Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ireland, and the Islay connections (Part 3)

 Ireland, and the Islay connections (Part 3)

The 1st part of this theme can be found at:
Images were removed due to comment from viewer contending the photos were his. 

 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
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 Now, as we close, here are the voices of the young people of Islay today.

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


  1. Thank you for this history, and I love the beautiful images.

    1. Thank you Martha. Jon always does a great job. I appreciate you visiting and hope you return!

  2. It would have been nice if you had asked for permission or at the very least given credit, as both the pictures of the Kilchoman Cross and the Kildalton Cross are clearly stolen from

  3. Greetings Armin,

    I have researched your site and unless I do not see it, these photos do not appear to be yours. They will however be replaced.
    Thank you for visiting. This blog site shares the beautiful countries of Ireland and on occasion Scotland. We are NOT thieves and did not "clearly" steal anything.