Near the shores of Loch Leven, close to the road up towards Glencoe rises a small island out of the cold tidal waters. On a sunny day in summer the lush grass smells of herbs, the rough song of the crickets creates a somehow Italian atmosphere. No bridge or ferry connects the island full of graves with the world of the living. You need a boat, your own or a chartered one to access it.
Various Highland clans bury their dead here, the Stewarts of Ballachulish, the Camerons of Callart and the MacDonalds of Glencoe, to name but a few.
A small plate denotes the grave of a legendary chief of the MacDonald clan: Alastair MacIain, 12th Chief of Glencoe who had travelled though the wilderness of Glencoe to Fort William to swear fealty to the King. The governor there refused to take the oath and sent the old chief through the winterstorms to Inverary to make his oath there. With a letter stating he had been in time but in the wrong place. MacDonald believed he was safe. But the Campells persuaded the King to order the MacDonald’s death.
120 men under the command of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon took shelter in Glencoe as guests of the MacDonalds’. Alastair MacIain was killed in his bed, 38 of his men were murdered, 40 women and children fled an died of exposure in the cold winter nights of Glencoe.
Alastair MacIain is remembered on Eilean Munde and so are many of his clan.
Peaceful island rest, finally.
It is quite exhausting to wander around this lonely place. The grass is high and there are virtually no footpaths. Overgrown and broken stone slabs threaten to give way under the intruder’s feet. Could one fall into an old grave by accident? A horrible thought you somehow can’t get rid of.
Most headstones come frome the nearby Ballachulish quarry. Slate with ornate writing. A rather unusual material for highland burial grounds. But very beautiful set against the summer grass.
The site of the massacre is nearby, still legendary in memory, literature and song. Even though it was more than 320 years ago. An old tale about the betrayal of trust, about death and life in the Highlands of Scotland. Eilean Munde is all that and more.
Many a piper will have played a sad lament, when a boat took a new body to the island of the graves. A beautiful and final place to rest.
The Glencoe Heritage Trust have published a copywrite book of all the graves on the Island. It owns a half-share (Pro-Indiviso) of the island. There are no burials allowed on the island now, as there is a lack of topsoil, the last burial took place in 1972, of Mrs Christina MacDonald Sharpe. A native of Glencoe. Scottish Natural Heritage advise that Eilean Munde should not be strimmed of grass, but left in it’s natural state. However when some Clanspeople wish to visit, the Trust ensures that pathways are cleared as much as possible. One does not require permission to visit.
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Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. These stories have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and everything about Scotland except whisky, sheep and tartan.
Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.