Life a right shadow is,
For if it long appeare,
Then it is spent, and Deathes long Night drawes neare;
Shadowes are moving, light,
And is there ought so moving as this?
When it is most in Sight,
It steales away, and none can tell how, where,
So neere our Cradles to our Coffines are.
W. Drummond of Hawthornden.
The carved crosses and monumental slabs peculiar to the West of Scotland are best known from the examples which are to be seen round the walls of the cathedral at Iona; but it is not at Iona alone that such stones are to be found, as there are several hundred other specimens scattered throughout the burying grounds of Argyllshire, besides others in neighbouring countries.
It has been my lot to live for many years in Kintyre, a district peculiarly rich in these relics of the past, and consequently I have had many opportunities to studying them. A few years ago I obtained from the Parish Ministers of Argyllshire a list of the sculptured stones in their various districts, and I have to thank them very sincerely for their help. Notable among these districts was the island of Islay, and I lost no time in going there.
On my first visit I took casts of about a dozen stones and photographed the results. The first visit led to a second and that to many more. Each time fresh stones had to be dealt with, until by degrees I made impressions or photographs of nearly all important Islay sculptures, and it struck me that they formed such a varied and interesting collection as to make it worth while to publish them by themselves, in the hope that if the result proved satisfactory others might be led to explore fresh districts in the same way.
The illustrations are in the most cases engraved from photographs of plaster casts, the moulds for which were made in wet paper; undoubtedly the best wasy of reproducing these time-worn and weather-beaten designs, as there is always a possibility of error in the most skilled free-hand drawing. Unless otherwise mentioned the illustrations are to the scale of one-tenth.
Large standing crosses, and stones where the cutting was very deep, were photographed direct wherever it was possible.
A large number of the stones retained so little pattern that they seemed hardly to repay the labour of preparing casts. Other stones which had but faint traces of carving are merely referred to and their positions indicated on the plans of the various churchyards.
I think that a word of explanation as to the letterpress is desirable. I have confined myself as much as possible to a description of the stones and of the churches near which they lie. But I have been tempted, from time to time, to refer to other antiquities which I have come across in travelling about the island.
I have quoted from the Origines Parochiales Scotia, from Bishop Forbes Kalendars of Scottish Saints, and from other books which throw light on the history of the island; by doing so I hope that I may have brought together some material which though well known to western archaeologists might take other readers time and trouble to collect.
My labours have been greatly lightened by much kind assistance. To Mrs. Ramsay of Kildalton my thanks are due to valuable help regarding the stones in the south of the island, to Dr. Joseph Anderson for his most interesting description of the great Kildalton Cross, and to Mr. Morrison of Islay who had the Finlaggan chapel cleared of a mass of fallen masonry, thereby bringing to light some fine slabs.
I wish also to express my obligation to the late Mr. J. S. R. Ballingal of Ealabus, and to Mrs. Ballingal, whose extensive local knowledge I found only equalled by their kindness in putting it at my disposal; this also applies to Mr. Colin Campbell and Mr. Reid of Port Ellen. I have also to acknowledge the ever ready help and hospitality of the late Rev. J. Barnett, Minister of Kilchoman, when my work took me into his neighbourhood.
Among others who helped me either by advice or by practical assistance in field work and in the preparation of casts and photographs, I wish to record my indebtness to Mr. J. Romilly Allen, Mr. Bertram Vaughan Johnson, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hamond. My thanks are also due to the Honory Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society for permission to reprint Mr. Alfred Maudslay's Notes on paper moulding.