Who Said What about The Dreamy Isle of Skye,

Scotland’s Misty Ancestral Homeland? 

To see more images of Skye, and to hear its haunting Gaelic airs and experience a true Skye Meditation, enjoy this wee detour created by Gordon Mooney.

The Isle of Skye looms more spectacularly in the Gaelic imagination than the 500 million years of earth history it took to shape it. It is more than a commingling of wild moors and mountains, darkly deep fjords, serrated coastlines and sea stacks, fertile glens, and silent tarns illuminated by the stark burnished Northern light. Risen up from eons of volcanic geology, Eileann a Cheo, Scotland's legendary "Isle of Mist" in the Hebridean Sea has broken hearts, inspired musicians, poets and painters and captivated tourists for centuries. In the heyday of the cult of the tartan, Victorians took the steamer from Glasgow "Over the sea to Skye" to gape at Britain's most awesome mountains, the Cuillins. Their steep jagged ledges and pinnacles, which Alfred Lord Tennyson described as circled with wreaths of dangling water-smoke, enraptured these genteel bustled ladies and tweed-clad gents. They climbed the foothills and Iron Age hillforts, explored the chambered cairns, birdwatched, fished for salmon and feasted from wicker picnic baskets, collected fossil ammonites and pressed wildflowers. They stayed for a whole month to take in Skye's bewitching atmosphere and diverse geological splendors. Reluctant to leave they were, and lines of a poem by Rev. J. F. Marshall lamented those predawn departures:

O misty isle, it seems as if
No time to leave thee could be found
More fitting than the hour in which men turn from sleeping,
And reluctant, lose their dreams.

Today's daytrippers, backpackers and mountaineers fly over the sea on Skye Bridge and are in a rush to experience the island in a few hours or a few days. Other visitors, the cultural pilgrims visiting the land of their Gaelic-speaking ancestors, may be seized with a yearning to stay forever. They come from Uigg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia - Canada’s New Scotland - or from Orbostj  in Victoria, Australia and gazing out over Skye’s Uig Bay or Orbostj, they are haunted with wonderings about what their great-great grandparents felt as they left Skye forever.

These ancestors were forced to emigrate from Skye after 1746 when the Jacobite defeat in at Culloden collapsed the Clan system. Ruthless Highland Clearances replaced crofters with more profitable wool-producing Cheviot sheep, and the bad harvests, cattle blight and high rents all took their toll. Between 1771-1790 over 2,000 people left Skye for the New World.  In 1837, 459 islanders sailed for Australia, and in 1841, 600 more set off from Portree to America and Australia. Between 1840-1883 some 6,940 families, or 34,700 people, were ruthlessly evicted, their thatches-roofed stone crofts destroyed. Such was their grief upon being driven off their land that they writhed on the ground and tore the grass with their teeth. 

What these Gaels gifted with visions and the second sight felt about their Isle of Skye, and what they felt upon leaving it, they expressed in Gaelic songs and unforgettable melodies of poignant simplicity. Songs for weaving, rowing, courting, loving, pondering, grieving and saying goodbye. Fallain gun d’ith thainig g e Safely Landed…’S olc a dh’fhag an uiridh mi The privations of last year… Sgoilt mo chridh’ as a cheile My heart is shivered asunder Talla nam bàrd nach beò The abode of the departed bards…An aois Old age…Gaelic came to Scotland from Ireland at the end of the fifth century, and enshrines Europe's oldest living literature and culture--despite  centuries of ferocious political and cultural attempts to destroy it. So please don't visit Eileann a Cheo in a rush. Travel slowly again and again through these dramatic land, cloud and seascapes as they change with the seasons. Meditate upon the ancient Gaelic airs and original images which they have inspired. And be inspired. 

On most days the sea and the land and the sky are alike steel-grey. the vaunted mountains, which sound so good in the guide-books, are mere pimples of smooth insignificance. they consist of elevated moorlands, and, even in the case of the famous Cuillins, a dark, razor edge range which backbones the southern part of Skye, are so low by the standards of other countries that the visitor merely wonders what all the fuss has been about. Consider that water usually falls from the sky in these parts and it will be understood that a plain man may be excused for wondering why ever he came to such an undistinguished desolation.
— SCOTLAND: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE, © Donald Cowie, 1973 by A.S. Barnes and Company, Cranbury, NJ and London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd., London ISBN 0-498-01169-0

From time immemorial there have been stories of phantom kilted armies on Skye...in the vicinity of Harta Corrie, celebrated in the history of the island for the Bloody Stone that marks the scene of a bitter battle between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods some three hundred years ago....The island also has a phantom car that travels at great speed along the hill road from Sligachan. All witnesses agree that the car is a 1934 Austin with lights blazing but no driver. The soundless form vanishes suddenly. —-GAZETEER OF SCOTTISH GHOSTS, © Peter Underwood,Fontana/Collins, 1973

Mrs Mackinnon told me that last year when the ship sailed from Portree for America, the people on shore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off; they lay down on the ground and tumbled, and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think they would soon follow. This is a mortal sign. —-James Boswell Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson © 1773 (1785)

On the Isle of Skye, two wily lairds concocted a scheme to make money by selling some of their tenants. In 1739, Sir Alexander MacDonald and Norman MacLeod sold 100 men, women and children to merchants who planned to resell them in the American slave markets, where the unlucky islanders were to be presented as criminals. The scheme fell apart when the ship carrying them put in at Donaghadee in the north of Ireland for supplies and the innocect islanders escaped. Following an official inquiry they were given their liberty; MacDonald and MacLeod were not prosecuted.
— WHITE CARGO The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America, by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh

Portree lived once, when Prince Charlie came there with that impossible price on his head. The local people did not cash in then but they have since. What happened in the middle of the eighteenth century has forever since sustained them. —-SCOTLAND: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE © Donald Cowie, 1973 by A.S. Barnes and Company, Cranbury, NJ and London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd., London ISBN 0-498-01169-0