The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Ell Clough Cairn Circle, Boulsworth Hill, Lancashire

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on the lower slope of Boulsworth Hill.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on the lower slope of Boulsworth Hill.

    OS grid reference: SD 9019 3412. The Ell Clough (Hell Clough) cairn circle, ring cairn and burial mound, is located on the side of Boulsworth Hill, in Lancashire – with commanding panoramic views over Thursden Valley and, in the distance Pendle Hill. It is named after the nearby stream which runs down slope through Ell Clough. At the junction of three lanes in Thursden Valley walk up the signposted footpath right to the very top of the hill and then via right along the trackway to reach the tumulus, which is located just where the track curves around the ancient site. A little further along the track there is a second tumulus, although this one is now hardly recognizable at ground level. The village of Trawden is 3 miles to the west.

    This tumulus is in a reasonably good condition although the small inner mound has suffered from being disturbed by excavations and other things, and the outer circle of stones has long since gone to nearby walls, but the circular earthworks of this ring cairn are still very well-defined despite the ravages of time and the weather conditions upon the bleak, windswept hillside of Boulsworth – some 350 metres above Thursden Valley.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on Boulsworth Hill.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on Boulsworth Hill.

    In 1886 Archaeological excavations took place here and these yielded a mid to late Bronze-Age funery urn. It would seem that originally there were seven standing stones in the outer circular bank, but these have long since gone. There are four stones on the banking but these are not the original ones. Sadly the stones were robbed away to build field walls. The monument measures approximately 19m diagonally by 17m across. The outer bank is still quite substantial as is the inner ditch which would originally have been quite deep; while at the SE side there is what could be an entrance or maybe damage. The small ‘denuded mound’ near the centre originally contained the burials as a funery urn was excavated from here back in 1886. This measured 12 inches x 10 inches and had a 4″ base and was carved with various patterns. An adult and a child’s remains were found in the urn and also a few other artefacts including a Bronze pin.

    It is of interest here to note that the monument seems to be aligned with Broadbank Earth Circle, Walton Spire and Pendle Hill, or is this just a coincidence?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    In the very well respected local antiquarian work ‘The History Of Marsden And Nelson’ by Mr Walter H. Bennett, we are told that: “The existence of Bronze Age burials on Bleara Moor on the old Colne to Skipton road, at Catlow, at Shelfield (possibly) and at Ell Clough above Thursden Valley may point to a pre-historic track connecting the Whalley-Barnoldswick-Leeds route with that between Whalley-Mereclough-Heptonstall.”

    Some 100 metres to the north and close by the trackway (Os grid ref: SD 9027 3412) there is another tumulus that is similar in size, however this is now hardly recognizable “as such” at ground level. There is just a trace of a circular earthwork and possible ditch. And there is a third tumulus some 240m to the north-west at (Os grid ref: SD 9051 3421). This is located on the bank beside a stream but once again it is very faint and hardly recognizable at ground-level.

Sources:

Bennett, W., The History Of Marsden And Nelson, Nelson Corporation, Nelson, Lancashire, 1946 & 1957. Diagram of Ell Clough by Mr Jack Wilcock.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/1692/hellclough.html#fieldnotes


The Swinden Cross, Nelson And Colne Boundary, Lancashire

The Swinden Cross Fragment (illustration).

The Swinden Cross Fragment (illustration).

    OS grid reference: SD 8673 3916. The Swinden Cross or ‘The Greenfield Cross’, was reportedly excavated from a stream at Swinden Clough on the Nelson-Colne boundary, Lancashire, in the late 19th or early 2oth century. This is, in fact, a cross-head fragment that has late Saxon carvings and is very similar in design to the crosses in Whalley churchyard. Those crosses date from the 10th-11th century, and so the Swinden fragment must be of a similar date. However, to confuse things another cross-head (The Swinden Hall Cross) was reportedly dug-up four-feet below the ground from, or near, a stream on the Swinden Estate in 1884 – though this was a Maltese-style cross-head and very different in style, and probably Medieval in date? The carved Swinden Cross fragment was excavated from a watercourse at Swinden Clough close by Swinden Hall when a new sewage works was being built. Swinden Hall, a 17th century building was, very sadly, demolished in the 1960s to make way for this ‘new’ sewage works and, what would later become the Whitewalls Industrial Estate.

    This beautifully carved Swinden Cross fragment is thought to date from the 10th or 11th century and is not too dissimilar to ‘The Alkincoats Cross’ at Colne. It has strap-work interlacing and banding while at its centre is a raised, double-circled boss with a small, thin cross at its centre. However, its arms are missing, but it would originally have had a circular (disc) head, perhaps even a wheel-head, and was no doubt a very splendid monument in its entirety and on its tall shaft, although its not known how tall it would have been, and maybe it never stood on a shaft? But what a sight it must have been.

The Swinden Hall Cross.

The Swinden Hall Cross.

    The other cross-head, known as ‘The Swinden Hall Cross’, is Maltese in style and probably Medieval. This is almost perfect apart from the upper (top) arm being missing. It has a small, raised boss at its centre with an outer circular band around it. Sadly there is little, if any, other carving on the head and if there was it has eroded away. It is however a crudely carved cross-head. No shaft was found during its excavation. Perhaps it never stood on a shaft? It measures 18 inches across and is 6 inches thick. After its excavation by a Mr Turner in 1884 it was taken by Mr James Carr, the Colne solicitor, to Thornton-in-Craven where it was given to the Landless family before being kindly donated to The Colne Heritage Centre, now Pendle Heritage Centre, at Park Hill, Barrowford. It is sometimes put on display in Colne Public Library on Market Street.

    The history of Swinden on the Nelson-Colne boundary is an interesting one. John de Lacy (d 1242) Constable of Chester gave the land (16 acres) to one Adam de Swinden in the early 13th century. Later, John de Marsden (1323) held a field named ‘Swinden’ by charter. John de Banastre (1427) agreed with Christopher Marsden in respect of the Manor of Swinden. The Lister family held Swinden in the late 15th century. Swinden Hall being built sometime after 1655. In 1693 the hall was in the possession of William Hargreaves.

Site of Swinden Hall opposite Pendle Water.

Site of Swinden Hall opposite Colne Water.

    But there must have been an earlier Medieval settlement at Swinden for two substantial crosses to have been located there; maybe there was a settlement and Christian community in the 11th-13th centuries – what would be an Anglo-Norman foundation? Today there is no trace of Swinden Hall with only Swinden Hall Road pointing to its existence. A football pitch used to stand on the site of the hall; today a modern office building stands in its place opposite the Swinden aqueduct which carries the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and, beneath that flows Colne Water.

Sources:

Clayton, John A., The Valley Of The Drawn Sword, Barrowford Press, 2006.

Dixon, John & Mann, Bob., Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol6/pp536-541

Also information sourced from the relevant display cases/boards in the Reference Department of Colne Public Library.


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The Alkincoats Cross, Colne, Lancashire

The Alkincoats Cross in Colne Public Library.

The Alkincoats Cross in Colne Public Library.

    OS grid reference: SD 8789 4094. The Alkincoats Cross or Colne Cross is a small section of an Anglo-Norse cross-head now located in Colne Library on Market Street. It was dug up in the grounds of Alkincoats Hall, a building that was built sometime after 1540 and was the home of the Parker family of Browsholme. The hall was demolished in 1958. Today all that remains of the hall is Alkincoats farm at the north-side of the large park, close to Red Lane, which is named after the old hall. But it seems there was a 12th-13th century religious building and maybe a chapel belonging to the Knights Hospitallers on the site; they had been given the land by John de Lacy (Dixon, John, 1990). But before that there may have been a late Saxon settlement of some kind. The cross-head section is one of three found in the colne area in the late 19th early 20th century. It has carvings that are similar to the decoration found on the Whalley Crosses, and so it must date from the 10th-11th century AD and be a pre-Conquest cross fragment.

History of The Colne Cross at Colne Library.

A History of The Colne Cross at Colne Library.

    The cross-head fragment was dug up from the garden of Alkincoats Hall in the early 1900s having been buried for well over 450 years, probably to avoid it being smashed at the Reformation, or more likely it was already broken up and thrown down to the ground where it was lost. It is an arm section from an Anglo-Norse cross-head and is decorated with knot-work interlacing that is often described as being Celtic in origin, and in the middle there is a small raised boss with a tiny, thin cross in its centre. The rest is a very good reconstruction. It was presented to Colne public library in 1911 by the then Borough Surveyor, but may have stood in Colne parish church at some point. When the cross was whole it would have been quite a tall preaching cross and probably stood at Alkincoats (Alcancotes) – where the local Christian community and probably pilgrims from further afield could congregate on saints’ feast-days and other church festivals – prior to the building of St Bartholomew’s parish church, in Colne.

    The Alkincoats Cross, also known as The Colne Cross, has often been confused with The Swinden Cross and Greenfield Cross, but these two fragments seem to be distinct from that found in the garden of Alkincoats Hall. There may well be other fragments of the late Saxon Alkincoats cross ‘still’ buried in the grounds where the old hall once stood. Who knows. Local author John Clayton in his work ‘Valley of the Drawn Sword’, says of the Alkincoats cross fragment: “It is not clear if this was of the free-standing type……or part of another type of sculpture.” He goes on to say: “The carved stonework of these crosses is taken as evidence that they were related to the Christian church, perhaps they were sited at convenient locations where numbers of people could be brought together to hear a priest give his sermon. They may also have marked a previously holy site of the British, and were assimilated by the new Christian culture.”

Sources:-

Clayton, John A., The Valley Of The Drawn Sword, Barrowford Press, Lancashire, 2006.

Dixon, John & Mann, Bob., Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alkincoats_Hall

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=45470


Maen Huail, Ruthin, Denbighshire, Wales

Maen Huail Stone at Ruthin, Denbighshire (Illustration).

Maen Huail Stone at Ruthin, Denbighshire (Illustration).

    OS grid reference: SJ 1239 5828. At the front of Exmewe House (Bar-clays Bank) on St Peter’s Square (Market Square), Ruthin, Denbighshire, there is a large block of rude Limestone called Maen Huail (Stone of Huail). According to the legend, a 6th century warrior called Huail was beheaded upon the stone by King Arthur. The roughly square-shaped boulder could actually be a former standing stone; it is curved inwards at one side. How it came to be here is not really known, but it has no doubt stood here for some considerable time, although the stone has been moved on a couple of occasions to make way for modern-day building construction; at one point it had to moved from its original site to make way for a car park. It eventually came to rest at its present location Exmewe House which is also known as the HSBC bank.

    From history we know that Huail was one of the sons of Caw Cawlwyd of Brydyn, who was a chieftain of noble descent from the Lower Clyde region of Scotland. One of his brothers being the famous St Gildas the Historian (Barber & Williams, 1989) – the other two brothers were St Caffo and St Maelog, but unlike his brothers, he did not decide on a monastic life, far from it. Huail seems to have led the life of a troublemaker and womanizer, but he was also a chieftain and it has been suggested that he had his base on Moel Fenli, a hill-fort and British camp some 2 miles to the east of Ruthin.

     It would seem likely that the Maen Huail Stone was originally in use as a ‘market stone’ or ‘civic stone’ upon which business affairs were sorted, or it was ‘a preaching stone’, because at the end of the 17th century it stood in the middle of the market square; it measures 1.2m x 0.6m x 0.6m, according to coflein.

    The renowned author Geoffrey Ashe in his work ‘A Guidebook to Arthurian Britain’, tells us much more about the ‘Legend’ and personality of Huail. He says: “This warrior appears in Welsh stories as a dashing and resolute opponent of Arthur. Their first clashes were in the north. Raiding southward, perhaps as far as Wales, Hueil continued to make trouble. According to one chronicler it was not confined to matters of war. When Arthur was at Caerwys, about 9 miles to the north of Ruthin, Hueil arrived in the neighbourhood and paid court (presumably during a truce) to one of Arthur’s mistresses. A duel resulted, and Arthur was wounded in the knee. He promised that there should be peace between them so long as Hueil kept silent about the knee. However, he remained slightly lame.

    “Some time later Arthur went to Ruthin in female disguise to visit another lady. He took part in a dance. Hueil, who was watching noticed the limp and realized who it was. ‘You would be a good dancer’, he said, ‘if it weren’t for that knee of yours.’ It was a fatal blunder: he had mentioned the wound and released his enemy from all obligations towards him. Arthur ordered his arrest, and ended their long conflict by beheading him on the stone in the market place.”

Sources:

Ashe, Geoffrey., A Guidebook to Arthurian Britain, Longman, London, 1980.

Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey., The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1989.

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/306840/details/MAEN+HUAIL,+ST+PETER’S+SQUARE,+RUTHIN/

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=15597

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London WC2, 1961.


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St Oswald’s Church, Winwick, Lancashire

Carving on Tower of St Oswald's Church at Winwick, Lancashire.

Carving on Tower of St Oswald’s Church at Winwick, Lancashire.

    OS grid reference: SJ 6038 9283. St Oswald’s parish church is located on Church Walk, off Golborne Road, in the middle of Winwick Village, in Lancashire (it used to be in Cheshire). It is a largerly 14th century building on the site of a pre-Conquest chapel and prior to that a pre-Christian, pagan temple. The church houses an 8th-9th century cross arm section, an ancient font, old inscriptions and a Medieval rood beam. And on the exterior tower wall there is an interesting carving of a pig next to a statue of St Anthony. According to legend, Oswald, king of Northumbria came to Winwick a few years before he met his death at the hands of King Penda of Mercia, near Oswestry, or according to some historians, he was killed in battle at Maserfield in Shropshire, in 642 AD, at the age of 38. There is a St Oswald’s Well ½ a mile to the north of Winwick at Hermitage Green; the town of Newton-le-Willows is 1 mile to the north on the A49 road.

Winwick Church Cross (Illustration/Diagram.

Winwick Church Cross (Illustration/Diagram.

    In 1873 part of a Saxon cross was dug up in the churchyard and for some years it was kept there, but it was eventually brought into the church and is now displayed on the window-sill in the Gerard Chapel at the NE side. These are the arms of a tall Saxon preaching cross, dating maybe from the 8th century, which may even have been used by St Oswald himself? Although the carvings are faint, most can still be made out. The front face has key-patterns, and there is interlacing and scroll-work. At one end a priest carries two bells or maybe water containers (St Oswald’s Well), while at the other end a saint, probably Oswald, is being martyrd and two soldiers are hanging the saint up-side down from a tree – each having a foot on his face. On the reverse side: three creatures with legs and tails coiled together, and a more recent inscription to the memory of Roger Lowe, who gave this cross as a gravestone in 1793.

    The church font on a modern pedestal in the Gerard Chapel could date from the 11th century, or a little earlier, but it was damaged by Puritans; and there is still some Norman masonry to be seen. In the vestry there is part of the Medieval rood beem – the rood loft having long since been destroyed; while the Oak lectern is recent but it has a canopy and carved figure of St Oswald. There is also a Jesse window, and two interesting carved heads at the bases of two columns (north aisle) could be Celtic in origin (Mark Olly, 1997). In 1643 and 1648 two Civil War battles took place at Winwick and the church of St Oswald was used as a stable by soldiers.

    On the outside tower wall (west side) there is a carving of a pig next to statues of St Anthony and St Oswald. Legend says that a pig was instrumental in the building of the first church. According to author Ken Howarth ‘Ghosts, Traditions & Legends Of Old Lancashire’, “A pig was seen running away from the site of the new church being built to commemorate St Oswald…..as it ran away, it was heard to scream “We-ee-wick, we-ee-wick, we-ee-wick” from whence the town, according to this particular legend, got its name. The pig then took up a stone in its mouth and carried it to the spot where the church should be built. This remarkable animal apart from talking, then moved all the stones the men had laid to the new sacred site.” But Howarth tells us that another source says: “it is the pig of St Anthony that is preserved in the west front of the church.” The pig is the symbol/badge of St Anthony of Egypt, who died in the mid-4th century AD.

    In 1828 three human skeletons of gigantic proportions were discovered 8-10 feet below the chancel. They are thought to have dated from the pre-Christian period and to have been associated with a Druidical temple which stood on the site; maybe they were sacrificial victims? The place of St Oswald’s martyrdom is considered by some historians to be at Makerfield near Winwick, Lancashire, rather than Maserfield in Shropshire.

Sources:

Fields, Kenneth., Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1998.

Howarth, Ken., Ghosts, Traditions & Legends Of Old Lancashire, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1993.

http://newton-le-willows.com/?p=860

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/cheshire/legends/st-oswalds-church-winwick.html

Olly, Mark., Celtic Warrington And Other Mysteries – Book One – North To East, Churnet Valley Books, Leek, Staffordshire, 1997.


St Kenelm’s Well, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

St Kenelm's Well near Winchcombe BY Michael Dibb (Geograph).

St Kenelm’s Well near Winchcombe by Michael Dibb (Geograph).

    OS grid reference: SP 0435 2779. About 1 mile east of Winchcombe village, Gloucestershire, on the side of a hill stands St Kenelm’s holy well. The wellhouse-cum-baptistry which houses the holy well is a mid-16th century building. The well takes its name from St Kenelm, a Mercian boy-king and martyr, who was the grandson of King Offa. He was ‘most treacherously’ murdered at the instignation of his scheming elder sister, Quendrida, sometime between 819-821 AD. It is located on the side of a hill which is surrounded by trees on its lower sides, and is easily reached along a country lane that runs in an easterly direction out of Winchcombe village, passing close by Sudeley Castle. A footpath runs just to the west of the well-house. The holy well was a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and in more recent times too, as was Winchcombe Abbey, where the martyr’s coffin had lain for many hundreds of years. It is now housed in St Peter’s parish church.

    Francis Duckworth recalls the “Legend of St Kenelm” in his beautiful book ‘The Cotswolds’, and says: “Kenulf, King of Mercia, founded Winchcombe Abbey in the 9th century. He had a daughter, Quenride, and a son, much younger, Kenelm. The latter, while still a child, succeeded his father, and  the jealous Quenride at once began to hatch plots to put him out of the way. One fine morning he went out hunting with his tutor, and never returned. So Quenride reigned in his stead.

    “Some years afterwards, while the Pope was celebrating mass in St Peter’s, a pure white dove flew in through an open window, and let fall a piece of parchment from her bill. On the parchment was written: “In Clent, in Cowbach, Kenelm, Kinges bermn (bairn) lieth under a thorn heuade birevede (bereft of his head).” An Englishman who happened to be present interpreted this, and the Pope set on foot an investigation of the whole matter. In the end a party of monks from Winchcombe succeeded in finding the headless of Kenelm. At this  point the monks of Worcester interfered, and claimed the body as having been found within their boundaries. Divine arbitration was implored. Both claimants should sleep one night by the body’s side: the first to wake should possess the relic. This good fortune fell to the Winchcombe monks. On their way they stopped to rest, and the spot is marked by St Kenelm’s Well.”

    St Kenelm’s murder took place at Romsley in the Clent Hills, Worcestershire, where another holy well sprang forth where the saint’s body had lain. This well is located in the valley behind St Kenelm’s church, which is about½ a mile north-west of the village, according to authors Janet & Colin Board ‘Sacred Waters’. On its long journey from Romsley in Worcestershire the martyr’s body had been rested, only a mile from Winchcombe Abbey, Gloucestershire, but this simple action caused a second spring of water to burst forth and soon miracles of healing were attributed to its water. The well water was said to be most effective as a cure for eye troubles. Above the door of the stone-built wellhouse is a statue of St Kenelm, who today surveys what would have been his kingdom, but sadly ‘that’ wasn’t to be. The present-day building dates from 1549 and it was restored in 1887.

    Author Francis Duckworth goes on to say that after Kenelm’s murder: “Quenride sat at her window to watch the procession pass, and, to cast an evil spell upon it, read aloud the 100th Psalm backwards. When the procession reached her window her eyes dropped out of her head into her lap, and stained the psalter with blood. This psalter was preserved and shown for many years in proof of the story. Kenelm was buried in the abbey precincts, and one of the two very early stone coffins in the west end of the parish church is called Kenelm’s coffin.” The other coffin was thought to be that of King Kenulf (Coenwulf), father of St Kenelm (Cynehelm). Winchcombe abbey was founded by King Kenulf in 789 or 798 AD, but it was dissolved in 1539. Nothing survives of the abbey above ground. The evil Quenride, also known as Cwenthryth lived out the rest of her ‘sad’ days in a monastery, where she was ‘perhaps’ made abbess? She died in 827 AD. St Kenelm, the boy-king, is still much venereated at Winchcombe – where is feast-day is held on 17th July.

    Over the years there has been much speculative debate on the age of Kenelm when he succeeded his father to the throne of Mercia. We can assume that he came to the throne in either 819 or 821 AD at the age of 7 or 9, if he was born in 812 AD which is the date usually given, although some historians think he was a few years older than that, maybe as old as 12? Not that it really matters now!

Sources:

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin, London W1, 1986.

Bottomley, Frank., The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, Tadworth, Surrey, 1981.  

Duckworth, Francis., Beautiful Britain – The Cotswolds, A. & C. Black Ltd., Soho Square, London W1, 1914.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2767417     © Copyright Michael Dibb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

https://insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/st-kenelms-well-at-winchcombe/


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St Eithne’s Grave, Eileach An Naoimh, Argyll and Bute, Inner Hebrides

Aethne's Grave on Eileach an Naoimh (photo credit: Gordon Doughty Geograph)

Aethne’s Grave on Eileach an Naoimh by Gordon Doughty (Geograph)

    OS grid reference: NM 6302 0964. The little Scottish island of Eileach-an-Naoimh (Rock of the Saint) is one of the Garvellach Islands, in the Firth of Lorne, and is the reputed burial place of St Eithne, mother of St Columba, making it a ‘holy island’. On this very remote, windswept island are the scant remains of a Celtic monastery with beehive huts, two chapels and a graveyard with three crosses, and 80 metres to the south-west is the traditional site of St Eithne’s grave, which is marked by a grave-slab bearing an incised cross. In old texts the island was called Hinba. And to this little island St Columba and other ‘saintly’ figures came from time to time for a deeper solitude and contemplation – this fact being borne-out because the island was, and still is, largerly inaccessible. There are no ferries or steamers alighting in Port Cholumcille, but some pilgrims do visit the island and pay their respects at St Eithne’s grave, though they have to hire their own boats! The island of Mull is 6 miles to the north and Scarba 4 miles to the south-west, while the mainland of Argyll is 6 miles away.

    Author Reginald B. Hale in his work ‘The Magnificent Gael’, tells us that: “Eithne came of the royal line of Leinster kings. Her husband Felim macFergus was a chieftain of the dynastic family of Ui Neill, heirs of the mighty Niall-of-the-Nine Hostages, High king of Ireland. So their little son was born a prince of the Blood Royal and would inevitably live his life in the glare of the political limelight. His parents had every reason to hope that someday he might hold the scepter of the High King and reign at Tara.

    “But the child also had another heritage. His great-great-grandfather Niall had been a heathen and an unabashed slave raider. However several of his sons had been converted by St Patrick, the ex-slave who brought Christianity to the Irish. One of these sons was Conall Gulben, king of Donegal. St Patrick with his staff marked a cross on King Conall’s shield and from then on his descendants took as their symbol a Hand grasping a Cross. From the time of his conversion his clan had been staunch for the faith. So it was that Felim macFergus, grandson of Conall, was himself a deacon of the Church and his son was born into a devout Christian family.”

    Hale goes on to say that: “Felim and Eithne took their child six miles to Kilmacrenan to be baptized by the priest Cruithnechan which is pronounced “Crenan”. He was christened Colum, which in Latin is Columba. He also received the traditional family name of Crimthann that means a fox, an animal admired by the Gaels.”

    But we know that Columba was born beside Lough Gartan in Co Donegal (521 AD) where there are the Medieval ruins of what is locally called St Eithne’s Convent. And there is a St Eithne’s Well at Termon. The site of St Columba’s birth, near the southern shore of the lough, is marked by the so-called ‘Natal Stone’, and nearby are the saint’s holy well, the Stone of Lonliness, and the saint’s ruined church. His birth was miraculous we are told. St Eithne had a dream in which she was given a beautiful robe with colours similar to the wild flowers, but the wind blew the robe away. However, the wind-blown robe grew in size and spread out to cover the land, mountains and islands – this being a sort of divine portent regarding her son who would eventually take Christianity to the northern Pictish High King, Brude, and his people sometime after 565 AD – at a time that was “dark” in many respects, but for St Columba it was a time of ‘great joyfulness’.

    In 563 AD Columba set sail for Iona and was accompanied by members of his family including his mother and also disciples and servants. Later, he founded a great monastery on the island which became a college of learning; he took the message of Christ to the Picts and established many other monasteries and churches in Scotland. His mother retired to the Island of Hinba (Eileach-an-Naoimh) where she was cared for by Ernan, who was St Columba’s uncle and also prior of the monastery of Hinba, founded by St Brendan. Women were not allowed in the monastery. St Eithne died and was buried on the island in the mid to late 6th century. Her ‘reputed’ grave is located on the Peak of Hinba, 80 metres south-west of the monastery, where a circular enclosure (11 feet in diameter) with three standing stones marks the site, one of these being a grave-marker (2½ feet high) bearing a thin equal-armed Greek cross with terminals, beneath which is a thinner spike. And there are a number of recumbent stones and a kerb running around the site. The grave seems to be positioned so as to look out over the Firth of Lorne.

    But some historians question the grave-site. A few think that it may in fact date from the Iron-Age, or earlier, and others think it may be the burial site of more than one person? But I think it should be pointed out here that the type of burial that was around in prehistoric times was more than likely to have existed well into the early Christian period – the so-called Dark Ages of the 5th-7th centuries AD.

The Monastery Chapel, Eileach an Naoimh by Gordon Brown, Wikipedia.

Monastery Chapel, Eileach an Naoimh by Gordon Brown, Wikipedia.

    The monastery on Eileach-an-Naoimh often ascribed to St Brendan, rather than St Columba, is a ruin consisting of low drystone walls with a number of bee-hive huts (hermits cells) around it, one of which is a double construction. There are two small ruined chapels that are said to date from the 9th-12th centuries and a graveyard with three stones bearing incised crosses, and also a circular feature that is probably an early Christian grave, maybe that of Ernan the first prior? The monastery was probably burned c 800 AD and thereafter it suffered from a number of attacks by invaders from overseas, including the Vikings. The monastic site on Eileach an Naoimh is probably the oldest religious ruin in Scotland.

Sources:

Hale, Reginald B., The Magnificent Gael, R.B.Hale, Otawa, Canada, 1976.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2014435    © Copyright Gordon Doughty and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

https://canmore.org.uk/site/22364/garvellachs-eileach-an-naoimh

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eileach_an_Naoimh   Photo by Gordon Brown Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

Newton, Norman., The Shell Guide To The Islands Of Britain, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1992. 

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, 1963.