The isle of Jura is by a narrow channel of about half a mile broad separated from Islay. The natives say that Jura is so called from Dih and Rah, two brethren, who are believed to have been Danes, the names Dih and Rah signifying as much as without grace or prosperity. Tradition says that these two brethren fought and killed one another in the village Knock-Cronm, where there are two stones erected of 7 feet high each, and under them, they say, there are urns, with the ashes of the two brothers; the distance between them is about 60 yards. The isle is mountainous along the middle, where there are four hills of a considerable height. The two highest are well known to sea-faring men by the name of the Paps of Jura. They are very conspicuous from all quarters of sea and land in those parts.
This isle is twenty-four miles long, and in some places six or seven miles in breadth. It is the Duke of Argyll's property, and part of the Sheriffdom of Argyll.
The mould is brown and greyish on the coast, and black in the hills, which are covered with heath and some grass that proves good pasturage for their cattle, which are horses, cows, sheep, and goats. There is variety of land and water-fowl here. The hills ordinarily have about three hundred deer grazing on them, which are not to be hunted by any without the steward's license. This isle is perhaps the wholesomest plot of ground either in the isles or continent of Scotland, as appears by the long life of the natives and their state of health, to which the height of the hills is believed to contribute in a large measure, by the fresh breezes of wind that come from them to purify the air; whereas Islay and Gigha, on each side this isle, are much lower, and are not so wholesome by far, being liable to several diseases that are not here. The inhabitants observe that the air of this place is perfectly pure, from the middle of March till the end or middle of September. There is no epidemical disease that prevails here. Fevers are but seldom observed by the natives, and any kind of flux is rare. The gout and agues are not so much as known by them, neither are they liable to sciatica. Convulsions, vapours, palsies, surfeits, lethargies, megrims, consumptions, rickets, pains of the stomach, or coughs, are not frequent here, and none of them are at any time observed to become mad. I was told by several of the natives that there was not one woman died of childbearing there these 34 years past. Bloodletting and purging are not used here.
If any contract a cough, they use brochan only to remove it. If after a fever one chance to be taken ill of a stitch, they take a quantity of ladywrack, and half as much of red-fog, and boil them in water. The patients sit upon the vessel, and receive the fume, which by experience they find effectual against this distemper. Fevers and the diarrhœas are found here only when the air is foggy and warm, in winter or summer.
The inhabitants for their diet make use of beef and mutton in the winter and spring, as also of fish, butter, cheese, and milk. The vulgar take brochan frequently for their diet during the winter and spring; and brochan and bread used for the space of two days restores lost appetite.
The women of all ranks eat a lesser quantity of food than the men. This and their not wearing anything strait about them is believed to contribute much to the health of both the mothers and children.
There are several fountains of excellent water in this isle. The most celebrated of them is that of the mountain Beinbrek in the Tarbat, called Toubir ni Lechkin, that is, the well in a stony descent. It runs easterly, and they commonly reckon it to be lighter by one half than any other water in this isle; for though one drink a great quantity of it at a time, the belly is not swelled, or any ways burdened by it. Natives and strangers find it efficacious against nauseousness of the stomach and the stone. The river Nissa receives all the water that issues from this well, and this is the reason they give why salmon here are in goodness and taste far above those of any other river whatever. The river of Crockbreck affords salmon also, but they are not esteemed so good as those of the river Nissa.
Several of the natives have lived to a great age. I was told that one of them, called Gillouir MacCrain, lived to have kept one hundred and eighty Christmasses in his own house. He died about fifty years ago, and there are several of his acquaintances living to this day, from whom I had this account.
Bailiff Campbell lived to the age of one hundred and six years; he died three years ago; he passed the thirty-three last years before his death in this isle. Donald MacNamill, who lives in the village of Killearn at present, is arrived at the age of ninety years.
A woman of the Isle of Scarba, near the north end of this isle, lived seven score years, and enjoyed the free use of her senses and understanding all her days; it is now two years since she died.
There is a large cave, called King's Cave on the west side of the Tarbat, near the sea; there is a well at the entry which renders it the more convenient for such as may have occasion to lodge in it.
About two miles further from the Tarbat, there is a cave at Corpich which hath an altar in it; there are many small pieces of petrified substance hanging from the roof of this cave.
There is a place where vessels used to anchor on the west side of this island, called Whitfarlan, about 100 yards north from the porter's house.
About four leagues south from the north end of this isle, lies the bay Da'l Yaul, which is about half a mile in length; there is a rock on the north side of the entry, which they say is five fathom deep, and but three fathom within.
About a league further to the south, on the same coast, lies the small isles of Jura, within which there is a good anchoring-place; the south entry is the best: island Nin Gowir must be kept on the left hand; it is easily distinguished by its bigness from the rest of the isles. Conney Isle lies to the north of this island. There are black and white spotted serpents in this isle; their head being applied to the wound, is by the natives used as the best remedy for their poison. Within a mile of the Tarbat there is a stone erected about eight feet high. Loch-Tarbat on the west side runs easterly for about five miles, but is not a harbour for vessels, or lesser boats, for it is altogether rocky.
The shore on the west side affords coral and coralline. There is a sort of dulse growing on this coast, of a white colour.
Between the north end of Jura, and the isle Scarba, lies the famous and dangerous gulf, called Cory Vrekan, about a mile in breadth; it yields an impetuous current, not to be matched anywhere about the isle of Britain. The sea begins to boil and ferment with the tide of flood, and resembles the boiling of a pot; and then increases gradually, until it appears in many whirlpools, which form themselves in sort of pyramids, and immediately after spout up as high as the mast of a little vessel, and at the same time make a loud report. These white waves run two leagues with the wind before they break; the sea continues to repeat these various motions from the beginning of the tide of flood, until it is more than half-flood, and then it decreases gradually until it hath ebbed about half an hour, and continues to boil till it is within an hour of low water. This boiling of the sea is not above a pistol-shot distant from the coast of Scarba Isle, where the white waves meet and spout up: they call it the Kaillach, i.e., an old hag; and they say that when she puts on her kerchief, i.e., the whitest waves, it is then reckoned fatal to approach her. Notwithstanding this great ferment of the sea, which brings up the least shell from the ground, the smallest fisher-boat may venture to cross this gulf at the last hour of the tide of flood, and at the last hour of the tide of ebb.
This gulf hath its name from Brekan, said to be son to the King of Denmark, who was drowned here, cast ashore in the north of Jura, and buried in a cave, as appears from the stone, tomb, and altar there.
The natives told me that about three years ago an English vessel happened inadvertently to pass through this gulf at the time when the sea began to boil; the whiteness of the waves, and their spouting up, was like the breaking of the sea upon a rock; they found themselves attracted irresistibly to the white rock, as they then supposed it to be: this quickly obliged them to consult their safety, and so they betook themselves to the small boat with all speed, and thought it no small happiness to land safe in Jura, committing the vessel under all her sails to the uncertain conduct of tide and wind. She was driven to the opposite continent of Knapdale, where she was no sooner arrived than the tide and wind became contrary to one another, and so the vessel was cast into a creek, where she was safe; and then the master and crew were, by the natives of this isle, conducted to her, where they found her as safe as they left her, though all her sails were still hoisted.
The natives gave me an account, that some years ago a vessel had brought some rats hither, which increased so much that they became very uneasy to the people, but on a sudden they all vanished; and now there is not one of them in the isle.
There is a church here called Ilillearn, the inhabitants are all Protestants, and observe the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Michaelmas; they do not open a grave on Friday, and bury none on that day, except the grave has been opened before.
The natives here are very well proportioned, being generally black of complexion and free from bodily imperfections. They speak the Irish language, and wear the plaid, bonnet, etc., as other islanders.
The Isle of Islay
The isle of Islay lies to the west of Jura, from which it is separated by a narrow channel; it is twenty four miles in length from south to north, and eighteen from east to west; there are some little mountains about the middle on the east side. The coast is for the most part heathy and uneven, and by consequence not proper for village; the north end is also full of heaths and hills. The south-west and west is pretty well cultivated, and there is six miles between Kilrow on the west, and Port Escock in the east, which is arable and well inhabited. There is about one thousand little hills on this road, and all abound with limestone; among which there is lately discovered a lead mine in three different places, but it has not turned to any account as yet. The corn growing here is barley and oats.
There is only one harbour in this isle, called Loch-Dale; it lies near the north end, and is of a great length and breadth; but the depth being in the middle, few vessels come within half a league of the land side.
There are several rivers in this isle affording salmon. The fresh-water lakes are well stocked with trouts; eels, and some with salmons: as Loch-Guirm, which is four miles in circumference, and hath several forts built on an island that lies in it.
Loch-Finlagan, about three miles in circumference, affords salmon, trouts, and eels: this lake lies in the centre of the isle. The isle Finlagan, from which this lake hath its name, is in it. It is famous for being once the court in which the great Macdonald, King of the Isles, had his residence; his houses, chapel, etc., are now ruinous. His guards de corps, called Lucht-taeh, kept guard on the lake side nearest to the isle; the walls of their houses are still to be seen there.
The High Court of Judicature, consisting of fourteen, sat always here; and there was an appeal to them from all the Courts in the isles: the eleventh share of the sum in debate was due to the principal judge. There was a big stone of seven feet square, in which there was a deep impression made to receive the feet of Macdonald; for he was crowned King of the Isles standing in this stone, and swore that he would continue his vassals in the possession of their lands, and do exact justice to all his subjects: and then his father's sword was put into his hand. The Bishop of Argyll and seven priests anointed him king, in presence of all the heads of the tribes in the isles and continent, and were his vassals; at which time the orator rehearsed a catalogue of his ancestors, etc.
There are several forts built in the isles that are in fresh-water lakes, as in Ilan-Loch-Guirn, and Ilan-Viceain; there is a fort called Dunnivag in the south-west side of the isle, and there are several caves in different places of it. The largest that I saw was in the north end, and is called Vah-Vearnag; it will contain 200 men to stand or sit in it. There is a kill for drying corn made on the east side of it; and on the other side there is a wall built close to the side of the cave, which was used for a bed-chamber; it had a fire on the floor, and some chairs about it, and the bed stood close to the wall. There is a stone without the cave door, about which the common people make a tour sunways.
A mile on the south-west side of the cave is the celebrated well called Toubir in Knahar, which in the ancient language is as much as to say, the well that sallied from one place to another: for it is a received tradition among the vulgar inhabitants of this isle, and the opposite isle of Colonsay, that this well was first in Colonsay, until an imprudent woman happened to wash her hands in it, and that immediately after, the well being thus abused, came in an instant to Islay, where it is like to continue, and is ever since esteemed a catholicon for diseases by the natives and adjacent islanders; and the great resort to it is commonly every quarter-day.
It is common with sick people to make a vow to come to the well, and after drinking, they make a tour sunways round it, and then leave an offering of some small token, such as a pin, needle, farthing, or the like, on the stone cover which is above the well. But if the patient is not like to recover, they send a proxy to the well, who acts as above-mentioned, and carries home some of the water to be drank by the sick person.
There is a little chapel beside this well, to which such as had found the benefit of the water, came back and returned thanks to God for their recovery.
There are several rivers on each side this isle that afford salmon. I was told by the natives that the Brion of Islay, a famous judge, is according to his own desire, buried standing on the brink of the river Laggan, having in his right hand a spear, such as they use to dart at the salmon.
There are some isles on the coast of this island, as island Texa on the south-west, about a mile in circumference; and island Ouirsa, a mile likewise in circumference, with the small isle called Nave.
The Names of the Churches in this Isle are as follows: Kil-Chollim Kill, St. Columbus his church near Port Escock, Kil-Chovan in the Rins, on the west side the isle; Kil-Chiaran in Rins, on the west side Nerbols in the Rins, St. Columbus his church in Laggan, a chapel in island Nave, and Kilhan Alen, north-west of Kilrow. There is a cross standing near St. Columbus's or Port Escock side, which is ten feet high. There are two stones set up at the east side of Loch-Finlagan, and they are six feet high. All the inhabitants are Protestants; some among them observe the festivals of Christmas and Good Friday. They are well proportioned and indifferently healthful. The air here is not near so good as that of Jura, from which it is but a short mile distant; but Islay is lower and more marshy, which makes it liable to several diseases that do not trouble those of Jura. They generally speak the Irish tongue; all those of the best rank speak English; they use the same habit and diet with those of Jura. This isle is annexed to the Crown of Scotland. Sir Hugh Campbell of Caddell is the King's steward there, and has one half of the island. This isle is reckoned the furthest west of all the isles in Britain. There is a village on the west coast of it called Cul, i.e., the back part; and the natives say it was so called because the ancients thought it the back of the world, as being the remotest part on that side of it. The natives of Islay, Colonsay, and Jura say that there is an island lying to the southwest of these isles, about the distance of a day's sailing, for which they have only a bare tradition. Mr. MacSwen, present minister in the isle Jura, gave me the following account of it, which he had from the master of an English vessel that happened to anchor at that little isle, and came afterwards to Jura, which is thus:
As I was sailing some thirty leagues to the southwest of Islay, I was becalmed near a little isle, where I dropped anchor and went ashore. I found it covered all over with long grass. There was abundance of seals lying on the rocks and on the shore; there is likewise a multitude of sea-fowls in it; there is a river in the middle, and on each side of it I found great heaps of fish bones of many sorts; there are many planks and boards cast up upon the coast of the isle, and it being all plain, and almost level with the sea, I caused my men (being then idle) to erect a heap of the wood about two stories high; and that with a design to make the island more conspicuous to seafaring men. This isle is four English miles in length, and one in breadth. I was about thirteen hours sailing between this isle and Jura. Mr. John MacSwen, above mentioned, having gone to the isle of Colonsay some few days after, was told by the inhabitants that from an eminence near the monastery in a fair day they saw as it were the top of a little mountain in the south-west sea, and that they doubted not but it was land, though they never observed it before. Mr. MacSwen was confirmed in this opinion by the account above-mentioned; but when summer was over, they never saw this little hill, as they called it, any more; the reason which is supposed to be this, that the high winds in all probability has cast down the pile of wood that forty seamen had erected the preceding year in that island, which, by reason of the description above recited, we may aptly enough call the Green Island.
The Isle of Colonsay
About two leagues to the north of Islay lies the isle Oronsay. It is separated from Colonsay only at the tide of flood. This peninsula is four miles in circumference, being for the most part a plain arable, dry, sandy soil, and is fruitful in corn and grass; it is likewise adorned with a church, chapel, and monastery. They were built by the famous St. Columbus, to whom the church is dedicated. There is an altar in this church, and there has been a modern crucifix on it, in which several precious stones were fixed; the most valuable of these is now in the custody of MacDuffie, in black Raimused village, and it is used as a catholicon for diseases. There are several burying-places here, and the tombstones for the most part have a two-handed sword engraven on them. On the south side of the church within lie the tombs of MacDuffie and of the cadets of his family; there is a ship under sail and a two-handed sword engraven on the principal tombstone and this inscription, Hic jacit Malcolumbus MacDuffie de Collonsay; his coat of arms and colour-staff is of red in a stone, through which a hole is made to hold it. There is a cross at the east and west sides of this church, which are now broken; their height was about 12 feet each; there is a large cross on the west side of the church, of an entire stone very hard; there is a pedestal of three steps, by which they ascend to it, it is 16 feet high, and a foot and a half broad; there is a large crucifix on the west side of this cross, it has an inscription underneath, but not legible, being almost worn off by the injury of time; the other side has a tree engraven on it.
About a quarter of a mile on the south side of the church there is a cairn, in which there is a stone cross fixed, called MacDuffie's Cross; for when any of the heads of this family were to be interred, their corpse was laid on this cross for some moments, in their way toward the church.
On the north side of the church there is a square stone wall, about two stories high; the area of it is about fourscore paces, and it is joined to the church wall: within this square there is a lesser square of one stored high, and about 60 paces wide, three sides of it are built of small pillars, consisting of two thin stones each, and each pillar vaulted above with two thin stones tapering upwards. There are inscriptions on two of the pillars, but few of the letters are perfect. There are several houses without the square which the monks lived in. There is a garden at twenty yards distance on the north side the houses.
The natives of Colonsay are accustomed, after their arrival in Oronsay Isle, to make a tour sunways about the church, before they enter upon any kind of business. My landlord having one of his family sick of a fever asked my book, as a singular favour, for a few moments. I was not a little surprised at the honest man's request, he being illiterate; and when he told me the reason of it I was no less amazed, for it was to fan the patent's face with the leaves of the book, and this he did at night. He sought the book next morning, and again in the evening, and then thanked me for so great a favour; and told me the sick person was much better by it, and thus I understood that they had an ancient custom of fanning the face of the sick with the leaves of the Bible.
The Isle Colonsay is four miles in length from east to west, and above a mile in breadth. The mould is brown and sandy on the coast, and affords but a very small product, though they plough their ground three times; the middle is rocky and heathy, which in most places is prettily mingled with thick evergreens of erica-baccifera, juniper, and cat's tail.
The cattle bred here are cows, horses, and sheep, all of a low size. The inhabitants are generally well proportioned, and of a black complexion; they speak only the Irish tongue, and use the habit, diet etc., that is used in the Western Isles: they are all Protestants, and observe the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday; but the women only observe the festival of the nativity of the blessed Virgin. Kilouran is the principal church in this isle, and the village in which this church is, hath its name from it. There are two ruinous chapels in the south side of this isle. There were two stone chests found lately in Kilouran sands, which were composed of five stones each, and had human bones in them. There are some fresh-water lakes abounding with trouts in thus isle. There are likewise several forts here, one of which is called Duncoll; it is near the middle of the isle, it hath large stones in it, and the wall is seven feet broad.
The other fort is called Dun-Evan: the natives have a tradition among them, of a very little generation of people, that lived once here, called Lusbirdan, the same with pygmies. This isle is the Duke of Argyll's property.
The Isle of Mull
The Isle of Mull lies on the west coast opposite to Lochaber, Swoonard, and Moydart. It is divided from these by a narrow channel, not exceeding half a league in breadth; the isle is twenty-four miles long, from south to north, and as many in breadth from east to west. A south-east moon causes high tide here. This isle is in the sheriffdom of Argyll; the air here is temperately cold and moist; the fresh breezes that blow from the mountains do in some measure qualify it: the natives are accustomed to take a large dose of aqua-vitæ as a corrective, when the season is very moist, and then they are very careful to chew a piece of charmel root, finding it to be aromatic; especially when they intend to have a drinking bout, for they say this in some measure prevents drunkenness.
The mould is generally black, and brown, both in the hills and valleys, and in some parts a clay of different colours. The heaths afford abundance of turf and peats, which serve the natives for good fuel. There is a great ridge of mountains about the middle of the isle, one of them very high, and therefore called Bein Vore, i.e., a great mountain. It is to be seen from all the Western Isles, and a considerable part of the continent. Both mountains and valleys afford good pasturage for all sorts of cattle, as sheep, goats, and deer, which herd among the hills and bushes. The horses are but of a low size, yet very sprightly; their black cattle are likewise low in size, but their flesh is very delicious and fine. There is abundance of wild fowl in the hills and valleys; and among them the black cock, heath hen, ptarmigan, and very fine hawks; the sea-coast affords all such fowl as are to be had in the Western Isles. The corn growing here is only barley and oats. There is great variety of plants in the hills and valleys, but there is no wood here, except a few coppices on the coast. There are some bays, and places for anchorage about the isle. The Bay of Duart on the east side, and to the north of the castle of that name, is reckoned a safe anchoring place, and frequented by strangers. Lochbuy on the opposite west side, is but an indifferent harbour, yet vessels go into it for herring.
The coast on the west abounds with rocks for two leagues west and south-west. The Bloody Bay is over against the north end of island Columkil, and only fit for vessels of about an hundred ton.
Some few miles further to the north-east is Loch Leven, the entry lies to the westward, and goes twelve miles easterly; there are herrings to be had in it sometimes, and it abounds with oysters, cockles, mussels, clams, &c.
Loch Lay lies on the south side of Loch Leven; it is proper only for small vessels; herring are to be had in it sometimes, and it abounds with variety of shell-fish: the small isles, called the White Isle, and Isle of Kids, are within this bay. To the north of Loch-Leven lies Loch-Scafford; it enters south-west, and runs north-east: within it lie the isles Eorsæ and Inchkenneth, both of which are reputed very fruitful in cattle and corn.
There is a little chapel in this isle, in which many of the inhabitants of all ranks are buried. Upon the north side of Loch-Scafford lies the isle of Ulva; it is three miles in circumference, and encompassed with rocks and shelves, but fruitful in corn, grass, &c.
To the west of Ulva, lies the isle Gometra, a mile in circumference, and fruitful in proportion to the other isles.
About four miles further lie the small isles called Kernburg-More and Kernburg-Beg; they are naturally very strong, faced all round with a rock, having a narrow entry, and a violent current of a tide on each side, so that they are almost impregnable. A very few men are able to defend these two forts against a thousand. There is a small garrison of the standing forces in them at present.
To the south of these forts lie the small isles of Fladday, Lungay, Back, and the Call of the Back; cod and ling are to be had plentifully about all these islands.
Near to the north-east end of Mull lies the isle Calve; it is above two miles in compass, has a coppice, and affords good pasturage for all kind of cattle. Between this isle and the isle of Mull, there is a capacious and excellent bay, called Toubir Mory, i.e., the Virgin Mary's well; because the water of a well of that name, which is said to be medicinal, runs into the bay.
One of the ships of the Spanish Armada, called the Florida, perished in this bay, having been blown up by one Smallet, of Dunbarton, in the year 1588. There was a great sum of gold and money on board the ship, which disposed the Earl of Argyll, and some Englishmen, to attempt the recovery of it; but how far the latter succeeded in this enterprise is not generally well known; only that some pieces of gold and money, and a golden chain was taken out of her. I have seen some fine brass canon, some pieces of eight, teeth, beads, and pins that had been taken out of that ship. Several of the inhabitants of Mull told me that they had conversed with their relations that were living at the harbour when this ship was blown up; and they gave an account of an admirable providence that appeared in the preservation of one Doctor Beaton (the famous physician of Mull), who was on board the ship when she blew up, and was then sitting on the upper deck, which was blown up entire, and thrown a good way off; yet the doctor was saved; and lived several years after.
The black and white Indian nuts are found on the west side of this isle; the natives pulverise the black kernel or the black nut, and drink it in boiled milk for curing the diarrhœa.
There are several rivers in the isle that afford salmon, and some rivers abound with the black mussel that breeds pearl. There are also some fresh-water lakes that have trouts and eels. The whole isle is very well watered with many springs and fountains. They told me of a spring in the south side of the mountain Bein Vore, that has a yellow coloured stone at the bottom, which doth not burn, or become hot, though it should be kept in the fire for a whole day together.
The amphibia in this isle are seals, otters, vipers, of the same kind as those described in the Isle of Skye, and the natives use the same cures for the biting of vipers. Foxes abound in this isle, and do much hurt among the lambs and kids.
There are three castles in the isle, to wit, the Castle of Duart, situated on the east, built upon a rock; the east side is surrounded by the sea. This was the seat of Sir John MacLean, head of the ancient family of the Macleans; and is now, together with the estate, which was the major part of the island, the forbecome the Duke of Argyll's property, by the forfeiture of Sir John.
Some miles further on the west coast stands the Castle of Moy, at the head of Lochbuy, and is the seat of Maclean of Lochbuy.
There is an old castle at Aros in the middle of the island, now in ruins. There are some old forts here called Dunns, supposed to have been built by the Danes. There are two parish churches in the isle, viz., Killinchen-Benorth, Loch Leven, and a little chapel called Kilwichk-Ewin, at the lake above Loch Lay; each parish hath a minister. The inhabitants are all Protestants, except two or three, who are Roman Catholics; they observe the festivals of Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, and St. Michael's. They speak the Irish language generally, but those of the best rank speak English; they wear the same habit as the rest of the islanders.
This isle in the Irish language is called I. Colmkil, i.e., the Isthmus of Columbus the clergyman.
Colum was his proper name, and the addition of Kil, which signifies a church, was added by the islanders by way of excellence; for there were few churches then in the remote and lesser isles.
The natives have a tradition among them that one of the clergymen who accompanied Columbus in his voyage thither, having at a good distance espied the isle, and cried joyfully to Columbus in the Irish language, "Chi mi i," i.e., "I see her" - meaning thereby the country of which they had been in quest - that Columbus then answered, "It shall be from henceforth called Y."
The isle is two miles long from south to north, and one in breadth, from east to west. The east side is all arable and plain, fruitful in corn and grass; the west side is high and rocky.
This isle was anciently a seminary of learning, famous for the severe discipline and sanctity of Columbus. He built two churches and two monasteries in it, one for men, the other for women, which were endowed by the Kings of Scotland and of the Isles; so that the revenues of the church then amounted to 4000 merks per annum. Iona was the Bishop of the Isles Cathedral, after the Scots lost the Isle of Man, in which King Gratilinth erected a church to the honour of our Saviour, called "Fanum Sodorense." Hence it was that the Bishop of the Isles was styled "Episcopus Sodorensis." The vicar of Iona was parson of Soroby in Tiree and Dean of the Isles. St. Mary's Church here is built in form of a cross, the choir 20 yards long, the cupola 21 feet square, the body of the church of equal length with the choir, and the two cross aisles half that length. There are two chapels on each side of the choir, and entry to them opens with large pillars neatly carved in basso relievo. The steeple is pretty large; the doors, windows, etc., are curiously carved; the altar is large and of as fine marble as any I ever saw. There are several abbots buried within the church. MacIlikenich's statue is done in black marble, as big as the life, in an episcopal habit, with a mitre, crosier, ring, and stones along the breast, etc. The rest of the abbots are done after the same manner. The inscription on one tomb is as follows: - "Hic jacet Joannes MacFingone, Abbas de Oui, qui obiit anno Domini milesimo quingentesimo."
Bishop Knox and several persons of distinction, as MacLeod of Harris, have also been buried here.
There are the ruins of a cloister behind the church, as also of a library, and under it a large room; the natives say it was a place for public disputations.
There is a heap of stones without the church, under which Mackean of Ardminurchin lies buried. There is an empty piece of ground between the church and the gardens, in which murderers and children that died before baptism were buried. Near to the west end of the church in a little cell lies Columbus's tomb, but without inscription. This gave me occasion to cite the distich, asserting that Columbus was buried in Ireland, at which the natives of Iona seemed very much displeased, and affirmed that the Irish who said so were impudent liars; that Columbus was once buried in this place, and that none ever came from Ireland since to carry away his corpse, which, had they attempted, would have proved equally vain and presumptuous.
Near St. Columba's tomb is St. Martin's cross, an entire stone of eight feet high; it is a very hard and red stone, with a mixture of grey in it. On the west side of the cross is engraved a large crucifix, and on the east a tree; it stands on a pedestal of the same kind of stone. At a little further distance is Dun Ni Manich, i.e., Monk's Fort, built of stone and lime, in form of a bastion, pretty high. From this eminence the monks had a view of all the families in the isle, and at the same time enjoyed the free air. A little further to the west lie the black stones, which are so called, not from their colour, for that is grey, but from the effects that tradition say ensued upon perjury, if any one became guilty of it after swearing on these stones in the usual manner; for an oath made on them was decisive in all controversies.
MacDonald, King of the Isles, delivered the rights of their lands to his vassals in the isles and continent, with uplifted hands and bended knees, on the black stones; and in this posture, before many witnesses, he solemnly swore that he would never recall those rights which he then granted: and this was instead of his Great Seal. Hence it is that when one was certain of what he affirmed, he said positively, I have freedom to swear this matter upon the black stones.
On the south side the gate, without the church, is the Tailors' House, for they only wrought in it. The natives say that in the time of a plague the outer gate was quite shut up, and that all provisions were thrown in through a hole in the gate for that purpose.
At some distance south from St. Mary's is St. Ouran's Church, commonly called Reliqui Ouran; the saint of that name is buried within it.
The laird of Mackinnon has a tomb within this church, which is the stateliest tomb in the isle. On the wall above the tomb there is a crucifix engraven, having the arms of the family underneath - viz., a boar's head, with a couple of sheep's bones in its jaws. The tombstone has a statue as big as life, all in armour, and upon it a ship under sail, a lion at the head, and another at the feet. The inscription on the tomb is thus: - "Hic est Abbas Lachlani, Macfingone, and ejus Filius Abbatis de I. Ætatis in Dno M° cccc Ann."
There are other persons of distinction in the church, all done in armour.
On the south side of the church, mentioned above, is the burial-place in which the kings and chiefs of tribes are buried, and over them a shrine: there was an inscription, giving an account of each particular tomb, but time has worn them off. The middlemost had written on it, "The Tombs of the Kings of Scotland:" of which forty-eight lie there.
Upon that on the right hand was written, "The tombs of the Kings of Ireland;" of which four were buried here.
And upon that on the left hand was written, "The Kings of Norway;" of which eight were buried here.
On the right hand, within the entry to the churchyard, there is a tombstone now overgrown with earth, and upon it there is written, "Hic jacet Joannes Turnbull, quondam Episcopus Canterburiensis." This I deliver upon the authority of Mr. Jo. MacSwen, minister of Jura, who says he read it.
Next to the King's is the tombstone of Macdonald of Ila; the arms, a ship with hoisted sails, a standard, four lions, and a tree; the inscription, "Hic jacet Corpus Angusii Macdonuill de Ile."
In the west end is the tombs of Gilbrid and Paul Sporran, ancient tribes of the Macdonalds.
The families of Maclean, of Duart, Lochbuy, and Coll, lie next, all in armour, as big as the life.
Macallister, a tribe of the Macdonalds, Macouery of Ulvay, are both done as above.
There is a heap of stones on which they used to lay the corpse while they dug the grave. There is a stone likewise erected here, concerning which the credulous natives say that whosoever reaches out his arm along the stone three times, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, will never err in steering the helm of a vessel.
One tomb hath a clergyman, with this inscription upon it, "Sancta, &c."
About a quarter of a mile further south is the Church Ronad, in which several prioresses are buried. One of the inscriptions is, "Hic jacet Dna. Anna Terleti, filiam quandam priorissæ de Iona, quæ: obiit Anno M° Christi, Animam Abrahamo commendamus."
Another inscription is: "Behag nijn Sorle vic Il vrid priorissa," i.e., "Bathia, daughter to Somerled, son of Gilbert, prioress."
Without the nunnery there is such another square as that beside the monastery for men. The two pavements, which are of a hard red stone, are yet entire. In the middle of the longest pavement there is a large cross like to that mentioned above, and is called MacLean's cross. There are nine places on the east side the isle, called ports for landing.
The dock which was dug out of Port Churich is on the shore, to preserve Columbus's boat called Curich, which was made of ribs of wood, and the outside covered with hides; the boat was long and sharp-pointed at both ends. Columbus is said to have transported eighteen clergymen in this boat to Iona.
There are many pretty variegated stones on the shore below the dock; they ripen to a green colour, and are then proper for carving. The natives say these stones are fortunate, but only for some particular thing, which the person thinks fit to name, in exclusion of everything else.
There was a tribe here called "Clan vic n'oster," from Ostiarii; for they are said to have been porters. The tradition of these is that before Columbus died thirty of his family lived then in Iona, and that upon some provocation Columbus entailed a curse upon them, which was that they might all perish to the number of five, and that they might never exceed that number, to which they were accordingly reduced; and ever since, when any woman of the family was in labour, both she and the other four were afraid of death; for if the child that was to be then born did not die, they say one of the five was sure to die; and this they affirm to have been verified on every such occasion successively to this day. I found one only of this tribe living in the isle, and both he and the natives of this and of all the Western Isles unanimously declare that this observation never failed; and all this little family is now extinct, except this one poor man.
The life of Columbus, written in the Irish character, is in the custody of John MacNeil, in the isle of Barry; another copy of it is kept by MacDonald of Benbecula.
The inhabitants have a tradition that Columbus suffered no women to stay in the isle except the nuns; and that all the tradesmen who wrought in it were obliged to keep their wives and daughters in the opposite little isle, called on that account Women's Isle. They say likewise that it was to keep women out of the isle that he would not suffer cows, sheep, or goats to be brought to it.
Beda, in his Ecclesiastical History, Lib. 3, Cap. 4, gives this account of him: "In the year of our Lord 565 (at the time that Justin the Younger succeeded Justinian in the government of the Roman empire) the famous Columba, a presbyter and abbot, but in habit and life a monk, came from Ireland to Britain to preach the Word of God, to the northern provinces of the Picts, that is to those who by high and rugged mountains are separated from the southern provinces. For the southern Picts, who have their habitation on this side the same hills, had, as they affirm themselves, renounced idolatry, and received the faith a long time before, by the preaching of Ninian the Bishop, a most reverend and holy man, of the country of the Britons, who was regularly educated at Rome in the mysteries of truth."
In the ninth year of Meilochen, son to Pridius, King of Picts, a most powerful king, Columbus, by his preaching and example, converted that nation to the faith of Christ. Upon this account, they gave him the isle above mentioned (which he calls Hii, Book 3, Cap. 3) to erect a monastery in, which his successors possess to this day, and where he himself was buried in the 77th year of his age, and the 32nd after his going to Britain to preach the gospel. He built a noble monastery in Ireland before his coming to Britain, from both which monasteries he and his disciples founded several other monasteries in Britain and Ireland, among all which the monastery of the island in which his body is interred has the pre-eminence. The isle has a rector, who is always a presbyter-abbot, to whose jurisdiction the whole province and the bishops themselves ought to be subject, though the thing be unusual, according to the example of that first doctor, who was not a bishop, but a presbyter and monk, and of whose life and doctrine some things are said to be wrote by his disciples. But whatever he was, this is certain, that he left successors eminent for their great chastity, divine love, and regular institution.
This monastery furnished bishops to several dioceses of England and Scotland, and amongst others Aidanus, who was sent from thence, and was Bishop of Lindisfarne now Holy Island.
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