Islay Standing Stones and a Fairy Tale

This is a somewhat complicated post. All of the information is about Islay's standing stones and it contains a nice tale as well as a link to a new page about Islay Archaeoastronomy. First, Let me start with the relation between the Ballinaby standing stones, the Finlaggan standing stone and the Cultoon stone circle.

A part of the Cultoon stone circle

When Susan Campbell wrote her article about the Winter Solstice in the 20th of December issue of the Ileach, she raised a question about whether any of Islay's standing stone groups have solar alignments. "She knows of several sites on Islay which have been linked to various astronomical events. These include the stone circle at Cultoon, the standing stones at Ballinaby and the standing stone at Finlaggan." Katriona McGregor took Susan's question serious and this resulted in a very interesting story which has been published in the Ileach and now on the Islayinfo website at Cultoon stone circle and Ballinaby and Finlaggan Standing stones. Continue reading....The second part of this standing stone article is about 'Clachan Ceann Ile Islay', also known as the Stones of Islay. According to Megalithix and other sources, these two old stones can be found on the west side of the road between Port Ellen and Ardtalla, up the steepish wood-covered slope opposite the ruined Kildalton Castle, just south of the conical fairy hill of Cnoc Rhaonastil, which was long known to be the place of the faerie-folk. These stones however are not recognised as prehistoric stones by the Scottish Royal Commission. Old or not, there is a nice tale connected to these stones which is written down by Otta F. Swire and can be found in the book The Inner Hebrides and their legends. For those of you who are interested in this book, I just ordered it second hand through Amazon, which means it's still available.

These stones of Islay have a special meaning and have something to do with the way Islay got it's name, that is according to the theory of Peggy Earl who also mentiones the Stones of Islay: "A Danish Princess called Iula, or Yula, left Denmark with an apron full of stones of different sizes. As she proceeded on her journey some of the stones fell out, one becoming Ireland, another Rathlin and a third Texa. The remainder of the stones fell out and became the string of islands from Ardbeg to Kildalton. She perished in the soft sands off that coast and was taken to Seonais Hill above Loch Cnoc and buried there. What was described in the Statistical Account of 1794 as the grave of "a daughter of one of the Kings of Denmark" is marked by two small standing stones about 10 m apart, though there is, sadly, no good evidence to support this tradition. Islay is said to have got its name from this lady, or perhaps she may have taken her name from Islay." Back now to a full quote of the tale:

The Queen was much troubled by the stupidity of human women, for in the fairy world wisdom is chiefly possessed by the women, since it is they who hold the Cup. After much thought, She decided to try to improve matters, so she sent out an invitation to all the women of the world to visit Her in Her hall in the knoll on a certain date. The invitation spread over the wide Earth - it was carried by the winds and the sea waves, by birds and by fish, even the leaves of the trees whispered it. And the women of the world were very much interested and they talked eagerly together. Some laughed at it, some said they were wiser by far than the Little People, some held that the Little People were cleverer and more powerful than they and that this might be a trap. Indeed, the word of women ‘heaved like hive of bee or hill of ant or byke of wasp.’ Soon, women from all over the isles began to arrive in Islay. Some came to see, many more to be seen, and a few came truly seeking wisdom.

When the day dawned the hill opened, and into the wonderful hall within streamed the women. And a very wonderful hall it was, hung with bright cloths woven from nettles and fairy lint and dyed with blood of shell-fish and sap of plants in such colours as only the Little People can achieve. Skins of beasts were spread on floors and seats, a banquet set on shells of pearl lay ready on the many tables of wood and stone, and for each guest there was placed ready a beautiful cup formed from a blue-eyed limpet’s shell. A soft green light pervaded the hall. When all were ready and the watchers saw no more coracles on the waters or maidens climbing the green slope, the doors to the outer world were closed and in walked the Queen Herself. She was smaller than any of Her guests but far, far more impressive. She wore a dress of long ago but it suited well Her gentle, kindly dignity and Her face shone with a strange and lovely light. She carried in Her two hands a wonderful flagon and after her came her maids, each holding a similar one. Other maids hastily distributed the cups of shell and then the Queen walked slowly by, pouring into the cup of each of those who, in her heart truly desired wisdom, a few drops of the precious fluid from Her flagon, which held the distilled wisdom of the world throughout the ages. And as each woman drank those few drops she suddenly grew wise and saw and understood much she had never known before. Some were able to see much, others but a little, yet all benefited in their degree. At last, all who sought wisdom had received it and the elixir was finished. Just as the ceremony ended there came a hammering on the walls and the doors. The Little People looked out and, behold!, their hill was covered with late-comers who had arrived after the doors were closed and so had been unable to enter and were now too late to receive the gift.

Image courtesy Mary and Angus Hogg
Tale courtesy of Otta F. Swire from the book The Inner Hebrides and their legends and Megalithix

Tag: standing stones tales fairy hill

Comments are closed

Susan Campbell

Wednesday, 18 February 2009
It was not until reading well down the second part of your blog that I realised what the 'fairy tale' reference was about.
My article about the Winter Solstice was not intended as a fairy tale, which is a completely imaginary story.
The archaeological sites are a physical reality and considerable archaeological and academic research has gone into the probable reasons for the construction of the sites referred to, both at the Newgrange complex in Ireland and at some of the standing stones in Islay.
Constructing standing stone sites and large tombs would have taken an extraordinary amount of resources from the people who built them; in some cases, years of hard work by the people! To have done this work In a time when no motorised equipment existed, it seems obvious that the sites of standing stones and tombs were enormously important and necessary to the people then.
I did write a little bit of a story, in trying to imagine the feelings of the people who saw the light from the winter solstice reappear at Newgrange. However, the structure itself exists, as definite fact!

Go and see it, and the Islay sites, if you ever get the chance; it's fab !


Susan Campbell

Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Another small point, if you will allow.

It seems unlikely that there is any 'relationship' between the standing stones at Ballinaby, Finlaggan and Cultoon, apart from the fact that they are all man-made sites constructed with stones, and are all in Islay.
Cultoon circle is believed to align with a point on the north coast of Ireland, Ballinaby stones align with cyclical movements of the moon as Katriona MacGregor explained, and Finlaggan stone seems to align with other stones and sites to the southwest and also with the Jura hills. It depends on where one stands! There is plenty of scope for more investigations to be done on all of these sites.

Many thanks to all the people who took an interest in my 'Ileach' article about the Winter Solstice, and who replied with interesting comments.