The Isle of Skye is a place of legend and myth. Over the centuries these legends have been handed down from generation to generation and they still hold some magical power over the listener, especially when told by locals who have lived here all their lives. All legends are taken from a wonderful publication entitled Discovering Skye, written by Jonathan MacDonald, printed by Berwick Tempest. This is available from all good bookshops or directly from Jonathan MacDonald, Upper Duntulm, Kilmuir, Skye
I hope this selection gives you an idea of the magic that still pervades the mystical Isle of Skye:
LEGEND OF THE FAERIE BRIDGE
Travelling away from Edinbane, through an uninteresting stretch of moorland, we reach Fairy Bridge, or in Gaelic, Beul-Ath nan Tri Allt (The Ford of the Three Burns). At this point, where the three roads converge, we turn right for Waternish or keep left for Dunvegan. We find Fairy Bridges in several parts of the country and each has its own distinctive legend.
This one got its name from a time in Clan MacLeod history when the fourth Chief married a fairy wife. They had a young baby son but on the day he reached the age of a year, his fairy mother was summoned back to her fairy homeland and nothing on this earth would keep her from going. The Chief was strongly attached to the young boy and declined, by hook or by crook, to let him go. The mother made ready to go and MacLeod decided he would walk along with her to find out where she intended to go. He took the baby in his arms and as they walked, hand in hand, out of the village and over the moor, he pleaded with her not to leave himself or her child but to stay and make them happy. She was however determined to go back to her own folk as she promised and, just as they reached the little humpbacked bridge known as Beul-Ath nan Tri Allt, the fairy mother rose above her son and now distressed husband, on colourful wings and as she rose higher and higher in the sky, she dropped a piece of the finest silk which landed at their feet. 'Keep this flag', she said 'and unfurl it to the wind whenever a crisis hits you. It will save you and yours twice but woe on you all if you unfurl it the third time'. With this she disappeared from view and the MacLeod wound his way home, heavy of heart and thinking of what the future might hold for himself and his infant. The story goes that one night, a year and a day later, the fairy mother returned to the castle and carried off her infant son while his father was away at one of his clan battles.
The fairy flag was preserved at Dunvegan Castle (where it can still be seen) and over the years since that time it is supposed to have been unfurled twice only. The first time was when a very serious disease struck the cattle in MacLeod country and, as the Chief took out the flag, the cattle improved until there was no further sign of disease.
Many years later in 1578 the MacDonalds came over the sea from Uist on a Sunday morning and prepared to wage battle with the MacLeods, most of whom were worshipping in a lonely island church. They came in revenge, as the MacLeods had recently massacred a branch of the MacDonald clan on the island of Eigg. At the little church of Trumpan all was quiet and calm and the stillness was broken only by the poignant sound of Gaelic psalms as they were sung with reverence by the Gaelic-speaking congregation. The MacDonalds stealthily set fire to the thatched roof of the little church and in next to no time the place was an inferno. All of the worshippers were burned alive except an old woman who escaped as she was sitting on a hillock nearby and saw the cruel deed of the invaders. She rushed over moor and mountain to the castle and told her tale of woe. MacLeod thought what could be done and in haste he took out the flag and set it flowing in the summer wind. Just like sheer magic his clansmen rallied round from all quarters and made directly for Trumpan where they found the MacDonalds pillaging and plundering. As the MacLeods gave chase the MacDonalds made for their galleons, but alas! the cards had turned, their boats were high and dry in a receding tide and they had no choice but to face the enemy. The battle was short but fierce and the MacDonalds were slain to a man. Their dead bodies were piled under a stone dyke and covered only by stones. The battle was consequently named, Blar Milleadh Garaidh (The Battle of the Spoiling of the Dyke).
The fairy flag had once again done its bit, but for the last 400 years it has lain untouched by human hand in its glass case in Dunvegan Castle and let's hope the MacLeods will never again have the occasion to take it from its final resting place.
LEGEND OF LOCH SIANTA
Approaching Flodigarry we come through many rounded knolls and hollows and seaward at Crogan is the noted Loch Sianta (Loch of Enchantment); a small secluded loch whose waters were of old reputed to be the cure for all ills of man.
It is fed by nine springs and a well, close by. It is described by Martin Martin in 1703 as 'the most celebrated well in Skye'.
Such was the reputation of the waters, that people came from many parts of the mainland to partake of them. Invalids bathed in the loch and those who stirred its waters hung offerings of many forms on the branches from the coppice which grows beside it. No-one dared break a branch or fish a trout from its sacred water.
LEGEND OF MACCRIMMON'S SILVER CHANTER
It is said that the MacCrimmons possessed a silver chanter, which was presented to them by a fairy woman.
Young Patrick one day went down to the shore at Borreraig to practice his chanter as he often did before. This day he felt sad and lonely and could not play well as his father had not allowed him to go to the castle where the Blind Piper of Kintail was playing for the Chief. As he sat there feeling sorry for himself, a young and handsome maiden suddenly appeared and sat beside him. 'You are a good piper, Patrick' she said. 'No I am not,' said the young man ' but I wish I could be.' 'Well,' she said 'I will let you choose from three gifts - the power to sail a boat so that you can sail the seven seas and become the wealthiest man in your clan; or strength to battle so that the ravens of the Dun can be satisfied with the blood of your enemies; or a gift for piping so that your music will lure the birds from the trees and give peace to wounded men and pain-worn women.' The lad thought for a while but he had little difficulty in making up his mind. 'Give me, I pray,' he said 'the gift of piping. I can ask for nothing better.' From underneath her apron the fairy lass produced a solid silver chanter and handing it to Patrick she said, 'Tell no-one how or where you got this gift. Keep it, as long as you treasure it no-one will ever be able to equal your music.' She then left him and faded from his view. Patrick went from strength to strength and soon became the most renowned piper and was given Borreraig and Galtrigil, rent free, along with £68 sterling of an annual wage.
In the year 1770, the story goes, the Chief of MacLeod decided that the value of the lands of Borreraig and Galtrigil had become so much more than it was when he granted MacCrimmon the free lease. So, he one day approached the piper and said he felt he could no longer let him have both townships rent free and if he wouldn't mind he would now let him have only Borreraig and would be farming Galtrigil himself. MacCrimmon was very displeased and at the end of term renounced the whole area and broke off his connection with the castle.
The MacCrimmons are long since gone but their history and their outstanding compositions will never be forgotten as long as the great bagpipes of Scotland are played.
LEGEND OF OLD KILMARTIN CEMETARY
Through the centre of Staffin runs the Kilmartin River, once noted for its salmon and its pearl-bearing mussels. Near the river is old Kilmartin cemetery that is sited where once stood a chapel dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. A local story of how the cemetery was sited here is worth a mention.
In the late eighteenth century there was occasion for a new burial ground to be set out for the area and the landlord of the time allocated a piece of land for the purpose on the slope above the river, known as Garafad. Men were engaged to enclose the ground by drystone dyke and soon they took up their work and began to lay the foundations of the wall. When night fell they left their picks and shovels tidily beside their labours and proceeded home.
Next morning they arrived at Garafad to find their work undone and their tools missing. They were later found on the riverbank beside the ruins of Saint Martin's Chapel. The men duly recovered the tools and set to work again. That night they went home and left their tools at Garafad as before, but when they arrived the following morning they found to their amazement that the same strange occurrence had taken place.
At last the workers were advised to keep an all night vigil at Garafad and this they did, but to their astonishment nothing stirred the quiet of the night and no-one came their way. In the morning however the tools were missing again and their work undone. They could not understand the strange happening and they did not wish to disclose it in case of being ridiculed by their fellows.
Ultimately they sought the confidence and advice of a minister who advised them to abandon their place of work and to seek the landlord's permission to lay out the new burial ground on the spot where the tools were found each morning. This they did and, as soon as the work was begun at Kilmartin, no interference was encountered and their work prospered.
LEGEND OF TEUG MOR MACQUEEN
A further legend of Duntulm concerns Teug Mor MacQueen who lived in the Braes near Portree. He was a close friend of Donald Gorm and being a good archer he was always at hand when trouble was near.
On this particular day MacKenzie of Kintail crossed over to Skye to raid for cattle. News came to Duntulm that Kintail was at Flodigarry and that a large drove of cattle had been harried.
On their way through Kilmaluag with their spoil, Teug hid behind a rock and using the Chief's bow and arrows he killed the reevers one by one. One of the herdsmen who was swift of foot hurried off and hid himself until Teug disappeared with the drove of cattle back to Flodigarry. He then went on his way but just as he was crossing the burn near Totescore, he was again caught up by Teug Mor. The Kintail man pled for mercy since he alone was left and Teug eventually let him go.
To this day the burn is called 'Lon Singilte' or the Stream of the Single Man.
LEGEND OF THE FALSE CHURCH
By the shore of Invertote, at the northern end of the island, there is a spot which bears an unusual name - The False or Lying Church or An Eaglais Bhreugach in Gaelic. In fact this is not a church but a rock, which in the distant past may have slipped and slid several hundred feet to the shore where it has since rested, creating a strong resemblance to a church. It is about 40 feet in height and 120 feet in circumference.
From above, the church opening in the rock is very like a church door. Folklore of the area has it that, here in the False Church, dark Satanic Rites were practiced by a Chief of a robber tribe called MacCoitier, whose own cave is to be found near Am Meaull just south of Portree.
In Martin Martin's 'Description of the Western Isles', published in 1703, he mentions that the False Church was last used for black magic in 1640. Others say that the MacQueen family, a sect of Clan Donald, who lived in this area practiced Taghairm (an evil rite) which allowed those who indulged in it to have an insight into hidden things of the future. On participation of the rite, the individual was supposed to be laid blindfolded on the stone at the door of the church, where he lay all night as the ebbing and the flowing waves brought strange supernatural beings to make contact with the hypnotised person on the stone.
No tradition of such dark and weird rites remains in the island now and as something unworthy and evil it is as well to be forgotten.
LEGEND OF MONKSTADT HOUSE AND BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE
The ruins of Monkstadt House are to be seen on the rise above Loch Chalum Chille or St Columba's Loch and it is here that Lady Margaret MacDonald played host to young Flora MacDonald on the night she crossed with the Prince over the Minch from Uist to Skye. The Prince waited in a cave at Allt a' Chuain, south of Monkstadt, and was brought some food and drink by MacDonald of Kingsburgh - Sir Alexander's factor. While this was taking place, Flora was dining with some of the Royalist troops who were billeting at Monkstadt.
For the benefit of those who are not so well acquainted with the fascinating story of the Prince's escape - let us briefly review the historical records. The outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1743 afforded Prince Charles Edward, the heir to the Stewart House, an opportunity of trying to secure for himself the Scottish Throne. He had enlisted help from France (where he lived) but despite promises, this aid was not forthcoming. The brash young Prince resolved to fight his own way to the throne and came over from France to Scotland to try to win the support of the Highland clans. Support he did get and the Highlanders rallied round to his assistance, leaving homes and families for a cause which they thought was worthy of their very lifeblood. It all ended in complete failure and brought disaster to the Highlands.
After the fatal Battle of Culloden, Prince Charles was a fugitive in the Highlands with a £30,000 reward on his head. Royalist troops were searching for him everywhere and in the summer of 1746 as he wandered around the Western Isles he sought refuge for a while in Uist. On hearing that the Redcoats were closing in on the islands and searching every nook and cranny, the people of Uist felt they should try to get him off the island in case he should be caught in their midst. At the township of Milton, South Uist, young and handsome Flora MacDonald was spending her holidays with her brother when the news came that a plan had been devised to get the Prince to Skye. He was to be dressed up as an Irish washer woman and the servant of the young Highland lady. As Flora's mother lived at Armadale on Skye it seemed appropriate that Flora should be chosen as the 'young Highland lady'. After some hesitation, Flora agreed to the plan and the next day she set off with the support of Neil MacEachan, a good crew and the young Prince dressed as an Irish lass called Betty Burke. They sailed through the night but as morning broke they were in the vicinity of Waternish Point and a strong wind was blowing. To make things more confounded, as they rowed near the shore for shelter, a party of Redcoats noticed the boat and started firing on it in order to make them heave-to. Flora encouraged them to row harder and soon they were out of reach of the shots. No one was injured. It was late afternoon on Sunday 29th June 1746 when the boat landed at Allt a' Chuain, later known as Prince's Point. As we said earlier, Flora proceeded to Monkstadt House where she was secretly admitted by her aunt, Lady Margaret, the wife of Sir Alexander MacDonald. He was not at home that day but his factor, MacDonald of Kinsburgh, whose son Flora was later to marry, was there and he was despatched to Allt a' Chuain with food and drink for the fugitive. As night fell, Kingsburgh advised the Prince to go with him overnight to Kingsburgh, a distance of 12 miles from Monkstadt, and this is what took place. Kingsburgh and the Prince, still in the dress of the Irish maid, walked together across the moors and arrived at Kingsburgh House early in the morning. Flora left Monkstadt accompanied by Neil MacEachan, and went by another route to Kingsburgh where she joined the Prince. Together they left with MacDonald of Kingsburgh for Portree the following day where they were to part company forever. The sheets in which the Prince slept at Kingsburgh House were carefully folded away and were later used as a shroud for Flora when she died in 1790.