Skip to content

Ireland and the Islay Connections (Part 3)

February 4, 2013

 Ireland, and the Islay connections (Part 3)

by Jon Magee

The 1st part of this theme can be found at:

http://extraordinaryireland.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/extraordinary-memories_4872.html?spref=fb

As I send this post for Rosemary’s blog I have just returned to Islay, the Scottish island in the Hebrides that I spoke of the last 2 times, the island with its Irish connections. For us, a nostalgic visit as it is the 30th year since we went to live there for five and a half years. It was dark as we arrived this week, the sun had set upon the day, but isn’t it wonderful how perusing the photographs will illuminate so much as we reflect on the past.

Throughout Islay can be found various Celtic Crosses, though not all complete and undamaged. The Kildalton Cross is an exception to that. Kildalton High Cross is the only surviving complete High Cross in Scotland. It was carved about Ad 800, probably by a sculptor from Iona, from the local blue stone. The biblical scenes on the front include the virgin and the child, and David and the lion while on the back are animals and carved bosses.

In contrast to that is the Kilchoman Cross which can be found next to the old Church of Kilchoman on the other side of the island. The cross is far from being in good condition, but nevertheless demonstrates how wide spread the crosses are on Islay.

So, how does this fit into the Irish scene? The earliest known reference to the Isle of Islay comes in Adomnan’s, Vita Columbae, a biography of the Irish Saint, Columba in about 720 AD. St Columba visited the Isle of Islay on his way north, prior to founding the famous monastery on the Isle of Iona, off the south-west tip of the Isle of Mull.   Adomnan, St Columba’s biographer, wrote Islay’s name as “Ilea”, describing Islay as an inhabited island, which was later transformed to Islay through anglicised spelling. In Gaelic the island’s name is spelt Ìle and pronounced EE-leh by native Gaelic speakers.

Following the establishment of the monastery on Iona, it is believed that the monks continued to keep a close connection with their Irish roots and would often take the journey south and west, stopping of on the isle of Islay. It was a natural resting spot before taking that final voyage across the sea. In Ireland, these same crosses will be evident also, with a long history that predates even the Christian presence.

The Irish Celtic Cross is a symbol that conjures up all the mystery of the Dark Ages. It is also a popular symbol of faith, whether the belief is pagan, christian or of any other religion. But perhaps it is most widely known as a powerful symbol of Irish heritage.   Catholics usually refer to this style of cross with a ring connecting the four sections – as the Irish Cross. To be as inclusive as possible, I’m going to refer to this style as the Irish Celtic Cross.

The history of the Irish Celtic Cross

It is not known exactly when the Celts first started erecting monumental stones. Nor is it clear exactly why they developed this habit. Certainly it was a relatively common practice long before Christianity arrived in Ireland, and Celtic historians suggest that the basic shape of these crosses may have been meant to represent trees, which they held in great reverence.

When Christian missionaries arrived in the 5th century they were keen not to upset the early pagan Celts. Cleverly, they merged Christian cross and Celtic cross designs, to make the new religion more readily acceptable and ‘familiar’.

According to a popular legend, St Patrick himself was responsible for the design when he combined a Christian cross symbol with the sun, one of the most important and ancient Celtic symbols of life.

As is the way of most legends, there is no evidence that this really happened. Rather the contrary. Archaeological discoveries suggest the design of the cross predates St Patrick’s arrival. But it was, nonetheless, Christian monks who were responsible for most of the crosses that remain standing.

Today, this ancient symbol seems to be everywhere in Ireland. Not just out in the countryside or in graveyards and cemeteries but in many logos and advertising formats, on t-shirts, souvenir coffee cups, jewellery and key-rings, and, in perhaps the most extreme way to broadcast your Irish genealogical heritage, in the form of Irish cross tattoos.

However, one thing is clear, since the arrival of Christianity it has been the monks that have taken the prominent role of establishing the Crosses wherever they went, perhaps even as they passed through Isay
————————————————————————- ————————
Now, as we close, here are the voices of the young people of Islay today.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLmD4vsnf50
“and its goodbye to care” is taken from this song

Westering home and a song in the air
Light in the eye and its good by to care
Laughter o love and a welcoming there
Isle of my heart my own land

Tell me a tale of the Orient gay
Tell me of riches that come from Cathay
Ah but it’s grand to be waken at day
And find oneself nearer to Islay

And it’s westering home with a song in the air
Light of me eye and it’s goodbye to care
Laughter and love are a welcoming there
Pride of my heart my own love

Where are the folks like the folks of the west
Canty and couthy and kindly, our best
There I would hie me and there I would rest
At home with my own folks in Islay

And it’s westering home with a song in the air
Light of me eye and it’s goodbye to care
Laughter and love are a welcoming there
Pride of my heart my own love

Now I’m at home and at home I do lay
Dreaming of riches that come from Cathay
I’ll hop a good ship and be on my way
And bring back my fortune to Islay

And it’s westering home with a song in the air
Light of me eye and it’s goodbye to care
Laughter and love are a welcoming there
Pride of my heart my own love
Now you have the lyrics, just sing along together to this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owBazotW

Jom Magee

Author of “From Barren Rocks to Living Stones” & “Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey” lochgellybaptist@aol.com

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

5 Comments
  1. Jon magee permalink

    Thank you for the opportunity to share with you all.

  2. Raani York permalink

    What a GREAT blog post Rosemary!! Thank you so much for sharing!!

  3. Jon magee permalink

    Thank you Raani for your appreciation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: