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A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland

The following is from A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland by Martin Martin:

The Island of Arran

THE name of this isle is by some derived from Arran, which in the Irish language signifies bread. Others think it comes more probably from Ann or Arfyn, which in their language is as much as the place of the giant Fin-Ma-Coulís slaughter or execution; for Aar signifies slaughter, and so they will have Arin only the contraction of Arrin or Fin. The received tradition of the great giant Fin-Ma-Coulís military valour, which he exercised upon the ancient natives here, seems to favour this conjecture; this, they say, is evident from the many stones set up in divers places of the isle, as monuments upon the graves of persons of note that were killed in battle. This isle is twenty-four miles from south to north and seven miles from east to west. It lies between the isle of Bute and Kintyre, in the opposite mainland the isle is high and mountainous, but slopes on each side round the coast, and the Glen is only made use of for village. The mountains near Brodick Bay are of a considerable height; all the hills generally afford a good pasturage, though a great part of them be covered only with heath.

The mould here is of divers colours, being black and brown near the hills and clayey and sandy upon the coast.

The natives told me that some places of the isle afford fullerís earth. The coast on the east side is rocky near the shore. The stones on the coast, for some miles beneath Brodick, are all of a red colour, and of these the Castle of Brodick is built. The natives say that the mountains near the Castle of Brodick afford crystal, and that the Duchess of Hamilton put so great a value on it as to be at the charge of cutting a necklace of it, which the inhabitants take as a great honour done them, because they have a great veneration for her Grace. There is no considerable woods here, but a few coppices, yet that in the Glen towards the west is above a mile in length. There are capacious fields of arable ground on each side Brodick Bay, as also on the opposite western coast. The largest and best field for pasturage is that on the south-west side.

Several rivers on each side this isle afford salmon, particularly the two rivers on the west called Machir side, and the two in Kirkmichael and Brodick Bay.

The air here is temperately cold and moist, which is in some measure qualified by the fresh breezes that blow from the hills, but the natives think a dram of strong waters is a good corrective.

There are several caves on the coast of this isle. Those on the west are pretty large, particularly that in Druim-cruey. A hundred men may sit or lie in it; it is contracted gradually from the floor upwards to the roof. In the upper end there is a large piece of rock formed like a pillar. There is engraven on it a deer, and underneath it a two-handed sword. There is a void space on each side this pillar.

The south side of the cave has a horse-shoe engraven on it. On each side the door there is a hole cut out, and that, they say, was for holding big trees on which the caldrons hang for boiling their beef and venison. The natives say that this was the cave in which Fin-Ma-Coul lodged during the time of his residence in this isle, and that his guards lay in the lesser caves which are near this big one. There is a little cave joining to the largest, and this they call the cellar

There is a cave some miles more southerly on the same coast, and they told me that the minister preached in it sometimes, in regard of it being more centrical than the Parish Church.

Several erected stones are to be seen on each side this isle. Four of these are near Brodick Bay, about the distance of 70 yards from the river, and are seven feet high each. The highest of these stones that fell under my observation was on the south side of Kirkmichael River, and is above fifteen feet high. There is a stone coffin near it, which has been filled with human bones, until of late that the river washed away the earth and the bones that were in the coffin. MacLouis, who had seen them, says they were of no larger size than those of our own time. On the west side there are three stones erected in Baelliminich and a fourth at some distance from these, about six feet high each. In the moor on the east side Druim-cruey, there is a circle of stones; the area is about thirty paces. There is a stone of the same shape and about forty paces to the west of the circle the natives say that this circle was made by the giant Fin-Ma-Coul, and that to the single stone, Bran, Fin-Ma-Coulís hunting-dog, was usually tied. About half a mile to the north side of Baelliminich there are two stones erected, each of them eight feet high.

There is a circle of big stones a little to the south of Druim-cruey, the area of which is about twelve paces. There is a broad thin stone in the middle of this circle, supported by three lesser stones. The ancient inhabitants are reported to have burnt their sacrifices on the broad stone in time of heathenism.

There is a thin broad stone tapering towards the top erected within a quarter of a mile of the sea, near Machir River, and is nine feet high; and at some little distance from the river there is a large cavern of stones.

There is an eminence of about a thousand paces in compass on the sea coast in Druim-cruey village, and it is fenced about with a stone-wall. Of old it was a sanctuary, and whatever number of men or cattle could get within it were secured from the assaults of their enemies, the place being privileged by universal consent.

The only good harbour in this isle is Lamlash, which is in the south-east end of the isle of that name.

There is a great fishing of cod and whiting in and about this bay.

The whole isle is designed by nature more for pasturage than cultivation. The hills are generally covered all over with heath, and produce a mixture of the erica-baccifera, catstail, and juniper, all which are very agreeable to the eye in summer. The highest hills of this island are seen at a considerable distance from several parts of the Continent and North-west Isles, and they serve instead of a forest to maintain the deer, which are about four hundred in number, and they are carefully kept by a forester to give sport to the Duke of Hamilton, or any of his family that go a hunting there. For if any of the natives happen to kill a deer without license, which is not often granted, he is liable to a fine of £20 Scots for each deer. And when they grow too numerous, the forester grants licenses for killing a certain number of them, on condition they bring the skins to himself.

The cattle here are horses and cows of a middle size, and they have also sheep and goats. This isle affords the common sea and land fowls that are to be had in the Western Isles. The black cock is not allowed to be killed here without a license; the transgressors are liable to a fine.

The Castle of Brodick, on the north side of the bay of that name, stands on a plain, from which there is about 400 paces of a gradual descent towards the sea.

This castle is built in a long form. From south to north there is a wall of two stories high that encompasses the castle and tower. The space within the wall on the south side the castle is capable of mustering a battalion of men.

The castle is four stories high, and has a tower of great height joined to the north side, and that has a bastion close to it, to which a lower bastion is added. The south and west sides are surrounded with a broad wet ditch, but the east and north sides have a descent which will not admit of a wet ditch. The gate looks to the east. This castle is the Duke of Hamiltonís seat when his Grace or any of the family make their summer visit to this island. The bailiff or steward has his residence in this castle, and he has a deputation to act with full power to levy the rents, give leases of the lands, and hold courts of justice.

There is another castle belonging to the Duke in the north side of the isle, at the head of Loch-Kenistil, in which there is a harbour for barks and boats. The isle of Arran is the Duke of Hamiltonís property (a very small part excepted). It lies in the sheriffdom of Bute, and made part of the diocese of Argyll.

The inhabitants of this island are composed of several tribes. The most ancient family among them is by the natives reckoned to be MacLouis, which in the ancient language signifies the son of Lewis. They own themselves to be descended of French parentage. Their surname in English is Fullerton, and their title Kirk-Mitchell, the place of their residence. If tradition be true, this little family is said to be of 700 years standing. The present possessor obliged me with the sight of his old and new charters, by which he is one of the kingís coroners within this island, and as such he hath a halbert peculiar to his office. He has his right of late from the family of Hamilton, wherein his title and perquisites of coroner are confirmed to him and his heirs. He is obliged to have three men to attend him upon all public emergencies, and he is bound by his office to pursue all malefactors and to deliver them to the steward, or in his absence to the next judge. And if any of the inhabitants refuse to pay their rents at the usual term, the coroner is bound to take him personally or to seize his goods. And if it should happen that the coroner with his retinue of three men is not sufficient to put his office in execution, then he summons all the inhabitants to concur with him; and immediately they rendezvous to the place, where he fixes his coronerís staff. The perquisites due to the coroner are a firelet or bushel of oats and a lamb from every village in the isle, both which are punctually paid him at the ordinary terms.

The inhabitants of this isle are well proportioned, generally brown, and some of a black complexion. They enjoy a good state of health, and have a genius for all callings or employments, though they have but few mechanics. They wear the same habit with those of the nearest isles, and are very civil. They all speak the Irish language, yet the English tongue prevails on the east side, and ordinarily the ministers preach in it, and in Irish on the west side. Their ordinary asseveration is by Nale, for I did not hear any oath in the island.

The Churches in this Isle are:

KILBRIDE in the south-east, Kilmore in the south, Cabel-Vual a chapel, Kilmichael in the village of that name, St. Jamesís Church at the north end.

The natives are all Protestants. They observe the festivals of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. I had like to have forgot a valuable curiosity in this isle which they call Baul Muluy, i.e., Molingus his stone globe. This saint was chaplain to Macdonald of the Isles. His name is celebrated here on the account of this globe, so much esteemed by the inhabitants. This stone for its intrinsic value has been carefully transmitted to posterity for several ages. It is a green stone, much like a globe in figure, about the bigness of a goose egg.

The virtue of it is to remove stitches from the sides of sick persons, by laying it close to the place affected; and if the patient does not outlive the distemper, they say the stone removes out of the bed of its own accord, and e contra. The natives use this stone for swearing decisive oaths upon it.

They ascribe another extraordinary virtue to it, and it is this: The credulous vulgar firmly believe that if this stone is cast among the front of an enemy they will all run away; and that as often as the enemy rallies, if this stone is cast among them, they still lose courage, and retire. They say that Macdonald of the Isles carried this stone about him, and that victory was always on his side when he threw it among the enemy. The custody of this globe is the peculiar privilege of a little family called Clan-Chattons, alias Macintosh. They were ancient followers of Macdonald of the Isles. This stone is now in the custody of Margaret Miller, alias Macintosh. She lives in Baelliminich, and preserves the globe with abundance of care. It is wrapped up in fair linen cloth, and about that there is a piece of woollen cloth; and she keeps it still locked up in her chest, when it is not given out to exert its qualities.

The Island of Ailsa Craig


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