Sconemac's Eynhallow

Scone's Scottish and Celtic Internet Book

Scottish Highlands and Islands Partnership and &


by Nancy MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA

"another page in my book"

This material is not public domain and as such must
not be taken from the site, without author's permission.

~~Island of Eynhallow ~~

(How Eynhallow was freed from the Fin-men's Sorcery).

This is the story of how the island of Eynhallow (meaning Holy Isle, or some say, Last-hallowed) was taken from the Fin Folk and came to be part of the Orkney Islands.

The Goodman of Thorodale in the parish of Evie married a wife and she bore him three sons. After her death, he married another, the bonniest lass in Evie, and dearly Thorodale loved her. One day he and his bonny wife were down in the ebb, Thorodale sat on a rock to tie his shoestring, turning his back to his wife who was nearer the sea. Suddenly she began to scream. Thorodale turned and saw a tall dark man dragging her towards a boat. He rushed down and waded into the sea, but the dark man already had the young woman in the boat and was rowing out to sea before Thorodale could reach them.

Long before he got to his boat, the Fin man was out of sight. For by their sorcery, the Fin Folk can make their vessels invisible, propelling them more swiftly than a bird in flight. Now Thorodale was not the man to take such a blow quietly. There in the ebb he knelt down and he swore that, living or dead, he would be revenged on the Fin Folk.

Many a long night and day thereafter he thought on his vengeance, but no way could he see. Then one day he was fishing in the sound between Rousay and Evie. (No Eynhallow could be seen there then for as part of the Fin Folk's summer home, their Hilda-Land, it was often hidden below the waves, and it was always invisible to human eyes. Well, Thorodale lay fishing at slack tide near the middle of the sound, when he heard a female voice singing. It was that of his lost wife, though he could not see her. "Goodman, grieve no more for me," she sang prettily, "For me again you'll never see; If you would have of vengeance joy Go ask the wise Spae-wife of Hoy."

Thorodale returned to shore, took his staff in his hand, took his silver in a stocking, and set off to the island of Hoy. What passed between him and the wise woman, I do not know, but certainly she told him how to get the power of seeing Hilda-Land. She told him, too, how he was to act when he saw any of those hidden isles; and she said that nothing could punish the Fin Folk more than taking any part of their Hilda-Land from them.

So Thorodale went home. For nine moons, at midnight when the moon was full, he went nine times on his bare knees around the great Odin Stone of Stenness. For nine moons, at full moon, he looked through the hole in the Odin Stone and wished that he might get the power of seeing Hilda-Land. After doing this for nine months on the days when the moon was full, he bought a great quantity of salt. He filled a meal chest with salt, and set three large kaesies (straw baskets) beside it. His three sons were now well-grown young men, and he told them what to do when he gave the word. And he made other preparations too.

One beautiful summer morning just after sunrise, Thorodale looked out on the sea. There in the middle of the sound, lay a pretty little island where never land was seen before. Without taking his eyes off it, he roared out to his three sons in the house, "Fill the kaesies and hold for the boat." Down came the sons, carrying the kaesies of salt, which they set in the boat. The four men jumped in and rowed straight for the new island, but only Thorodale could see it. In a. moment, the boat was surrounded by whales. The three sons wanted to try to drive the whales, but their father knew better. "Pull for your lives," he cried, "and Deil catch the delayer ." Then a monster of a whale raised its head right in the boat's course, opening a mouth huge enough to swallow men and boat at a single gulp. But Thorodale bade his sons bend to the oars, and he rose to his feet in the bow, Right into the terrible jaws he flung a double handful of salt. In the same moment, the monster vanished. It was only an apparition, a trick of the Fin-men's sorcery, and the salt, a consecrated substance, destroyed the evil magic. The boat was fast nearing Hilda-Land. Two most beautiful mermaids stood waist-deep at the shore, their long golden hair fluttering over their white shoulders. So melodious was their song that it went to the hearts of the rowers, and the young men began to row slowly. But Thorodale, without turning his head or taking his eyes off the magical island, kicked the two sons nearest him, and the boys mended their stroke. Then he cried to the mermaids, "Begone, you unholy limmers! Here's your warning!" And he threw a cross made of twisted tangles on each of them. Then the mermaids plunged under the sea with pitiful shrieks, and the boat touched the enchanted shore.

There on the beach stood a huge and horrible monster. Its tusks were as long as a man's two arms; its feet as broad as quarn-stones. Its eyes blazed, its mouth spat fire. But Thorodale leaped boldly on to the land, flinging a handful of salt between the monster's glaring eyes. With a terrible growl, it too disappeared. In its place there stood before him a tall and mighty man, dark, scowling, with a drawn sword in his hand. "Go back!" he roared. "Go back, you human thief! You that come to rob the Fin Folk's land. Begone. Or by my father's head, I'll defile Hilda-Land with your nasty blood." When the three sons heard that, they trembled and said, "Come home, Dad, come home!" And the big Fin man made a sudden thrust at Thorodale's breast. But Thorodale sprang aside, and flung a cross in his face. It was made of the sticky grass called "cloggirs", and when it touched the dark skin, it clung. And it would not fall off! Then the dark man turned and fled, roaring as he ran with pain and grief and fury. And Thorodale knew him for the very Fin Man that had dragged his young wife away from the beach.

The Fin Man was afraid to pull the cross from his face because to touch it with his hand should have caused him more pain - the blessed symbols are agony to those under the Devil's rule). Then Thorodale cried to his sons who still sat dumbfounded in the boat, "Come out of that you duffers! Bring the salt ashore!" The three sons came on shore, each carrying his big kaesie of salt. And their father lined them up and bade them walk abreast around the island, each scattering salt as he went.

When they began scatering the salt, there arose a terrible rumpus among the Fin Folk and their beasts. Out of the houses and bytes and down to the sea they all ran, helter-skelter like a flock of sheep with mad dogs at their heels. The Fin men roared, the mermaids screamed, and the cattle bellowed so that it was armful to hear them. The end of it was that every last mother's son of them and every hair of their beasts took to the sea, never again to set foot on the island.

Their homes and steadings, their crops too, disappeared. Thorodale then cut nine crosses on the turf of the island, and his three sons went three times around it sowing their salt, nine rings of salt in all. And so the Fin Folk's Hilda-Land was cleared of all enchantment and lay bare and empty and clean to the sight of man and heaven. Then it was called EynHallow, the Holy Isle (or the Last-hallowed), and a church was raised there. That is how the Goodman of Thorodale took revenge on the Fin Folk.


Nancy M. MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA
Author, Poet
Clans Gunn, MacLeod of Lewis, and Keith (Marshall)
Ancient Material from Carmichael and O'Grady Silva
and Nora Chadwick
material from a Compilation of Scottish Tales - no author Except for above sources: "©All Rights Reserved Nov 1997/98,99,2000,2001, 2002, 2003 N. MacCorkill©"



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