Boreraig – Cleared Township on the Isle of Skye 🌊

🗓️ This week is Gaelic week! As part of that I recently saw a post with two stories from Boreraig, so I thought in addition to linking it I’d also share some more of the history and my own photos from when I visited it myself all the way back in 2016.

🗃️ From Canmore:

“Boreraig and Suisinish Clearance villages on Loch Eishort’s northern shore, with rich evidence of settlement and land use spanning centuries. Boreraig is particularly haunting, surviving almost as it was when cleared in 1852…

…NG 619 164 Boreraig: cleared by Lord MacDonald in 1852, (Nicolson 1930) – still partly occupied in 1901, (OS 6″map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., 1903) but totally deserted by 1954-5 (OS 1″map, 7th series)

A Nicolson 1930.”

From the Canmore Website search results for Boreraig

ℹ️ The Highland Clearances took place from the late 1700s into the mid-1800s and beyond, when thousands of Highlanders were forced off of their ancestral lands by the landowners, many of whom were former clan chiefs, to be replaced by more profitable sheep. In the case of Boreraig we can see from the quotes above that it was Lord MacDonald, Chief of the MacDonalds of Sleat who was in involved.

🪦 The above photo shows Cill Chriosd (Kilchrist), the Church that’s often the starting point for the walk to Boreraig. One of the flimsy excuses given for clearing the township was that they were too far from the church and so it was being done for benevolent piety. However, having a bit of a trek to get to church – including for funerals and having to carry a coffin all the way – was not uncommon in the countryside at the time. Also, Lord MacDonald had gotten himself into debt and needed the money.

💬 Here’s the first of the stories from aforementioned post I saw shared by Coast (English follows Scottish Gaelic):

“Chan eil Heasta ach 3 mile air falbh bho Boreraig. Bha torr dhe na daoine a bha a’ fuireach ann an Heasta, thainig iad a Boreraig agus thainig mo shin-sheanair a Boreraig. Theich iad a Boreraig mus do chuir iad tene ris a bhaile. Bha teaghlach a’ fuireach ann am Boreraig ris an canadh iad na Kellys. Bha e a’ cur an iognadh orm co as a thainig na Kellys. Thug na Kellys cuideachadh do na Jacobites aig Cul Lodair. Tha an teaghlach ann an Heasta chun an latha an-diugh. Bha boireanach Kelly ann am Boreraig nuair a thainig na maor trath ‘s a mhadainn. Chunnaic i iad is dh’aithnich i gun robh an bairligeadh gu bhith ann. Thainig iad dhan dorus aice is dh’iarr iad oirre bobhla de dh’uisge fuar a thoirt dhaibh. Thug i a-mach le bobhla falbh ach bha cuman aice ri taobh an dorais. Chuir i am bobhla anns a chuman ach thuirt iad rithe “Cha dean sin an gnothach idir. Bha an t-uisge anns a chuman ann fad na h-oidhche is theirig dhan tobar. Dh’fhalbh i dhan tobar, is nuair a bha i leathach rathad a’ tilleadh air ais bhon tobar, chunnaic i an ceo agus bha sin an taigh aice na theine. Dh’fhag i creadhal a-staigh nuair a dh’fhalbh i agus càraid ann (twins), agus ‘s e dithis ghillean a bh’anns a chàraid. Ach thug iad an creadhal a-mach mus do chuir iad teine air an taigh. ‘S e Kellys a bh’innte-sa. A chàraid a bha sin, iad fhein is a mathair, theich iad a Heasta. Dh’fhas iad suas ann a Heasta agus dh’fhuirich fear aca agus phos e te ann a Heasta. Chaidh am fear eile dhan Druim Fheàrna agus phos e boireanach as an Druim Fheàrna agus bha e an sin gus an do chaochail e.

Above in Gaelic is a story from the time when the village of Boreraig was forcibly cleared in 1853 to make way for sheep. The Kellys were a family living in Boreraig. The Kelly woman, a mother of twins, spotted the eviction agents/factors arriving at the shore early in the morning. They knocked on her door and asked for a bowl of cold water. She returned with an empty bowl and went to fill it from the wooden pail outside but before she did, she was ordered to go and collect fresh water from the well. When she was half way home she saw the flames of her house on fire. She had left her twin boys in a cradle inside, but they had taken the cradle out of the house. The family relocated to Heaste, as did some of the families from Boreraig.”

From the Coast website & originally spotted on Facebook – click/tap through to the Coast website to read the other shorter story, just in English this time, under the longer one.

📖 Additionally, you can read more about the Boreraig clearances on Electric Scotland:

“…The only plea made at the time for evicting them was that of over-population. Ten families received the usual summonses, and passages were secured for them in the Hercules, an unfortunate ship which sailed with a cargo of passengers under the auspices of a body calling itself “The Highland and Island Emigration Society.” A deadly fever broke out among the passengers, the ship was detained at Cork in consequence, and a large number of the passengers died of the epidemic. After the sad fate of so many of those previously cleared out, in the ill-fated ship, it was generally thought that some compassion would be shown for those who had been still permitted to remain. Not so, however. On the 4th of April, 1853, they were all warned out of their holdings. They petitioned and pleaded with his lordship to no purpose. They were ordered to remove their cattle from the pasture, and themselves from their houses and lands. They again petitioned his lordship for his merciful consideration. For a time no reply was forthcoming. Subsequently, however, they were informed that they would get land on another part of the estate—portions of a barren moor, quite unfit for cultivation.

In the middle of September following, Lord Macdonald’s ground officer, with a body of constables, arrived, and at once proceeded to eject in the most heartless manner the whole population, numbering thirty-two families, and that at a period when the able-bodied male members of the families were away from home trying to earn something by which to pay their rents, and help to carry their families through the coming winter…”

From the version of The History of the Highland Clearances uploaded by Electric Scotland

🎧 The above extract mentioned the voyage of the Hercules – if you want to know more about that, I highly recommend listening to the Stories of Scotland podcast episode on it here or wherever you get your podcasts. They have an excellent episode on the later “Battle of the Braes” too which also took plant on Skye with the involvement of Lord MacDonald. Celebrated Scottish Gaelic bard Màiri Mhòr nan Òran composed a song about this “battle”.

⬆️ While exploring the remains of Boreraig, I happened to look up when entering the house pictured in the Featured Photo at the top of this post, and noticed these wee bits of shell embedded into the underside of the lintel stone. Since doors are liminal places I wondered if they had been either deliberately pushed in, or even if they’re naturally occurring fossilised shells that particular stone may have been used because of that. However, so far I unfortunately still haven’t been able to find any reliable folklore/folk tradition sources that talk about this – I will definitely post about it if I do in future. In the meantime, here’s an ominous wee bit of lore regarding whelk shells I came across while looking:

“Empty whelk shells (faochagun failmhe) should not be allowed to remain in the house for the night. Something is sure to come after them.”

From the book The Gaelic Otherworld by John Gregorson Campbell, edited by Ronald Black

🥾 Lastly, for the walking route my husband & I took to Boreraig, plus some more great photos taken at a different time of year and before it was quite so overgrown, have a look at IsleofSkye.com. We went at the end of September so not too cold, but as you’d expect very changeable weather! It had just stopped raining when we set out and unlike more famous sites in Skye there was no-one else around, which made for quite an eerily atmospheric walk. If you go wear appropriate footwear and waterproofs – the path gets narrow and slopes in places as a proper road/path was never completed while the township was still occupied. The walk itself isn’t too difficult though so don’t be put off by that ☺️

📸 Featured Photo credit & all other photos: taken by myself on a – far too short – visit to the stunning Isle of Skye in 2016. Hopefully the remains of Boreraig are still accessible and visible through all the vegetation etc now.

🌱Happy St Bride’s Day/Là Fhèill Brìghde or Imbolc/Imbolg to those celebrating 🔥

💧Have a watch/listen to a story about St Brìde in Scottish Gaelic or English from the wonderful, new Map of Stories website:

📰 More folklore & folk customs can be found in this great article from the West Highland Free Press.

🐍 Also, for people interested in our native adders, some seasonal folklore associated with them may be of interest – read here. You also might want to have a look at last year’s Là Fhèill Brìghde post.

✨Lastly, some brilliant thoughts on Brìde/Brigid that are well worth the read so I’m re-sharing this year from Monumental Ireland’s FB page. It’s fantastic that in Ireland, as of this year, St Brigid’s Day has been made a Bank Holiday with the aim of celebrating women there 🥳

📸 Featured Photo Credit: Pexel

🥂Happy New Year! Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! Guid New Year & lang may yer lum reek 🔥

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 My highlight of 2022: finally managed a – far too short – trip back to Scotland to see family & friends after almost 3 years (due to the pandemic)! Hope everyone has had a great festive season & new year too! Here are some wee seasonal links that may be of interest ⬇️

📖 You can read all about Scottish, particularly Scots, Hogmanay & New Year traditions on the Scots Language Centre Website.

🎧 If you missed it, have a listen to the most recent Stories of Scotland podcast episode for some haunting Hogmanay stories here or wherever you get your podcasts.

🐍 If you want to read even more, you might like to have a look at some previous blog posts on both Gaelic & Scots seasonal traditions:

📸 Featured Photo Credit: Pexel

🎅🏻Merry Christmas🎄Nollaig Chridheil ⭐️Blythe Yule to all celebrating!

Hope everyone had a great day ☺️

🎧 Anyone who likes a chilling Christmas ghost story should have a listen to the latest Christmas Special of the Uncanny podcast – in it we’ve got someone from Scotland telling us about his experiences that centre around Christmas time – listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

(⚠️The above mentioned Uncanny is a brilliant podcast in general, though for this particular episode I would flag one thing – Evelyn, who to be fair isn’t a folklore expert, unfortunately mashes together genuine traditional Scottish folklore/practices such as ”charring the old wife” & “the Cailleach” with imported modern Neopagan concepts such as ”the triple goddess/maiden-mother-crone” & “pagan sabbats” which have nothing to do with native Scottish traditions…This is obviously disappointing not only in terms of misinformation, but also in terms of horror/potential folkloric explanations for what happened – if you look beyond the imported “the Cailleach is the winter crone aspect of the triple goddess” & go into the traditional Gaelic lore, you’ll find various entities with the Cailleach titles that can be quite scary, dangerous & even deadly. This, imo, would make much more sense than any goddess in the scenario presented as well as avoiding misrepresentation of Gaelic culture 💭)

🏷️ Have a look at the “The Cailleach” topic tag for more info, folklore & resources regarding these Scottish Gaelic entities.

📚 There was also brief mention of the Scottish Witch Trials, so if you want to learn more about those you can look at the topic tag & resources section.

🔍 Lastly, you might want to search for previous posts on Christmas customs, folklore etc 🐍

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Flora MacNeil & Challenging Themes in Traditional Scottish Gaelic Songs🩸

🎶📺 There’s a fab documentary about Scottish Gaelic singer & tradition bearer Flora MacNeil (1928-2015) available to watch on YouTube. It features information about her life, her contribution to the survival of traditional Gaelic songs, her building of ties with Ireland & Brittany, & of course you can hear her singing too 🎙️⬇️

🩸An interesting challenge in performing & preserving some of the traditional songs was raised in the documentary – at one point some were worried that they may be too grizzly for modern, non-Gaelic audiences & even give the “wrong impression” of Gaels. In particular this worry was surrounding old songs mentioning the drinking of the blood of slain male relatives or spouses/lovers by female protagonists in their extreme grief & devotion. This behaviour is occasionally associated with male characters but is usually associated with mourning women.

⬇️ I’ve put a couple of online examples (I sadly couldn’t find any of Flora herself singing these ones) below so please read on for those…

“Cumha Ni Mhic Raonuill” (sometimes “Caoineadh Nic Raghnaill”) – a song about the Keppoch murders (associated with the infamous Well of the Seven Heads monument) thought to be composed by a grieving sister contains the verse:

“No fume, smoke or haze pouring out,
Your chamber’s door I opened –
Your blood spilled over my shoes!
I barely refrained from drinking my fill.”

You can read more on Women’s Poetry & listen to a version in Gaelic on Tobar an Dualchais. (More information on the Well of the Seven Heads can be found on Canmore)

Another example mentioned in the documentary is “A Mhic Dhùghaill ‘ic Ruairidh” – a song in which a woman laments the murder of her lover & curses those involved, containing the lines:

“And your blood on your lovely chest, pouring through your shirt
Although I drank, my love, some of it, it did not heal your wounds”

Listen to a version in Gaelic again on the indispensable Tobar an Dualchais.

You can also listen to & read the lyrics in both Gaelic & English by a modern Scottish artist Julie Fowlis on this lyrics site.

💭 I think a lot of old ballads, stories etc can be quite grim in many cultures & can tell us a lot about people’s attitudes at the time. I’m glad traditional Gaelic singers like Flora MacNeil, & current Gaelic singers like Julie Fowlis, didn’t/don’t shy away from difficult themes so these songs haven’t been lost.

🐍 If you found all this interesting, you may also like to read a previous post on the Scottish Gaelic lament Griogal Cridhe here. In some surviving versions of this old song the singer also makes reference to blood drinking, saying she would have if she could.

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🔥 Oidhche Shamhna Shona Dhuibh & Happy Hallaeen/Halloween if you’re celebrating ☺️!!

👻 This is one of my absolute favourite times of the year, filled with great memories! If you’re the same then you might be interested in reading some wee facts about Halloween if you haven’t already here ⬅️

🎧 Additionally, if you enjoy a good chilling story – & some comedy too – you might want to have a listen to these Irish stories as they contain many similar elements to Scottish Gaelic stories. The first story in particular has elements of how to protect your household from any dangerous Otherworldly denizens that will be very familiar to anyone aware of Scottish lore – for example carefully smooring the fire & making sure any dirty water used for washing etc was thrown outside before bed. Another fascinating thing is that linguistically this story is thought to be over 1000 years old! Hopefully that’s got you interested – listen on the Story Archaeology website or wherever you usually listen to podcasts 🎙

💧 Then if you fancy more listening Tobar an Dualchais has some brilliant vintage recordings to listen to, such as this one about using an egg for traditional seasonal divination in Shetland & this one about Halloween traditions such as guising in South Uist👂🏻

🍬 P.S. If you get any guisers coming to your door I hope you get them doing their party pieces/turns, none of this “trick-or-treat” only lol! There are some brilliant vintage photos of some South Uist costumes in 1932, that may be similar to what the boys wore in the above mentioned recording, on The National Trust FB page 📷

📸 Featured photo credit: Pexel

Mare Stanes (Hag Stones) – Keeping the Nightmare at Bay 🌌

Small stones with one or more naturally occurring holes in them, usually found near water, are commonly known as “hag stones” in much of the English speaking world. In this article I’m going to explore what I’ve found in terms of names for them in Scotland and their use as a defense against nightmares in particular. From what I’ve seen floating about on social media etc, there seems to be a wee bit of confusion about this so hopefully this article will be helpful for anyone interested in the topic – it was certainly interesting for me to try to pin down sources etc for certain claims I’d seen made!

The lovely examples shown in the Featured Photo above were taken by and used with kind permission from the fabulous artist Jane Brideson. As always I’ll be listing and linking my own sources at the end along with links to Jane’s work for anyone interested.

What is a nightmare? 💭

Before getting into it, I think it’s a good idea to define “nightmare” in the historical and Germanic-influenced cultural context in which these charms were commonly used. Though nowadays it just means bad dream or even bad situation, in the past it used to be a wee bit different. Historically, a nightmare is often described in a very similar way to what we would now call sleep paralysis – nighttime attacks by some kind of evil entity that sits on the sleeper’s chest, preventing them from moving and filling them with terror, often leaving them feeling drained after the attack.

In areas of Scotland with Germanic linguistic and therefore cultural influence – the Lowlands where Scots Language was born, and of course places like Shetland and Orkney by way of old Norse culture – this evil entity was known as the Mare or Mair, sometimes later Mara. The Mare seems to have been thought to be female, usually appearing in the form of an old hag or otherwise scary-looking female figure. Although there are some stories involving her shapeshifting/appearing as animals, including a female horse, I personally couldn’t find anything to back up the claim I’ve seen by some modern practitioners that she was generally seen as being an evil horse entity. Plus, given that in addition to attacking people in their sleep the Mare was infamous for letting horses out of their stables and riding them around all night, exhausting them – much easier to do in human-like form than horse form lol! The confusion may come from the fact that “mare” meaning female horse and “mare” in nightmare are spelled and pronounced the same in modern English. However, they have different etymologies – the origin of “mare” in the English nightmare or the Scots Mare is widely thought to have come from a word meaning crushing or pressing, not female horses.

Hag Stones in Scotland – Mare Stanes 💧

On to the name of these stones. In Scotland, “hag stones” are traditionally known as “mare stanes” in Scots due to their association with being able to keep away the above mentioned Mare. They were also sometimes known as “adder stanes”, but this usually applied to either more colorful natural glass, or man-made items such as rediscovered Neolithic spindle whorls or colourful beads. I’ve sometimes seen people post pictures of mare stanes saying that they were known as “Druid beads” or “Druid stones” etc but this doesn’t seem to have been the case, at least certainly not in Scots. In Scottish Gaelic they had Druidical beads (gloine nan draoidh) and adder/serpent stones/beads (clach nathrach/glaine nathair), but again these historically referred to more colourful and/or man-made stones or beads with holes in them. To be fair, I have to note that modern online Scottish Gaelic dictionaries such as Learn Gaelic do sometimes lump everything together when translating into English, which does make things more difficult to tell apart. In some old sources these terms are hyphenated as “hag-stone” and “mare-stane”.

Mare Stane Charms (and human teeth)! 🦷

The most common way to use mare stanes to either protect people and horses from the Mare was to hang a stone on or above the sleeper’s bed, or in the stable where the troubled horse was kept overnight. There are stories of people who used these stones always taking them with them when they stayed the night somewhere else, not liking to be without them. Some sources also state that this practice was particularly popular in fishing communities. Additionally, this type of folk magic – not witchcraft – with mare stanes was used by some to protect against witchcraft in general as well as nightmares in the old sense of the word. Then into the 1800s you see people using them against “bad dreams” in general rather than specifically attacks by the Mare.

A particularly interesting mention of a mare stane charm I came across while researching was in “Scottish Charms and Amulets”:

One of the stones has two human teeth inserted and fixed in the natural holes in the stone. It was known to have been seventy years in one house, and was given to Mr A—, of Marykirk, by an old lady. She had used it to ward off bad dreams.
pg458 (see links at end)

I’ve never seen the use of teeth mentioned anywhere so I have quite a few questions, and would especially like to know whose teeth were used. If anyone reading has any further information or sources on this I would love to see them! I have to admit the image in my head of 2 teeth shoved in the holes in the stone gives me trypophobic heebie-jeebies just a wee bit lol! (There’s no picture provided in the source)

The last thing I wanted to look into – again something I’d seen done on social media – was the potential combination of mare stane charms, horse hair and spoken charms against nightmares in Scotland. Early Modern English text “The Discoverie of Witches” (1584) mentions both a charm calling on St George to protect the sleeper from nightmares, and the hanging of a stone over their bed in the same section where the sceptical author proposes that there’s no supernatural cause at play here, so these charms are useless or even fraudulent. (It is in fact the purpose of the book to argue that witchcraft, folk magic etc don’t actually exist). This book was cited as the source for using the spoken charm and the stone together in one modern example I’ve seen, however even in the source it’s not entirely clear whether that’s the case or if these are just 2 different methods people used.

Moreover, the Scottish versions of the spoken charm – usually involving either Arthur, potentially King Arthur, or an unnamed “man of might” – don’t mention the use of any stone, and any hair used is human, usually from the charmer. The Scots versions I came across most commonly came from Shetland and are in the local dialect. I’ll put some of the versions I’ve talked about below as even if they aren’t necessarily related to using mare stanes, at least not directly, they’re still interesting to read:

De man o' meicht 
He rod a' neicht,
We nedder swird
Nor faerd nor leicht.
He socht da mare,
He fand da mare,
He band da mare
Wi'his ain hair,
An' made her swear
By midder's meicht,
Dat sho wad never bide a neicht Whar he had rod, dat man o'meicht.
from Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands, pg145 (See links at end)
Arthur Knight
He rade a' night,
Wi' open swird
An' candle light.
He sought da mare;
He fan' da mare;
He bund da mare
Wi' her ain hair.
And made da mare
Ta swear:
'At she should never
Bide a' night
Whar ever she heard
O' Arthur Knight.
from Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands, pg145 (See links at end)

Mare stanes and their equivalents in other languages/cultures have other uses such as protection against witchcraft as mentioned, as well as healing, ensuring safe births and so on. I felt these uses were better known so I haven’t gone into detail about them here. I hope details I did give about them being charms against the Mare were of interest though and that there being no apparent Druid etc connection wasn’t too disappointing!

📚 Source and Further Reading/Listening/Watching list:

🎨 Have a look at Jane Brideson’s art on The Ever-Living Ones, on Facebook here & here, & on Instagram

📸 Featured Photo Credit: Jane Brideson – used with kind permission ☺️

Corn Dollies at Lammas & Lughnasadh/Lùnastal – “The Clyack” & “The Cailleach” 🌾

🌾Just a wee post to highlight a couple of contrasting beliefs about seasonal corn dolls (actually made of wheat or similar grain plants) in Scotland. I feel it’s interesting & is a good example of how there wasn’t, & isn’t, a singular pan-Scottish culture – cultural & linguistic influences vary by area 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

📖 I’ll start with “The Clyack” as at least in my personal experience she is less well known nowadays. The Dictionaries of the Scots Language is a wonderful resource for both language & culture – which should be no surprise given how closely they’re interlinked – so here’s an extract from an entry on making a “Clyack”, an old custom for Scots speakers at this time of year:

“…“The last sheaf of corn to be cut at the harvest” (e.Rs.1 1929; Mry.1 1912), gen. cut by the youngest person on the farm. It was dressed to represent a maiden, or decorated with ribbons and carried home in triumph. At “Aul' Eel Even” it was given to the oldest (or sometimes to the best) animal on the farm, or to a mare in foal. Usually in phr. to tak, get (Abd. 1863 G. Macdonald D. Elginbrod xi.) or hae clyack. In the south of Scot. this is called the kirn (see Kirn, n.2, 2), elsewhere the Maiden. Sometimes used attrib. with sheaf…”

To read the full entry plus examples of use in extracts from old books newspapers etc see the DSL website ⬅️

❄️ In Scottish Gaelic culture however this last sheaf wasn’t considered in such a positive light. It was referred to as a “Cailleach” (hag, the spirit of the harvest) & having to look after her all winter was undesirable as it was thought to be a bad sign. Folklorist John Gregorson Campbell asserted that no-one wanted to have to take in & feed this “Cailleach” over winter. I suppose a surprise extra mouth to feed, even symbolically, over the harshest time of year wasn’t a welcome thought. He also states that this harvest hag spirit is the same as the one being taunted in the New Year rhyme chanted by groups of boys as the went round the houses – there appear to be 3 Cailleachan mentioned in that rhyme, so I’m guessing it’s the one with sharp sticks in her eyes & stomach. You can read the rhyme & translation here in this article I wrote earlier this year, along with more info on Campbell’s indispensable writings on Scottish Gaelic culture, now put together in one book: The Gaelic Otherworld 📜

🔥 You can read more about Scottish Gaelic Lùnastal customs & see photos etc online at The Cailleach’s Herbarium – have a look at their great article on wheat weaving in general too ⬅️

🐍 Additionally you might want to have a look at the Language & Folklore, Folk Customs & Folk Magic sections of the Resource Pages, &/or related topic tags that can be found either the the bottom or on the right-hand side of any page depending on your device 🏷

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🔥Happy Lùnastal &/or Lammas to those celebrating 🌾

🗓 1st August is the modern fixed date of the Scottish Gaelic fire festival of Lùnastal/Lughnasadh & the Scots festival of Lammas, associated with the first harvests of the year (though the actual harvesting often happened later depending on local climate) 🌾

📰 Here’s a nice wee article by Raghnall MacilleDhuibh on some songs & folk traditions associated with this old Gaelic fire festival such as divination, saining & visiting holy wells in the hope of healing both physical & mental health issues – well worth a read ⬅️ Like any fire festival it’s a time when supernatural forces were/are thought to be more active than usual, so things like saining for protection are a feature 🌫

💧If you’re planning on visiting any wells yourself, have a look at this helpful guide before you go from the Woven Land Network 🌱

🎧 You can also listen to some 1st August events that happened in Barra in Scottish Gaelic & read an English summary on Tobar an Dualchais 🐴

🔥 It’s interesting to note that large fires traditionally lit at this time of year later came to be known as ‘Baal Fires’. Why ‘Baal-Fire’? As the DSL puts it: “Bale and bale-fire are mod. revivals of the 19th cent. The spelling baal is due to a fanciful connection with the pagan god, Baal.” – people have also tried to make this connection with the Phoenician God Baal & Bealltainn, but it’s just as fanciful & isn’t backed by any evidence 📖

🐍 Lastly, for anyone that missed it – a recent article on St Enoch mentioning a sadly now lost healing well in what’s now the centre of Glasgow can be read here

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

St Thenue or Enoch, mother of the patron Saint of Glasgow – conversion, miraculous survival, witchcraft accusations & a healing well 🐟

🗓 Today, 18th July, is the Feast Day of St Thenue (spelled various different ways) or St Enoch. She was mother of the much more well known St Kentigern or Mungo, the patron Saint of Glasgow. For this day I thought I’d write a wee bit about her story & places dedicated to her, especially since many who regularly pass through places like St Enoch Square in Glasgow aren’t aware of the legends behind the name.

⚠️ Trigger Warning for sexual violence in story below ⬇️ Given these events are said to have taken place in the 6th century some details vary from source to source, so I’ve tried to make a basic summary based on the versions I’ve read & I’ll link them all at the end:

Thenue is thought to have been a 6th Century Brittonic princess, daughter of the King of the Goddodin in what’s now East Lothian, who converted to Christianity. After converting, she went against her father’s wishes by refusing to marry the son of the King of North Rheged (now Galloway) because he hadn’t converted & was still following the native pre-Christian religion, as was her father & most of those around her.

Thenue is then thought to have been exiled by her angry father to live as a poor animal herder, where she was later found & raped by the man she had refused to marry. She tried to keep the resulting pregnancy a secret but her father somehow found out, blamed her for the attack, & tried to have her executed by having her thrown from Traprain Law.

Miraculously she & her unborn child survived, making her father think she was some kind of witch. Even pre-Christian belief systems had a concept of “witch” being someone who used magic for selfish, evil ends to harm their community. (The Romans are another infamous example of a pre-Christian society that used to burn “witches” before the Christian Satanic ideas came into being). Despite Thenue obviously having done nothing wrong her father was convinced she was trying to bring shame upon her family & people, even refusing to be put to death, which in his mind would have been the “right” thing to do. Therefore it was decided that she should be set adrift in a coracle up the River Forth to eventually die at sea. However she was rescued by St Serf at Culross & survived, with some stories telling of her coracle being guided by a shoal of fish against the current in order for this to happen.

It was at Culross that Thenue gave birth to Kentigern, who she nicknamed Mungo, meaning “dear one”. When Mungo grew up he travelled around various places in Scotland, preaching & converting people, before ending up in Glasgow where he became a Bishop. Both he & Thenue are thought to have died in Glasgow, with Thenue’s grave thought to be near or even possibly under the present day St Enoch Shopping Centre.

As said at the beginning of this story, the purported events happened so long ago that there are many slightly different versions, none of which we can verify with any certainty. The people involved do seem to have existed at least. The events also fit in with the general early history of Christianity in Scotland – it was spread slowly by individual or small groups of monks, not by force, with people choosing to convert at various times for various reasons. It’s also known that, while not as misogynistic as Greek & Roman societies, pre-Christian “Celtic” societies weren’t exactly bastions of equality either sadly.

💧 St Enoch Shopping Centre, St Enoch Square & St Enoch subway station are well-known modern places in Glasgow city centre. The reason for them being named as such was mentioned above – Thenue’s grave is thought to have been in the vicinity. There are records from the 15th century indicating that there was a chapel housing her bones in the middle of a burial ground, later replaced on maps by a church in the 19th century, before that in turn was replaced by St Enoch Square as we know it today. There was also a street recorded as St Thenue’s Gait, now replaced by Argyll Street & the Trongate, & a St Tenue’s Well which has also sadly been lost. Records show some interesting traditions that were associated with this healing well when it was still in use:

“It was shaded by an old tree which drooped over the well, and which remained till the end of the last century. On this tree the devotees who frequented the well were accustomed to nail, as thank-offerings, small bits of tin-iron probably manufactured for that purpose by a craftsman in the neighbourhood representing the parts of the body supposed to have been cured by the virtues of the sacred spring such as eyes, hands, feet, ears, and others a practice still common in Roman Catholic countries.”

From Saints in Scottish Place Names – see links at end to read full info available

🎨 There are also 2 beautiful murals in Glasgow depicting St Thenue. One is on the corner of High Street & George Street, depicted by street artist Sam Bates as a modern woman with her baby. A wee robin perches on her arm in reference to St Mungo’s first miracle, said to have been bringing his pet robin back to life. The other mural was painted by Mark Worst for Thenue Housing association, just off London Road. This mural includes the fish that are said to have saved Thenue & also features 29 motifs on her shawl in memory of the Glasgow women who died in the 1889 Templeton’s factory disaster nearby. The Thenue Housing Association also has a mask of Thenue carved from stone from the now demolished St Enoch hotel in their office. See links at the end for photos & further details.

📜 According to Medieval Glasgow, St Enoch Shopping Centre unveiled a plaque in 2019 to display the various names Thenue has been known as over time. These are:

“Teneu
Thenew
Thaney
Thanea
Denw
Thenue”

The variations in spelling are due to these stories having originally been told orally, spreading across various areas with slightly different pronunciation etc before finally being written down. Hopefully this along with the murals will help to make more people aware of Thenue’s story – even if it was too long ago to establish exactly what the facts are, these stories have cultural value & tell us a lot about what people believed over time. In addition, modern historical fiction writer Nigel Tranter wrote a novel based on these events – I’ll link to a description below for anyone interested in reading a fleshed-out & well-researched imagining of Thenue’s life.

📚 Links & further Reading:

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel