Resting places

The archaeologists say:

Archaeological Notes
NM60NW 4 6394 0964.

(NM 6394 0964) Grave (NR) 
OS 6″ map (1900)

Eithnie’s Grave. This small circular enclosure, identified in 19th-century local tradition as the burial-place of St Columba’s mother, (Bryce and Knight 1933; Muir 1861; Ordnance Survey Name Book) is situated 130m SW of the inner enclosure (RCAHMS 1985, A on plan), at an elevation of about 35m OD. It is placed at the edge of a scarp from which the hillside slopes steeply to SSE and ENE, and although visible from the inner enclosure, it is most conspicuous from the boat-landing and approach. It comprises a kerb of flattish slabs, about 0.8m in average thickness, enclosing a roughly circular area about 3.2m in diameter. Investigation of the kerb by the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments in 1972 showed that the structure lies on sloping bedrock, being built up on the SE or downhill side to a height of about 1m, whereas to the N and W it is almost level with the ground-surface. (information from Mr S H Cruden) The soil within the kerb, which was not excavated in 1972, was presumably imported to allow burials. At the NE edge of the enclosure are two upright slabs, side by side and 0.35m apart. That to the SE is incised with a cross on the SW face (infra, number 1), and facing it at a distance of 2.6m is a third upright slab, of slate.
Reports of the discovery of female remains in this area are extremely vague (Bryce and Knight 1933) and it is not known whether the enclosure contained more than one grave. It appears to belong to a class of ‘specially marked graves’, which are found in Western Britain and Ireland in the Iron Age and Early Christian period.(the plan of Eithne’s Grave in Thomas 1971 is incorrect in suggesting the survival of four upright slabs, and in showing the position of a grave)
Funerary Monument)
Roughly rectangular slab with rounded top, of local flaggy sandstone. It measures 0.71m in visible height by 0.40m in width. On the SW face is incised an equal-armed cross whose arms terminate in small circular expansions. The line of the lower arm is continued for 40mm below the terminal by a less deeply-cut groove. 
Visited May 1981


Grave of Eithne, on Eileach An Naoimh, Garvellach Islands, Argyll, Scotland © John MacPherson

But on the day I visited the island of Eileach An Naoimh, and stood by Eithnie’s grave, there was more to see than just words (however important those words are).

The sun splintered through broken summer cloud, one day after an Atlantic front had thundered over the coast, tearing boats from moorings, but clearing the air.

Now the islands of Lunga, Scarba, Jura and Islay, were visible in a long swathe from the north-east to south-west. Past Islay the horizon meandered on towards Mull in the west. To the north beyond Easdale and Kerrera, Lismore marked the entry to Loch Linnhe, and thence to Fort William where I was born. Islands islands islands islands all around. And I stood on one of a series of several islands collectively called The Garvellachs.

Overhead a few gulls slid past, going to somewhere gullish, but there was no sound. None. Only that particular no-sound that the ocean makes. A long slow exhalation.

Standing here, on a day like this, with my senses filled with sea, any doubts about whether this might be the last resting place of Eithnie were easily dispelled.

This felt like a place fit for a saint’s mother.

Do we need any more proof?

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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