The Factor of Kildalton Castle - An ancient Islay Ghost

In the early days there was a strong belief in "familiars" and ghosts. A familiar is an animal-shaped spirit who serves for witchery, a demon or other magician-related subjects. Familiars were imagined to serve their owners as domestic servants, farmhands, spies, and companions, in addition to helping bewitch enemies. In this story however the familiar is the appearance of a person who was known to be somewhere else.

There is a story known on Islay about a "laird" who had an employee, a sort of factor, whose appearance was very distinctive. The laird lived in Kildalton Castle, which was demolished years ago, and his employee had to leave the island on several occasions. During his absence he was however seen several times wandering in the large castle. Many years after this man was dead and buried, a couple of women were sitting just off the path which runs through Craigmore wood, once the property of the "laird". As they sat they became aware of someone approaching. Looking up they saw a man coming towards them dressed in clothes of a bygone age. The strange thing was that he was followed by a terrier dog. The women let the man pass and while he did there was not a sound at all and he and his dog disappeared into the bushes. The women were rather scared and frightened and feeling they could not stay any longer in these woods, they made for home. One of the women related the incident to her mother, describing the man she had seen. The mother, who had been in the "laird's" employment for many years, recognised the description as that of the "laird's" employee, the factor of Kildalton Castle.

Tag: kildalton castle

Dougie MacDougall - Islay's Fishermen in the Old Days

In the stories of Dougie MacDougall are two characters mentioned being his friends. Their names are Donald MacPhee and John Wilson who were both fishermen at the time. The following story was written down by Dougie MacDougall and gives a nice view of the, sometimes hard lives, these people had years ago.

Dougie MacDougall telling: Donald MacPhee and John Wilson were getting ready to set off on the 1st of may, there was great activity on the shore at Rhua Phort Beag. The boat was being loaded with lobster pots, including all the fishing gear and other articles required for their comfort. May I point out that they would have to make a few trips to the west coast before all their lobster pots were over. When the boat was loaded, both of them went over to the Port Askaig shop to get all their provisions required for a week. There were no luxuries for them; the basic items would be, tea, sugar, ham, cheese, bread, corned beef, tinned milk, syrup, treacle, salt, margarine, pipe tobacco and matches. These items were packed carefully into a white pillowslip and carried with great care, and stowed on board, covered with an oilskin to keep it dry. When the Tinker, their boat, was loaded, both of them had a good think to see if there was anything that they had overlooked. John mentioned that he came away without a shaving mirror and soap. He was not too pleased at that.

Whisky Galore on Islay

Most people probably heard of this famous tale which happened on the Isle of Eriskay in 1941. The SS Politician sank off the coast of this Outer Hebridean Isle and carried 24,000 cases of whisky, and soon after its sinking the locals managed to 'recover' a great part of the cargo and were able to hide it before the excise man could find them. The events were the inspiration of a great movie called Whisky Galore. Later was told that the ship also carried almost 300,000 ten-shilling notes, which is the equivalent of several million pounds at today's prices.

But as always, this isn't the only incident where people managed to get their hands on some valuable cargo. Islay experienced a similar Whisky Galore. It was 22nd May in the year 1859 that a brig called the Mary Ann of Greenock was wrecked on Islay's rocks in a heavy gale, on the Kilchoman strand near Coull Farm. The brig was carrying a full cargo of wines and spirits. It is said there were disgraceful scenes of looting, and in a very short time two hundred cases of whisky had been consumed and everybody became very intoxicated. People flocked to the spot, especially the Portnahaven fisherman. Many could be seen lying on the rocks, unable to move, while others were fighting fiercely. Sergeant Kennedy and Corporal Chisolm arrived to try and ease the rowdiness but without success.

On the rocks lay the body of Donald McFayden from Portnahaven, better known as 'Domhnull Anna'. He was said to be the strongest man in Islay at that time, but the strength of the whisky proved stronger than poor 'Domhnull Anna'.

Tales from Islay - The Tooth Stone

Years ago when there was no television or radio, people on Islay and elsewhere, spent their evenings in an entirely different way. The older people told tales and the young ones listened, breathless and sometimes scared to death. Those were the times that superstition and folktales had great impact on peoples' daily lives. Many of the myths have survived into present times for some people made the effort of writing them down. Being separated from the mainland, Islay, of course, has its own share of tales and many of them are preserved in a wee booklet by Peggy Earl, which can be obtained at C&E Roy in Bowmore and is very pleasant to read.

I found this little story inside about calling the Doctor... Before roads were made, there were mostly tracks and people were isolated, and often the doctor was not within easy reach. Should there be a sick person in the house, and it was not certain whether the doctor should be called or not, a test was given which decided whether a doctor was necessary. Someone from the house would go outside, find a large stone, and turn it over. If there was any living creature under the stone, then the doctor should be called for there was hope for the patient; if there was nothing, there was no hope, and the patient would die in any case, so there was no need to go for the doctor.

That reminded me of something Jeremy Hastings showed us on our birding trip this year. He took us to a very remarkable stone just outside Port Charlotte, called the Tooth Stone or Toothache Stone. This little rock has a tale to tell... Toothache is also called 'the hell of all diseases' and the only sure cure is to have the offending molar extracted, except for the people in Port Charlotte, for they had a better idea. When they felt the first pains coming up they headed for the Tooth Stone in the glen just outside Port Charlotte. Armed with nails and a hammer they hammered the nails into the stone and at the end of their hard labour their toothache was supposed to be gone. - Considering the amount of nails and the extend of how far they were beaten into the stone, one can only guess HOW much pain people had to suffer back then. However, when you take the road to Kilchiaran from Port Charlotte and pass the water station on the right, have a good look in the glen on your right. Here you will find the Tooth Stone, about 200 meters away from the road and almost any crack is filled with old nails. Anyway, if you get some trouble with your teeth, beter try the local dentist first: leave the hammer home and just hope for a good sedation.