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A walk around... Finlaggan

Updated Wednesday 26th November 2008

Join Neil Oliver as he searches out the Lords of the Isles at Finlaggan

Finlaggan’s a remote spot, away from the bustle of the towns and the main road. But it wasn’t always like this. Once it was the centre of a great medieval Lordship - the Lordship of the Isles - one that ruled from the Butt of Lewis down through the Hebrides to the Mull of Kintyre from the early 14th Century to 1493.

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Copyright The Open University

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Neil Oliver: Welcome to Finlaggan on Islay. If you’ve made this journey by sea and then land, then you’ve already followed in the footsteps of some of the great clan chiefs of the past, and the most famous of all West Coast men, the Lord of the Isles. You might even have travelled over here on a ferry named after him.

It's such a remote spot, away from the bustle of the towns and the main road. But it wasn’t always like this. Once it was the centre of a great medieval lordship - the Lordship of the Isles. One that ruled from the Butt of Lewis down through the Hebrides to the Mull of Kintyre, from the early 14th Century to 1493. For several days a year, all the important men of the isles would gather here for feasting and decision making.

On our walk today, we have four experts who are going to be guiding us through the great tales of Finlaggan.

Finlaggan Visitors' Centre Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team Before we start off, make sure you’ve got a copy of the map. If you’ve forgotten it, just pop into the Finlaggan Trust Visitors' Centre, they should have a copy. I hope the day you’ve chosen to visit is better weather than the day our experts have chosen to come. The wind and rain obviously didn’t want to miss the chance of being part of the tour.

Point 1: The mound

We’re starting up here on the mound for two reasons. Firstly, it's a great view of the walk ahead, down across the main island. But secondly, this mound is likely to be the main reason why Finlaggan became such a special place in medieval times. Below your feet are ancient remains of people. This site was a sacred one to them and many future generations. Turnaround and look back at the field behind the Visitors Centre. In the left corner, in front of the farmhouse, is a standing stone. Finlaggan has been a special place for Millennia.

David Caldwell, an archaeologist from the National Museums of Scotland, has spent seven years excavating Finlaggan.

David Caldwell: Although we refer to the MacDonalds as the Lords of the Isles, when you translate that into Gaelic, it really had more of a meaning of the Kings of the Isles. And MacDonalds were certainly seen as kings in Gaelic and Irish society. So Finlaggan was an important centre. But it wasn’t a centre in a traditional European sense. It wasn’t occupied all the year round by the MacDonalds themselves. It wasn’t a city. It wasn’t a town. There was no cathedral. There was no permanent structure like that. Now this wasn’t because the MacDonalds were just backward people who didn’t know any better. I think it's because what was seen at Finlaggan and in the Lordship of the Isles is a very deliberate effort to build up an alternative model of a society of life.

Neil: Donald Bell is one of the founders of the Finlaggan Trust and a local tenant farmer. At the time of the Lordship, Finlaggan was viewed as a productive place.

Donald Bell: The land would be more rich in those medieval times with the warmer climate. They have found that there would be sweet chestnuts growing here and plenty of red deer in the forest and wild boar. This is a section of the island which is very fertile and it’s lying on limestone and therefore it was very good for, when the folk came, there was plenty of food to be got.

David: And just looking off down with the burn there, a bit to your right, just in the bend there, there’s the sight of a little medieval mill, water mill, and when we did the excavations on the island we found a couple of the millstones had been reused in ovens. And looking a bit to the left of that, you can see some humps and bumps which are the remains of lead mining. Now there’s a lot of galena (lead ore) in the ground here, and we know that the mining of that went back at least to the 13th Century, and they were able to extract silver from the lead, and that may have been one of the many strands of wealth and one of the many reasons why the Lords based themselves here at Finlaggan.

Point 2: The old fortifications

 

You should have come off the bridge and moved a little to your right. Now we’re on the edge of the island, at least the edge in medieval times. The bridge you just walked over would have crossed open water. Over the centuries, silt has built up around this end of the island and rushes have grown.

David: We’re actually standing on a low mound here and you can see it stretching off in either side of us, and that’s actually the turf core from a timber palisade that went around the main island here in the 13th Century. Because in the 13th Century we have a big European-style castle here, the main island acting as a bailey, the place where you get your hall, your kitchens, a chapel and all sorts of buildings, whereas a smaller island, the council island, had a big stone keep on it.

So there was a timber palisade here. We found evidence of it in excavations. And right here, this mound, just outside the palisade, we know from excavations is the collapsed remains of a circular tower. It was a structure which was partially built of turf, big thick walls of turf, I think faced with wood, and through the centre of that went the entrance to the island in the 13th Century. The porch was by means of a stone causeway which goes from where we’re standing across to the other side of the Loch and comes out just where that dry stone dyke is coming down to the water’s edge.

Now, a lot of that causeway is still in place, it's now rather collapsed and underneath the water, and it probably was not maintained during the time of the Lords of the Isles.

Neil: Finlaggan was transformed during the Lordship of the Isles from being a fortified island to an open place. John Raven of Historic Scotland.

John Raven: The motte and bailey phase really kind of takes us back to the very birth of the Lordship of the Isles and back to Somerled. And he establishes a kingdom based on Islay and encompassing much of Argyll and expanding right through the north of Argyll and into Scottish mainland of the Highlands as well.

Neil: Somerled was the 12th Century warrior said to have rid Scotland of the Norse. He held great power in these parts. You could say he’s the father of the Lordship of the Isles. Although it takes a few generations until John of Islay proclaims himself the first Lord of the Isles. Somerled died and his inheritance was divided among his son and two grandsons. His grandson Donald, the first MacDonald, was given Islay. His descendants made a wise decision by backing Robert the Bruce in the Wars of Independence. Fiona Watson, writer and historian, knows that it wouldn’t have been loyalty that made the MacDonalds choose Bruce.

Fiona Watson: For the MacDonalds, this is a great opportunity to get the one-upmanship within the families here, and they back whoever is going to give them that power - which in the end turns out to be the Bruces. But, again, what they’re doing in the 14th Century is exactly the same as in the 13th Century; they’re going to back whoever is going to let them do exactly as they please.

David: And exactly, and a few years after they backed the Bruces, they then back the Balliols, back Edward Balliol because he gives them enormous advantages. And what I think happens in the 14th Century with John, the Lord of the Isles, is that there is a great debate within the Lordship as to whether they should actually try and plough their own furrow as a Gaelic kingdom, or whether they should actually try and align themselves with the mainland, with the Court in Edinburgh. And the decision they make is to actually plough their own furrow. I think, ultimately, they do see themselves as a rival dynasty to the Stewarts.

So what we’re saying we have here is a large European-style castle of the 13th Century. And it has no future in the way the Lordship develops. It's allowed to fall into ruins. And in the period of the Lordship, something very different develops on this site.

Neil: So now we've moved into the time of the Lordship. The fortifications come down and Finlaggan is now at the forefront of a new era in Gaelic rule. The next point is around the right side of the island, at the old jetty.

Point 3: The jetty

 

This group of stones here, extending out into the Loch, is the remains of the jetty. In the time of the Lordship, this would have been the main access to the island.

 

David: We said earlier on that there was a causeway that provided access in an earlier period, but as a great man you didn’t want to be wading across the causeway. Much more impressive if you came in a little boat, landed at a jetty like this and then walked dry shored up to your own home and your hall and all your other buildings. And looking across the water, it's difficult to see from here but there are remains of another jetty on the other side. You could perhaps also see, over there, very difficult on a day like this, of course, the low turf covered remains of buildings. And all around this end of the Loch, there are little traces of little buildings all over the place.

Now some of these were probably the houses which were occupied by the lord’s guard, his bodyguard, the people who he relied upon to give him defence rather than stone walls. Others may be temporary huts put up by all the people who came here in the summer months when the lord was in residence.

Neil: Now you’ve got to use your imagination. Look up at the brow of the hill across the loch and imagine the arrival of people coming to visit the Lords of the Isles.

Donald: This is an island in a fresh water loch, and it is several miles from the sea, but there are two very nice sandy sea lochs where the galleys who come in and they pulled up safely on the sand while the clansmen, the MacLeods and MacKenzies, MacKirklands, MacMullens, MacLeans, all would walk in to the administration centre on the council island and cross by this little jetty.

John: The people were coming from all over the western seaboard right from the Outer Hebrides and probably from Northern Ireland as well and travelling across great expanses of water, but it's not an easy journey no matter how skilled they were at sea. They’d decanted from the boats and they had to cross the land and, as they were walking through the land, they’re walking past some of the finest arable land in the whole of Scotland or the whole of the West Coast of Scotland and some of the finest pasture lands as well. And as people were making this journey, this pilgrimage to Finlaggan, not only are we seeing them having to make that journey of submission themselves, they’re also having to acknowledge the power of the Lords of the Isles that he can make them come here and they’re also walking past all the symbols of his lordship within a kind of Gaelic context.

Neil: “He can make them come here.” He’s Lord of the Seas and so his power is to make people cross the land to see him. Now you can imagine hordes of people arriving, camping out in the countryside around and, the most important, getting on little ferries and crossing over onto the jetty.

Point 4: The Great Hall

Now we’re going to walk onto the particular places they’ve come to visit. First of all, it's the Great Hall, ‘Point 4’ on your map. The edge of it is right behind us now but walk around the foundations until you come to the old doorway.

We've stopped here because we’re right in the entranceway to the Great Hall. It's difficult to imagine the imposing and grand nature of the building that once stood here. It's now been dismantled to its foundations. But once, this would have been a proud structure, prominent for miles around. Once, it was comparable to the home of the Scottish kings at Linlithgow.

 

David: It was of stone, lime mortared, it probably had a lime finish, so it would have a white appearance. It had in its form, when it was in use with John, the Lord of the Isles, and his successors, it had a sprung timber floor. It was of some height and it had a slate roof, a very impressive building. So when you were coming up or down the far side of the Loch, which was the main route through Islay at that time, it would be the hall sticking up which would be the obvious building that you would see. And that was status. That showed that the Lords of the Isles were all about entertaining, about feasting, about drinking, about having parties.

Now we know from excavations that inside there was a main chamber, the hall itself, with a large fireplace at the far end. There was a separate passageway at the other end of the hall, separated from the hall by the screens. Two doors through the screens and the bit beyond the screens was where they prepared the food, got it ready to serve at the great tables, which would have been up and down the Great Hall when there was feasting being taken.

Now above this end of the hall, above where the screens were, was another chamber. Now we know that because, in the foundations of the wall here, we’ve found a chute from a toilet which was on that upper floor. And that room was either where minstrels would have played their instruments, it really did happen in the medieval period, and let me say that one of the finds we've made in the excavations here have been I think four or five little pegs from harps because the lords maintained their own hereditary harpers to entertain them. By the 15th Century, if not earlier, there was probably a passageway at an upper level connecting the main hall itself with this building which is right behind us at the moment – MacGillespie’s House as we now call it.

Now in the form of which you see it, the building is a structure of the 16th Century. But it's built in the stubs of a medieval building. A building which probably had wooden balconies, one overlooking the Loch, and which probably provided extra private accommodation for the lord and his immediate guests.

Neil: Still not convinced? Close your eyes. You’ve made the journey here from your homeland, crossing rough seas and you’ve tramped across the land. You want to talk to the Lord. So you’ve made your pilgrimage to Finlaggan. And now, you’re standing in the doorway of the Great Hall.

David: The door would be opened for you because you’re an important guest and you’d come in and you’d turn to the left here and you’d see this magnificent big high room with a beautiful beam ceiling. It’d probably be painted, the walls would be plastered. There’d be paintings on the walls, if not tapestries. An enormous fire at the far end blazing away and the main table up near the fireplace there, perhaps a bit higher up, and you’re one of the guests that’s going to sit there with the lord himself.

And then down the middle of the hall, other tables perhaps a bit lower, trestle tables, full of people, big plates of meat and steaming food being brought through the doors at the far end and the screens passage there, taking up vast quantities, incredible quantities of drink flying all over the place and music, people singing or perhaps playing harps, poetry being recited, poetry saying how magnificent the lords are and the citing of the genealogy back to ancient times. And a feeling of warmth and conviviality and belonging and noise. All those things would be there, all giving you the feeling that you’re very privileged to be part of it.

Neil: This is what it's like to visit the Lord of the Isles. His power is in his hospitality. He’s also a patron of poets, music and sculpture. In your time in Islay, you might see some examples. The Great Hall is really symbolic of the lordships' style of ruling.

John: All the main castles that belong to the Lords of the Isles throughout the medieval period are a little more than halls. They’re not really castles in the sense you might think of them in the South of Scotland. Whilst the Crown in Scotland is also building halls in the early period, that quickly falls away and they really go for the more impressive castle that we think of today. But the Lords of the Isles really stick with this idea of the hall you find at Arras and Artonish, other places where we see the Lords of the Isles signing documents, holding feasts. They’re a peripatetic lordship which means they kind of travel around their estates and people come to them and that’s how they demonstrate their lordship. They’re about being seen and people coming to them to be seen.

Neil: We’re going to have to drag ourselves away from the feasting in the Great Hall now, on to more serious matters. But before we do, glance back towards the jetty at the group of rushes. That was the old kitchens. Rumour has it that one day found here was the deposed King of England, Richard II. We now think he was an impostor. But, in any case, he was whisked away to Stirling to end his days in more regal settings.

Keep following the path towards the end of the island and stop at ‘Point 5’ at the ruin sitting just before the end.

Point 5: John of Islay's house

 

We’re now looking at where John, the first Lord of the Isles, had his own private quarters. These remains give us more clues as to these Lords.

John: There’s a central hearth in the middle of this building, and he’s living in a very much similar kind of accommodation to what we think other kind of lower scale people and the clansmen were living in, which were kind of basically single room structures with a central hearth and people living around that. It's the same domestic arrangement but built up in stone and limewash. So there’s an interesting dichotomy there between being the same but being slightly different at the same time.

Neil: What made John of Islay such a power that he could call himself Lord of the Isles? It was his father Angus Og that set the wheels in motion.

John: Angus Og consolidates his position by backing the Bruces, and under the Bruces, as you talk to the English, they kind of talk of the Balliols, they play a kind of game, and over the 14th Century Angus Og’s son, John of the Isles, who really becomes the first person who really called himself Lord of the Isles, he consolidates the MacDonald power base in Islay and the Southern Hebrides and in Kintyre, but he also manages to have a marriage with Amy MacRuari, and thereby bringing in another great big wedge of the MacSorley lands which had been held by the MacRuaris. Again, here again, he plays a kind of game, he manages to gain patrimony over that, but he sees the opportunity for marrying Margaret Stewart who basically brings him into that, again, that central machinations of power and what’s happening in the Scottish court.

Fiona: Well I wonder about this marriage to Amy MacRuari. I mean of course he did dump her and went and married the King’s daughter, well Robert Stewart’s daughter. Robert Stewart becomes Robert II. But it's not so much that, although that’s bad enough, but it's the fact that his son from that first marriage is in a way passed over for descent in terms of the Lordship. So he gets the MacRuari lands but it's the sons of his second marriage to Margaret Stewart that becomes the Lord of the Isles. And I wonder if that residual resentment, potential resentment among the MacRuaris and their allies is not forgotten. And it is certainly noticeable that of all the main families of the MacDonald Lordship, the MacRuaris will have no truck with any restoration, they do not want to know about that, whereas the MacLeods and others, you know, they’re backing him right into the 16th Century. So these memories don’t go away.

Neil: To the Lords of the Isles, marriage was a valuable tool for gaining lands and power. It gave them military might and control of the western seas. But, as you’ll find out later, their ambitions for even more land leads to their eventual downfall.

Now we’re going to the edge of the island - ‘Point 6’ - to explore the very heart of where that power was executed.

Point 6: Council island

 

Neil: Eilean-na-comhairle, the Council island that you’re facing, is more than meets the eye. It's actually a crannog, a man-made island built around the time of Christ. Up until the lordship, a succession of important men would have occupied it. In the late 12th or 13th Century, the ancestors of the Lords of the Isles built an impressive stone tower. It was dismantled in the early 14th Century.

David: In the time of the lordship, in the time perhaps of John I, two buildings were put up over the ruins of that tower. One was a rectangular stone building which we can identify as the council chamber where we know the Lords of the Isles had their councils. And the other building, incidentally, was probably another small hall which was probably occupied by the keeper or whoever it was who was responsible for Finlaggan when it wasn’t being occupied by the lords.

Neil: The council chamber was where the council of the Lords of the Isles met during these great gatherings. It may seem strange to our modern eyes but it was quite common in earlier times to hold meetings on an island. It is both very private and a very public display. If you’re lucky enough to be here during a dry and hopefully less windy spell, you should be able to see part of the causeway sticking out of the water.

 

Imagine standing here during one of those gatherings. Well you’d be right in the way of the grand procession down to the causeway. You’d better step aside because in all their finery coming right at you are the leading members of Clan Donald.

Now going by are the Bishop of the Isles and the Abbot of Iona. They’re two of the leaders of the MacLeans and MacLeods. And now here are the judges, local officials and record keepers. They’re crossing the causeway and going into the hall now. The door is shut. What are they talking about?

David: So what is a parliament doing? I mean the parliament is making laws. It's also giving judgments in existing disputes. It's acting as a witness to great deeds. It's making decisions of policy, whether to go to war, whether to make peace. It's doing all those types of things.

To Rory, succeeded Torkell, in whose time the Lords of the Isles were of such power and had rooted themselves so in northern superiorities that none of their neighbours could obtain peace or safety without acknowledging them as their Lords. And the many prejudice done by them to MacKenzie so terrified others that almost all, and amongst others, there’s talk of MacLeod, this Torkell McLeod did cast himself under patrociny to the Lord of the Isles, and to ensure it, resigned his lands in the King’s hands in favours of the Lords of the Isles, and thereupon the Earl disposed all the lands again to the said Torkell to be holdin of him for homage and service. This charter is given by Alexander of Islay at Finlaggan in Islay, the 7th January 1432.”

Fiona: The Lords of the Isles obviously have left us some charters. We have them. But most of their business would be conducted orally and, again, we’re a society which has moved to the point where we can’t imagine that it would be a secure system to keep that knowledge locked up in the heads of men rather than down on pieces of paper. But in the past that was a very, very worthy way of doing things, and you would know exactly who to go to, who would know about the boundaries of land. There would be men, they were always men, who would have that knowledge and also who would then remember about law disputes, who said what to whom and why you would know which man to call upon.

So although the Lords of the Isles understood and used written charters, in particular, they also kept a more ancient system of oral transmission of information of various kinds, whether it was about property or whether it was about disputes.

Neil: That unassuming island that you’re looking across to was the site for agreements that would influence the far flung territories of the lordship. Now we’re going to start meandering back across the main island. Make your way to ‘Point 7’ on the map - the grassy crossroads that sits past the Great Hall.

Point 7: The crossroads

 

Now you’ve just literally walked in the footsteps of the Lords of the Isles. If you look down, you’ll only see trampled grass. But I assure you, there’s more to it than that.

David: So one of the remarkable things about the island is that there’s a network of a cobbled paths, or roads if you like, and we are standing at the crossroads here. Looking in that direction towards the jetty we were at earlier on, there’s a good wide road coming from there up to here, and if you were to turn left, it’d take you down past the Great Hall, and if you were to turn the other direction, it's taking you up to the chapel. And these paths were at least wide enough for two people to walk abreast. And off these main routes, there were lots of little subsidiary paths that took you to the different houses and buildings that were on this island.

Because in the time of John and the other Lords of the Isles, this island had twenty or more houses on it at any one time, and what we've found in excavations was that these houses would survive for a number of years and then it would be replaced by another newer house - the new houses always being built on the foundations of the earlier ones. And these houses would have been accommodation, there would have been byres, they would have been barns, kitchens we've mentioned, storerooms and perhaps also shops where craftsmen worked.

Neil: Clever politics in marriage and war brought MacDonalds’ power. But this greed for more land led to their downfall.

John: John’s son, Donald, he marries into the Earldom of Ross, and there we see the beginning of the downfall of the MacDonalds. Through him, and especially his son, Alexander, there’s a real falling apart of the relationship between the Lords of the Isles and the Scottish Crown. It's really under kind of John II, Lord of the Isles, at the end of the 15th Century that the whole thing falls apart.

Under John, he patronises a lot of the minor clans such as the MacLeans and the MacNeils where he manages to alienate the majority of the MacDonalds and the other clans that come under the MacDonalds, and we see at the end of the 1400s, the whole thing falls apart. And we see that John has his position fought for by the MacLeans and the MacNeils and these other minor clans.

The MacDonalds fight against John, back Angus, John’s illegitimate son, and under the auspices of that the Clan Donalds and the Lordship of the Isles really kind of falls apart. John ends his days as a pensioner in the Scottish Court, and we see after the collapse of the Lordship of the Isles in 1493 and the forfeiture that over the 16th Century, we see a lot of people trying to reclaim and rebuild the Lordship of the Isles but it's ultimately doomed to failure.

Neil: The story of the Lordship of the Isles doesn’t end there. John wasn’t the last MacDonald to hold the title. In the 1490s, John Mòr of the MacDonalds of Dunivaig had himself created as a new Lord of the Isles. The furious King James sent an agent to Finlaggan to capture John Mòr and his family. They were taken to Edinburgh and executed. John MacKane of Ardnamurchan, a MacDonald, was the royal agent.

David: It appears likely that he came to Finlaggan at a time when perhaps John Mòr and other leaders of the clan were attempting to revive the Lordship, perhaps hold a council meeting. And it looks like MacKane burst in and took off his distant relatives, treacherously. Treacherously is the word that is used in contemporary documents. And it may have been at that time that Finlaggan was largely dismantled. And not only was the site dismantled but fairly soon afterwards we find that the island has been reused for a different function. That all around us within and over the ruins of the medieval buildings, there are the houses and barns of a farming township which was occupied in the 16th Century.

[Translation from Gaelic] “It is no joy without Clan Donald. It is no strength to be without them. The best race in the round world to them belongs every goodly man. In the van of Clan Donald learning was commanded, and in the rear were service and honour and self-respect.”

Neil: The Lordship of the Isles was over. In the mid 16th Century, Donald MacGillespie became crown tenant of Finlaggan. It's perhaps his house gable which is still upstanding.

It's almost the end of our walk. Walk up to the biggest ruin on the island – ‘Point 8’.

Point 8: The chapel

 

The chapel Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team The chapel is the building of which most remains, probably because its use outlasted all the others. Built originally in honour of St Finlaggan, there would have been a graveyard once on the side closest to the water. There, history has it, the daughters and wives of the lordship were buried while the lords themselves were buried on Iona. Now the grave slabs sit inside the chapel protected from the elements.

Donald: A number of years ago, in the year 2000 I think it was, we got permission from Scotland to clear the stones from inside the chapel, and they’re lying outside the chapel in big piles, and as the stones were cleared, we discovered this pile of stones on the east end and that turned out to be the altar for the chapel, and there’s still bits of it remains there today. And to the right hand side of the altar, there was a little cupboard in the wall, and that was where they would keep the sacraments. The stones were then put in place on plinths in the middle of the chapel. There’s eight stones there, mainly children’s grave slabs, and the women were buried here, and a very fine stone supposed to be MacGillespie’s gravestone.

David: One of the curious things that we found in our excavations was a coin incorporated in the mortar in the chapel, and it's clearly either a half groat of David II or Robert II, so therefore it dates to the late 14th Century. And it's quite remarkable dating evidence because the traditional MacDonald histories say that John the first Lord of the Isles built this chapel, and there we have evidence from his time to back that statement up.

Neil: The evidence shows that the lords were definitely here. But one part of the lordship has not yet been properly defined. The lords were inaugurated in a ceremony that took place somewhere, probably in Finlaggan. We only have a 17th Century report of what would have happened centuries before.

“He was clothed in a white habit to show his innocence and integrity of heart that he would be alike to his people and maintain the true religion. Then he was to receive a white rod in his hand intimating that he had power to rule, not with tyranny and partiality but with discretion and sincerity. Then he received his forefather’s sword signifying that his duty was to protect them from the incursions of their enemies in peace as in war.”

Where might that place be?

 

David: We know from early sources that there was a stone with a footprint in it. And where was that? Where was that positioned? And I would put my money on it being positioned on the mound over there on the edge of the Loch opposite the main island. It's such a prominent landmark. There may have been an understanding in the medieval period that in some way it was the home of the ancestors, the graves of the ancestors, and nearby there’s the standing stone you can see up in front of Finlaggan farm there. And we also know there were other standing stones around about. And in front of the mound, between the mound and the edge of the Loch, a beautiful flat space, a sort of space where one could gather a large crowd to witness this important ceremony.

John: I think that’s a valid theory. I'm not entirely convinced by it myself. If I was forced to put my money on any area in particular it’d have to be somewhere near the chapel.

Donald: Yes, I think and I firmly believe that the footprint stone and the inauguration ceremony took place between the chapel and the burial ground. To support that theory, I believe the late Captain Donald who found the stone just below the burial mound here, and it was on the edge of the Loch there where the stone was found, therefore it follows to reason that the stone and the inauguration ceremony would have taken place between the chapel and the burial ground.

Neil: Have a look around yourself. The stone that Donald thinks is the footprint stone is lying in the chapel. Imagine the ceremony. Where would you have it? Then have a look around the grave slabs, see the seafaring galleys and images of men in warfare. They’d have no invocations to God or images of Christ. These graveyards are a celebration of a warrior society.

So there we must leave Finlaggan, in the same way the lords have been and gone. It feels so distant and remote now, both from our present and our modern world, but there was a time when this wasn’t the edge of the world but the centre.

This audio walk was made in collaboration with the Open University.

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