Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Sea-Gods of Iona & Mull

The seas around Iona are no less mysterious than the island itself. According to Swire, "Iona, it would seem, first belonged to the ancient Earth-gods, but the primeval Sea-gods coveted the island and won it from them".

In Swire's 'The Inner Hebrides and their Legends' (1964) she tells that "Once, the bones of some huge and strange monster, obviously a dragon, were dug up in Iona - proof, it was felt, that the Sea-gods sacrificed creatures here that man never knew. "

In 'Iona' (1912) william Sharp writing as Fiona Macleod writes of Dun Mananain, and tells a story told by a Gaelic farmer named Macathur of a god of the sea named Manaun. "Whenever he willed he was like the sea, and that is not wonderful, for he was born of the sea. Thus his body was made of a green wave. His hair was of wrack and tangle, glistening with spray; his robe was of windy foam; his feet, of white sand. That is, when he was with his own, or when he willed; otherwise, he was as men are. He loved a woman of the south so beautiful that she was named Dear-sadh-na-Ghrene (Sunshine). He captured her and brought her to Iona in September, when it is the month of peace. For one month she was happy: when the wet gales from the west set in, she pined for her own land: yet in the dream-days of November, she smiled so often that Manaun hoped; but when Winter was come, her lover saw that she could not live. So he changed her into a seal. "You shall be a sleeping woman by day," he said, "and sleep in my dun here on Iona: and by night, when the dews fall, you shall be a seal, and shall hear me calling to you from a wave, and shall come out and meet me.""

McNeill describes in "An Iona Anthology" (1952) how "on Maundy Thursday people made offerings of Mead, ale or gruel to the sea in the belief that by sending the fruits of the land to the sea, the fruits of the sea - seaweed to be used as manure - would come to the land." and also adds that this custome was originally carried out on one of the old celtic quarter days.

Carmichael in 'Carmina Gadelica Vol 1 (1900) also mentions this offering, giving further detail that "as the day merged from Wednesday to Thursday a man walked to the waist into the sea and poured out whatever offering had been prepared, chanting in Gaelic:-

"O God of the Sea,
Put weed in the drawing wave
To enrich the ground
To shower on us food"

In 1860 the author conversed in Iona with a middle aged man whose father in his youth had taken part in this ceremony.

Swire's 'The Inner Hebrides and their Legends' (1964) also mentions Manannan, and tells of a tradition where once a white horse was brought to him every ninth year on Dun Manannan. The author questions if this was a payment of rent for his island, as the Isle of Man was also rented from Manannan by the first men who inhabited it.

In Mackenzie's 'Island Voices' (2002) she includes an interview with Peter Maclean of Dervaig who tells of an old custom at Treshnish point on Mull where in olden days they made a big pot of porrige near Easter and poured it over the cliffs into the sea in honour of Mana, God of the Sea. He said they did this in hope of getting lots of red tangle seaweed on the shores. The author tells of people on Iona living in 1840 who could remember porridge being poured into the sea to the God of the Ocean. Maclean's 'The Isle of Mull Placenames, Meanings and Stories' gives the location for this custom as Coir' A'Bhrochain, Corry of the porridge (NM338485), near Treshnish on Mull.

Macleod's 'Road to the Isles' (1927) names the Sea God as Lear, telling that the boys of the Isles were sent by their fathers down to the fishing rock to crush whelks and limpets to cast into the sea to lure the fish to the shore. This rock with a cup in it, the work of ancient human hands, was known as "The Mermaid's Quaich" and now and again "a boy of great faith will pour three palmfuls of salt water into the rock-cup and cry out loudly: 'May the fish of the sea follow the water of the sea to the rock of the shore.' Into that same rock-cup the boy's far-off ancestors poured, at the greying of night, a libation unto Lear, the Sea-God." The author then tells of a woman of the Isles who one evening went down to the fishing rock and sang her rune and "prayed that the King of the Seven Elements should smile upon herself and all waiting ones, children of the sea-doom. And, wonder of me! what dropped she into the rock-cup as an offering to Lear, the Sea-God, but her best and last treasure: a ringlet of yellow hair."

"Grey of Twilight in mine eye,
Ho lava he ho;
Though sea-doomed, this grace be mine:
Smile of earth and sea and sky.
Ho lava he ho."

Swire describes the ancient Sea-gods as "very old when the gods we do know of, such as the Tuatha de Danann and Manannan were young. They were of the primeval things, cruel and strong; fighting against both the new gods and men with storm and spell, their powers seemed to early man infinite. It is little wonder that a people who lived near the sea, whether in the islands or beside the sea-lochs, should fear them and credit them with supernatural powers beyond those of more ordinary gods." Swire credits them with raising the storms which the Men of Firbolg and also the Tuatha de Danann had to fight before they could land in Ireland, wrecking viking ships after the Battle of Largs, and destroying Spanish galleons at the time of the Armada. "There are those who believed that if the Germans had tried a landing in 1940-1 they too would have met the "blue men, breast high, with foam-grey faces"". The author comments that St Columba and his monks landed without hindrance on a day of perfect calm, and it was believed that through his mother he had the blood of the Sea-gods in his veins and came as a welcome guest.

Swire also writes that the green serpentine rocks known as Iona Stone, still found on the beachs of Iona, was said to preserve anyone who carried a piece from all danger at sea, and prevent the wearer from drowning as the stone is the congealed blood of the Sea-gods. I always wear my necklace of Iona Stone when at sea and so far it's protected me well!
A Sea-God named 'Shony' was also spoken of on Iona and around the Hebrides. In Martin's 'Description of the Western Isles' (1703) he mentions Shony in a section about the Isle of Lewis, describing how at Hallow-tide the inhabitants of Bragar would brew an ale  and "one of their number was picked to wade into the sea up to his middle, and carrying a cup of ale in his hand, standing still in that posture, cried out with a loud voice saying "Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you'll be so kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware for enriching our ground for the ensuing year", and so threw the cup of ale into the sea". This was performed at night and on his return to land the people went to church and put out the candle burning on the altar, then went to the fields where they drank ale and spent the rest of the night dancing and singing.

William Sharp as Fiona Mcleod writes in 'Iona' (1912) of a Hebridean nurse telling the author of Shony, a mysterious Sea-God, and mentions "I was amused not long ago to hear a little girl singing, as she ran wading through the foam of a troubled sunlit sea, as it broke on those wonderful white sands of Iona:-

"Shanny, Shanny, Shanny,
Catch my feet and tickle my toes!
And if you can, Shanny, Shanny, Shanny,
I'll go with you where no one knows!"

The author has no doubt that this Shanny was Shony, "whose more terrifying way was to clutch boats by the keel and drown the sailors, and make a death necklace of their teeth. An evil Shony; for once he netted a young girl who was swimming in a loch, and when she would not give him her love he tied her to a rock, and to this day her long brown hair may be seen floating in the shallow green wave at the ebb of the tide. One need not name the place!"

Below are some photos taken on my visit to Iona last year:

Sources & Further Information
The Inner Hebrides and their Legends, Swire
Guide to Mysterious Iona and Staffa, Holder
The Sin-Eater: And Other Tales and Episodes, Macleod
Iona, Macleod
The Road to the Isles, Macleod
Island Voices, Mackenzie
An Iona Anthology, McNeill
carmina Gadelica Vol 1, Carmichael
The Isle of Mull Placenames, Meanings and Stories, Maclean
Temple of Manannan Mac Lir Website

Monday, 20 April 2015

Sithean Mor, The Fairy Hill of Iona

 Now I've caught up with the tales of my trip to Mull last week and i'm on a roll, i'm hoping to catch up and write some posts about my explorations last year too. I have a big pile of notebooks with all my notes in from my trips and a couple of days off work, so here's hoping for lots of folkloring and no distractions! :)

I'll start with some tales from the beautiful Island of Iona, beginning with the famous Fairy Hill of Sithean Mor, also known as Angels' Hill, as it is said to be where Columba met with the Angels. The first story I came across when researching Iona folklore was a tragic tale of a young lady, a visitor to the Isle, who died in very unusual circumstances. One moonlit night she slipped out of the cottage where she was staying, naked and carrying a knife in her hand, with which she intended to open the fairy hill. In the early hours of the morning her body was found beside the Sithean Mor. This is a short version of the story from An Iona Anthology by Marian McNeill (1952) which accompanies a wonderful poem by Helen Cruickshank titled 'Ballad of Lost Ladye':

O siller, siller shone the mune
An' quaiet swang the door,
An' eerie skraighed the flaughtered gulls
As she gaed by the shore.

O saft tae her the meadow girse,
But set wi' rock the hill,
An' scored wi' bluid her ladye feet
Or she cam' the place intill.

The sheen o' steel was in her hand,
The sheen o' stars in her een,
An' she wad open the fairy hill
An' she wad let oot the queen.

There cam' a shepherd owre the hill
When day began tae daw;
And is this noo a seggit ewe
Or flourish frae the schaw?

It wasna lamb nor seggit ewe
Nor flourish frae the schaw,
It was the ladye bright an' still,
But she had won awa'.

The peace an' loveliness upon
Her broo said, 'Lat abee,
Here fand I that I sairly socht,
Ye needna peety mee.'

Further research revealed that the lady was named Netta Fornario, also known as Norah Emily Editha Fornario, or Marie Emily Fornario, and her death took place in November 1929. Reports of the event vary, some more embellished than others, with some saying she was wearing a black cloak, some say she cut a large cross in the turf with her knife before she died, some say the soles of her feet were torn and bleeding. Some say she was a friend of Occultist Dion fortune, and she used to go into trances and roam the moors on her visits to Iona, others say she was not found dead at the Fairy Hill at all but elsewhere on the island. A very thorough and interesting article researching the story of Netta Fornario can be found on the Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog here.

Apart from the above poem and accompanying text I have found no other mention of her intention of opening the fairy hill, though the theory is intriguing as the cross carved on the hill may be an attempt at protection from the fairies, and in some folklore tales an iron knife is stuck into a fairy mound to stop it closing behind a person when they have ventured inside the hill. According to Holder's Guide to Mysterious Iona and Staffa, an author named Wilson who was writing 'Scotland's Unsolved Mysteries of the Twentieth Century' tracked down Calum Cameron who was 12 when Netta stayed with his parents, and he said the knife was just a normal kitchen knife and there was no cross in the turf, Netta was just digging in the ground. So did Netta succeed in digging her way into the fairy hill? Was she taken inside the fairy hill, leaving her earthly shell behind? When Robert Kirk's body was found on Doon Hill in Aberfoyle over 200 years earlier it was claimed he had been taken by the fairies, did the same happen to Netta? I found a grave in the cemetery at Iona marked 'M.E.F. Aged 33 19th Nov 1929, according to Holder's Guide, this is Netta's grave.
An early account of this mysterious hill can be found in Thomas Pennant's 'A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772, Volume 1' where he describes it as a small hill with "a small circle of stones, and a little cairn in the middle, evidently druidical, but called the hill of the angels, Cnon nar-aimgeal; from a tradition that the holy man had there a conference with those celestial beings soon after his arrival". He tells of the Bishop Pocock informing him that the natives would bring their horses to this circle at the feast of St Michael and course around it, possibly to bless the horses.

Another story of fairies on Iona can be found in Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands (1900). "Two young men in Iona were coming in the evening from fishing on the rocks. On their way, when passing, they found the shi-en of that island open, and entered. One of them joined the dancers, without waiting to lay down the string of fish he had in his hand. The other stuck a fish-hook in the door, and when he wished made his escape. He came back for his companion that day twelvemonths, and found him still dancing with the string of fish in his hand. On taking him to the open air the fish dropped from the string, rotten." No location is given for the fairy hill in this story, but it is interesting that a metal hook in the hill was used to allow one young man to make his escape.

Another version of the tale can be found in Alasdair Macgregor's 'The Ghost Book' (1955) where the men are passing the mound after fishing and the young man carrying their catch sits on the fairy mound for a moment and vanishes. A year later he returns, and they say that extraordinarily the fish were still fresh!

A more recent and embellished version of the story, this time including the Fairy Queen, can be found here on the Iona Scotland website. It advises: "There is only one way to avoid this fate when you pass the fairy mound - you must spin round three times as you sing, "O' fairy queen of Sithean Beg, I dance for you and all you kin. Let me pass by freely now, don't come out - I won't come in."

Another interesting tale of the fairy hill can be found in Fiona Macleod's 'Iona' (1912), a pseudonym used by William Sharp, though whether the story is written as fact or fiction is unclear. It tells of an Islander called Coll mac Coll who is laying dreaming on the fairy hill when he awakes and sees "a man stood behind him. He did not know the man, who was young, and had eyes dark as hill-tarns, with hair light and soft as thistledown; and moved light as a shadow, delicately treading the grass as the wind treads it. In his hair he had twined the fantastic leaf of the horn - poppy". The man dreads it is "one whom he did not wish to meet, the Green Harper: also of a grey man of the sea whom the islemen seldom alluded to by name." The Green Harper asks what he wishes for and Coll says he does not wish for what cannot be or he would ask to see the dear face of Morag, his lass. So he wishes for "all the glory and wonder and power there is in the world, and to have it all at my feet, and to know everything that the Holy Father himself knows, and have kings coming to me as the crofters come to MacCailein Mòr's factor." The Green Harper says he can have that, and waves a withe of hazel in his hand, to open a door in the air, telling Coll that if it is his wish of all wishes, and he will give up all other wishes for that wish, he can have the sovereignty of the world. Just then Coll heard a familiar sound in the dusk and tears came into his eyes and he asked instead for "a warm breast-feather from that grey dove of the woods that is winging home to her young." He looked as one moon-dazed. None stood beside him. He was alone." He walks home, and glancing back sees a white figure on the knoll, with a face noble and beautiful. He wonders if it is Colum himself, or an angel, or his dreaming mind.

Fiona Macleod also tells a slightly disturbing tale, again it could be fact or fiction, of a visit to a friend on Iona's daughter, but her mother said she had gone and she didn't know why. She said she went out crying and her mother asked what was wrong and "She turned an' smiled, an' because o' that terrifying smile I couldna say a word". Her mother said some one saw her among the bulrushes in the swamp laughing and talking to the reeds, or to the wind in the reeds, and she had dreams for months or a monk saying he would kill her because she was a heathen, and after that she took to meeting friends in the moonshine, and if she didn't go the monks would kill her. The full story can be found here, and although there is no mention of fairies, it does have an air of strangeness to it, especially when compared to the story of Netta.

Below are some photos from my visit to Sithean Mor last year. The hill itself is fenced off and cannot be accessed as it is now part of the 'Sithean' farm next door.

Sources & Further Information
An Iona Anthology, Marian McNeill
Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog
Mysterious Iona and Staffa, Holder
Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands, Campbell
The Ghost Book, Alasdair Macgregor
Iona, Fiona Macleod
Iona Scotland Website

The Mer-Folk of Calgary Bay

Calgary Bay on Mull was reputedly a favourite haunt of the mer-folk. In 'The Legends of the Inner Hebrides' (1964) Swire tells that Island girls not infrequently married mermen, just as their brothers might wed a mermaid, and the marriages were quite frequently happy. When the mer-folk became mortal they had to shed their tail, and one of these tails was found by an adventurous boy in Calgary Bay and he tried it on, fitting it with a belt of oarweed, and off he went to sea. He soon discovered that there is more to swimming than borrowing a tail, and he was sinking for the third time when he felt a pair of hands holding him up and found himself in the arms of a mermaid who slipped him into the curl of her tail and carried him safely to shore, then swam away taking the spare tail with her. 

Swire tells that the mer-folk were generally kindly and would protect mortals from the little people if they sought their help, as below the high-water mark a fairy could not dare touch a mortal. They would also reward a mortal greatly if one chanced upon a merbaby and was kind to it. However if the human harmed the baby then they would be drowned or cursed.

Mull also contained another type of mer-folk according to Swire, the fallen angels who were spirits of fire and air, for their misdeeds condemned them to live in the sea lest they corrupt others. A Mull man once found and tried to wear a mer-folk's tail but it was too tight at the waist so he slit it down one side as if gutting a fish. A terrible scream was heard and he found himself enveloped in flames. No one could approach to help him as so great was the heat, so he was burnt to death. He had found the temporarily discarded tail of one of the fallen angels and they had fire in their veins instead of blood it was said. If one was wounded it was well known they would bleed fire and burn to death. In cutting the tail, the man had wounded the spirit and let lose the fire, burning both himself and the original owner.
 A tail diving into the water near Calgary Bay. I wish I could tell you it was a mermaid, but it was a dolphin, still a wonderful sight though!
Calgary Bay

Below you can explore Calgary Bay by clicking and dragging on the Google Viewer below, let me know if you spot any mer-folk!

View Larger Map

Sources & Further Information
Legends of the Inner Hebrides, Swire
Sea Enchantress: The Tale of the Mermaid and Her Kin, Benwell and Waugh

The Selkies of Mull & Iona

If you spend enough time gazing into a loch or the sea, sooner or later your eyes may meet a solemn sad pair of large black eyes gazing back at you, belonging to a seal, or Selkie. Tales of Selkies can be found all over the Scotland Isles and coast, as well as in Irish and Scandinavian legends. Selkies are usually said to be human in some way, some say they are the souls of the drowned or damned, and in some tales they can take human shape and walk on land, sometimes marrying and bearing children, only to escape back to the sea when they are reunited with their seal skin which has been hidden by their human spouse.

On the rocks at Bunessan many seals were once seen basking at low tide, Swire tells us in her book 'Legends of the Inner Hebrides' (1964) "It was once known that these were Pharaoh's army, overwhelmed when the Red Sea, which had parted for the Israelites, fell back upon their pursuers. Seals they became and seals they have remained. There are, however, certain difficulties over this theory of the seals' origin. allowing that seals are certainly men and women suffering under enchantment, if they were Pharaoh's army where do the women come from? " She also mentions that the Selkies of legend when in human form speak Gaelic, and it is unlikely that Egyptians would have known the language.
Bunessan Bay

Swire also gives another theory on the origin of Selkies, suggesting that St Patrick was responsible after he became angry when he preached to the heathens and some would not convert. He was offended and accused them of calling him a liar, and he turned the unbelievers into seals. St Columba was said to be more patient but some of his younger monks lacked his patience and when St Columba was occupied elsewhere "a number of new seals found their way into the sea near Iona". Another theory suggests that those who had been baptised but relapsed into Paganism turned into seals.

Seals are said to love music and occasionally they will sing a song so beautiful but terrible in it's sadness that those humans who hear it can bear their earthly life no longer and plunge into the sea to join the seals. Others say that seals sing only as a death call or warning. On Iona the seals are said to sing for joy when one of their number has extirpated their sins and attained salvation. Others sing when the salmon has drunk 3 drinks of spring water and summer is here.

Sadly we didn't spot many seals on this trip so I have included some photos of seals from previous trips to Mull. We found the seals at Loch Scridian to be particularly friendly and curious, coming closer when we spoke to them. A local lady said they are particularly fond of people singing to them!
You can explore Bunessan further by clicking and dragging on the Google Viewer below:

View Larger Map

For more folk tales of Selkies I thoroughly recommend Land of the Seal People by Duncan Williamson, and The People of the Sea by David Thomson. The movie The Secret of Roan Inish is also a beautiful take on the Selkie legends.

Sources & Further Information
Legends of the Inner Hebrides, Swire
Land of the Seal People, Williamson
The People of the Sea, Thomson
The Guide to Mysterious Iona and Staffa, Holder

The Fairies of Burg

Of all the hills and glens on Mull, no area is said to contain more fairies than the beautiful headland of the Burg. I'd previously read a couple of stories about the fairies of Burg, but after reading of the fairies in 'Tea with Chrissie' by Rosalind Jones I just knew I had to visit the area for myself. Though be warned, the fairies of Burg are described as being "capricious, cantankerous, and sometimes downright spiteful", so be careful where you tread.

The author of 'Tea with Chrissie' tells "there existed at Burg and Travool a spiritual plane revealed from time to time" and notes that Chrissie and Duncan sometimes spoke of the men of Travool, little men who came out at night and did things. Others felt the place to be mystical and heard strange faint music in places and voices chanting in an odd tongue. A surgeon who stayed every year was convinced that it was haunted and one summer night down by the river he was convinced he'd been surrounded by people, even though there was no-one there at all. Another lady heard voices within the house and knocked on the door but received no answer. As she walked away she felt a push and fell flat on her face, but she saw no one there. The author tells that Chrissie believed the supernatural occurrences were dye to an old burial ground being robbed of stones to build a wall that refused to remain upright. The former owners of Travool, the Bells, left in 1915 though Mr Bell was not sad to leave "for ever since he'd dug at the back of Travool House he'd heard 'voices' at a mound never the burn, whilst folk who didn't believe in the Sithe thought he was off his head!" The book contains a couple more tales too, as well as many lovely old photographs of the area and a thorough history of Burg, it's well worth a read and can be purchased here.

Tales of the fairies at Burg date back at least one hundred years, as Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands (1900) mentions:

"Some say the elves were brought to the house by two old women, who were tired spinning, and incautiously said they wished all the people in Ton Bhuirg were there to assist. According to others, the Elves were in the habit of coming to Tapull House in the Ross of  Mull, and their excessive zeal made them very unwelcome. The rhyme they had when they came to Tapull is known as " The rhyme of the good-man of Tapull's servants" (Rann gillean fir Thabuill)

"Let me comb, card, tease, spin,
Get a weaving loom quick.
Water for fulling on the fire.
Work, work, work."

Maclean gives further details in his 'History of the Island of Mull' (1923). He tells that when the housewife invited the fairies to help they appeared and sang in Gaelic:
"Combing, mixing,
Carding, spinning,
A weaving loom quickly
And the waulking water on the fire."

Afterwards they crowded around the table expecting a customary meal, but the housewife was unprepared and desired them to leave. She went to the door and called an old man for help. He advised her to shout in Gaelic as loud as she could that the Burg was on fire, so she did and they fled, crying in Gaelic "My hammers and my anvils, my little children and my offspring, Burg is on fire. Alas! Alas! ". They disappeared at the entrance of their home, and the woman saw them no more. In 'Tea with Chrissie' the author mentions fires being lit on the Dun to call the doctor in Bunessan, so perhaps the fairies were forced to evacuate the Dun on a regular basis!

Peter Macnab gives an even more detailed version of the story in his 'Traditional Tales of Mull' (1998) and also adds that another lady who invited the fairies to help with the spinning was more lucky and although she only had some oatmeal and a few eggs in her larder, the fairies said that this would do fine, and she found that no matter how much of the food she used up there was always plenty more, and when the fairies finished eating they just vanished.

According to Island Voices by Mackenzie (2002) Tiree tradition states that the fairies once invaded the Island from Mull where they had their fortress, Dun Bhuirg. They returned to Mull as quickly as possible when they heard a war cry of "Dun Bhuirg is on fire!".

In his 'History of the Isle of Mull' (1923) Maclean also tells a story titled "The men of the laird of Tapoll":

"The laird had dismissed two men for uselessly spending their time. Some months later, while walking in a field where the newly cut crop had been shocked, he saw a stranger approaching. When near, the stranger asked for a bundle of the harvest, which was granted. A rope was spread upon the ground, and both began to pile bundle after bundle on it, without increasing its size. When the laird saw that the whole field was being swept away by the magic of the stranger, he repeated the following prayer:

"On Tuesday I sowed,
On Tuesday I reaped,
And on Tuesday I stuck
My plow in the soil,
And Thou, who hast given us those three days,
Let not my corn in one bundle away."

The bundle and stranger vanished, and not a sheaf was wanting in the field. The two men dismissed were fairies; one of whom returned to take vengeance and carry off the entire harvest."

So, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, off we walked to the Burg! The land is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and there is a public parking area along a road and rough track not far from the B8035. Full details and maps can be found here on the Walk Highlands Website. To get to the Burg itself it is a fair walk, so come prepared with sturdy walking shoes. A leaflet with map can be purchased for a donation from a machine in the car park, or a similar leaflet can be downloaded here from the NTS Website.
Above you can see the Dun in the distance, overlooking the sea.
Along the old track you will pass many old stone ruins including the ruined townships of Salachry and Culliemore. They were cleared in the mid-19th Century to make way for sheep.
Below is Tavool House as it stands today, previously known as Tapool House or Tapul House. It is now an Outdoor Centre and offers holiday accommodation too. In this area the 'Men of Travool' were said to live and play their strange fairy music, chanting in a mysterious tongue.
As you pass the house the path dips down into a green mossy valley with a stream running through. Here on a summer night the surgeon found himself surrounded by invisible people.
Passing over the stream and up the hill you soon arrive in Burg....
Heading towards Dun Bhuirg, said to be a fairy mound and home to the fairies of Burg. On the top is a memorial to Daisy Cheape, a young girl who drowned in the Loch in 1896. Further details on the history of the Dun can be found here on the RCAHMS website.
 The old bothy, one of the remaining old cottages in Burg. Perhaps it was here the old lady invited the fairies in to help with her spinning.
 Dun Bhuirg, home to the fairies of Burg, described in 'Tea with Chrissie' as being "capricious, cantankerous, and sometimes downright spiteful, if not actually malicious - which they could be if upset or provoked." Needless to say, this is as close as I ventured, I certainly didn't want to risk upsetting them.

Sources & Further Information
Tea with Chrissie, Rosalind Jones
Superstitions of the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, Campbell
The History of the Island of Mull, Maclean
Traditional Tales of Mull, Macnab
Island Voices, Mackenzie
Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, Grinsell
Burg on the National Trust for Scotland Website
Tavool on RCAHMS Website
Dun Bhuirg on RCAHMS Website
Holiday Accommodation at Tavool House
Video of Tavool House on Vimeo, including the interior

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Water-Horse of Loch Assapol

The Water-Horse, or Each Uisge, is a most terrifying creature said to inhabit the fresh water lochs of Scotland. He can change shape and appear in human form, travel between lochs, and is also said to visit sheilings, often in the form of a handsome man to lure women to their death. If a traveller is foolish enough to mount a lone horse at the side of the loch, he or she may find their hands mysteriously stuck to the horse as if by glue, as the water-horse rides off at speed towards the loch to drag them deep beneath the waves to be drowned and eaten. There are even stories of the back of the horse stretching to accommodate a whole row of small children, their livers floating to the top of the loch the following day. I took the above photo last year on Mull at the side of a different loch, he certainly had a wild look in his eye, I didn't get too close.

Loch Assapol (NM405205), south east of Bunessan on the Isle of Mull, is said to be home to one of these terrifying creatures. The full story is told in 'The History of the Island of Mull' by Maclean (1923):

"Another Mull legend tells of a young damsel, on a warm summer evening straying along the banks of Loch Assapol, when a stranger accosted her. Together they sat on a green knoll, and the stranger laid his head in her lap. She carelessly ran her fingers through his hair, and discovering in it the green fungi of the loch, she trembled with fear, and looked about to escape. To her great relief he gave a loud snore; showing he was asleep. Adroitly placing a stone under his head, she sprang to her feet and with all possible speed ran to the old manse where she served. Arriving within a few yards of the door she looked backward and saw a beautiful grey steed in full pursuit of her. It was the dreaded water-horse, who, finding that the maiden had escaped, followed her crying out, "Next Sabbath I will come and take you." The girl widely spread the account of her escape from the water-horse.

The following Sabbath a great congregation assembled on the knoll immediately about the loch. The old parish minister stood in the center, with the girl also placed there for safety. In a little while a loud neighing was heard in the direction of the green plain skirting the margin of the lake, and at once appeared a water-horse coming at full gallop, with foaming mouth and distended nostrils. It charged into the crowd, seized the terrified girl in its jaws, carried her into the lake, and she was never seen again."

The story is also briefly mentioned in Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1900): "Many of the stories add that the young man (or Water-horse) came for her on a subsequent Sunday after dinner, or to church, to which (as in the story of the Water-horse of Loch Assapol in the Ross of Mull) she went for security rather than keep an appointment previously made with him, and took her to the loch."
You should be able to have a look around at Loch Assapol on the Google Viewer below, just click and drag to explore:

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Sources & Further Information
Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Campbell
The History of the Island of Mull, Maclean

Fairy Wishing Well, Isle of Mull

On the road to Loch Buie near Ardura stands a curious little well, surrounded by a low stone wall. According to 'The Inner Hebrides' by Swire (1964) this is "Mull's wishing well, lined with pennies and other gifts to the Little People. A very modern wishing well indeed it has become with a concrete parapet". Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any further information about this well, but i'm hoping a reader out there may be able to shed more light on the history of the well.
On the streetmap.co.uk maps the well is named as "Tobar nan Ceann", I believe this is Gaelic for 'the Well of the Heads'. I haven't managed to find an explanation for the name  but according to 'The Isle of Mull placenames, meaning and stories' by Charles Maclean there is another well on Mull with the same name near Loch Na Keal (NM553383) and the well was given the name in 1586 when Maclean of Inverscardale and his men attacked a party of MacDonalds before the battle of Leac-li and were defeated. The victors washed the heads of the dead in the well. So perhaps there is a similar tale attached to this well too.
The well can be found opposite a stone seat dedicated to Margaret Elliot in 1924, but on the opposite side of the road (NM683300). The well can be seen here on google maps, or hopefully on the Google maps viewer below if it works, just click and drag on the image to explore. It's my first time trying it out so please let me know if you have any problems viewing it. If it's successful I'll try to include the viewer on future blogs too!

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Sources & Further Information
The Inner Hebrides, Swire
The Isle of Mull placenames, meaning and stories, Maclean