The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Isle of Skye


The pattern of distribution of monuments near the Red Cuchuillin mountains is very striking, when viewed on the map, for their locations draw a curve around the southern and eastern sides, the monuments roughly equally spaced and delineating the edge of the mountains perfectly. The Red Cuchuillins, then, seem to be of central significant in the positioning of these sites. They are the easternmost part of the Cuchuillin range, the creation of which is described in folklore thus:

"When all the world was new, there was a great heather-clad plain between Loch Bracadale on the west and the Red Hills on the east. It was a dark and lonely place and the Cailleach Bhur (= Hag of the Ridges, i.e. Winter), whose home was on Ben Wyvis, often lived there when she came west to boil up her linen in her washing pot, dangerous Corryvreckan. She was a very powerful and fearsome person who had made Scotland by dropping into the sea a creel of peat and rock which she brought with her from the north. When her clothes had boiled well, she would spread them to bleach on Storr, and while she was in Skye no good weather was to be got at all. Now spring hated her because she held the maiden he loved prisoner (until the girl should wash a brown fleece white) and he fought with her, but she was strong, stronger than anyone else within the four boundaries of the earth, and he could do nothing. He appealed to the Sun to help him and the Sun flung his spear at Cailleach Bhur as she walked on the moor; it was so fiery and hot it scorched the very earth, and where it struck, a blister, six miles long and six miles wide, grew and grew until it burst and flung forth the Cuchuillins as a glowing, molten mass. For many, many months they glowed and smoked, and the Cailleach Bhur fled away and hid beneath the roots of a holly and dared not return. Even now, her snow is useless against the fire hills.

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 20-1.

(for more on the Cailleach Bhur in Skye see also Rudha nan Clach)

The Cuchuillins are also noted, in mythology, for the "school for heroes" run by Skiach, "goddess or mortal no one knows which, but undoubtedly a great warrior. Some say she took her name from a Gaelic name for Skye, others that Skye took its name from her" (see Swire pp. 21-3). The Irish hero Cuchuillin, for whom these mountains are named, heard of Skiach and her school, and with three strides travelled from Ulster to her school. After defeating every one of her students, Skiach finally allowed him to fight with her daughter, whom he also vanquished, after two days. Furious, Skiach descended from her heights to fight Cuchuillin herself. After two days of fighting "on the mountains and on the moors and in the sea" the combat was exactly equally matched, with neither able to gain the upper hand. At this stage Skiach's daughter offers both her mother and Cuchuillin a meal of deer stuffed with roast hazelnuts. Each thinking that "the hazels of knowledge" would teach them how to overcome their opponent, the two of them sit down to eat. From the hazels they learn that they are exactly matched, and that neither will ever win over the other. They therefore make peace, and swear that each will answer the other's call, "though the sky fall and crush us". Skiach named the mountains where they had fought in Cuchuillin's honour.

Swire (Ibid., p. 23) records one further curious piece of folklore with regard to the Cuchuillins:

"In the Cuchuillins, too, though exactly where must not be said, is a cave of gold. Unlike all other treasure caves, there are no barriers here between men and untold wealth. No magic word is required. No fearful monster guards the entrance. He who finds the cave may take as much gold as he needs and return as often as he desires more, but each time he enters the cave, and each time he uses the gold, he will become a little more evil and a little more evil, until he loses his soul. That is the price."
TomBo Posted by TomBo
30th June 2004ce
Edited 22nd March 2011ce

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