Temple of Anaitis, Lusta, Waternish, Skye

‘Stone Circle’: OS Grid Reference – NG 2725 5273

Also Known as:

  1. Annait
  2. Temple of Annait

Getting Here

1880 map of Anaitis

1880 map of Anaitis

Otta Swire (1961) told how to find this place, thus: “The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the ‘Temple of Anaitis’ (so called).”

Archaeology & History

This is a curious place, full of archaeological potential if the folklore and history records are owt to go by, yet little of any substance remains to substantiate what may have been an important stone circle or other heathen site in earlier times. It seems to have been described first of all in the famous Hebridean journeys of Boswell and Johnson in the late 18th century.  Amidst his insulting description of both the landscape and local people, on Friday 17th September 1773, James Boswell visited the site and told:

“The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis.  Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage.  I must observe here, that in Skye there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound.  The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other.  A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner.  On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery” —

But in all honesty it seems Mr Johnson was either too lazy to write about the place, or simply didn’t actually get there, in spite of what he alleged!  But later that evening, Boswell dined with the same Mr MacQueen, who told him more of this site.  In the typically pedantic tone of english supremacy (which still prevails in some idiots who visit these lands), he continued by saying:

“Mr Macqueen had laid stress on the name given to the place by the country people, Ainnit; and added, ” I knew not what to make of this piece of antiquity, till I met with the Anaitidis delubrum in Lydia, mentioned by Pausanias and the elder Pliny.”  Dr. Johnson, with his usual acuteness, examined Mr Macqueen as to the meaning of the word Ainnit, in Erse, and it proved to be a water-place, or a place near water, “which,” said Mr. Macqueen, “agrees with all the descriptions of the temples of that goddess, which were situated near rivers, that there might be water to wash the statue.”

There ensued a discussion between Mr MacQueen and Samuel Johnson about the etymology of ‘Anaitis’, with one thinking it was of a goddess, and another that it represented an early christian site.  To this day it is difficult to say what the word means with any certainty.  In W.J. Watson’s (1993) fine work he tells us,

Andoit, now annaid, has been already explained as a patron saint’s church, or a church that contains the relics of the founder.  This is the meaning in Ireland and it is all we have to go upon.  How far it is held with regard to Scotland is hard to say… They are often in places  that are now, and must always have been, rather remote and out of the way.  It is very rarely indeed that an Annat can be associated with any particular saint, nor have I met any traditions connected with them.  But wherever there is an Annat there are traces of an ancient chapel or cemetery, or both; very often, too, the Annat adjoins a fine well or stream…”

The great Skye historian and folklorist Otta Swire (1961) also wrote about this mysterious site, mainly echoing what’s said above, but also adding:

“This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘Water-place’ from Celtic ‘An’ = water, because many are near water. Others suggest ‘Ann’ = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct – but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was ‘Na Caits’ = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the ‘Cats’ Cairn’.”

The Cats’ Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young boy from the 18th century, who was buried where he died and its story is told elsewhere on TNA.  Another example of the Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at the megalithic site, Clach na h’annait.

References:

  1. Boswell, James, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, National Illustrated Library: London 1899.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie: Glasgow 1961.
  3. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1993.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.482467, -6.552290 Temple of Anaitis

Raven’s Stone, Elgol, Strathaird, Skye

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NG 520 144

Folklore

This once-famous standing stone appears to have gone.  It was described in Otta Swire’s (1961) superb book on the folklore of Skye, where she wrote:

“Overlooking Elgol is Bidein an Fhithich. Near here once stood the famous Raven’s Stone, about which the Brahn Seer prophesied. It is believed that this prophecy, however, can never be fulfilled, as seventy or eighty years ago the stone was broken up and the main portion of it is now incorporated in one wall of the Glendale church, according to the Rev. A. R. Forbes’ Place Names of Skye. The stone was believed to have had some connexion with old pagan religious ceremonies.”

The Brahn Seer (more commonly known as the Brahan Seer) was Coinneach Odhar, a 16th century prophet who is said to have foretold the Battle of Culloden and other events.

References:

  1. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.153729, -6.101386 Ravens Stone

Na Clachan Bhreige, Kirkibost, Strathaird, Skye

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference –  NG 5432 1768

Also known as:

  1. The False Stones
  2. Na Clachan Breitheach
  3. Strathaird Circle

Getting Here

Way off from seemingly anywhere this one – on the southern foothills of the great Cuillins, by the western edge of a seemingly unnamed loch. (most unusual) Take the Elgol road (A881) south from Broadford, nearly to its end, keeping an eye out for Kirkibost a few miles from the very end of the road. Just past here, stop and walk the track west to Camasunary a half-mile along, through the small forestry-bit, then follow the line of the trees north and keep going a bit more till y’ reach the nice stream that feeds that unnamed loch. Cross the stream!

Archaeology & History

Alexander Thom's 1967 drawing

Alexander Thom’s 1967 drawing

A fascinating little site this one! Perhaps consisting of as many as eight stones at one time, only three stand visible today.  Alexander Thom (1967) reported finding other stones in this circle “being buried in the peat, but prodding revealed their position roughly” — as shown on his drawing here.  There may at one time have been as many as eight stones here, but the site itself is quite small, making a ring of stones only 21-feet across (or 8 megalithic yards as Thom had it).  The ruinous state of the site was put down to the stupidity of the Church of Scotland issuing “instructions that all stones in Skye were to be thrown down” a few centuries back.

Aubrey Burl's later 'four-poster' summary

Aubrey Burl’s later ‘four-poster’ summary

Aubrey Burl reported that “there were once at least 4 stones here, the tallest being of 6ft 6ins (2m) high,” and wondered whether this was one of the many ‘four-poster’ stone circles that scatter Scotland and elsewhere.  An issue he seemed comfortable to proclaim a few years later in his survey of such sites. (Burl 1988) Of those stones still standing, the tallest is just 5 feet high; but there’s the impressive 11½-foot long monolith laying on the southeast edge of the ring!  Mr Burl also pointed out that some

“casual digging  inside the ring around 1860 uncovered a blackpolished stone about 1½ ins (4cm) long, ‘somewhat resembling a small pestle.’”

I found the proximity of the Cille Mhaire burial ground a mile west of here more than a bit intriguing (though didn’t have time to assess its geomantic relationship further).  And the reported presence of prehistoric cairns nearby imply that the Na Clachan Bhreige ‘circle’ had some relationship with death and burial.

Folklore

The folkname of ‘The False Stones’ comes from that well-known tale of the site “supposedly being the remains of three men turned into stone for deserting their wives.”  Something which Otta Swire (1964) thought was likely told by christian converts.  It would have probably replaced an earlier tale of the stones being the site where some ancestral spirits lived.  Swire also told that,

“these were once, if tradition is to be believed, Stones of Wisdom who could both foretell the future and show justice as between man and man.”

Burl (1988) also points out how,

“The name, Na Clachan Bhreige, has been variously pointed translated as ‘the judicial stones’, a place where medieval law courts were held, as in several other Scottish rings.  It has also been interpreted as ‘the stone of lies, or falsehood.’”

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR: Oxford 1988.
  2. Grinsell, L.V., Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, Hale: Newton Abbot 1976.
  3. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.
  4. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
  5. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.183969, -6.067265 Na Clachan Bhreige

Beinn na Cailleach, Broadford, Skye

Sacred Mountain:  OS Grid Reference – NG 601 232

Getting Here

Seems rather daft giving directions for a mountain, but… For incomers, cross the bridge onto the island and keep on the A87 road to Broadford.  A couple of mile the other side of the village westwards, take the small left turn in the trees and go to the dead-end.  The hill reaching up above you (west) is the legendary mountain to walk up!

Folklore

Beinn na Cailleach

This giant old mountain has been associated with the primal female creation figure, the cailleach, for many a moon. And strangely – for me anyway – I’ve not ventured to sleep with this old place in my passings here as I usually do wherever the cailleach resides.

It doubtless has many more tales than the one A.A. MacGregor (1937) mentions in his superb Peat-Fire Flame.  Here he tells the story of,

“the cairn situated on the summit of Beinn na Cailleach, not far from Broadford… This cairn is believed to mark the site of burial of a Norse princess who died at Ord. On her deathbed this princess commanded her attendants to convey her, when dead to the top of Beinn na Cailleach, and to bury her there, in order that she might lie in the wake of the winds from Norway.”

MacGregor then follows the tale with a lovely note on some boring old dood he obviously had little respect for, saying:

“It is the traditions associated with this cairn that MacCulloch, the geologist, in his Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, asks to be excused from repeating, since he considers them, one and all, to be unworthy of regard. But, then, MacCulloch was a most tiresome fellow; and he seems to have imbued most of his writings with something of the same tiresomeness”!

On the lower northeastern slopes of this great mountain we find another of the old woman’s abodes, the ‘Lochain Beinn na Cailleach’, where this great hag would no doubt wash her linen, as many old myths tell she did at other pools of the same name.

A slightly different version of the folktale was told by Archibald Geikie in his Note-book of a Field Geologist from 1858:

“The top of Beinn na Cailleaich is flat and smooth, surmounted in the centre by a cairn. Tradition tells that beneath these stones there rest the bones of the nurse of a Norwegian princess. She had accompanied her mistress to “the misty hills of Skye,” and eventually died there. But the love of home continued strong with her to the end, for it was her last request that she might be buried on the top of Beinn na Cailleaich, that the clear northern breezes, coming fresh from the land of her childhood, might blow over her grave.”

An early essay in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1841 tells the grave atop of the mountain to have been the resting place of the Norwegian King Haco’s wife or his nurse. Derek Cooper (1970) meanwhile told us that whilst the cairn was “erected as a memorial to a Skye chieftain,” the cailleach of the mountain, or “the old woman is reputedly Saucy Mary, who laid a chain between Kyle and Kyleakin to exact toll from passing ships.”

There are other mythic place-names scattered around the edges of this mountain with hints of ancient female deities, or pagan goddesses — whichever way one cares to see them.

References:

  1. Cooper, Roy, Skye, Routledge: London 1970.
  2. Geikie, Archibald, The Story of a Boulder, MacMillan: London 1858.
  3. MacGregor, Alisdair Alpin, The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1937.
  4. o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid, The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2003.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: London 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  57.237499, -5.976387 Beinn na Cailleach

Temple of Anaitis, Lusta, Waternish, Skye

‘Stone Circle’: OS Grid Reference – NG 2725 5273

Also Known as:

  1. Annait
  2. Temple of Annait

Getting Here

1880 map of Anaitis
1880 map of Anaitis

Otta Swire (1961) told how to find this place, thus: “The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the ‘Temple of Anaitis’ (so called).”

Archaeology & History

This is a curious place, full of archaeological potential if the folklore and history records are owt to go by, yet little of any substance remains to substantiate what may have been an important stone circle or other heathen site in earlier times. It seems to have been described first of all in the famous Hebridean journeys of Boswell and Johnson in the late 18th century.  Amidst his insulting description of both the landscape and local people, on Friday 17th September 1773, James Boswell visited the site and told:

“The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis.  Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage.  I must observe here, that in Skye there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound.  The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other.  A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner.  On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery” —

But in all honesty it seems Mr Johnson was either too lazy to write about the place, or simply didn’t actually get there, in spite of what he alleged!  But later that evening, Boswell dined with the same Mr MacQueen, who told him more of this site.  In the typically pedantic tone of english supremacy (which still prevails in some idiots who visit these lands), he continued by saying:

“Mr Macqueen had laid stress on the name given to the place by the country people, Ainnit; and added, ” I knew not what to make of this piece of antiquity, till I met with the Anaitidis delubrum in Lydia, mentioned by Pausanias and the elder Pliny.”  Dr. Johnson, with his usual acuteness, examined Mr Macqueen as to the meaning of the word Ainnit, in Erse, and it proved to be a water-place, or a place near water, “which,” said Mr. Macqueen, “agrees with all the descriptions of the temples of that goddess, which were situated near rivers, that there might be water to wash the statue.”

There ensued a discussion between Mr MacQueen and Samuel Johnson about the etymology of Anaitis, with one thinking it was of a goddess, and another that it represented an early christian site.  To this day it is difficult to say what the word means with any certainty.  In W.J. Watson’s (1993) fine work he tells us,

Andoit, now annaid, has been already explained as a patron saint’s church, or a church that contains the relics of the founder.  This is the meaning in Ireland and it is all we have to go upon.  How far it is held with regard to Scotland is hard to say… They are often in places  that are now, and must always have been, rather remote and out of the way.  It is very rarely indeed that an Annat can be associated with any particular saint, nor have I met any traditions connected with them.  But wherever there is an Annat there are traces of an ancient chapel or cemetery, or both; very often, too, the Annat adjoins a fine well or stream…”

The great Skye historian and folklorist Otta Swire (1961) also wrote about this mysterious site, mainly echoing what’s said above, but also adding:

“This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘Water-place’ from Celtic ‘An’ = water, because many are near water. Others suggest ‘Ann’ = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct – but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was ‘Na Caits’ = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the ‘Cats’ Cairn’.”

The Cats’ Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young boy from the 18th century, who was buried where he died and its story is told elsewhere on TNA.  Another example of the Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at the megalithic site, Clach na h’annait.

References:

  1. Boswell, James, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, National Illustrated Library: London 1899.
  2. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie: Glasgow 1961.
  3. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1993.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Raven’s Stone, Elgol, Strathaird, Skye

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NG 520 144

Folklore

This once-famous standing stone appears to have gone.  It was described in Otta Swire’s (1961:230) superb book on the folklore of Skye, where she wrote:

“Overlooking Elgol is Bidein an Fhithich. Near here once stood the famous Raven’s Stone, about which the Brahn Seer prophesied. It is believed that this prophecy, however, can never be fulfilled, as seventy or eighty years ago the stone was broken up and the main portion of it is now incorporated in one wall of the Glendale church, according to the Rev. A. R. Forbes’ Place Names of Skye. The stone was believed to have had some connexion with old pagan religious ceremonies.”

The Brahn Seer (more commonly known as the Brahan Seer) was Coinneach Odhar, a 16th century prophet who is said to have foretold the Battle of Culloden and other events.

References:

Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Na Clachan Bhreige, Kirkibost, Strathaird, Skye

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference –  NG 5432 1768

Also known as:

  1. The False Stones
  2. Na Clachan Breitheach
  3. Strathaird Circle

Getting Here

Way off from seemingly anywhere this one – on the southern foothills of the great Cuillins, by the western edge of a seemingly unnamed loch. (most unusual) Take the Elgol road (A881) south from Broadford, nearly to its end, keeping an eye out for Kirkibost a few miles from the very end of the road. Just past here, stop and walk the track west to Camasunary a half-mile along, through the small forestry-bit, then follow the line of the trees north and keep going a bit more till y’ reach the nice stream that feeds that unnamed loch. Cross the stream!

Archaeology & History

Alexander Thom's 1967 drawing
Alexander Thom’s 1967 drawing

A fascinating little site this one! Perhaps consisting of as many as eight stones at one time, only three stand visible today.  Alexander Thom (1967) reported finding other stones in this circle “being buried in the peat, but prodding revealed their position roughly” — as shown on his drawing here.  There may at one time have been as many as eight stones here, but the site itself is quite small, making a ring of stones only 21-feet across (or 8 megalithic yards as Thom had it).  The ruinous state of the site was put down to the stupidity of the Church of Scotland issuing “instructions that all stones in Skye were to be thrown down” a few centuries back.

Aubrey Burl's later 'four-poster' summary
Aubrey Burl’s later ‘four-poster’ summary

Aubrey Burl reported that “there were once at least 4 stones here, the tallest being of 6ft 6ins (2m) high,” and wondered whether this was one of the many ‘four-poster’ stone circles that scatter Scotland and elsewhere.  An issue he seemed comfortable to proclaim a few years later in his survey of such sites. (Burl 1988) Of those stones still standing, the tallest is just 5 feet high; but there’s the impressive 11½-foot long monolith laying on the southeast edge of the ring!  Mr Burl also pointed out that some

“casual digging  inside the ring around 1860 uncovered a blackpolished stone about 1½ ins (4cm) long, ‘somewhat resembling a small pestle.'”

I found the proximity of the Cille Mhaire burial ground a mile west of here more than a bit intriguing (though didn’t have time to assess its geomantic relationship further).  And the reported presence of prehistoric cairns nearby imply that the Na Clachan Bhreige ‘circle’ had some relationship with death and burial.

Folklore

The folkname of ‘The False Stones’ comes from that well-known tale of the site “supposedly being the remains of three men turned into stone for deserting their wives.”  Something which Otta Swire (1964) thought was likely told by christian converts.  It would have probably replaced an earlier tale of the stones being the site where some ancestral spirits lived.  Swire also told that,

“these were once, if tradition is to be believed, Stones of Wisdom who could both foretell the future and show justice as between man and man.”

Burl (1988) also points out how,

“The name, Na Clachan Bhreige, has been variously pointed translated as ‘the judicial stones’, a place where medieval law courts were held, as in several other Scottish rings.  It has also been interpreted as ‘the stone of lies, or falsehood.'”

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR: Oxford 1988.
  2. Grinsell, L.V., Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, Hale: Newton Abbot 1976.
  3. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.
  4. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
  5. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian