Thursday, November 5, 2015

Eriskay - Urisk Isle?

Island names are often intriguing; the name Eriskay in particular. Nearly all references I've come across over the years say it means 'Eric's Island'; named after some Norseman from long-ago. But there's another possibility.

View indicator atop Eriskay
In his book An Island Odyssey, Hamish Haswell-Smith, says it means 'Island of the Water-nymph', but he gives no explanation of where that derivation comes from. But in his The Scottish Islands he says the name means 'Urisk Island'; a combination of the Gaelic 'uruisg', and Norse 'oy'.

According to John Gregorson Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands (1971), urisks are:

A large lubberly supernatural, of solitary habits and harmless character, that haunted lonely and mountainous places. Some identify him with Brownie, but he differs from the fraternity of tutelary beings in having his dwelling, not in the houses or haunts of men, but in solitudes and remote localities....the race was said to be the offspring of unions between mortals and fairies...the leannan sith.

Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands is a fascinating book, and you can find a PDF of it here.

There are several Urisk place names in Scotland. The only island one I've read of is Slochd an Aoirisg on Tiree. It's not marked on the map, but is said to be near Hynish. A mainland site that is marked on the map is Coire nan Uruisgean, which lies above the southeast shore of Loch Katrine. It was said to be the meeting place of the Urisks in Scotland, and walkers in the area encounter a sign warning that Urisks are around. You can see a photo of the sign, along with more about the Urisks of Loch Katrine here.

Patrick Graham writes about Coire nan Uruisgean in Sketches of Perthshire (1806): 
"Ben Venue is rendered venerable in the superstition of the natives, by the celebrated Coire nan Uriskin (the cove or recess of goblins) situated on the northern side of the mountain, and overhanging the lake in gloomy grandeur. The urisks were a sort of lubberly supernaturals, who, like the Brownies of England could be gained over by kind attentions, to perform the drudgery of the farm; and it was believed that many families in the Highlands had one of their order attached to it. They were supposed to be dispersed over the Highlands, each in his own wild recess; but the solemn stated meetings of the order were regularly held in this cave of Ben Venue."
Below are a few photos from my walks around Urisk Island. Over the years I've seen most of Eriskay but, unfortunately, I've yet to meet an Urisk. Neither have I come across any written legends of Eriskay urisks. If you know any I would love to hear from you.

Acairsaid Mor from the south
Acairsaid Mor from the north
Acairsaid Mor
The Prince's Cairn
Eriskay Causeway

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