Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ireland and the Islay connections part 2


Extraordinary Dreams of an Ireland Traveler


Author Jon Magee


This wonderful post today comes from across the seas from Scotland's Author Jon Magee and dedicated to Sandra McLeod Humphrey. Jon wrote Part 1 about a month ago and Sandra loved it so much as she was very interested in Ireland/Scotland and had many times spoke of traveling with us in 2013 back to Ireland with a special tour we have been organizing.


Sandy, this is for YOU!!



Ireland, and the Islay connections (Part 2)

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



(Coast of Islay)


The last time I was invited here I spoke of my time on the Isle of Islay in the Hebrides of the West coast of Scotland, and of the connections that could be seen between Islay and Ireland, some 20 miles across the sea.. The stories I shared are only a small portion of how much could be spoken of. There are many more stories when we look through history, some will be good experiences, and some will be heart breaking. Life is so often like that. The sea can be a bridge that unifies, or a barrier that undermines the hopes of defying the tragedies in life. I can recall hosting a group of American friends from Colorado back in the 1980s, and deciding that having come from a land locked State they may find that a visit to a lighthouse would be of interest. To reach the lighthouse required the assistance of a boatman, there was no other way of reaching it. We were about half way there when the boatman took the opportunity to say, “You realise that we are in the most treacherous waters of the British Isles, and that there are many ship wrecks around here.” I could not help thinking this may not have been the best time for us to hear those words. Too late, we were right in the midst of it all. Talking of American visitors reminds me of something.


It was in 1918 that the San Francisco Herald had the following front page headline: “US Troopship torpedoed in war zone: 267 missing”. Below that was the sub heading “Ship bearing 2179 American soldiers sunk off Ireland”


The newspaper was close, they had the correct stretch of water but it was actually nearer to the Isle of Islay than it was to Ireland. It was on the 5th February, 1918, that the American troop ship, the Tuscania, en route to Britain with more than 2,000 American soldiers on board, was torpedoed by a German submarine in the North Channel and sank seven miles off the Mull of Oa on Islay. More than 200 men either drowned in the seas off Islay or were dashed to death on the rocks. And on 6th October the same year, just a month before the armistice that would end the war, the American troop carrier Otranto collided with another ship and sank in Machir Bay on the west coast of the island. More than 400 lives were lost.


Many of those rescued, and the bodies that were recovered, were due to the gallant efforts of the people of Islay, or Ileachs as they would call themselves from the Gaelic meaning they are “of Islay”. Many of the local men were away serving in the war, leaving the rescue teams to be either very young or those tooo old for military service. They were, however, to be led by a police Sergeant who was destined to become the maternal grandfather of Lord Robertson, the 10th Secretary General of NATO between 1999 and 2003. The grandson was to meet and work with many Americans in this role.


The sea that lies between Islay and Ireland has seen many shipwrecks. The American Red Cross built a memorial to those lost in the sinking of both ships on the Mull of  Oa, on the isle of Islay. It stands there to this day, looking out to sea to Ireland. The full text on the plaque reads:


Sacred to the immortal memory of those American Soldiers and Sailors who Gave Their Lives for their country in the wrecks of the transports 'Tuscania' and 'Otranto' February 5th 1918 --- October 6th 1918. This monument was erected by The American National Red Cross near the spot where so many of the victims of the disasters sleep in everlasting peace

On Fame's Eternal camping ground
 Their silent tents are spread
 While Glory keeps with solemn round
 The bivouac of the dead


I said that the Monument was pointing across the sea in the direction of Ireland.  Some Ileachs, the natives of Islay, would speak of the times when they had crossed the sea in fishing boats for more joyous occasions as they went to enjoy “The Ould Lammas Fair”.


The Ould Lammas Fair

The Ould’ Lammas Fair at Ballycastle is held on the last Monday and Tuesday of August each year. It is Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, involving horse trading, street entertainment, and market stalls. It is traditionally associated with the local delicacies “dulse”, which is dried seaweed and is very nutritious, and yellow man, a sweet that tastes of honeycomb. The fair has been in existence for at least three hundred years, and perhaps even earlier.


It’s an event not to be missed. An opportunity to savour the atmosphere of the live music and the many hundreds of stalls selling souvenirs and bric-a-brac of every description. The name of Lammas originated from the 'Feast of Lughnasadh' or Lugh. In Irish legend, Lugh was a Sun God who had a mortal foster-mother named Tailtiu. She was a queen or princess of the Firbolgs - Men of Bags. These early inhabitants of Ireland are said to have come from Greece or Spain where they were put into servitude and forced to carry soil from the fertile plains to the higher ground. To do this, they devised leather bags which they later used to build boats and escape from their enslavement.

Throughout ancient Irish history, one will find references to the ‘Tailthiu Games’ and the ‘Games of Lugh’. However, with the arrival of Christianity, the old pagan festival was modified and adapted to suit the teachings of the church. The name was changed to Lammas which means ‘loaf mass’ and this was reflected in the custom of placing loaves of bread baked from the first harvest grains on the church altar.

The Ould Lammas Fair


There is one more Ireland/Islay connection comes to my mind.





Finlaggan, the centre of the Lordship of the Isles, is an island settlement in the beautiful secluded Loch Finlaggan in the north east corner of the Isle of Islay. The site is maintained by the Finlaggan Trust and is sign-posted off the main road between Ballygrant and Keills.


Recent archaeological excavations have demonstrated that Finlaggan has been occupied since very early times, but it achieved most fame in the 14th and 15th centuries under the MacDonald Lords of the Isles. There are two islands, the larger accessible by a walkway or boat. It is called Eilean Mòr (large island). The path across the island goes over the remains of the 13th century defences and then through an area of old lazy-beds, probably dating to the 16th century.

When an area of these was excavated, underlying remains of at least two round houses and a small pit with Bronze Age pottery were exposed. On the highest point of the island are the ruins of the 14th century chapel with its burial ground.

Eilean na Comhairle - Council Island

At the height of their power the Lords of the Isles had control not only of all the Scottish Islands but also down as far as the Isle of Man on the west coast of England, but had influence far wider than that, including Ireland.

Lords of the Isles were, after all, 'those who fought,' and, descended, as they were, from a fierce breed of Norse-Gael warriors and sea kings, they were, they believed, and genuinely believed, God’s privileged, born to conquest and acquisition. Their wealth was in cattle and ships and land, but they collected and treasured gold and silver and precious objects, and they and their noble women adorned themselves in linens and silks and jewelry befitting their rank.

They practiced 'piracy' and raided one another’s cattle because they could.  They also made use of gallowglasses, who were the mercenary elite among Gaelic – Norse clans residing in the Western Isles of Scotland (or Hebrides) They were involved in much of the conquests  and assisted in taking possession of the North Antrim coastline in Ireland.


In the Islay museum in Port Charlotte, Islay, there is a copy of the text of a document that refers to one of these gallowglasses being rewarded with land on Islay that equates with what is now known as the parish of Kildalton and Oa. Here is where the story of the 14th century comes right up to date in a very personal way, for the man was no less than Brian Vicar Magee, the ancestor of a man of lowly beginnings in Belfast, Thompson Magee, later known as Paddy, who was my father. Often I had passed through that area never realizing that sense of my family history, yet always feeling I belonged.



 (Kildalton Cross at Kildalton, Islay


Today’s blog has highlighted that there has been a mixture of tragedy and blessings. Life is often like that in so many ways. As authors we have sensed some of that in the passing of Sandra Humphrey. We feel the anguish and pain, but we are also conscious that we have benefitted from the friendship, and the world has the opportunity of knowing the heritage of her life through her books.


Sandra and Brian
November 2012


Farewell my friend, Sandy.  You will be forever remembered.


Please be sure to stop by Jon Magee's site on Amazon for your copy of the incredible books he has to offer. The addresses are:


WHERE Jon Magee's Book can be Purchased:

Author of "From Barren Rocks to Living Stones" & "Paradise Island,

Heavenly Journey"



Thank you once more for visiting my blog. Please come back this coming Friday to find a special offer that benefits the American Diabetes Association.


Rosemary "Mamie" Adkins

Extraordinary Dreams

of an

Ireland Traveler




  1. Sandy and Brian were great people and grand friends. Jon, too, is quite special. And of course there is Rosemary "Mamie" Adkins. So many good people in this world, one has to be grateful to meet them.

    1. Thank you Ken for the kind words. We are all so blessed to have each other in a world of so much restlessness. I certainly count my blessings for each of you.
      Happy Holidays,

  2. What a moving story and tribute. May the memories of Sandy and Brian be for a blessing to all who knew them--and may those of us still here remember them always.

    1. Thank you Diane. As I told Ken above, we have each other in this world and if only world peace were possible, what a perfect place to be.
      Thank you for stopping to leave your comment. I pray Sandy's family will find some peace knowing how much their parents were loved by so many.
      Many Blessings,

  3. This was such a loving tribute to our wonderful friend. I'm sure she is smiling over it in Heaven's realms. God, I miss her so much. This beautiful dedication to her had me in tears.