Monday, 11 July 2011

Rockall: An Islet on the Edge of the World

Rockhall / Rocabarraigh
The tiny rocky islet of Rockall or Rocabarraigh lying some 188 miles from Soay, the easternmost island of the St Kilda archipelago, has been claimed by United Kingdom on a number of occasions. The ownership of the islet is still a matter of dispute as it is claimed by Denmark (for the Faroe Islands), Iceland, Ireland and, as mentioned, the United Kingdom. In the following tradition, noted down by Alexander Carmichael around 1872 from, it would seem, an anonymous source, the tale has all the hallmarks of a mythological island – the title probably refers to a sandy isle – that had been mistaken for the rather rocky and extremely isolated islet practically in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean:

Eilean Gaineacha
A man coming fr[om] abro[oad] & he saw
a black spot bad om[en] & he near[ed] & what was
this but & iallain an t sao[gha]il &
f[indin]g above a small isl[e]. He put out
the punt A large ford ran
across the isl[e] & a stac of fish
bones on the ea[st] side ford. He del[iberated]
that he sh[oul]d have some for din[ner] in
such a pl[ace] He left with the int[ent]
of ret[urnin]g He came to Engl[and] Ere
he could ret[urn] went came in &c
know[ing] the wild[ness] of the pl[ace] with
out anchorage ex[cept] the ford
He & oth[er]s ret[urned] & when th[e]y came
no isl[e] was vis[ible]. They were mock
ing him & they began sounding &
found nothing but rock
& this they called Rockall.

Reference:
CW90/71, f. 29r.
Image: Rockall or Rocabarraigh taken from Harvie-Brown, J. A. & Buckley, T. E., A Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides (Edinburgh: David Douglas, Edinburgh, 1899), facing p. lxxxvi.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]