The Five Sisters of Kintail

This is a story that our tour guide told us on the way back from the Isle of Skye, and I’ve taken the bare bones and added my own flourishes and will use it as my creative post from 05/06/11, as it really grabbed me. I’m a pathetic romantic, with many an unrequited love behind me, so I felt the pain of these girls…

Once, many centuries ago, on the shores of Loch Duich, there was a little village called Kintail. In the village, the clan chief was blessed with 5 wonderful daughters. The eldest was Margaret, a wonderful cook. The second was Moira, and she was a talented dancer. The third was Maisie, who had a beautiful singing voice. The fourth was Morna, and she was skilled at weaving and sewing. The youngest daughter, Molly, was kind and sweet, with a bright smile, sparkling, mischievous eyes and a joyous laugh. They each were as beautiful as each other, with black hair and green eyes and the local people thought that 5 more wonderful women could never have existed in the world. However, the years passed and despite their beauty and talents, none of them were married. It became a sore point with the clan chief, for, though he loved his girls, it was expensive to look after them, and he was often mocked by other men for living amongst so many women. They told him he was getting soft and feminine, and the villagers began to gossip about what could be wrong with the girls that nobody would want to marry them.

Eventually, one night at a great party, fed up with his friends’ mocking and teasing, and full of far too much whiskey, the old clan chief stood up and took a vow on his sword.

“Within the next year, I will marry all my girls to men that are worthy of them, starting with the eldest, and then in order to the youngest.”

So, the next day, tired but determined, he set out to travel over Scotland, to find men that were good enough and handsome enough and talented enough for his wonderful daughters. But, though he travelled far and wide, and met some good men, or some handsome men, or some talented men, he met none that he considered of the required skills, beauty and morality to be decent enough for his daughters.

It was coming to the end of his self-imposed deadline, when one day, the clan chief was sitting on the shores of Loch Duich, watching his beautiful daughters playing in the water, chatting and laughing amongst themselves. Towards the shore, came a boat, in which a young, attractive man was standing and waving to the girls on the shore.

‘Help! Help me!’ the young man cried.

The clan chief hurried down to the shore, where his daughters were now pulling in the boat with the young man inside of it.

‘Thank you, thank you, I am so grateful to be on dry land!’ said the young man, as he jumped out of his boat. ‘My name is Connor, I have been sailing for many days. I come from country of Ireland, and I have been blown off course on my way home. Where is this place that I have landed?’

‘This is the country of my clan,’ said the chief, ‘This is Loch Duich, and the village of Kintail, in the land of Scotland. I am the chief of this area, and these are my five daughters. You must be tired and hungry, please, come back to my house and we will look after you.’ 

‘Thank you,’ said the young man,’ That is very kind of you. My boat is full of holes and will need to be repaired. May I stay with you until it is fixed?’

‘Of course,’ said the chief, ‘You are very welcome.’

So, the young man, Connor, began to live with the clan chief and his daughters, and each day he went down to the shore to mend his boat. As is so often the way when an attractive young man lives with attractive young women, the clan chief’s girls began to fall a little in love with the Irish man. They took special care of him, each secretly hoping he might look at her kindly. Margaret cooked him all his favourite food, Moira and Maisie would sing and dance with him in the evenings, and Morna mended his clothes and made him much sturdier ones to take home. But, it was the youngest daughter, Molly, who would sit on the end of his boat and tease him and swing her legs in the sun and laugh when he dropped his hammer or blushed in embarrassment that eventually captured his heart. The love between the two of them grew and grew, until Connor knew that he must ask for her hand in marriage. But the days passed and the right moment to ask the clan chief never arrived. Connor’s boat was almost finished, and he began to feel anxious that he would never have the opportunity to ask the clan chief. 

However, the clan chief could see that Connor’s boat was almost ready, and so he asked the young man to accompany him on a hunt in the woods to say farewell properly to the boy. Connor thought this would be the perfect moment to ask the clan chief for Molly’s hand in marriage. But, a rival clan was also hunting in the woods that day, and they spotted the chief out with Connor, and decided to follow them, attempting to find an opportunity to murder the old clan chief. Coming to a glen, the clan chief dismounted from his horse and put down his shield and weapons. The rival clan knew this was their chance and sent their best archer forth, who aimed an arrow straight at the old clan chief’s heart. Luckily, however, Connor heard the arrow, and jumped straight in front of the old clan chief, stopping the arrow with his shoulder. The rival clan were scared by the young man’s crazy action, and decided they did not wish to anger a clan with such fierce and extreme loyalties, and they turned quickly on their heels and ran away.

The clan chief was hugely impressed by Connor’s action, and as the lad lay on the forest floor, recovering from his wound, the chief told him, ‘You have shown such loyalty and selflessness towards me, and I wish to show the same to you. Whatever of mine that you wish for yourself, it is yours. Whatever you want in the world, I will get it for you. Whatever is your greatest desire, consider it granted.’

Connor hesitated only briefly before saying, ‘Molly. Your youngest daughter. I wish Molly to be my wife.’

The clan chief’s face fell. ‘My son, I would willingly give you Molly, but I have sworn on my sword to marry my daughters from the eldest to the youngest. Would you not prefer Margaret? She is just as beautiful as her sister, and a wonderful cook, she will keep you strong and healthy for all your days.’

Connor shook his head. ‘It is Molly I love and it is Molly I will have, or no-one at all.’

The clan chief frowned and wrung his hands, ‘My boy’, he said, ‘I cannot go back on a vow made on my sword. I must marry Margaret first, and then Moira, then Maisie and then Morna. I cannot marry Molly first.’

It was then that Connor was struck with an idea. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘Sir, I have 4 brothers at home in Ireland. They are each of good character, intelligence and bravery and each is in want of a wife. If you let me marry your daughter Molly before I leave, I will go home, and bring back my brothers for your other daughters.’

This plan delighted the old clan chief who thought he had finally found eligible men to marry his daughters to. He and Connor shook hands on the plan. The young man was brought home and the happy news was conveyed to Molly and her sisters. The girls cared tenderly for Connor’s arm and it was soon mended. The wedding ceremony took place and a huge feast celebrated the marriage. Connor and Molly spent a week together as man and wife. However, it was then time for Connor to leave for Ireland in his mended boat and bring back his 4 Irish brothers. He waved a tearful farewell to his beautiful bride, who stood waving and staring at the point her husband’s boat had disappeared from view for many hours afterwards. She would return there every day, joined by her sisters, to wait and watch for the first glimpse of the returning boat and their new husbands. But, as the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years, and the boat still did not return, the girls began to lose their beauty in their loneliness and disappointment.

The old clan chief, however, never lost hope that Connor would one day return with his brothers. ‘His action in the woods could only be that of a truly brave, honest and righteous man,’ said the clan chief, as he watched his sad daughters return home after one more disappointing day watching the waters of Loch Duich. But, as he looked at the worry lines that were being etched over his daughters brows, and the grey that was sprinkled in their hair, he began to fear the Irish brothers would no longer be attracted to the girls and may refuse to marry them. So with great reluctance, he sought the assistance of a magic-man, who lived in a cave, high in the mountains.

‘Magic-man,’ said the clan chief, ‘ My daughters wait on the shores of Loch Duich for 5 Irish men who will make them their wives. But, each day my daughters grow older and sadder and the fresh bud of their beauty is fading. Can you cast a spell so that they keep their beauty until their men return?’

The magic-man stared at the clan chief for a long time, until the old man began to feel he should never have sought the magic-man’s assistance. But, just as the clan chief was about to return home, the magic-man nodded slowly and began rocking back and forth. He chanted and mumbled a strange spell, over and over and over, until the very earth began to shake, and thunder and lightning was pulled from the sky and the clan chief cowered in fear at the terrible magic that was being conjured by the magic-man. With a great scream, the magic-man finished his spell, the earth rumbled and the magic-man fell down in the cave, sweating and shaking. He croaked, ‘it is done. Your daughters will never lose their youth or beauty until their men return for them.’ The clan chief quietly thanked the magic-man, and left the cave in the full darkness of the night, feeling a great sense of unease.

When he returned home, he called to his daughters, but there was no answer. He looked in their beds, but they appeared not to have been slept in. Running outside with a torch, he looked all over the fields and the surrounding areas, calling out their names. The village was roused and each man and woman took a torch and joined the search. As the sun was coming up over the houses of Kintail, the clan chief looked into the sky and noticed 5 new beautiful mountain peaks surrounding the village. Each had black rocks the colour of his daughter’s hair and were covered with greenery the colour of their eyes. The old clan chief broke down in tears as he knew for certain that his daughters had been changed into 5 mountains to preserve their beauty for eternity.

To this day, the sisters still stand and watch in all their finery over Loch Duich, waiting for their Irish husbands to return. It is said that if anyone with the blood of the faithless and feckless Connor and his brothers runs to the top of the mountains and places a kiss on the top of each peak, the girls will appear again, as beautiful as the day they were first seen by Connor as he sailed towards Kintail in his broken boat.


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Filed under NYWM, Scotland

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