Clyde to Colonsay

The Crofter and the Laird

Colonsay and Oronsay.

            "Now lightly poised, the rising oar
                  Disperses wide the foaming spray,
            And, echoing far o'er Crinan's shore,
                  Resounds the song of Colonsay."

It was one of the last days of July, 1872. We had been steaming slowly all day in the steam-ship which, starting from Glasgow, makes its weekly circuit among the smaller islands of the Eastern Hebrides. Passing the rock and castle of Dumbarton and the rock of Ailsa, around the Mull of Cantyre, in sight of Jura and Islay, we were at midnight off the island of Colonsay. The night was dark, and as we approached the island from the steamer in a row-boat, only the dim outlines of the rock-bound coast could be seen. But lights were flitting on and around the small stone pier, and cheery voices of friends, who had been watching and waiting for hours, welcomed our arrival. The greetings were cordial, for I was accompanying, on his return home from the Highland fair, Commander Stewart, late of the Royal Navy, the son-in-law of the good old laird of the island, Sir John M'Niel. But it was at once evident that something more than the rude and hearty hospitality of former days awaited us, for we were transferred to a well-appointed private coach, and driven rapidly to the home of the laird, in the centre of the island.

As we were driving along, now climbing slight hills, and now winding through dark ravines, we could hear occasionally the sound of Highland voices, and realized, though in a small degree, the weird feeling of the traveler in other and former times. For the Gael is still here, cherishing and practicing, though in a modified form, some of the customs and habits of his fathers. The respect for and obedience to the chief remain, though not absolute, as in ancient times. The manse and the kirk are as of old, and the minister preaches in the Gaelic tongue, which is still the common language of the people. But modern civilization has here found a home, and great changes for the better have come to the children of those whose principal delight was to engage in the chase and in war, and who acknowledged no law save the command of the chief. The wild and charming scenery remains as of yore. The waves of the stormy Atlantic surge and roar around its high and rocky shore. The voyager onthe sea may still gaze with interest, as in the days of Bruce, when

            "Merrily, merrily, goes the bark
                  On a breeze from the northward free;
            So shoots through the morning sky the lark,
                  Or the swan through the summer sea.
            The shores of Mull on the eastward lay,
            And Ulva dark, and Colonsay;
            And all the group of islets gay
                  That guard famed Staffa round."


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