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Jura – Island of Deer or The Cursed Isle?

Corryvreckan WhirlpoolThe name Jura is believed to originate from the Norse ‘Island of the Deer’ but do we know that for certain? I know I have it written down on the main page of my website which doesn’t mean it’s true of course. When I heard about the island for the first time and started reading about it in several books and online, the most common explanation for the name was Island of Deer. Other explanations are that the name is derived from the Old Norse for Udder Island reflecting the shape of the paps. Ken Lussey of Undiscovered Scotland gives a third possible explanation: “A third opinion is that it comes from a blend of Old Norse and Gaelic meaning Doraid’s Island. This third view finds support in the name of the island being recorded as Doraid Eilinn in AD678, the year in which Jura was said to have been the site of a major battle fought between native Picts and Scots from Ireland.”

But is there a fourth option perhaps? A more sinister and dark one? And was Corryvreckan the scene of human sacrifice? Gavin, a regular reader of this blog, sent me a couple of interesting links to another possible explanation for which I’m very grateful. In Irish Celtic Mythology the Monk St Columba established a settlement on the Isle of Hinba, there are various schools of thought on this, Hinba is Iona, Hinba is Saints Isle, or indeed that Hinba is actually Jura. And according to the Celtic mythology ritual human sacrifice took place in the north of Jura. The following link explains what could have happened:

The most dramatic of the Tammuz sacrificial deaths took place, not in the Mediterranean, but in the Whirlpool of Corrivreckan, located 50 miles west of Glasgow, Scotland. It was the only such annual sacrificial place in NW Europe and the ordeal was attended by thousands of people coming from as far away as Norway, Denmark, the Baltic region, Scotland and Ireland, even Russia. The island where they gathered used to be called “Hinba” from hinbasio (invasion). This name referred to the many people who annually arrived like an invasion to attend the sacrifice and to watch the life struggle of the young man in the coracle, which was anchored in the whirlpool, all observers watching in dead silence. From the high viewpoint at the far north tip of the island everyone could observe the tragedy. The cable with which the boat was tied to the anchor stone was woven out of the long braids that young women cut off for this purpose. It was a great honor to have your hair selected, and to this day, many women in NW Europe carefully save their long braids as long as they live for this purpose, even though the reason for this has long been forgotten. When the Benedictines arrived, the island’s name was quickly changed from Hinba to Jura, juramendu (cursed), from the most holy island to “The Cursed Isle” and a very determined, and almost successful, effort was made by the church to eliminate all evidence and memories of this happening.

There is yet another website with a similar account of this sacrificial place: “What these Inquisition members had witnessed was the last of the human sacrifices of the Goddess religion in western Europe, at least that is how the local people had seen it. Similar huge crowds had, centuries before, travelled to the north half of the Isle of Hinba (from hinbasio meaning invasion) when the northern Tammuz was sacrificed in the whirlpool of Corryvreckan, 50 miles west of Glasgow. People from as far away as Norway, the Baltic states and even Russia had annually attended that sacrifice. No wonder the church in Rome quickly changed the name of the island from Hinba to Jura (meaning cursed), when they gained the upper hand. Speaking at such a holy sacrament would have jeopardized a quick reincarnation for Tammuz into a newborn body, so the entire service was conducted in absolute silence. It is likely that something very similar was happening at Christ’s crucifixion.”

These two sites are not the only ones to support this theory. In the book “Odysseus and the Sea Peoples: A Bronze Age History of Scotland” by Edo Nyland and published on Google Books, is another interesting paragraph about the name Jura which I fully quote below:

The present name Jura is an abbreviation of juramendu, meaning curse, blasfemy, “the cursed isle.” The local people say it is a Gaelic word and means “deer,” of which there are many on the island. However, Gaelic had nothing to do with the naming. In the Saharan/Basque language galkor means “corrupting” which is exactly what Gallic/Gaelic did to the original language when it was introduced by Christian missionaries from Rome, and had even been manufactured by them, as explained in the more than one thousand year old Auraicept na n’Eccz (1153ff/4010ff), the operations manual of the Benedictine monks. The channel between the north tip of Jura and the Isle of Scarba is called Corrivreckan, from korri-breckan, korrika meaning tidal race and vreckan stands for Breckan: “Breckan’s tidal race,” the name of Prince Breckan, whose name folk memory preserved as a Danish or Irish prince who drowned in the whirlpool of Charybdis after having anchored in it for three days and nights. Adomnan, the biographer of St. Columba, writing in Latin some 60 or 70 years after the Saint’s death in 597AD, used the name “carubdis Brecani.” The name of feared Charybdis comes from Basque: karubdi’diz: “Vulgar death in the shining whirlpool.”

This is another case where Homer uses and adjective which is already part of the make-up of the name: in line XII:235 he talks about “shining Charbydis.” The whirlpool itself, which is located on the north side close to the shore of Scarba, was in Christian times give the Gallic name “Calleagh” meaning “the hag or the witch.” The place was holy to the inhabitants, so it must have been a Roman Catholic priest who named it. It appears certain that Adomnan had access to Homer’s Odyssey, therefore it is fairly safe to assume that Homers’s name “Charybdis” and Adomnan’s “Carbubdis” and Basque “karubdiz” were varieties of the name given to the whirlpool when the first missionaries arrived. It is likely that Prince Breckan drowned prior to Adomnan’s time, but after Odysseus.

“Breck” is said to be a Gallic word meaning “sandy” which supposedly described the color of his hair. However, Gallic had not yet been invented when Prince Breckan lived, therefore we have to look at Basque for a translation: barek-an, bareki (peacefully or calmly) suffix -an (in) and local legend indeed stresses the calm dignity which he, of his own free will, stepped into the boat and heroically accepted his death. He had to die; to survive, ad Odysseus did, would upset the planned resurrection and brought the return of spring and happiness, with all its blessings, into serious doubts. The top of the high hill on the north tip of Jura, which provides a panoramic view of the treacherous channel is called Cruachan, kru-aka-an, from krudel (cruelty) akabu (death) and (over there), i.e. “cruel death over there,” no doubt the comment of a visitor from the patriarchal outside. It is another name which must have been given by someone Christian or Jew who ovserved the sacrifice.

It was a death which was not nearly as cruel as nailing a man to the cross, letting him suffer in the sun’s heat and then giving him vinegar to drink. A short distance from the cave is a place called: Maol nan Damh, from ma-ahol-an-damuz, ama (goddess) aholku (to counsel) -an (inside) damuz (sorrowfully), the Goddess sorrowfully counseled inside. Theer is little doubt that this refers to the Chief Priestess following the dead prince into the cave, considered to be the womb of the Goddess, and after consummation of his immolation, seen by the waiting crowd as a light phenomenon, his spirit is released for resurrection (Campbell, 1959, p166).

The jeep trail giving access to this historic part of Jura follows the east coast. At the far end of this road was a still occupied croft by a small bay named Kinuachdrachd, a name said to derive from Gallic “Cean Uachterachd” meaning “Head of the uttermost part.” Again Gallic cannot be blamedm because it did not exist yeat. Instead it comes from Kinuak’dragat: “agitated they dregded the shore for the dead one.” This name is obviously an original from pre-Christian days. The old stone jetty which was built in the small bay nearby mus thave been used many times in the recovery of teh body of the sacrificed prince. Indeed the jetty may have been constructed especially for this purpose, it looks very old.

Whatever the truth, I found the information above extremely interesting and it speaks very much to my imagination. I know for myself that Jura will always be the beautiful and remote Island of Deer but I will never forget this story. From now on the names Jura and Corryvreckan, besides the many pleasant memories, will also have a different, a somewhat darker and sinister meaning. You are welcome to share your views on this fascinating story in the commment box below.

Leave a comment

  1. An interesting article Ron, but maybe people would take the name theory more seriously if Edo Nyland wasn’t involved. In the piece you quoted from his book he says that “Gallic/Gaelic… was introduced by Christian missionaries from Rome, and had even been manufactured by them…” and his alternative origins for various names leave a lot to be desired… like proof! Statements like “Gallic had not yet been invented when Prince Breckan lived” doesn’t count as proof as it forgets (or conveniently ignores?) one thing: when did Prince Breckan live (assuming he ever did)? In all honesty, Nyland’s the only one that needs this to be true to back up everything else he says! I think what the passage from his book shows is that people can be very subjective when trying to get THEIR point across!

    For now I will be going with the first three reasons as possible origins of the name of Jura; however the rest is interesting as it gives a bit more information on possible sacrifices at the whirlpool as well as the “Goddess religion” that existed in the area at one time! Overall interesting stuff, just a shame about Nyland really! (Insert rolling eyes here!)

  2. Looking a bit further in to this I found another “fourth option”:

    In the Statistical Account of Scotland from 1791-99, it is said that Jura could be derived from Juarey, the Gaelic for the island of yew trees; as it says in the Account, this signifies the great quantity of yew trees which grew in the island!

    The Account then goes on to say how the ancient name of the island was Dera, which… signifies a stag; that conveniently brings us back to the origin I personally prefer: the island of deer!

  3. My Grandfather, Gordon Wright, wrote a fair few short books about Jura and it’s history and I always remember him telling me that although Deer Island is a popular interpretation of the name it is an unlikely one as there were once no deer on the island, yet it was already named Jura. I do not know his sources but he was very well read and researched the island thoroughly.

  4. Very interesting. My direct Scottish ancestors immigrated from Jura to North Carolina between mid 1700’s to mid 1800’s. Our Scottish family surnames from Jura are Buie and MacDougall

  5. The last recorded human sacrifice was in 1860