Eilean Mor, ‘the big isle’ at the south end of Loch Sween, has three ancient monuments – a cave, a chapel and a cross. Together, they tell the story of Christianity in this corner of Scotland.
The cave is known as St Cormac’s Cave, after the Irish saint Cormaig, legendary founder of nearby Keills Chapel, who is reputed to have used the cave as his hermitage, or retreat. It is now entered through a fissure in the rock face, but was originally reached along a 3m-long tunnel. The cave itself, around 3m long, 1m wide and 2m high, contains little other than two incised crosses on its east wall, dating to around AD 700 judging by their style.
A ruined drystone structure nearby may have been a later ‘ticket office’ for controlling medieval pilgrims heading for the saint’s abode.
This little chapel stands close to a natural landing place at the north-east end of the island. It has had a chequered history. The simple rectangular structure was built in the 13th century. It was extensively altered in the 14th century, when John MacDonald, 1st Lord of the Isles had the chancel upgraded. It was finally converted into a dwelling house around 1700, for use by a tenant of Macneil of Gillchoille, the island’s owner. The effigy of a late-medieval cleric, richly attired in his vestments but now headless, is still preserved here.
Beside the chapel stands St Cormac’s Cross, believed to be of 10th-century date. Only the shaft and lower part of the ringed cross-head survive, and much of the decoration on the west face is damaged. The east face, though, is still festooned with monsters wrestling and gripping snakes, and a hooded rider astride an oversized horse. The disc-headed cross on the island’s highest point is a replica of the late 14th-century cross erected by Mariota de Ros, wife of Donald MacDonald, 2nd Lord of the Isles. The original was taken for safe-keeping to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh in 1937.References:
The Château d'Olhain is probably the most famous castle of the Artois region. It is located in the middle of a lake which reflects its picturesque towers and curtain walls. It was also a major stronghold for the Artois in medieval times and testimony to the power of the Olhain family, first mentioned from the 12th century.
The existence of the castle was known early in the 13th century, but the present construction is largely the work of Jean de Nielles, who married Marie d’Olhain at the end of the 15th century.
The marriage of Alix Nielles to Jean de Berghes, Grand Veneur de France (master of hounds) to the King, meant the castle passed to this family, who kept it for more than 450 years. Once confiscated by Charles Quint, it suffered during the wars that ravaged the Artois. Besieged in 1641 by the French, it was partly demolished by the Spaniards in 1654, and finally blown-up and taken by the Dutch in 1710. Restored in 1830, it was abandoned after 1870, and sold by the last Prince of Berghes in 1900. There is also evidence that one of the castles occupants was related to Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan, the person Alexandre Dumas based his Three Musketeers charictor d'Artagnan on.
During the World War I and World War II, the castle was requisitioned first by French troops, then Canadian and British soldiers. The current owner has restored the castle to its former glory.