Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Lismore Wander

I arrived in Oban on May 17. The ten-day cruise I was guiding did not leave until the 20th, so I had a full day to wander, followed by a day of packing. The wander had to be on an island. I had some unfinished business to attend to on Lismore - and so Lismore it was. The unfinished business was to find the grave of Alexander Carmichael, the author of that amazing collection of Gaelic culture: Carmina Gadelica. This is the Wikipedia entry on Carmina Gadelica:

Carmina Gadelica is a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs, lexical items, historical anecdotes, natural history observations, and miscellaneous lore gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909. The material was recorded, translated, and reworked by the exciseman and folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912).

Over the years I'd been to Lismore several times, and on a couple of those visits I searched the burial ground at Clachan trying to find Carmichael's grave. I think I examined every readable tombstone, but was never able to find it. Although I did find a lot of Carmichaels, a common name on Lismore. In each of those visits there was no one around to ask where the grave was. But a recent internet search turned up a photo of his tombstone and, with the photo in hand, I set off to visit Lismore.

Lismore ferry at Oban
In spring the Oban ferry runs to Lismore four times a day. I caught the 2pm run, and was afoot on Lismore at 3. From Achnacroish the shore path was followed north towards Tirefour Broch, and after a half-mile of walking I left the path at Balnagown. (See the September 16, 2015 post for a description of the walk to the broch.)

At Balnagown I wandered around its intact corn mill; its waterwheel still in place. I wanted to take a look inside, but the structure was plastered with 'keep out' signs.

Balnagown corn mill

From the mill I followed the road to Clachan, and entered the cemetery of Lismore Church. With the photo of Carmichael's tombstone in hand, I walked up and down the hilly burial ground looking at every stone. The photo showed that Carmichael's stone is unusual; a large, rectangular, bright grey upright slab. When I found it, near the south wall of the cemetery, it was obvious how I'd missed it in the past. Its shallow, incised lettering, was mostly unreadable. But a close look at the lettering on top revealed that it was Carmichael's grave. 

Alexander Carmichael's grave
The inscription was lengthy, and when I find the grave of a famous author I like to write down the complete inscription. But after several minutes I had to give up. The worn, lichen covered letters, were just too hard to decipher. Even so, finding the grave was exciting. The Celtic cross design carved on it is an exquisite monument to an amazing man. But his true monument is Carmina Gadelica, which you can find here: Carmina Gadelica.

I still had time before the last ferry of the day left for Oban at 6pm, so I headed down the the side road (unmarked) to take a look at Castle Coeffin (13th century). It is an amazing ruin, jagged stumps of walls and towers that look different depending on which side you're on. 

Castle Coeffin from the west (2017)

Castle Coeffin from the east (2017)
Castle Coeffin from the southeast (2006)
I spent a bit too much time climbing through the castle ruins and taking photos. A look at the watch showed I only had an hour before the last ferry back to Oban, and the ferry dock was three miles away. But it was three easy miles of (mostly) road walking, and I made it with five minutes to spare. Once back in Oban I started packing for my ten-day Hebridean cruise. The planned itinerary was to head west to Mingulay, north to the Flannans, and back to Oban, possibly via the Shiants or the Small Isles. Little did I know the wind would have other things in mind, and that the trip would be turn out to be one full of surprises.

Last ferry of the day arrives at Lismore

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