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Clach Clais An Tuirc

Standing Stone / Menhir

Also known as:
  • Achvarasdal Burn

Nearest Town:Thurso (14km ENE)
OS Ref (GB):   NC99156316 / Sheet: 11
Latitude:58° 32' 41.97" N
Longitude:   3° 43' 58.28" W

Added by postman

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Sir Donald MacKay (1591- 1649) led an eventful life. He was imprisoned for adultery and suspected of bigamy, led a regiment in the Thirty Years war (1618-48), and, having accused his lieutenant David Ramsey of treason, was challenged by him to single combat, though the duel was prevented by the intervention of Charles 1. In 1628 he was created first Lord Reay, and a contemporary said of him that in his own estates 'he tyrannizes as if there were no law or king to putt order to his insolencies.'

After his death he became remembered in folk legend as a magician, Donald Duibheal or Dubhuail MacKay, and many tales are told of his occult exploits, several of which are included by George Sutherland in his Folk-Lore Gleaning (1937). It was said that while serving as a soldier under Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594 - 1632) he had met the Devil and had been invited by him to attend the famous Black School Of Padua. In return for his teaching, the Devil required that the last student to leave at the end of the session should be forfeit to him as payment. As they filed out, it happened to be MacKay who was the last one out of the door and the Devil tried to grab him, but the canny MacKay turned around and pointed to his shadow, saying,

De'il tak' the hindmost.'

The Devil accordingly seized hold of the shadow and before he realised he had been tricked, MacKay himself had got safe away. The story is a local version of an international tale known as

Escape From The Black School

in which a student of the Black Arts deceives his satanic master, a ploy also attributed to Michael Scot, the Wizard of Balwearie and Sir Robert Gordon of The Round Square (Aberdeenshire)

When MacKay returned to the Reay country, people soon noticed that he cast no shadow and therefore must be uncanny. The Devil meanwhile had pursued his prey all the way from Italy, and they had a fisticuff fight which ended with MacKay giving the Devil a beating and getting from him a swarm of little demons or fairies who did all his work, ploughing his land, harvesting and threshing his corn and so forth. This was all very well, but when he had run out of jobs for them they still clamoured for employment, and MacKay found himself trying to occupy his troublesome assistants.

One idea that occurred to him was to get his imps to drain the loch on the east side of Clash Breac, Broubister, where a pot of gold was said to be hidden. They set with a will, but when the Cailleach of Clach Breac saw what was happening she shouted to the workers

'In the name of God, what are you doing here?'

At once the imps vanished, unable to hear mention of the sacred name. In fury, MacKay picked up a spade and split the Cailleach's head with it.

The unfinished work is still to be seen in the form of a deep ravine extending for about two hundred feet in the direction of the loch, but not reaching it. On the north side of this ravine there is a standing stone with the top part of it cleft in twain. This is said to be the Cailleach with her cloven head now turned into stone.

Spoil from the canal dug by the imps was hung up to make the conspicuous steep sided hills of Creag Mhor and Creag Bheag ('big crag' and 'little crag') south-east of Reay. As to the 'loch on the east side of Clash Breac', this probably refers to an area east of Cnoc Na Claise Brice, not a loch but a bog, a fact that could have been cited as 'proof' that the imps had partly succeeded in their drainage works. The petrified Cailleach is Clach Clais An Tuirc, a standing stone south-east of Loanscorribest.

The Cailleach, as a guardian of deer and other wild animals, may have resented the imps' interference with the landscape. It is not explained, why she, a supernatural being, is able to speak the name of God when the imps cannot bear to hear it.

The Lore Of Scotland - A Guide To Scottish Legends

Westwood & Kingshill
drewbhoy Posted by drewbhoy
5th February 2024ce
Edited 5th February 2024ce


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Clach Clais an Tuirc is a quadrangular stone is 6ft2 tall and 2ft x 3ft in section, found down a track in forested land postman Posted by postman
19th August 2007ce