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Loch Etive and The Sons of Uisnach
Chapter XV - A Walk about Keills and Barcaldine

Cameron —We can never finish Keills, there is so much interesting matter, but we can run over and go again into the Ledaig strawberry garden; if we walk high enough up and exactly under the great overhanging rock, we shall see a hollow part, scarcely a cave, it is so small. In this Mr. John Campbell found the urn of which I showed you a drawing yesterday, but we can go into the house and see the urn itself.

Margaet.—I should be afraid to live under such a rock, beautiful as it is. I saw some sheep on the top ; do they never fall over?

Shepherd.—Very seldom; one fell close beside me in the garden. It never moved, it was struck quite dead at once.

Margaet.—And can you go up to the top of the rock?

Ossianite.—Yes; and a beautiful walk it is. Let us go by the end of the house to the south, and up along the little wood and the small brook. You see the path steep, but look now what a beautiful sward is above, and what a view! One wonders in this weather if heaven can be finer. I brought with me a cup to drink out of this well of Fingal.

O'Keefe.—Oh, this is the well that is said to have communicated with the well in Dun Uisnach; but you surely do not believe it?

Ossianite.—This hill, Dui Rhaile an Rigla, is named by us from tradition, the fort of the Town of the King; and I do not doubt that there were people enough to drink of the well. I used to be told fine stories of this water—that it flowed down in pipes to Dun Mac Uisnachan, and that it supplied the heroes of Fingal with drink, and perhaps with this they made the heather ale which they drank out of shells in Selma. But I have learned to be satisfied with the romance, even when the facts do not appear strong. There is an old man down there who tells you that he saw the pipes that led the water along the fields between the two Duns, and these pipes were made of lead. Now this is too much even for me.

Loudoun.—Yes; it is too much. The pipes spoken of by some person last century were made of wood, and they are too far back to have been seen by the man you speak of. Besides, we have no certainty that there were any pipes; there were hollow stems of trees, and although unbelievers are apt to exaggerate difficulties, it is not the less true that the proofs do not come to us sound, and we require very good proofs for such a thing. At any rate, it is clear that the water could not have been led through this rock; it must have been led down the brow of the hill if led at all.

Ossianite.—Well, it may be so; but the idea was that it went down through a tunnel in the rock, and along the field, and into another tunnel, or deep well, in the rock of the great Dun, then up to the surface.

Cameron.—I think you ought to see the well in the chief Dun. I remember when it was very deep, and we used to throw stones down it. My father used to say it was deeper once, and he used to wait till he heard the stones touch the bottom, and the length of time showed that it was deep, but it has always been filling up.

Loudoun.—Well, let us go to Dun Uisnach, and let us set a man to dig the well till he comes to the bottom and we shall hear. This well which you see, supposed to correspond with that on Valanree, is on the side of Dun Uisnach, on a rather dangerous place. The sheep go there to drink, unconscious of the many mysteries which have long been connected with it. We need not go up until it is cleared, but will pursue our walk. It is probably not very deep, but it may take some days to clear it.

They did not return till the next day when they met the man who had undertaken to dig the well. So we may, for the sake of continuity, give the result here-

Donnachan —I have got to the bottom.

Loudoun.—What! a hundred and fifty feet deep?

Donnachan.—No; about three or four feet deep.

Londoun.—Oh, Cameron! what has become of your stories? The well has been in books as a wonder for a hundred years; the story about pipes has made people look for a great civilization here, and the great depth of the well gave people an idea of skilful engineering, but it is an exaggeration to say even that it is five feet and a half deep, although by taking the upper side you may call it so. And we have a clean, hard clay slate all the way, with a few cracks through which water trickles from above—the drainage of the Dun.

Ossianite.—But suppose cracks to exist down to the bottom and up to the other hill. Is not this possible?

Loudoun.—Possible in the work of nature, but impossible for man to lead it through such compact rock, impenetrable for water; besides, there are no cracks, and the water comes from the upper side of the well, and the amount is no more than the surface above it could supply several times, if there were an outlet. No; the whole delusion is gone with the touch of a spade. Let us go to the other wonders.

Herd Boy.—I know a very wonderful place over there; if you stamp upon it, it shakes and sounds hollow. There must be great rooms below.

O'Keefe.—Now, here is another grand discovery; Aladdin's Cave over again! I can imagine six great chambers for the six great kings that were here, and these rooms filled with their treasures, received when they had messengers from Spain and the Indies, and lived in glory. It is, however, very strange. The ground sounds very hollow; we may make a beginning to-night. Dig here.

Donnachan.—The spade will not go down; there is rock within a few inches.

Loudoun.—Nonsense; it must be only on a small spot. Try there, and remove a good deal of the surface.

Donnachan.—It is certain. There is only a thin turf, and then rock. When the turf is gone there is no more shaking, and no sound of hollowness.

Loudoun.—Another delusion gone, and the sleeping kings if they are there must be stoned up. This is a land of wonders.

O'Keefe.—For this hour at least it has proved one of delusions.

Cameron.—Down in the field, when ploughing, Stewart once struck on great flat stones, very large indeed, and as they must be near the surface, you might dig for them.

Mr. J. S.—These were sought for, and borings made all over the spot indicated, and on still more ground, but there was no obstruction so near the surface and no indication could be found. (They are previously noticed.)

Cameron.—Let us move on and I will show you something curious in another way. Here on the road to Loch Creran and the New Barcaldine is a circle that only appears occasionally. That is, it conies out for a few weeks in the year and then disappears.

Loudoun.-I think you must be joking now. Is it the ghost of a circle or is it a delusion of your mind? I would rather believe in one of the mist ghosts of Ossian.

Cameron.—See it for yourself. There the stones of the circle are gathered together, and some are broken up and fill up a hole, but you see the circle clearly on the corn. When the corn is cut the circle disappears, and, indeed, in the ripening it does so.

Loudoun.—I suppose you see the reason. The soil where stones were is different from the rest, the corn grows higher and keeps longer green. The farmer has made little out of his desecration. I should have thought there had been many circles near this place.

Cameron.—I should think the same. There was a large one near the Dun that we have left ; it was called "Clagh nan Druidhneach," or the burial place of the Druids. It was taken down to build that ugly two-storied house; you saw that some of the stones came from the Dun also. A bard of the place, famous here and around for his cutting satires, wrote a severe poem on the act ; but he was hooted at by stronger men with less feeling. The bard was James Shaw—a native of Mull, and called the bard of Loch Nell; his poem was against Finlay M'Kichen, who took down cairns and circles for his very poor buildings, unfitly called Selma. The poem alluded to is in Mackenzie's "Beauties of Gaelic Poetry," but it is not a remarkable production.

You must not suppose that you have seen all. As you go on you come to a slight elevation of ground, and not far from the road side, to the left, is a circle of stones very complete. There are also indications of another circle of which only two or three stones remain. The stones are not high, but they may be seen by attention from the road, half hidden among whins or gorse.

I must show you also two beautiful but small and double circles, although much in ruin. They are seen before we come to the first farm-house on the right, and you will know them at once by the drawing which you saw, and the pleasant view it gave you of the Appin hills.

Margaet.—This is a magnificent position—surely chosen for its beauty.

Cameron.—Yes; and at the house there you may see a tall stone that had fallen down, but was re-erected by the farmer. We must thank him.

Whilst we are here, nearly south of the old castle, we must look at the long ridgy rising ground ; it is almost artificial in appearance, but examination proves it natural. The people call it Tom Ossian or the mound of Ossian, and they will tell you that Ossian used to sit there and admire the scene whilst his father Fingal reigned in Selma on the Dun we have studied.

Loudoun.—They may fancy anything, but the smallest trace of authority is wanting.

O'Keefe.—I fear it is; I wish he could be imagined sitting here. In Ireland we hear of him sitting in sorrow lamenting former days, speaking evil of the clerics, and the sound of bells, and admiring his own comrades, thus-

"Didst thou see the fight and the noble banners,
Never wouldst thou think but of the glory of the Feinn;"

and saying to the clerics

"Were my men all in life, I'd not bear thy howling,
And I'd make thee suffer in return for thy talk."

Dean of Lismore's Book.

Cameron.—But that is not fair, these are only spurious Ossianic Irish poems.

O'Keefe.—Well, I promised not to begin a controversy, but you gave some specimens of your Ossian, and I thought I might introduce a line or two of ours, especially as it was preserved in the sixteenth century by the Dean of that very island we see before us, between us and Morven. The dispute with the cleric is very curious: Ossian trying to prove that his Fenians were grander than all the army of priests, and Finn himself more generous than heaven.

Loudoun.—The origin of these poems translated by Dr. M'Lauchlan is not known, but the writer had fully imbibed a spirit by no means Christian, and we see that at whatever time they were written the Finn spirit had not died out.

Cameron.—I believe there is a cat-stone over in the new Barcaldine direction, but as we are walking to-day, it is much too far, and we cannot leap like Cuchullin, or fly like Sweeny. I shall only tell you about it.

Margaet.—What is a cat-stone?

Cameron.—Cat is a corruption of Cath, which in modern times is sounded Caa (very long a), and means a battle. The field in which the stone is, the people know by the name of Achaw, which ought to be Achadh a Chath. The language, I must confess, is breaking down, and first the consonants go, and then intermediate vowels, and nothing will be left soon, as a friend said, but "pechs and sighs." ["Pech" is Scotch for "panting."] However you may at some other time go towards the farmhouse of Auchinreir, and you will see the pillar about three quarters of a mile from the spot where the private road leaves the main road. There are no markings on it, and no indications of any remains in the neighbourhood have been noted.

Margaet.—Well, let us take a rest, and I propose that you give us an account of Sweeny's flying and Cuchullin's leaping, as I never heard of such things before.

Loudoun.—We'll sit down on Tom Ossian; whilst we are eating lunch, Mr. O'Keefe will tell us how active the men were of old. I dare say he will not be pleased if I laugh at some of the tales.


O'Keefe.—Cuchullin is said to have made wonderful leaps —he leapt easily over a house. There was a great trial of skill and championship between Cuchullin, Conall Cearnach, and Laeghaire Buadhach, and it was at the Cathair or fortified mansion of Curoi MacDaire, King of West Munster, on the peninsula in Kerry, which separates the Bay of Tralee on the north from the Bay of Dingle or Castlemaine on the south. The house was to be attacked by men and monsters, and each one was to watch one night. Cuchullin watched on the third night, when the three green men were to come, and the three wandering herds, and the three sons of the musical Dornmar. It was also the night when the lake monster was to devour the inhabitants of the house. After killing the nine men, and other nine, and other nine, the monster came up, and thirty cubits were above the house, and the best of a king's house might enter his jaws. "Cuchullin then executed a leap called the form-chleas, and sprang up in the air, and, with the velocity of a twisting wheel, flew round the monster." To find the other two champions, he thought he must jump over the wall, as he fancied they had done. " e would fly from the ground till his face came plump against the Cathair; at another time he would leap up into the air till he could see all that was in the Cathair." "At last in one of his furious fits he flew over the Cathair from without and lighted on the Cathair within, at the door of the royal house." [Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, O'Sullivan, vol. III. p. 76 seq.]

But perhaps the most wonderful account of leaping is that of Sweeny's. I must read it over to you when we get to Oban ; it is found in the battle of Magh Rath, as translated by Dr. O'Donovan, and at p. 231 of the edition of the Archaeological Series. I have not seen it quoted except once by myself. "With respect to Sweeny, the son of Colmar, Cuar, the son of Cobhthach, King of Dal Araidh, we shall treat of him for another while. Fits of giddiness came over him at the sight of the horrors, grimness, and rapidity of the Gaels; at the looks, brilliancy, and irksomeness of the foreigners, at the rebounding furious shouts and bellowings of the various embattled tribes on both sides, rushing against and coming into collision with one another. Huge, flickering, horrible, aerial phantoms rose up, so that they were in cursed, commingled crowds tormenting him; and in dense, rustling, clamorous, left-turning hordes, without ceasing; and in dismal, regular, aerial, storm-shrieking, hovering, fiendlike hosts constantly in motion, shrieking and howling as they hovered about them (i.e. both armies) in every direction to cow and dismay soft youths, but to invigorate and mightily rouse champions and warriors; so that from the uproar of battle, the frantic pranks of the demons, and the clashing of arms, the sound of the heavy blows reverberating on the points of heroic spears, and keen edges of swords, and the warlike borders of broad shields, the noble hero (Suihhne) Sweeny was filled and intoxicated with heavy horror, panic, dismay, fickleness, unsteadiness, fear, flightiness, giddiness, terror, and imbecility; so that there was not a joint of a member of him from head to foot which was not converted into a confused shaking mass, from the effect of fear and the panic of dismay. His feet trembled, as if incessantly shaken by the force of a stream; his arms and various edged weapons fell from him, the power of his hands having been enfeebled and relaxed around them, and rendered incapable of holding them. The inlets of hearing were expanded and quickened by the horrors of lunacy; the vigour of his brain in the cavities of his head was destroyed by the clamour of the conflict; his heart shrunk within him with the panic of dismay; his speech became faltering from the giddiness of imbecility; his very soul fluttered from hallucination, and with many and various phantasms, for that (i.e. the soul) was the root and true basis of fear itself. He might be compared on this occasion to a salmon in a weir, or to a bird after being caught in the straight prison of a crib. But the person to whom these horrid phantasms and dire symptoms of flight and fleeing presented themselves, had never before been a coward, or a lunatic void of valour; but he was thus confounded because he had been cursed by St. Ronan, and denounced by the great saints of Erin, because he had violated their guarantee, and slain an ecclesiastical student of their people over the consecrated trench, that is, a pure clear-bottomed spring over which the shrine and communion of the Lord was placed, for the nobles and arch-chieftains of Erin, and for all the people in general, before the commencement of the battle." When Sweeny "was seized with this frantic fit, he made a supple, very light leap, and where he alighted was on the boss of the shield of the hero next him; and he made a second leap and perched on the vertex of the helmet of the same hero, who, however, did not feel him, though the chair on which he rested was an uneasy one. Wherefore he came to an imbecile, irrational determination, namely to turn his back on mankind, and to herd with deer, run only with the showers, and flee with the birds, and to feast in wildernesses. Accordingly he made a third, active, very light leap, and perched on the top of the sacred tree which grew on the smooth surface of the plain, in which tree the inferior people and the debilitated of the men of Erin were seated looking on at the battle. These screamed at him from every direction as they saw him, to press and drive him into the same battle again; and he in consequence made three furious bounces to shun the battle, but it happened that, instead of avoiding it, he went back into the same field of conflict, through the giddiness and imbecility of his hallucination; but it was not the earth he reached, but alighted on the shoulders of men and the tops of their helmets."

"In this manner the attention and vigilance of all in general were fixed on Sweeny, so that the conversation of the heroes amongst each other was, `Let not' said they, `let not the man with the wonderful gold-embroidered tunic pass from you, without capture and revenge.' He had the tunic of the monarch, the grandson of Ainmire upon him that day, which had been presented by Domhnall to Congal, and by Congal to Sweeny, as Sweeny himself testifies in another place

'It was the saying of every one
Of the valiant beautiful host,
Permit not to go from you to the dense shrubbery
The man with the beautiful tunic.'

His giddiness and hallucination of imbecility became greater in consequence of all having thus recognized him, and he continued in this terrible confusion, until a hard quick shower of hailstones—an omen of slaughter to the men of Erin—began to fall, and with this' shower he passed away like every other bird of prey; as Sweeny said in another place

'This was my first run,
Rapid was my flight,
The shot of the javelin expired
For me with the shower.'

And it was by lunacy and imbecility he determined his counsels from that time as long as he lived."

In ecclesiastical and saintly records we have other accounts very remarkable, and this curious peculiarity, especially in Celtic literature, ought to be accounted for.

Loudoun.—I doubt if it is more than the Celtic method of running ideas to a conclusion rapidly, and light-headedness is taken in its fullest sense, so that the person is said to fly. The same faculty makes the Irishman a wit; he jumps over several lines of reasoning in an instant, and as he does not care to fit them exactly, they produce the ludicrous. If he is carefully educated and connects the reasoning, it makes him a mathematician able to leap over several formula?, which it is beyond the patience of human nature to go over very coolly except with the hope of learning the methods.

I shall give an idea of the exaggeration: it is in a most interesting volume,' by Dr. Reeves, "The Life of St. Columba." In a note, p. 289, we have an old account—"Brandubh was killed on the morrow, and demons carried his soul into the air, and Maedhog (a saint), Abbot of Ferns, heard the wail of his soul as it was undergoing pain, while he was with the reapers, and he went into the air and began to battle with the demons, and they passed over Hy (Iona); and Columbkille heard them while he was writing, and he struck the style into his cloak, and went to battle to the aid of Maedhog, in defence of Brandubh's soul. And the battle passed over Rome, and the style fell out of Columbkille's cloak, and dropped in front of Gregory, who took it in his hand. Columbkille followed the soul of Brandubh to heaven. When he reached it, the congregation of heaven were singing 'Te decet,' &c. Columbkille did the same as the people of heaven, and they brought Brandubh's soul back to his body again." This is, certainly, very wild, but it is decidedly led by the reasoning powers, it follows out the consequences of the power of flying, and it follows the power of flying farther than any previous idea of it, ignoring many physical conditions.

Margaet.—But are we not told of many saints who have been raised into the air in prayer?

Loudoun.—Yes; the number is considerable, and in a very interesting volume by Elihu Rich, entitled "Occult Science," you may read of them and many strange things.

Margaet.—But have they any truth?

Loudoun.—I never saw an act of levitation, but do not presume to decide. Why should a saint not cling to the ceiling, when half a hundredweight of iron may be made to hang to a magnet? There is a counter-agent to the power of gravitation for iron; may there not be one for man? No wide-minded scientific man rejects the idea as impossible, but it certainly is not proved. There does lurk in diamagnetics a little seed of thought, which may make it intelligible, and science which in its youth taught us that we could often use the word impossible, is now teaching us that its use is more dangerous than before.

Cameron.—The world is full of wonders, but we only get a glimpse of a new one occasionally. At present we have a view of something more homely before us.

We must have a look at the old castle of Barcaldine now. The new house is much more beautiful, in its fine park rich with trees as if in the South of England, whilst its hills are of the wildest, and its garden and hothouses give tropical fruit; but the position is close, and I prefer that of the old one. The building is a ruin, and it scarcely belongs to history. WVe shall only go up the stair and wonder at the smallness—but don't wonder too much. These chieftains living in castles were certainly surrounded with numerous followers who had smaller houses, and there must have been more life and happiness than we can well imagine possible within these poor bare walls. Now let us go to Ach-na-Mona(dh).

Margaet.—What a beautiful name! Ach, a field, I suppose, and na-Mona—what is that?

Cameron.—Perhaps you will think it less beautiful when I tell you that it means the Field of the Peats. The house there we must look at, and from the people that dwell there learn the style of living.

Beyond is a very large cairn. I don't think it has ever been opened, but many stones have been taken from the top. I think there have been other cairns near. It is a wild burying place, perhaps used by the people of the great Dun, which was the predecessor of Barcaldine Castle.

Loudoun.—Let us not go on to Loch Creran; it is well to see how the lochs cut this part of the county, so that between Loch Etive, Loch Creran, and the sea, it is almost an island. It is called Benderloch or Ben-cider-da-Locha hill between two lochs—Ledaig being the hill, and the plains on each side being left for us to inhabit. We could go back by the north road, and on to Ard-na-Mucknish, as people call it, but we should lose the sight of the beautiful little loch or mill pond, covered with water-lilies; besides, I think the walk to Ardnamuic ought not to be hurried, and I want to show you a peat-bog, in which is a stone kist. We turn in here south of the little mill, and behind these low but rocky picturesque mounds, and where they are cutting peats, we see (Ach-a-Mhuilin) Achavuilin, the field of the mill. The cairn was found lately here by trying with a stick simply, so as to find the place where the deep peat was interrupted; a stone was laid bare on digging, and a small stone kist, with a cairn over it. It was rude, almost as rude as the baby's cairn spoken of, and although larger, was not above four feet across; the inside of the kist was square, and not above two feet in diameter. No proof of burning was seen, and no appearance of the place having been opened; but well burnt bones are white, and are soluble to some extent. Nothing was found within, and it is perhaps less difficult to account for total disappearance in this case on account of the acid of the peat which would probably dissolve burnt bones. Still we can suppose the place to have been opened and carefully closed again. This, however, must be said that people mistake when they suppose that charcoal cannot disappear. It can disappear in two ways, either by being washed away in fine powder when there is very open drainage, or by being oxidised when there is a current of air. It is not possible to let oxygen enter into charcoal and to bring it all out as oxygen; it becomes carbonic acid. This would occur in peat when wet, so far as I know, but unquestionably this cairn was built before the moss grew. The depth is of little consequence, as it will be shown elsewhere that peat in some situations grows rapidly.

Cameron.—Here at least is an ancient burial, of the time, perhaps, when stone circles were made. We can say no more; we must now walk home by the only road to Keills, and as the water is smooth, and the tide, although coming in, is not direct in our teeth, we shall row back to Dunolly and Oban. As we go you can look at the shores on our right and the tower on the highest part, where we may some day have a view of sea and land for a good hundred miles I daresay. And now we have a rest in the boat and go in fresh, and even the rowers, finding the tide with them at Dunolly, run in with case and speed. It is an unsafe spot at times, and the current is hard to stem.

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