The Sheiling

The Sheiling for Deirdre and Naoise

The most complete account of the Deirdre story is found in the 12thC Glenmasan Manuscript, the Iliad of Irish storytelling that recounts the Cattles Raids of Cooley and Mayo and the following tale of the Exile of the Sons of Ulster.

These are stories from the Heroic Age. A period in pre history during which an aristocratic warrior class dominated and who are characterized by dramatic and straight forward stories of fighting and adventure on the part of the chiefs whose lifestyle was principally a mixture of war, glory and heroic deeds. They are vivid prose tales preserved largely through the oral tradition and not written much before the eighth century.

Deirdre’s powerful and dramatic story with its strong elements of lust, treachery and ultimate death, is vividly told. We may question whether the chief characters in the tale ever existed as true historial figures but recent research into place names in the North Lorne area of Argyll raise some intriguing questions: perhaps Deirdre, Naoise and his brothers Arden and Ainle not only existed but did after all reside in Glen Etive, and given the number of place names that memorialise them in the landscape, maybe for some significant period.

In raising the Sheiling for Deirdre and her lover Naoise we will try to bring this story alive again and introduce visitors to that subsequent development in history which led to the establisment of the Irish Kingdom of Dalriada which included most of Argyll and its islands. In doing so we may also reinforce the strong social and cultural ties that link the people of the West Highlands with their Irish friends and neighbours across the water.

In our effort to bring the stories to a wider audience both here in Scotland and in Ireland and beyond we are seeking assistance from friends and associates in both countries.

The ancient stories of the Sons of Ulster and their tragic adventure to Scotland written in the 12th century Glenmasan Manuscript inspired the Swiss composer Marc Jenbourquin to write the lyrical Glenmasan concerto. The Glenmasan Manuscript contains one of the most complete written accounts of the Deirdre and Naoise story.

The birth of the project, by Sam MacDonald

Growing up in the hills of North Lorne in Argyll I was in my teens before I first heard the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows. Deirdre, Naoise and their followers lived in Glen Etive, my father Neil told me: “People think its just an old romantic story from the mythological past but you know they really did come to live there, perhaps for several years.”

In my mid twenties I fell in love with a beautiful artist, Evelyn Day from Dunmore East in Waterford and in 1967 I brought Evelyn to meet my family in Scotland. During that first visit Evelyn was clearly delighted that my father knew the story of Deirdre but when in 1980 we left Dublin and my career in journalism to return to the wilds of Argyll she soon discovered that in fact very few people in our district knew anything at all about the story.

Evelyn died of cancer in January 2017 but before she died she asked me if I would consider setting something into the landscape high in the hills overlooking Loch Etive to memorialise Deirdre and Naoise. I promised that I would.

The Beginning

In April 2017 I commissioned the Scottish sculptor and public artist David Wilson to draw up a design for my Sheiling for Deirdre and Naoise. His drawings are included here as well as photos of two strong elements of the design, the sculpture of Deirdre and Naoise based on a famous statue, The Kiss, by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi and a significant old original standing stone which was removed from its original site in the Argyll landscape to be used as a gate post. I salvaged it in order to replant it in a nobler setting.

The announcement of my intention to build the Sheiling has brought together a surprising number of local creative supporters: writers, poets, artists and designers. David Wilson told me as the beginning that when finished: “I like my projects to be owned by the community...” The committeeof five I assambled asked me at an early stage to step back to achieve this. This is not a vanity project it is far too important for that.

When we returned from Ireland in 1980 it was at the peak of the Troubles in the North. There was a strong antipathy in Scotland to anything to do with Ireland. “Why are you killing our boys?” One elderly woman asked Evelyn reproachfully one day. Evelyn came to terms with that sort of attitudebut was always an advocate for reconciliation. She had a talent for bringing people together. More interested in what people shared than what separated them. As an ambassador for al things Irish over many years in Argyll I think she managed to influence and convert the doubters. She used to tease the Scots in Argyll “Don’t you realise, we the Irish were here first, and we established the Irish Kingdom of Dalriada right here in Argyll.”

I hope that the Sheiling for Deirdre and Naoise will add one more element of understanding of the strong ties that link our two countries historically, socialy, politically and economically.

Sam MacDonald

Elements of the Sheiling

The Statue

The Statue

The Statue to Deirdre and Naoise started life as a small 15 centimetre ornament given to Sam Macdonald by his wife Evelyn in Galway in 1996. It was wrongly assumed to be a Celtic ornament and the following year it was used as a template by Glasgow artist Fiona McLeod when she recreated the statuette as a life size maquette out of chicken wire and concrete. The statue took the stage for the first time at the Strathclyde Country Park Garden Festival as part of a Show Garden based on the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows. When the show was dismantled the statue was taken back to Argyll where it took its place in the garden at Gorstain, Taynuilt. Some years later Sam Macdonald opened the Guardian Newspaper on the Arts Page on which was a identical photo of the Deirdre Statue with a caption which read: “ Brancusi's The Kiss Statue sold in New York for $24 million” So acknowledgement must be given to Constantin Brancusi whose beautiful sculpture was the inspiration for Deirdre and Naoise's images in the Sheiling.

The Bell

The Bell

Deirdre's Bell hung above the steps leading down into the Sheiling is the work of master bell castors David Snoo Wilson and Jo Lathwood of Bristol. David Wilson was asked to incorporate a bell for Deirdre in his early drawings and through his contacts with the Churchill Foundation provided the introduction to Bell casters David Snoo Wilson and Jo Lathwood. Their Deirdre and Naoise Bell was cast just before midnight at the opening of the Sheiling on June 23 2018. The Celtic design for the Bell was suggested by music historian and composer John Purser from the Isle of Skye and help with the bell's design was provided by the artist Mhairi Killin whose celebrated Re-Soundings exhibition involved the casting of several Celtic bells. Why ring the bell for Deidre and Naoise? This is why:

Aagamaathamtu devaanaam

Gamanaathamtu rakshasaam

Kurve ghantaaravam tatra

Devataahvaahna lakshanam

I ring this bell indicating the invocation of divinity

So that virtuous and noble forces enter my home and heart

And the demonic and evil forces from within and without depart

Taken from the Hindi ritualistic worship ( pooja)

The Standing Stones

The Standing Stones

The majestic standing stones placed so intimately together overlooking Glen Etive where Deirdre and Naoise and their followers found refuge were salvaged from a broken down gateway in Argyll where they had been inappropriately used as gateposts. They were removed many years ago at the request of the owner of the land and set aside and abandoned. Sam Macdonald made a plea that such significant stones be allowed to be replanted in a site worthy of them where they will remain for the rest of time to play a role in seeing the story of Deirdre and Naoise brought back to life. David Wilson has replanted them with enormous care and has them both facing Glen Etive with one stone gently, almost imperceptibly leaning towards the other in perfect symmetry.