarding the abode of the departed; and here the matter was left.

"Not long after it fell out that one of them, full as his bone was of marrow, yielded to the sway of death. His body, after being carried Deas ilil [Deas iul—" a turn the right or the south way;" i.e., following the course of the sun. This is said to be a Druidical practice, followed in many places to this day. Very recently it was customary in the churchyard of " the parish" to carry the bier around the stone cross which stands there, and to rest it for a few minutes at its base before committing the body to the grave. It is still customary with people, if any food or drink goes wrong in the throat, to exclaim Deas ru1, apparently as a charm; and sending the bottle round the table in the course of the sun, is as common in the south as in the north. The south seems to have been held in high estimation by the Celts. Thus the right hand is termed the south hand. The same word is used to signify "the being prepared or ready," "the being expert," and "being handsome in person."] (according to the course of the sun) around the stone cross in the churchyard of Callum Cille, (Col'umba,) in Morven, and allowed to rest for a time at the foot of that cross, was laid amid the dust of his kindred. His surviving comrade, Evan of the Glen, mourned sore for the loss of his friend; and much awe and fear came upon him as he remembered the engagement made between them; for now the autumn evening was bending, (or waning,) and like a stone rolling down a hill is the faint evening of autumn. The hour of meeting drew nigh, and regard to the sacredness of a promise made to him who was now in the world of ghosts, as well as regard for his own courage, decided him to keep the tryst, (meeting.) With cautious, but firm step he approached the Cill, and looked for his departed friend, to hear the secrets of the land of ghosts. Quickly as his heart beat at the thought of meeting the spirit of his friend, he soon saw what made it quiver like the leaf of the aspen tree. He saw the gray shade of him who had, at one time, been his friend and his faithful comrade; but he saw all the `sheeted spectres' of the populous churchyard moving in mournful procession around the boundary of their dark abodes, while his friend seemed to lead the dread and shadowy host. But his eye was soon drawn by the aspect of titter woe presented by one white form which kept apart from the rest, and moved with pain which cannot be told. Forgetful of what had brought him to the Cill, he drew near this sight of woe, and heard a low and most plaintive song, in which the singer implored the aid of him whose `ship was on the ocean,' bewailed her miserable condition, in a land of strangers, far from father and from friends, laid in the grave without due or holy rites, and thus she moaned

'Worm and beetle, they are whistling
Through my brain—through my brain;
Imps of darkness, they are shrieking
Through my frame—through my frame.'

"Evan, whose heart was ever soft and warm towards the unhappy, asked her the cause of her grief, and whether he could lighten it. She blessed him that he, in the land of the living, had spoken to her in the land of the dead ; for now she said she might be freed from evil, and her spirit might rest in peace.

"She told him that she was Clara Viola, daughter of the King of Spain. She told him of the bright

Spain, and though it was a long way off, he was not long in reaching it. He soon made his way to the palace of the King of Spain, and that was the palace of many windows, of many towers, and of many doors, doors which were never closed—the great house of feasts and of royal hospitality. He was received with honour. He got the chest full of gold, and the chest full of silver, and many a reward besides. But when the King of Spain heard how his beautiful daughter had been treated in Albin, (Scotland,) his heart swelled with wrath and his face flamed with fury. He ordered his three strongest and most destructive ships of war to be immediately fitted out, his three best and bravest captains to command them, to sail as fast as possible to the three best harbours in Scotland,—one in the Kyles of Bute, one in the Horse-shoe' of Kerrera, and one in the Bay of Tobermory, Mull, and there to load them all with the limbs of Scottish men and of Scottish women.

"One ship did come to Tobermory Bay, and fearful she looked, as with masts bending, and great guns roaring, she leaped and bellowed along the Sound of Mull. She was commanded by Captain Forrest. He was skilful in sailing, fierce in fighting, and besides had great knowledge of magic, (Druidism.) He spoke the direst threats against the people of Mull, and said that he would sweep the island with a bosom—that he would leave it bare.

"The people of Mull were seized with great fear, and the Lord of Duart, though dreading no ordinary foe, had many things to move him. He found no rest in his house or out of it. He sorrowed for the past, and he dreaded what was to come. Not thinking any human power of avail against the great and deadly war-ship of Spain, commanded by a man deep in magic, he and his men sought aid from magic also, (Druidism,) and with effectual spells and charms, gathered all the witches of Mull, the Doideag an Muileach, to one meeting-place. He told them of the dire threat of Captain Forrest, and begged them to raise a wind which would sink his ship, even in the harbour that was better than any other harbour. The Doideag asked him if Captain Forrest, when uttering his threat of devastation, had said `With


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