Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Castle Tales 3

The legend of Eilean Donan Castle

I decided to share a little castle tale with you today. Hope you like it.

There is an ancient belief that supernatural powers will fall upon a child when, after weaning, it is given a first sip from the skull of a raven. The raven being accounted as the wisest most knowing bird.

A Long ago chieftain of Kintail decided to try the theory out. He gave his son, Shamus, his first drink of cow’s milk from a fragile raven’s skull. For a long time it appeared to have made no difference till the day that the father found his son under an apple tree. The child was looking up into the branches uttering a strange language. As the chieftain drew near a handful of small birds flew away in an alarmed flutter of wings.

Shamus chided his father. “You have frightened them away. They were telling me of the warm lands they visit when the cold cloak of winter descends upon us and of the ocean that heats under the warm sun while we look upon our grey, turbulent seas.

“How do you talk to the birds, my son? They do not speak our language.”

The chieftain discovered that his son had been given the ability to talk to the birds and believed, then, that the properties of the raven skull had been proven.

Shamus grew up to become a youth blessed with courage and wisdom, who talked to the falcon on his wrist and listened to the sea birds that brought him news from afar. Small birds around his father’s house told him of what transpired around them. Shamus became known as a wise youth who would be a worthy heir to his father’s chiefdom.

Yet, the day came when the chief was not so enamoured of his son. One evening at supper the chief asked Shamus, “What do the starlings chatter about tonight?” For time untold the starlings had inhabited the smoke blackened rafters of the chief’s hall.

Shamus knew his father would be angry with his answer. “They say one day our positions will be reversed and the day will come that you will wait upon me at the high table.”

The old chief was horrified. “Traitor!” He banished his son forthwith for he could not have his son betray him.

Shamus protested his innocence, but his father would not relent. So Shamus left Kintail with only the clothes on his back. He considered himself very lucky though to board a ship that left that day for foreign lands. As a new crew member he worked his way through stormy seas to France where he disembarked and then happily made his way through the countryside

Soon he came to a great park with beautiful lilies growing wild and free among the grass. He caught a glimpse of gilded turrets in the distance and guessed it must be the king’s palace. Closer to the great gateway the sky was filled with the swirl of little birds, noisy and shrill, flying around in great alarm. Huge trees were being felled by an army of woodcutters lopping the trees down with great fervour.

A servant stopped him. “You need to shut your ears to the unholy din of the birds which takes place both inside and outside the palace. The king is at his wits end to know how to deal with it, and stop the noise!”

Thinking he could help the king Shamus followed the servant through a long maze of corridors to a small room, having walked past many courtiers who could not hear themselves converse in the cacophony of noise around them. The king took refuge in a tiny room, its windows and doors shut tight against the chirruping and cheeping of the plague of birds. One sparrow had managed to get into the room with the king and was sat perched upon the arm of the king’s chair when Shamus entered. He told the king that he believed he could help him. Naturally delighted to hear it the king promised him great rewards but asked why Shamus was so confident. Shamus told him of his power with speaking to the birds in their own tongue.

The king watched as Shamus talked to the little sparrow on his chair. The conversation over Shamus declared the solution simple. He told the king the birds were angry that the order had been given for all the poplar trees to be cut down. In cutting down the trees their nests and homes were in peril, and the birds were homeless. Shamus told the king if he withdrew his order and ceased the cutting down of the trees then the birds would stop troubling him.

The king’s command given the birds all quit the palace and made their nests among the remaining poplar trees.

Shamus left France in his brand new long galley full of gold-gifts from the French king-and set off for new adventures. After ten years of adventuring and seeing fabulous places in the world he headed for home, desperate to see shores of Kintail once again. His rich galley with its golden prow sailed into the narrow channel near Totaig, the land of his birth. The people came out to see the fine ship anchored below not knowing who the rich stranger was who owned such a vessel. The old chief also came down to welcome the stranger who had arrived, not recognising his son.

During the feasting that evening, given in honour of the stranger, Shamus decided to declare his identity. In the time honoured custom of welcoming a stranger, the master of the house waited upon the honoured guest, bringing him a cup of wine. Shamus cried out to his father, “You have waited on me at table, father! I am your son who has been gone these ten years. The prophecy of the birds has come true, but please let us have done with our estrangement? Receive me as your son, again, for I have sorely missed you, my father. I never sought to replace you, and never harboured any evil design against you.”

Forgiveness was given for his father had missed him too. Shamus told tales of his adventures by the fireside many a time, and they eventually reached the ears of the King of Scotland. Shamus was summoned to court to meet the king. The king, finding Shamus a man of great wisdom, strength and courage, ordered him to defend the area around Kintail, since the western coasts of Scotland were plagued by attacks from the Norsemen. The king commanded Shamus to build a castle on Eilean Donan, on the rocky islet opposite Totaig.

And so Eilean Donan Castle was built.

If you liked this wee abridged version of the story please put a yes in the comment box! Thanks for visiting and reading today!


1 comment:

  1. Hello, Nancy - had to stop by today when it was hinted at yesterday you would be talking about Eilean Donan Castle.

    One of my favorite castles in Scotland - and I see you have Donnottar - my absolute favorite. I am also smitten with Calzean (Ayrshire) and Urquhart (near Inverness - one of the elderly ladies here is an Urquhart from Scotland). My mom and dad immigrated from Scotland, I've been back many times and am planning a trip (fingers crossed) in the fall of 2012 with my mom.

    Great story - one I had not heard of before. Thanks for sharing :)

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