Is so called from tirea country, and iyan isthmus; the rocks in the narrow channel seem to favour the etymology.
This isle lies about eight leagues to the west of Iona, or I Colm-Kil. The land is low and Moorish, but there are two little hills on the south-west side; the mould is generally brown, and for the most part sandy. The western side is rocky for about three leagues; the isle affords no convenient harbour for ships, but has been always valued for its extraordinary fruitfulness in corn, yet being tilled every year, it is become less fruitful than formerly. There is a plain piece of ground about six miles in compass on the east coast called the Rive; the grass is seldom suffered to grow the length of half an inch, being only kept as a common, yet is believed to excel any parcel of land of its extent in the isles, or opposite continent; there are small channels in it, through which the tide of flood comes in, and it sometimes overflows the whole.
The isle is four miles in length from the south-east to the north-west; the natives for the most part live on barley-bread, butter, milk, cheese, fish, and some eat the roots of silverweed; there are but few that eat any flesh, and the servants use water-gruel often with their bread. In plentiful years the natives drink ale generally. There are three ale-houses in the isle; the brewers preserve their ale in large earthen vessels, and say they are much better for this purpose than those of wood; some of them contain twelve English gallons. Their measure for drink is a third part larger than any I could observe in any other part of Scotland. The ale that I had in the inn being too weak, I told my host of it, who promised to make it better; for this end he took a hectic-stone, and having made it red hot in the fire, he quenched it in the ale. The company and I were satisfied that the drink was a little more brisk, and I told him that if he could add some more life to our ale he would extremely oblige the company. This he frankly undertook, and to effect it toasted a barley-cake, and having broken it in pieces he put it into the dish with the ale, and this experiment we found as effectual as the first. I enquired of him if he had any more art to revive our ale and then he would make it pretty good; he answered that he knew of nothing else but a malt-cake, which he had not then ready, and so we were obliged to content ourselves with what pains had been already used to revive our drink. The natives preserve their yeast by an oaken with which, they twist and put into it; and for future use, keep it in barley-straw. The cows and horses are of a very low size in this isle, being in the winter and spring-time often reduced to eat sea-ware. The cows give plenty of milk; when they have enough of fresh sea-ware to feed on it fattens them; the horses pace naturally, and are very sprightly though little. The ground abounds with flint stone; the natives tell me they find pieces of sulphur in several places. The west winds drive the ordinary Indian nuts to the shore of this isle, and the natives use them, as above, for removing the diarrhœa; and the water of the well called Toubir in Donich is by the natives drunk as a catholicon for diseases.
Some years ago, about one hundred and sixty little whales, the biggest not exceeding twenty feet long, run themselves ashore in this isle, very seasonably, in time of scarcity, for the natives did eat them all, and told me that the sea-pork, i.e., the whale, is both wholesome and very nourishing meat. There is a fresh-water lake in the middle of the isle, on the east side of which there is an old castle now in ruins. The isle being low and moorish is unwholesome, and makes the natives subject to the ague. The inhabitants living in the south-east parts are for the most part bald, and have but very thin hair on their heads. There is a cave in the south-west which the natives are accustomed to watch in the night, and then take many cormorants on it. There are several forts in the isle; one in the middle of it, and Dun-Taelk in Baelly Petris: they are in form the same with those in the northern isles. There are several great and small circles of stones in this isle. The inhabitants are all Protestants; they observe the festivals of Christmas, Good-Friday, Easter, and St. Michael's Day. Upon the latter there is a general cavalcade at which all the inhabitants rendezvous. They speak the Irish tongue, and wear the Highland dress. This isle is the Duke of Argyll's property, it being one of the isles lately possessed by the Laird of Maclean; the Parish Church in the isle is called Soroby, and is a parsonage.
The Isle of Coll
THIS lies about half a league to the east and north-east of Tiree, from which it hath been severed by the sea. It is ten miles in length, and three in breadth; it is generally composed of little rocky hills covered with heath. The north side is much plainer, and arable ground, affording barley and oats; the inhabitants always feed on the latter, and those of Tiree on the former. The isle of Coll produces more boys than girls; as if nature intended both these isles for mutual alliances, without being at the trouble of going to the adjacent isles or continent to be matched. The Parish-Book, in which the number of the baptised is to be seen, confirms this observation.
There are several rivers in this isle that afford salmon. There is a fresh-water lake in the south-east side, which hath trouts and eels. Within a quarter of a mile lies a little castle, the seat of MacLean of Coll, the proprietor of the isle; he and all the inhabitants are Protestants; they observe the festivals of Christmas, Good-Friday, Easter, and St. Michael: at the latter they have a general cavalcade. All the inhabitants speak the Irish tongue (a few excepted), and wear the habit used by the rest of the islanders. This isle is much wholesomer than that of Tiree. I saw a gentleman of Maclean of Coll's family here, aged eighty-five, who walked up and down the fields daily.
Cod and ling abound on the coast of this isle, and are of a larger size here than in the adjacent isles or continent.
On the south-east coast of this isle lie the train of rocks called the Carn of Coll; they reach about half a league from the shore, and are remarkable for their fatality to sea-faring men, of which there are several late instances. There is no venomous creature in this island or that of Tiree.
THIS isle lies about four leagues south from Skye; it is mountainous and heathy, but the coast is arable and fruitful. The isle is five miles long from south to north, and three from east to west; the north end produces some wood. The rivers on each side afford salmon. There is plenty of land and sea-fowl; some of the latter, especially the puffin, build in the hills as much as in the rocks on the coast, in which there are abundance of caves: the rock facing the west side is red, and that on the east side grey. The mountains have some hundred of deer grazing in them. The natives gave me an account of a strange observation, which they say proves fatal to the posterity of Lachlin, a cadet of MacLean of Coll's family; that if any of them shoot at a deer on the mountain Finchra, he dies suddenly, or contracts some violent distemper, which soon puts a period to his life. They told me some instances to this purpose: whatever may be in it, there is none of the tribe above-named will ever offer to shoot the deer in that mountain.
The bay Loch-Scresord on the east side is not fit for anchoring, except without the entry.
There is a chapel in this isle; the natives are Protestants; MacLean of Coll is proprietor, and the language and habit the same with the northern isles.
It lies a little to the south-west of Rum, being four miles in circumference, all surrounded with a rock; it is fruitful in corn and grass; the hawks in the rocks here are reputed to be very good. The cattle, fowls, and amphibia of this island are the same as in other isles; the natives speak the Irish tongue only, and use the habit worn by their neighbours.
This isle lies about half a mile off Rum; it is two miles from south to north, and one from east to west. It is for the most part surrounded with a high rock, and the whole fruitful in corn and grass: the south end hath plenty of cod and ling.
There is a high hill in the north end, which disorders the needle in the compass: I laid the compass on the stony ground near it, and the needle went often round with great swiftness, and instead of settling towards the north, as usual, it settled here due east. The stones in the surface of the earth are black, and the rock below facing the sea is red; some affirm that the needle of a ship's compass, failing by the hill, is disordered by the force of the magnet in this rock: but of this I have no certainty.
The natives call this isle by the name Tarsin at sea; the rock Heisker on the south end abounds with wild geese in August, and then they cast their quills. The church in this isle is dedicated to St. Columbus. All the natives are Roman Catholics; they use the language and habit of the other isles. Allan Macdonald is proprietor. There is good anchorage on the north-east of this isle.
A Description of the Isle of Eigg
This isle lies to the south of Skye about four leagues; it is three miles in length, a mile and a half in breadth, and about nine in circumference; it is all rocky and mountainous from the middle towards the west; the east side is plainer, and more arable: the whole is indifferent good for pasturage and cultivation. There is a mountain in the south end, and on the top of it there is a high rock called Skur Egg, about an hundred and fifty paces in circumference, and has a fresh-water lake in the middle of it; there is no access to this rock but by one passage, which makes it a natural fort. There is a harbour on the south-east side of this isle which may be entered into by either side the small isle without it. There is a very big cave on the south-west side of this isle, capable of containing several hundreds of people. The coast guarding the north-west is a soft quarry of white stone, having some caves in it. There is a well in the village called Fivepennies, reputed efficacious against several distempers: the natives told me that it never fails to cure any person of their first disease, only by drinking a quantity of it for the space of two or three days; and that if a stranger lie at this well in the night-time, it will procure a deformity in some part of his body, but has no such effect on a native; and this they say hath been frequently experimented.
There is a heap of stones here, called Martin Dessil, i.e., a place consecrated to the saint of that name, about which the natives oblige themselves to make a tour round sunways.
There is another heap of stones, which they say was consecrated to the Virgin Mary.
In the village oil the south coast of this isle there is a well, called St. Katherine's Well; the natives have it in great esteem, and believe it to be a catholicon for diseases. They told me that it had been such ever since it was consecrated by one Father Hugh, a Popish priest, in the following manner: he obliged all the inhabitants to come to this well, and then employed them to bring together a great heap of stones at the head of the spring, by way of penance. This being done, he said mass at the well, and then consecrated it; he gave each of the inhabitants a piece of wax candle, which they lighted, and all of them made the dessil, of going round the well sunways, the priest leading them: and from that time it was accounted unlawful to boil any meat with the water of this well.
The natives observe St. Katherine's Anniversary; all of them come to the well, and having drank a draught of it, they make the dessil round it sunways; this is always performed on the 15th day of April. The inhabitants of this isle are well proportioned; they speak the Irish tongue only, and wear the habit of the islanders; they are all Roman Catholics, except one woman, that is a Protestant.
There is a church here on the east side the isle, dedicated to St. Donnan, whose anniversary they observe.
About thirty yards from the church there is a sepulchral urn under ground; it is a big stone hewn to the bottom, about four feet deep, and the diameter of it is about the same breadth; I caused them to dig the ground above it, and we found a flat thin stone covering the urn: it was almost full of human bones, but no head among them, and they were fair and dry. I inquired of the natives what was become of the heads, and they could not tell; but one of them said, perhaps their heads had been cut off with a twohanded sword, and taken away by the enemy. Some few paces to the north of the urn there is a narrow stone passage under ground, but how far it reaches they could give me no account.
The natives dare not call this isle by its ordinary name of Egg when they are at sea, but island Nim-Ban-More, i.e., the isle of big women. St. Donnan's Well, which is in the south-west end, is in great esteem by the natives, for St. Donnan is the celebrated tutelar of this isle. The natives do not allow Protestants to come to their burial.
The proprietors of the isle are Allan MacDonald of Moydart, and Allan MacDonald of Morar.
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