life at Finlaggan Letter by George Rhind

When I published Mary Bavin's article a couple of days ago I was aware that it was an answer to a letter sent by George Rhind which I seem to have missed earlier. I received very positive comments about Mary Bavin's article on the Lords of the Isles being published on this blog and I also share the opinion that life wasn't a fairytale in medieval days, far from that. That's why I appreciate the fact that George Rhind contacted me and sent me the letter which is referred to in Mary's article. George gave me permission to publish it on the blog, thanks for that. The letter is titled 'Distance Lending Enchantment' and was originally sent to the Ileach editor. George Rhind:

While the Finlaggan Trust Committee are due the heartiest congratulations on the opening of their extended Information Centre and the new bridge to Eilean Mor, some of your recent correspondents seem to be trying to create the impression that life at Finlaggan during the time of the Lordship was akin to a medieval Camelot with bagpipes.

The lifestyle allegedly enjoyed by the Lord of the Isles and his "Retainers" (about 1% of the population) was of course entirely supported by the indigenous local population who, as little more than serfs, cut the peats, caught the fish, planted the crops, dug the cess pits and emptied their Lordship's chamber pots. Continue reading.....

When are our historians going to give us an honest account of the life and times of the ordinary people of Islay at the time of the Lordship rather than more tedious repetitious accounts of the feasting and harping which supposedly went on when the Councils of the Isles met? Medieval life is frequently referred to as "nasty, brutal and short" and "...the finds (at Finlaggan) include items brought from all over Europe which could have only been available to the top people of the time..." further points up the yawning chasm between the very privileged few and the rank and file.

The late Donald Dewar in his Sabhal Mor lecture in September 2000 summed it up neatly: "Like almost all Scots, I am aware of the proud Highland tradition and the Highland Culture. I do try to be realistic. I do also try to avoid the romantic. I am distinctly allergic to lonely sentinels, grass-grown shielings, the peat fire that grows cold. I remain resolutely cautious when romantics tell me of democracy practised by the Lords of the Isles. Many interesting things may have happened at Finlaggan, but I doubt if they could be described very easily as an early attempt at a Parliament."

The answer to this letter was published in the Ileach and is available here.

Tag: finlaggan history

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Susan Campbell

Wednesday, 01 July 2009
It's good that you've now been able to put both parts of the conversation (so far !) which were published in recent issues of the 'Ileach' newspaper, on your blog. Both responses to the original article make interesting points, and it was excellent that the 'Ileach' received these replies.