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Outer Isles
Chapter III. Tyree Churches: Skerryvore


THE Island of Tyree is now (September 1901) in the market, and the future of its people hangs in the balance, though, thanks to the work of the Crofters’ Commission, the inhabitants of the Hebrides can never again be at the mercy of their non-resident landlords as they have been since the old days when their chiefs—men of like blood and like passions—lived among their own kin. The island fell to the Argylls in 1674, and at that time its annual value was estimated at £1,565 13s. 4d. (Scots). Its present advertised price is £130,000, but as the newspapers also state that it abounds with game, contains twenty freshwater lakes, and, on account of its fertility, is often styled the granary of the Hebrides, “the kingdom of Tyree,” as the American press calls the island, may be considered cheap at the price! Perhaps even the limited amount of fertility, measuring fertility by the cultivation now apparent in the island, would be even less were three-fourths of the “twenty freshwater lakes” known to the inhabitants. As it is, one feels glad to contrast it with the Long Island as possessing a reasonable proportion of dry land.

The extreme flatness of the country makes the drainage of pasture very difficult, and, in many parts, the island is intersected with narrow ditches to carry off the water as far as possible. Now that there is no common pasture as in old times, the cultivated ground can never lie fallow, and is therefore under constant tillage and soon gets quite “out of heart.” Moreover the local stone is so extremely hard, that it is very difficult to provide enclosures, though lately the introduction of unsightly galvanized wire has done something for the protection of the little crops.

Possibly a new proprietor may make an effort to plant trees, which, as is evidenced by the presence in the ground of roots and nuts, were formerly abundant in Tyree, and which would be of extreme value for shelter. When Dr. Johnson was in Mull he speculated as to the possibility of growing trees in what he calls these “naked regions.” There are now fine woods in that island, and as he truly remarks “trees wave their tops among the rocks of Norway and might thrive as well in the Highlands and Hebrides.” In Ulva, too, successful planting has been accomplished since his visit.

In a pamphlet published by the Duke of Argyll in 1883, a sort of Apologia following upon the Report of the Crofters Commission, his Grace speaks of the enormous increase in the productiveness of the island, and points out that the seven large farms which, in 1847, the year of the Duke’s succession, were worth £700, were, at the time of writing, paying a rental of £2,260. He also states, as a counter grievance to which landlords are subject, that some 300 families in the island were paying no rent whatever, i.e. that having built houses for themselves on pieces of useless ground, commonly measuring about thirty feet by fifteen, they were living by their own industry in kelp-making, fishing, and working for the crofters, often—since the common ground was taken away from them to add to the “productiveness” of the large farms—receiving permission in return to graze a cow or a few sheep on ground for which they, the crofters, paid rent to the Duke.

“The increased productiveness” of the island is, of course, the increased rent roll of the proprietor, since the first principle of the grazing farms is to lay waste all the land under cultivation. The “granary of the Hebrides” now produces nothing worth mentioning, and food for man and beast is imported from America; the landing-boat is so constantly bringing in sacks of flour and grain that the leakage has formed a kind of permanent stratum as its flooring. At the time of the Agricultural Sui'vey of 1811, 5,000 acres were under tillage. There was abundance of flax for the linen, and abundance of wool for the cloth, which was so skilfully made in every township; barley, oats, potatoes and turnips were largely cultivated, and “large sums of money were drawn by Tyree for whisky distilled from the excellent barley of this fertile island. . . . The soil varies from pure sand to black moss, and in some places, being the decomposition of limestone and mixed with calcareous matters, is eminently fertile and susceptible of the most profitable and lucrative system of regular agriculture. . . . The whole yields a beautiful specimen of Hebridean verdure in summer and autumn, and exhibits, from a conical tumulus near the centre, a display of richness unparalleled in any of the Hebrides ” (pp. 721-2).

Now one may walk for miles without seeing a single sign of cultivation or, indeed, sight or sound of life but the ^bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle, or any reminder of humanity even in the most fertile spots but heaps of crumbling stones and patches of brighter verdure to mark the sites of happy villages. These at least serve for abundant explanation of the “largely increased productiveness” in the rent of the seven large farms!

It is with some diffidence that I venture upon any account of the antiquities of Tyree, because I know well that they will be described with far more skill and minuteness than I can lay claim to, by Mr. Erskine Beveridge in a forthcoming work upon The Ecclesiastical and other Remains, in the island.

Perhaps, unless we except the so-called “Druidical” Standing-stone in Balinoe, the oldest memorial in Tyree, older even than the Culdee Churches, is the Clach a Choire, the ringing-stone—literally the “kettle” stone— which stands a little removed from the shore near Balephetrish, not far from the old marble quarries. It is a mass of stone, roughly cubical, balanced upon one edge, and computed to weigh about ten tons. When struck, no matter where, or however slightly, it sends forth a clear ringing note. The people have a tradition that the stone is hollow and contains gold, but happily they have also another tradition to the effect that when the ringing-stone is cleft, Tyree will sink. On the surface of the stone are some thirty circular indentations, which I think most persons familiar with such things in other places, would unhesitatingly suppose to be cup-markings, but which, it is only fair to say, are also explained away as traces of many years of experimental stone-tapping. Apart from the fact that it seems hardly likely that even in the course of ages, native curiosity would compass so prominent a result, there is nothing to differentiate this rock from others admittedly “cup-marked” elsewhere, and they are found in great numbers in the British Isles and in Scandinavia.1

As has already been mentioned, Tyree was at one time the farm of Iona, and is probably the Terra Ethica or Ethica Insula of Adamnan. Small as is the island, one is not surprised to find in it the remains of five Churches said to be of Columban origin. Indeed there are various stories of visits from the saint himself, and certain it is that in Gott Bay one rock alone remains barren where all others are covered with sea-weed, owing, it is said, to its having caused the wreck of his coracle, and of its being cursed in consequence!

As a matter of fact, but three of the Churches are still standing, and this is a result, not of natural decay, for indeed, judging from what is left, the massive walls may still long defy the ravages of time, but from wilful destruction, in one instance so lately as the year 1898.

The most flagrant example is that of the Church at Soraby, which, from its position at the most thickly populated end of the island, and from the quality of the sculptured stones and monuments about it, was probably the most important in Tyree.

In Muir s very interesting work, Characteristics of Old Church Architecture, 1861, we read: “The Church,of which there is barely the merest trace, was taken down not many years ago, much, as I was told, to the regret of the Duke of Argyll; but how it happened that any one possessed the privilege of grieving his Grace, without his Grace’s permission to do so, no one could venture to say.” The disgraceful act of wanton destruction was repeated in 1898, when the Church of Kil Phedrig (St. Peter) was ruthlessly thrown down by two idle lads “ for amusement.” The Duke was at once apprised of the event by a visitor to the island, in the hope that some steps might be taken for the better protection of the three ruins remaining. Nothing whatever was done, but happily the reverence of a naturally religious people, of a people proud moreover of the beauty and antiquity of their island, was deeply shocked, and I found on a recent visit, that the fact that both of the marauders have since died, has been wholesomely connected with their misdoings, as cause and effect.

The site of the Church at Soraby is one of deepest interest. Dr. Reeves speaks of it as “the Campus Lunge of Adamnan, lying over against Iona, retaining its old relation to the Abbacy there, and partially retaining the old name in the little creek of Port na Lung.” Adamnan mentions two monasteries in Tyree, the one at Soraby under the charge of Baithen, afterwards the successor of the Saint in Iona.

It seems to have been the mother Church of the Deanery of the Isles, and later, the burial place of the Chiefs of the Clan Maclean, the proprietors of the island, who are commemorated by a fine sculptured stone cross of handsome proportions, though now much sunken into the ground.

There is also the stem of another cross, commemorating the Abbess Anna, which is said, by antiquarians, to have been removed from Iona, though one fails to see that the notion of an Abbess of Iona being originally buried near the daughter Church of Soraby, has in it anything inconceivable. It bears a curious sculpture of death armed with a spade, carrying off a female ecclesiastic, the whole being surmounted by a canopy.

In the churchyard there are some dozen or so of the flat stones familiar to all visitors to these districts, known as “Iona Stones,” beautifully sculptured with elaborate Celtic ornamentation, and also alleged to have been “carried away from Iona,” though again one fails to see why. Tradition does not attempt to explain away the existence of some equally elaborate, though needless to say not equally beautiful, stones, apparently of seventeenth century origin, probably commemorating some of the Maclean family, though they are now in so neglected and dilapidated a condition, covered with weeds and rubbish, that beyond the fact, that the carving appears to be heraldic with heavy canopies and in the Jacobean stylo, one can say nothing about them, nor do I find them anywhere described. The Argylls obtained the island in 1674, the stones are not of a type likely to commemorate any but the chiefs of the island, and one may therefore venture to assume the Maclean theory. The special interest of a more modem corner of this graveyard has been commented upon in connexion with the Skerryvore Lighthouse.

The fragment of wall which is all that remains of Teampul Phedrig, the Church of St. Peter, also wantonly destroyed, lies at the foot of Kenevara Hill, at the south-west point of the island. Among the wreckage of broken stone Mr. Beveridge found and pieced together two incised Latin crosses carved on unhewn stones, and close by is a well, known as St. Peter s Well, and traditionally used for baptism.

Another small Church (33 by 5 feet), still standing at the west side of the island near the Greenhill farm (which is not green-hill at all, but Grianul: sunny spot), is known as Kil Kenneth, the Church of Kenneth, and is rapidly changing its aspect on account of the nature of its position. It is surrounded on three sides by sand banks which threaten to overwhelm the little building entirely, and which, in all likelihood, have already covered what it might be worth the antiquary’s while to investigate. The irregular outlines of the sand-heaps at least suggest the presence of possible piles of stone, if of nothing more. The side where the ground slopes away (as possibly also the other ground surrounding it) was, until within the last century, used as a graveyard, but owing to the shifting nature of the soil, the bones at one time became exposed and the practice was discontinued.

Now, as in course of time generally happens, the machair or plain of loose sand thrown up by the sea is becoming overgrown with bent grass, the roots of which tend to hold it together.

This phenomenon perplexed Dr. Johnson during his visit to the neighbouring island of Coll. Boswell records: “On Monday we had a dispute whether sand-hills could be fixed down by art. Dr. Johnson said ‘How the devil can you do it?’ but instantly corrected himself, ‘How can you do it?’ ”The unwonted excitement betrayed his perplexity, but the answer is simple and constantly to be met with in the islands— “Sow the plain with bent grass.”

The two remaining Churches stand close together on the south side of the island at Kirkapol, above Gott Bay, each on its separate mound, far from any visible habitation, in a sunny spot, where in summer one walks knee-deep in flowers, where the larks sing overhead, and the sea, blue and friendly, laps on the silvery sand below.

The sea seems to have receded somewhat, judging from the outline of what one may call the inner shore, and from the fact that a marshy plain now lies between what looks like the former edge of the island and the shore as outlined now. The smaller of the two Churches stands bare and unenclosed on a mound of solid rock which crops up irregularly within the walls—still almost entire. The Church is very small, not more than twenty-three feet by five, inside measurement, and is probably the older of the two. It is of the most elementary character possible, so far as its architecture goes, though structurally immensely strong, being of rough unhewn stone and of considerable thickness.

The windows, mere slits on the outer side, are in the north and south, the door in the west, wall. The east, as usual in these single-chambered Churches, is blank. It is not at all unusual to find two Churches side by side, the older the smaller of the two, as if the congregation had outgrown its accommodation.

The larger Church (36 by 9 feet, inside measurement) is not later than the thirteenth century. It has two doorways, one south-west, the other, at the west, flanked by a dedication cross. It is probably the “parochial Church of Kerepol in the diocese of the Sudreys,” mentioned in a document of Pope Gregory XI., Sept. 20, 1375. As we usually find in the islands, the old Celtic Church, not the modern Kirk, is the chosen burial place of the people, and accordingly this larger Church, which occupies a more sheltered position than its neighbour, has an enclosure where, among various grave stones, one finds again the sculptured “Iona stones,” beautiful in the decay of all around and still showing their exquisite detail of tracery, though utterly neglected and grown over with nettles, and sometimes broken. Though the first parish Church was built in Tyree about 1776 and the first Presbyterian ordained minister, Ferchard Frazer, came somewhere about the middle of the seventeenth century, the burial of the people about the old Churches of their forefathers has never been interrupted, though they now speak of the Columban “teampuls” as “Roman Catholic” in much the same spirit in which the Americans claim Shakespeare as one of themselves, because he was born before they split off from England.

Here, therefore, as at Soraby, we find that a large burial ground has been added close by, where, even apart from antiquarian researches, one may find much of human interest, much which reveals the life of the people. More than one sailor is commemorated as belonging to a ship “last heard of ” in such a latitude, or, as the thought is paraphrased in one instance:

No marble column marks the spot
Where he doth lie asleep;
We only know his resting place
Is somewhere in the deep.

Even here, under a June sky, the whole foreground bright with golden iris and buttercup, and spangled with great ox-eye daisies, the very ruins, bright with harebells and pink thrift, the starlings, with characteristic want of reticence, carrying on their domestic affairs at the top of the wall almost within touch—the blue sea gently splashing on the white shore below, one is reminded of the hungry waves outside, creeping, watching, ever waiting for their prey. Night by night when the great lights of Barra and Skerry vore, and the nearer answering island-lights of Scarinish and Hynish flash out, one realizes something of what human science and ingenuity and perseverance have done to circumvent the cruelty of the great deep.

Another never-ending fascination in Tyree is the Skerryvore lighthouse. Directly the sun god dies down in the Atlantic, one instinctively turns from the great nature pageant of the west to look for the wonderful triumph of the genius of man, as the light flashes out, fourteen miles away to the south.

Once every minute that restless eye is turned upon the surrounding ocean, keeping guard over the merciless waves, linking in one great brotherhood of pity all those who go by on the highway of the Atlantic. Once every minute the light flashes out, smiling, as it were, upon this little island of its birth, for here its stones were quarried, here its brave artisans made their homes, here many of them rest under the green grass of Soraby Churchyard. And then the great eye turns away and rests for a moment on Iona, twenty miles to the south, like itself a testimony of the triumph of man : where kings and priests and law-givers lie buried, and the grey ruins of Cathedral and Monastery keep guard over their graves, the monument of great days that are past, of hopes and dreams never realized, of Art that remains and Time that goes by. Just a glance, too, it gives in the direction of the distant mainlands, Donegal on the one hand, Argyll on the other, each fifty miles away, and then with a friendly response from the brother light thirty-three miles north-west on Barra Head, the great eye closes, and for a long, lonely minute all is darkness.

And in these moments of dark, black void, one's mind turns back to the horror of a time when darkness moved upon the face of the deep. Thirty-one wrecks upon the murderous rocks south of Tyree are recorded in the fifty years that immediately precede the erection of the Skerryvore, and such a list is inevitably far from complete, for those murderous rocks saw many a gallant vessel go to pieces, of which there is no record but “foundered at sea.”

After every severe storm in old days, there was a grim harvest to be gathered in by the men of Tyree : timber, so precious in these treeless islands, foreign stuffs and strange merchandise, and even to this day one constantly hears, in explanation of the presence of some piece of drapery or plenishing which looks strange in its present surroundings, that “it came off a wreck.”

As long ago as 1804, Robert Stevenson visited the Great Rock, the Skerry Vhor,1 and it is to his genius that we owe, at all events the initiation, of the great work so effectively carried out nearly forty years later, by his son Alan. It is reported that he declared such an erection feasible, though “ the Eddystone Lighthouse and the Bell Rock would be a joke to it.”

He went again in 1814, and it is interesting to recall that Sir Walter Scott, as one of the Commissioners of Northern Lights, was of the party, and has recorded the visit in his Diary.

“Having crept upon deck about four in the morning, I find we are beating to windward off the Isle of Tyree, with the determination, on the part of Mr. Stevenson, that his constituents should visit a reef of rocks called Skerry Vhor, where he thought it would be essential to have a Lighthouse. Loud remonstrances on the part of the Commissioners, who, one and all, declare they will subscribe to his opinion, whatever it may be, rather than continue the infernal buffeting. Quiet perseverance on the part of Mr. S., and great kicking, bouncing, and squabbling upon that of the yacht, who seems to like the idea of Skerry Vhor as little as the Commissioners. At length by dint of exertion, come in sight of this long ridge of rocks (chiefly under water) on which the tide breaks in a most tremendous style.”

Sir Walter himself was one of the three or four who had courage to land and to explore these wave-washed islets, bestowing upon them, he says, “our unworthy names.” Stevenson’s rock and Mackenzie’s rock still commemorate the occasion, but so far as I know, the visit of the great “ Wizard of the North ” is forgotten. It is indeed curious how little he is remembered in the Western Highlands.

An Act of Parliament empowering the erection was passed in the same year, but the difficulties were

so great that the work was postponed till 1838. Mr. Alan Stevenson has himself given us the history of the immense undertaking, which, in spite of the difficulties, was carried through in five years without a single disaster to life, though, during the first year the barrack put up for the men was entirely swept away. The difficulties can be only faintly imagined even by those who have seen the triumph of Mr. Stevenson.

Immediately south of Tyree is a fairly clear passage about five miles broad, beyond that is a wilderness of low-lying rocks impossible to pass except in favourable weather. Even in the well-known “Tyree passage," Mr. Stevenson tells us, there is often “a sea such as no ship can possibly live in.” Often the steamer carrying stores or material would have to return after its fourteen miles’ journey to the special harbour made on purpose for this undertaking at Hynish in Tyree. Often the temporary barrack on Skerryvore, sixty feet high, was obscured from view by the uprising of the sea, and those on the watch at Hynish were unable to see the signals of those at work on the rock.

Then the rock itself, polished by the Atlantic waves for thousands of years, had acquired such a glassy and rounded smoothness, that, as the foreman said, “it was like climbing up the side of a bottle.” Moreover, the possible working year for such an undertaking in the Hebrides is very short. Perhaps, worst of all, Mr. Stevenson tells us, was the fact that “ Tyree is unhappily destitute of any shelter for shipping, a fact which was noticed as a hindrance to its improvement upwards of 140 years ago by Martin, in his well-known description of the Western Isles. ... It was, therefore, obvious at a glance, that Tyree was one of those places to which everything must be brought; and this is not much to be wondered at, as the population . . . labour under all the disadvantages of remoteness from markets, inaccessible shores, and stormy seas, and the oft-recurring toil of transporting fuel (of which Tyree itself is destitute) from the Island of Mull, nearly thirty miles distant, through a stormy sea.”

Another difficulty was that of quarrying among the gneiss rocks of Tyree, a difficulty which, as has been pointed out, is the cause of the very remarkable domestic architecture (if one may so say) characteristic of the Island.

When one realizes that the weight of the tower is 4,308 tons, and when one reflects upon the difficulties of conveying that amount of material across so dangerous a passage, one feels that it is not only in the pyramids of Egypt or the giant cities of Bashan that man has shown his master-hand!

Strange to say, Mr. Alan Stevenson tells us, it was from Egyptian Art that modern science unconsciously borrowed the curve of greatest resistance, and in his drawing of Pthah, the symbol of stability, one cannot fail to recognise the inevitable and now familiar outline of every modern pharos.

The tower is 138 feet high, and the light is visible for 150 feet above high water even in spring tides. It is 42 feet in diameter at the base, and 16 feet at the top. At Hynish we still find the quaint little village, covering about fifteen acres of ground, where the pier, the stores, the works, the signal watch-tower, and the dwellings for four lighthouse-keepers were erected.

The pier is now disused, and the store and houses turned to other purposes, for this model village, of which its originator was so justly proud as one of the most comfortable lighthouse settlements in existence, proved, after all, to be so inaccessible, thanks to the difficulties of life in Tyree already enumerated, that it had to be abandoned and a settlement made at far greater distance—in Mull.

In one other spot in Tyree we find the footprints of these five years. Though in the course of their dangerous work there were no disasters to life, as Mr. Alan Stevenson gratefully records, death nevertheless took his tribute, and some dozen gravestones, bearing English names, standing together in a remote corner of the Soraby churchyard, remain to record what must have been a strange interlude in the lives of that little colony of English workmen who, more than fifty years ago, so bravely fought against an enemy more merciless, more strong, than any whom their fellow men subdued but a few years later at Lucknow or Balaclava.

Of his foreman, Heddle, Mr. Stevenson speaks in terms of no common gratitude. In spite of mortal disease ho fought bravely to the last, taking often not more than twenty hours’ sleep in a week, so conscious was he of the supreme value of time in the difficult and dangerous work he had undertaken. Of other tragedies one gets only a glimpse. Charles Fyfe, “blacksmith to the Skerryvore works,” buried his little daughters of seven and five. Poor little southern lassies, fading away in surroundings of food and climate and housing, (they died in 1841, before the Hynish village was finished) as strange to them as a foreign country. George Middleton, foreman of joiners, only thirty-two years of age, died suddenly in 1839. James Mitchell, mason, scarcely older, died also in the same year. Hird, Walker, Watson are among the names here, all sounding strange and foreign in this land of Celtic patronymics.

There is an undercurrent of some emotion only hinted at in one inscription, which, like so much of human pathos, is on the borderland of smile and tear :

Erected by John Smith In Memory
OF HIS INFANT SON,
Died 27th December, 1841,
Aged 18 days.
When the Archangel’s trump shall sound,
And souls to bodies join,
Millions on earth would wish their days
Had been as few as mine.

It must have been with a heavy heart that the bereaved father went back to his weary work. Perhaps the healing hand of Time, and his companionship with Nature even in her wilder moods, may have brought him a more hopeful outlook. Even the granite walls of the Skerryvore Lighthouse have a human interest infinitely pathetic.

The human interest of the Hebrides, with all their simplicity of life, is nowhere stronger than in Tyree, where, to a full measure of plain living, the extreme intelligence of the people adds a degree of high thinking rarely to be found. There is a saying among the people that “if Tyree does not grow trees, it grows ministers and deep-sea captains”; that is to say, that there is an intense desire for education and for self-improvement of every kind. In the Edinburgh Review of June, 1827, it is asserted, on the strength of recent statistics, that “seventy per cent, in the Hebrides cannot read.” Whatever may have been the case then, it is certainly very different now. There are five excellent schools in the island, of the work of two of which, those of Hylipol and Cornaig, I can speak from intimate personal knowledge, and which I desire to commend, if only for the zeal and intelligence which makes the study of Gaelic a prominent part of education. That this should be done was strongly recommended in the Report of the Crofters Commission, and though the acquiring of good English is of great importance, to expect children to accomplish the elaborate curriculum set before them by our Board of Education, in a language foreign to them, seems, in the case of young children, a senseless waste of brain power. The island of Tyree stands very high in respect of examinations, and I only regret that it is impossible to quote, as would be very easy to do, many names distinguished in the literary, educational and commercial world of men who owe their success to the hardy, wholesome, intellectual up-bringing they received in the island of Tyree. We have seen classes in geometry, Latin and navigation, in which the knowledge displayed by barefooted children out of “black” houses would have shamed the sons of our aristocracy at Eton or Harrow. We have been the privileged guests at tea-tables where the hospitality was of the simplest, but where we knew that the brothers of the little herd-boy who ate his “piece” outside the door were gentlemanly, scholarly students of the Glasgow or Edinburgh University, where he too may probably go if he, like them, can win the bursaries which have made their education possible. There is no mere vulgar “bettering themselves ”obvious in all this; simply“ they needs must love the highest when they see it,” and the minister’s brother may be a ploughboy without the very slightest thought of humiliation on either side.

The girls of the island are intelligent too, and make admirable school-mistresses. Nor is their domestic education despised. There are classes in various womanly accomplishments, and the Tyree girls are very different in regard to personal neatness and daintiness from those in any other island. Cleanliness and order seem to be innate, and it is interesting to find this remarked upon so long ago as in the report of the Glasgow Highland Relief Board of 1849, when, even in the period of depression following upon the lamentable evictions of that year, the appearance of the people and of their homes testified to their self-respect.

Even the “black houses,” i.e. those thatched with turf or heather, can be made exceedingly comfortable, and in one case we know well, even elegant. The whitewash used here round the outside of doors and windows gives an air of brightness to the rough grey stone, and the ingenuity of the patterns drawn upon the flagged flooring often found in the island, testifies not only to the industry but to the skill and artistic taste of the artist. They are often of the true Celtic type, accurately drawn in roughly outlined squares and renewed every day, so that one cannot but suspect that some talent for drawing is among the native gifts.

There are some good pipers in the island, and we were delighted, at the Hylipol School, to find that the master had introduced the pipes as a most original accompaniment to the school drill. We were present on a festive occasion, when a bonnie lad, himself a pupil, in full Highland dress, marched at the head of his school with as fine an air as if he were leading his clan to do or die, and they, quite as proud as he, did full credit to his inspiriting strains, afterwards, at our special request, ending up with a reel.

Tyree is the only island which has no specially distinctive patronymic, some say because the population was largely recruited about the time of the ’15, but whether by fugitives who had been “ out ” or by those who sought, under the shadow of the Argylls, a protection against the contempt of their clans for not going “out,” it might be better not to inquire.

Another obvious reason for the absence of any prevailing surname is the length of time that has elapsed since the island was orphaned of its chief, though of course the name of Maclean is still very usual. The Macneills too are an old Tyree family, and are said to have been among the followers of St. Columba, who predicted that there would never be more than twelve of them in any one branch. “There are still two,” one of the clan told us, “over yonder, Donald and Sandy; and Donald had eight sons, and some persons were saying old Columcille would be done yet; but whenever they would be marrying they would be dying”—whenever, it should be remembered, being Highland for “as soon as.” The Browns, too, have been long in Tyree; according to some, they were the bards of the Macdonalds, and their name, Brunaich, means to sing. It will be remembered that the lady who brought Tyree to the Macleans as her dowry was a daughter of the Lord of the Isles.

The old stronghold of the Macleans was a castle on an island. After being long a ruin, it was restored and enlarged for the use of the factor. The lake was drained, and only part of the old walls, of immense thickness, and the name of “Island House” remain to tell the story of the past.

Only the shade of Dr. Johnson summons us to Coll, accessible by boat from Tyree. However, the island is not without interest, though much has been sacrificed to sport, and what remains is not immediately obvious, as the people live quite away from the landing place, having been removed from the larger share of the surface and crowded together in one district. The sea-coast is bolder than that of Tyree, and though no hill is as high as Ben Hynish, the general aspect is more uneven. The soil is light and sandy, and, as in Tyree, horse-grazing is found profitable. There is no accommodation for visitors, and, indeed, nothing to attract any but the archaeologist. For him the island has considerable interest, as there are the remains of three religious houses and the old castle of Breacacha, which dates back even before the Macleans and which ceased to be inhabited more than 150 years ago.

In spite of the existence of eight dunes or forts which may be taken as probably denoting Danish occupation, the nomenclature is largely of later interest, and points to the remembrance of the continuous quarrel between the chiefs of Coll and the MacNeills of Barra; for example, in Baugh Chlaiun Neill—the Bay of MacNeill, or Slochd na dunach—the pit of havoc, where a fearful slaughter of the enemy is still remembered.

At the west end of the island are two upright stones about six feet high, and probably formerly still more prominent, as these “standing stones” tend to sink into the ground.

The Maclean occupation of Coll was, so to speak, an accident of their occupation of Tyree. It was, once upon a time, in the hands of three brothers from Lochlin, i.e. three Vikings from Scandinavia, but, at the instigation of Maclean of Dowart, one of his clan, Tain Garbh (Stout John), fought and defeated them. Beyond this legend, which is told at great length, the island has little history. The Macleans seem to have used the people well, and even in that melancholy pibroch of a book, Macleod’s Gloomy Memories, it is said that Maclean of Coll was kind and liberal, but the island deteriorated from want of capital. A considerable part is now consecrated to “ sport ” and the preservation of game, but at the end nearest Tyree there are a considerable number of crofts, largely, I believe, owned by the family of Dr. Buchanan, whose skill, kindness and unselfish devotion to his profession have so long endeared him to the people of Tyree, that one cannot but feel assured of the equal regard which the same qualities must have gained for him among his tenants in Coll.


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