Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Garbh Eileach of the Isles of the Sea

During my cruise last month on Elizabeth G we visited the three main Garvellach Isles: Eileach a' Naoimh, Dun Chonnuill, and Garbh Eileach. It was only my second time to set foot on Garbh Eileach, the rough rocky island that gives the island group its name. From the landing jetty it is a short walk to Garbh Eileach House, the only habitable house on the island. No one was home, and it was locked up tight.

Garbh Eileach House
My first visit to Garbh Eileach was in 2002, when I chartered the catamaran Gemini for a day to take me to Dun Chonnuill and Garbh Eileach (see book 1, chapter 9). That trip was in late July, and the bracken was head-high, obscuring much of the ground. One thing I'd wanted to find on Garbh Eileach back then was an old cemetery called Cladh Dhubhan, but with all the thick vegetation I could not find it.

Cladh Dhubhan may have been the place of interment for some of the early ruling families of Dalriada. Around 660 AD, one of the kings was the son of Dunchad mac Duban (Duncan, son of Duban). So perhaps Cladh Dhubhan was named after the father of the king. Another possibility is that one of the Gaelic words for 'brave' is dhubhlan, so perhaps Cladh Dhubhan means burial ground of the brave. On my visit last May the bracken was only starting to sprout, and so it was easy to find the old burial ground; a rectangular enclosure behind the house.

Cladh Dhubhan
There is sparse information on Cladh Dhubhan. The most informative is this short mention in Patrick Gillies' Netherlorn, Argyllshire, and its Neighbourhood:

'On the island of Garbheileach there is a very old graveyard known as Claodh Dhubhan (the burying-place of Duban). More than one prince and certainly one king of Alban was called Dubh; and Dubhan seems to have been a common name; while in 927, Dubthach, son of Duban, fourteenth in descent from Conal Gulban the great-grand-father of Columba, became Superior or Co-arb in Iona.'

That is about all I can find on the mysterious burial ground of Dhubhan, although there is a CANMORE page on it, it is short and uninformative. Finding Cladh Dhubhan was one of many "I'll have to return to an island someday" promises I've made to myself over the years. It took 14 years to keep this particular promise, and it was good to return to this rarely visited Isle of the Sea.

Cladh Dhubhan

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