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The Hebridean

alastair macleod

The Hebridean

To the Magic of Orkney - between two oceans, between two tides, that’s where the magic hides. between high and low water, between sea and sky, between man and woman, between thee and I, that's where the magic hides.

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The Hebridean



It was not until later, in the time of Columba (521-597 AD), that there began in Alba (the old Roman name for Scotland), a concerted effort to convert the general pagan population of the Scotti, and later the Picts, to Christianity.
These Culdees, or Columban priests, spread their faith by setting up, in an often hostile heathen world, a model self sufficient“Christian community,” much as Iona became.

   However if we step back to about 400 AD, for the pagan Irish and the Picts then, Christianity was still a new faith, gaining ground gradually through interaction with lone Christian priests from Roman Britain.

By the time of this story, 492 AD, the Roman part of Britain was slowly crumbling under Saxon heathen invasion. In Alba there was also conflict; the Western Picts in Argyll had been under pressure for some time from the pagan Scotti invading from northern Ireland.
Yet little pockets of Christians, the Papa, probably already existed on the west coast, in the Hebrides.

   The method by which this early Christianity first spread, seems to have been by anchorites or celtic priests moving as individuals or in small groups, seeking remoter islets and promontories as sites for their people to live in safety and contemplation. Once such place was Orkney.



     He leant forward in the curragh. Just as Dicuil said it would, the land was opening up beyond the narrow strait of The String. The islands here were low lying, something he was not used to. His home islands were high, eagles soared above them and salmon leaped in the rivers. Here the fulmar played around the boat and dolphins had led the way through the narrow passage.

     Finnbarr was here on a mission. The Picts of the west were looking for sites to expand to, new land, to bring their flocks, and their families. The Scotti were pressing up ever further into his homeland, the Ebudes, the islands of the west.

     Finnbarr was tall with hair like copper, worn long and tied back in a pony tail; on his arms he bore the salmon tattoo. Dicuil his foster father had sailed here ten years ago with some monks on a voyage of exploration. 

“The faith,” Dicuil said, “was to expand, but not by the sword.”  Patrick had shown the way, a way of argument, of persuasion that this new faith was superior.

     The women responded readily to the message. They were sick of the constant feuding between the clans, the killing of the young men, the taking of heads, the enslavement of themselves and their children.

The men of the clans viewed the new faith with suspicion. Was it manly to lay down your arms and treat your enemies well? Who would protect your family and your land?

The warrior band were the most suspicious. War was their credo, they lived and breathed the warrior way; training every day in the nine styles of fighting and in the eleven methods of killing.


     As men of faith, the druids were curious. They believed in the one god as the embodiment of several gods; it was not such a leap for them to accept the idea of one god and the new faith still had people like them, priests to intercede, to communicate on behalf of and lead the people.


     The skin boat flew over the water towards the shore.

Finnbarr raised the peace flag, the green banner.  He donned his white robe also, a garment the people recognised all over the north and the islands as the sign of the priesthood.

     As gifts he had with him seven hebridean sheep, black, small, nimble and thrifty eaters that could survive on heathery slopes.


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