Aileach, the Galley

While visiting Dunollie near Oban, Scotland, we happened upon this fascinating galley between the house and castle. Since I've included galleys in many of my stories I wanted to learn all I could about it. One of the men who'd sailed it was there and I asked several questions.

The Lord of the Isles Galley, Aileach, Designed by Colin Mudie. Built in 1991 by James McDonald & Sons
Length 40 ft
Beam 10 ft
Draught 2 ft
Weight 3.5 Tonnes

 The galleys, called bìrlinn in Scottish Gaelic, were clinker built, in which the edges of hull planks overlap. Galleys were moved through the water by oars and sails. Hundreds of years ago, this was the main mode of transportation in and around the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

There is a dispute between historians about the origins of the West Highland birlinn. Some say they are descended from the Viking longships, while others have found archeological evidence that the Celtic birlinn existed from BC times and was developed long before Viking invasions of Scotland. In fact, some say the Viking longships originally had no sail but they later added one based on the Celtic birlinn design.

 The first recorded battle in the North Atlantic occurred in the English Channel in 56 BC between Julius Caesar's Roman force and the Veneti of Celtic Brittany. It was recorded that the Veneti birlinn had high prows and sterns to handle huge waves and flatter keels to navigate into shallow waters where Roman galleys couldn't go. They were made of oak and had leather sails. Celtic birlinn were designed and built specifically for sailing on the Atlantic. They were also very tough and resistant to ramming during battle. Ramming was a standard Roman practice for sinking other vessels during war, but the Celtic galleys were so strong many of the Roman vessels sank instead after the ramming attempts.

 Somerled (Somhairlidh) forefather of the MacDonalds, MacDougalls and other clans is said to have invented the central fixed rudder for the West Highland birlinn. This was considered a major innovation.

Two or three men manned each oar of a small galley and they could transport three or four dozen warriors quickly to battle. A larger galley could transport a hundred or more men.

Gaelic seafarers sang rowing songs as they rowed. The "mouth music" or puirt-a-beul created a strong beat and a rhythm for the men rowing in unison. The people also sang this type of music when doing other rhythmic group tasks such as using hand mill stones to grind grain and while waulking wool. Listen to one of the songs here.

Here is an article written during the time we visited Dunollie in July 2013 and saw the Aileach.

Thanks for checking out my post.

My Notorious Highlander: Chief Torrin MacLeod vows to possess and wed the spirited lady who stole his heart the previous winter. But Lady Jessie MacKay wants naught to do with the dangerous warrior, no matter how devilishly handsome and charming he is. When Torrin arrives unexpectedly at Jessie's home, along with Gregor MacBain, a man Jessie was formerly handfasted to, she is thrown off-kilter. She never wanted to see either man again, but now they are vying for her hand. Torrin promises to protect her from the devious MacBain, but how can she trust Torrin when she has witnessed how lethal he is?

The more time Torrin spends with the strong and independent Jessie, the more determined he is to win her heart. Once she allows him a kiss, he feels her passion flame as hot as his own. After she knows Torrin better, Jessie finds herself falling for the fearsome Highlander. But the odds are stacked against them. The sinister MacBain is bent on kidnapping Jessie, making her his bride and killing Torrin, while Jessie's conniving younger brother, Haldane, is determined to use Jessie to take over the castle in his older brother's absence. Jessie fears she can never be with the man she loves, while Torrin will do everything in his power to ensure they are together forever. In his heart, she is the only lady for him.    


Jean Lilienthal said...

Great post, Vonda! Love the pics and info!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thank you so much, Jean. Glad you liked it.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

What a great find for you. WOW I bet you were excited to not only find it but to have someone who could explain it to you. Yes, you have me wanting to return to our motherland. AGAIN!!!! Beautiful post.

Vanessa Holland said...

Wow, that's really interesting. I love the music, too

Vonda Sinclair said...

Paisley, it was a wonderful surprise. Especially since I'd wanted to learn about them. Thanks!

Vanessa, I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks!

Màiri Norris said...

I suppose it's not too surprising how much like Viking longships some of the birlinn's looked! Really enjoyed this post - and Julie Fowlis' music is wonderful.
Tweeted and shared.

Vonda Sinclair said...

That's true. Thanks, Mairi. Glad you enjoyed it.

Julie Doherty said...

Enjoyed the blog, and great seeing Aileach here. She's beautiful.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thank you, Julie. She sure is.

Annie Kelly said...

Another brilliant post! Loved the details and just ADORED the music. :D
Annie (aka Kelly Ann Scott)

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thank you, Annie. So glad you enjoyed it.