Britannia, by William Camden

The Hebrides, or Western Isles.⌉

Big F FROM the Isle of Man, as far as the Mull of Galloway, or the Promontory of the Novantes, we meet only with small and inconsiderable Islands; but after we are past that, in the Frith of Glotta or Dunbritton-Frith, we come to the Isle Glotta,The Isle Glotta. mention’d in Antoninus, and call’d by the Scots at this day Arran;Arran. whence the Earls of Arran in that Kingdom take their title: And then, to a neighbouring Island, formerly call’d Rothesia, now Buthe, from a little Cell which Brendan built in it; for so the word signifies in Scotch. After these, we arrive at Hellan, heretofore Hellan-Leneow, that is (as Fordon explains the word) the Isle of Saints; and Hellan Tinoc, the Isle of Swine; both in the same Frith. But of these we have spoken already.

aestuary estuary Galloecians Beteoricae Beyond this æstuary, lie a cluster of Isles, which the Scotch Inhabitants call Inch-GallInch-Gall. (signifying perhaps the Isles of the Gallœcians;) the English and the rest of the Scots, the Western-Isles; the writers of the last age, Hebrides;Hebrides. but Ethicus, an antient Author, Beteoricæ. Giraldus calls them sometimes Inchades, and sometimes Leucades;Scottish or Western Isles. Pliny, Solinus, and Ptolemy, Ebudes, Hebudes, and Ἔϐουδας. Unless it had this name from the barenness of the Soil, which yields no Corn; I must confess I can give no reason of it. For Solinus writes, that the Inhabitants thereof know nothing of Corn, but live wholly upon Fish and Milk; and the word Eb-eid signifies in British fruitless, or without Corn. The Inhabitants (take the words of Solinus) know not what Corn is, but live upon fish and milk. They are all govern’d by one King; and are sever’d from one another by very narrow arms of the Sea. The King himself has nothing that he can call his own: all things are in common; but he is bound by certain Laws to be equitable; and, lest he should break them out of covetousness, his Poverty teaches him Justice; having no property, but being wholly maintain’d by the Publick. Uxor Usuraria. He is not allow’d one woman to himself, but takes by turns which soever he fansies for the present; by which means he lives without desire, or hope, of children of his own.

⌈The western Isles lie upon the west-side of Scotland; to which Crown (when distinct and separate from that of England) they belong’d. The Inhabitants speak the Irish Language, and retain the manners, customs, and habits of the ancient Scots, as the Highlanders on the Continent do.⌉

These Islands are commonly thought to be forty four in number, but they are many more. Pliny says there are thirty; Ptolemy five; ⌈and those who have travell’d them, reckon them above three hundred.⌉ The first is Ricina, in Pliny Ricnea, and in Antoninus Riduna, but call’d at this day, Raoline;Racline. and I am of opinion, that Riduna in Antoninus should be read Riclina, cl being easily turned into d, by a connexion of the strokes. This small Isle lies over-against Ireland, and was known to the ancients upon account of its situation in this narrow sea between that and Scotland. At this day, it is only remarkable for the slaughter of the Irish Scots; who were often masters of it, but were at last entirely driven out by the English. The next is Epidium,Epidium. which from the name seems to me (as well as to that excellent Geographer G. Mercator) to have lain near the promontory and shore of the Epidii. Ila. And seeing Ila, a pretty large Island, level and fertil, lies in this manner; I take it to be the Epidium, and the Isle of the Epidii; for sometimes it is read, Ἐπιδίωγ. Its length is * * 24, C.twenty miles, ⌈from north to south,⌉ and its breadth sixteen. It is so well stock’d with cattle, corn, and stags, that, next to Man, it was always the chief seat of the Kings of the Isles, as it ¦ ¦ Is, at this day, C.was afterwards of the Mac-Conells; who † † Have, C.had their castle here at Dunyweg, ⌈but now it belongs to the Earl of Sea-forth. In this Island, is found Lead-ore; and it hath several Woods, Bays, and Loughs. In the year 1706. Archibald Campbel (second son of Archibald, first Duke of Argyle,) having distinguished himself very early by his eloquence and knowledge in the Laws, and by other Accomplishments, was advanc’d by her Majesty Queen Anne to the title and honour of Earl of Ila.⌉

Between Ila and Scotland, lies Jona,Jona. which Bede calls Hy and Hu, and which was given to the Scotch Monks by the Picts, for preaching the Gospel among them. In it stands a monastery famous for the burial of the Kings of Scotland, and for the residence of many holy men. One of the most eminent, was Columba the Apostle of the Picts; from whose Cell this Isle, as also the man himself, was call’d by a compound name Columbkill, as Bede testifies. Bishoprick of Sodor. Here, at last, as some say, a Bishop’s See was erected in Sodor a little village, from which all the Isles took the name of Sodorenses, being all within his Diocess. ⌈Jona is two miles in length, almost from east to west, and one in breadth. There is found in it Marble of several colours, with very beautiful veins. The coast is exceeding bad, and full of rocks; and the tides very violent. It has a Church of considerable largeness, dedicated to St. Columbanus, which is the Cathedral of the Bishop of the Isles. Phil. Trans. Vol.22. p.790. Here, at Columbkill, are still remaining these two Irish Sepulchral Inscriptions, belonging to Scottish Princes.


After this, we arrive at the Isle Maleos,Maleos. as Ptolemy calls it, now Mula;Mula. which Pliny seems to mention in this passage,Vide de his G. Buchan. Reliquarum Mella xxv. mill. pass. amplior proditur, i.e. Mella is reported to be twenty five miles larger, than the rest. For so the old Venice Edition has it; whereas the common books read it Reliquarum nulla. ⌈This Isle, upon the north-east, is scarce four miles distant from the Morvein, a part of the Continent. It is in length above twenty four miles, and in breadth almost as many. It abounds with wood and deer, and hath a good road called Polcarf,Polcarf. and several fresh-water loghs, and bays, where abundance of herrings are taken. The chief houses, are, the castle of Dowart,Dowart. a strong hold upon a crag on the sea-side; the castle of Lochburg; and the castle of Arosse. In this Isle are seven Parish-Churches.⌉

Hebudæ. Then we come to East-Hebuda, now Skie, which is stretch’d out for a long way, facing the coast of Scotland. ⌈It is about forty two miles in length, and in breadth twelve, though in some places but eight.Hebudae Skye The south part of it is called Slate,Slate. and is divided from the Continent by a narrow Firth. The air is temperate, and the whole Isle very fertil in corn: it abounds also with cows, goats, swine, deer, and wild-fowl, and has about ten Parish-Churches.⌉

Then West-Hebuda, so call’d because it lies more to the west, but now Lewes;Lewes. the Lordship of Mac-Cloyd, which in an old book of Man is call’d Lodhus. It is craggy and mountainous, and very thinly inhabited, but of greater extent than any of the rest; and is divided from Eust,Eust. by a small * * Euripus.arm of the Sea. ⌈Lewes hath its name from a part of it, properly so called; but by strangers it is called the Long-Island,Long-Island. being (with the Hareis, join’d to it by a small neck of land) some threescore miles in length, and in several places sixteen broad. By arms of the sea, and Sounds, it is divided into five several Counties, belonging to five several Heretors: Barray, to the Laird of Barray; South-Wijst to the Captain of Clan-Rald; North-wijst to Mack-Donald of Slate; the Harais to Mackland of Dunvegan; and that which is properly called the Lewes, to Seaforth. Upon the east-side of the Country, are four Loghs, wherein ships of great burthen may ride.⌉

Hirth. The rest are all inconsiderable, besides Hirth; being either rough and stony, or inaccessible by reason of craggy cliffs, and scarce a green turf to be seen in them. ⌈Of all the Isles about Scotland, this of Hirta lieth farthest into the sea, being about fifty miles from the nearest land. It is two miles in length, and about one in breadth; and has in it some ten families. It is very mountainous, and not accessible, but by climbing. One can hardly imagin, what prodigious numbers of Fowl frequent the rocks; of which as there are many sorts, so some are of strange shapes. Gare-Fowl. Amongst these, there is one they call the Gare-Fowl, which is bigger than a Goose, and lays great eggs, and is distinguish’d by a great white spot upon the breast. They stuff the stomach of it with the fat of other fowl in the Isle; and having dried it in the chimney, sell it to their neighbours on the continent, as a remedy against aches and pains. Their sheep are different from all others; having long legs, and long horns; and instead of wooll, a bluish hair upon them. Of the milk of their sheep, they make butter, and a sort of cheese very poinant to the taste. They have no salt, but what they make of sea-tangle by burning it. Their greatest trade is in feathers, which they sell; and the exercise they affect most, is climbing of steep rocks. Some corn they have, though but little: their food is eggs and young sea-fowl; and their drink, whey and water. They keep their holidays very strictly in their little Chapels. The women cultivate the land, and the men climb the rocks for fowl. The duty they pay their Master, is reasted mutton, reasted wild-fowl, and selch-skins.

Others of these Islands, that are less considerable than those already mentioned, are, Jura,Jura. lying over-against Knapdail; some twenty four miles in length, and in breadth, where broadest, about 6 miles. The sea-coast is fertil in corn, and the middle parts are fit for pasture. (Betwixt this and Ila, runneth that most dangerous chanel called the Sound of Ila,Sound of Ila. near ten miles long and two broad.) Scarba,Scarba. about two miles distant from Jura; some four miles long, and one broad. It is a high rough Isle, and hath some wood in it. Betwixt this and Jura, runs a stream called Arey-Brescen,Arey-Brescen. eight miles long, which is not to be ventured on, but at certain tides; for there is no sailing or rowing against it. Terie,Terie. lying off the Isle of Mull towards the west; about eight miles in length, and three in breadth, where broadest. The coast of it is dangerous for rocks, banks, and violent tides; and the entries are very bad. Colle,Colle. north of Terie, about twelve miles in length, and two in breadth. It is fertil enough; and affords plenty of Iron-ore. Wijst,Wijst. about thirty four miles long, and six broad. Barray,Barray. seven miles long, and four broad. Rona,Rona. a little Isle, low and well manured, which hath for many generations been possessed by five Families; who seldom exceed the number of thirty persons. They have a kind of Commonwealth among themselves; and if any one has more children than another; he that has fewer takes from his neighbour so many as will make his number equal. Those that are above thirty, are sent with the sea-boat to Lewis, to Seaforth their Master; to whom they pay yearly a quantity of meal stitched up in sheep-skins, and some feathers of sea-fowls. All things are common amongst them. They have no fuel for fire; but the sea yearly casts-in as much timber, as serves them for that use.⌉

These, as we have observ’d before, were all purchased of the King of Norway by the Scots, as a security to their kingdom; though they turn to little or no advantage, by reason of the temper of the inhabitants, who are of the ancient Scots or Irish men of great spirit and boldness, that will not subject themselves to the penalties of Laws, nor the Sentences of Courts. As for their manners, dress, and language, they differ little, or nothing, from the wild Irish, of whom we have already treated; so that you may easily know them to be one and the same nation. So, ann. 1607. The persons of interest and authority here, are Mac Conell, Mac Alen, or (as others call him) Maclen, Mac Cloyd de Lewes, and Mac Cloyd de Harich. But the most potent of these families, is that of the Mac Conells: deriving themselves from Donald, who, in the reign of James the third, took the title of King of the Isles, and ravaged Scotland with all the outrage and cruelty imaginable; for which his son John was attainted, and forced to submit himself, and all he had, to the mercy of the King; who gave him certain lands in Cantir. In the last * * So said, ann. 1607.age, flourish’d Donel Gormy Mac Conell of this family, that is, the blue; perhaps so call’d from his cloaths:See Antrim. who had issue Agnus Mac Conell, and Alexander, who leaving the poor and barren soil of Cantir, invaded the Glinnes in Ireland. This Agnus Mac Conell was father of James Mac Conell, who was slain by Shan O-Neal; and of Surley Boy, who had lands given him in Rowt in Ireland by the bounty of Queen Elizabeth. 1586, and 1598. James Mac Conell had issue Agnus Mac Conell, (but of him we have spoken already) between whom and Mac-Clen there was such an inveterate enmity, as the relation between the two families could not extinguish, nor restrain them from seeking the blood and ruin of each other.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06