Article IV written by Alexander Gunn was printed in the Northern Ensign on 14 October 1880 – Part C
“ A great deal of superstition existed in those days amongst the generality of people, such as belief in the healing virtue of certain lochs, to which sickly and delicate people were carried and plunged into the waters, when not unfrequently the cure was more than the disease.”
Watten, St John's Dunnet and Loch mo-Naire
“The lochs of Watten and Dunnet, as well as Loch Manar in Sutherlandshire, were resorted to for this purpose. The healing and health-restoring qualities of those Bethesdas were exercised four times in the year – viz, on the first Monday of the “raith”, that is, the first Monday of the quarter. The first Mondays of May and August were considered the most suitable because the state of weather was then most favourable for invalids, who were conveyed to the ground during night and camped out, waiting for the first streak of sunrise, when the invalid was taken and plunged overhead three times in the cold water of the loch.”
Wildlife at St John’s Loch, Dunnet
Are these patient birds waiting for the next
sunrise to plunge into the water?
St John’s Loch, Dunnet
A piece of money - usually a halfpenny
“This operation was preceded by casting a piece of money into the waters as an offering to the gods. Considerable sums have been fished out of the water of these sacred lochs when the drought of summer dried up the waters.”
This is Lochan na h-Earba showing the effect of low water levels - maybe
a time to look for an old halfpenny? The coins are on the cheese well by the
old drove road on Minchmoor so apparently some folks still offer money to
“In no case that I ever knew or heard of was there a cure effected by these immersions but in many cases they did hasten the death of the patient.”
“One wonders at people being so silly as to lend the least countenance to such a superstition, but that was not all that was questionable about this superstitious practice.”
See next blog.
The loch referred to as Manar has other spellings. It is called Loch mo-Naire most commonly.
In a fun up-to-date investigation of the old superstitions, Ian Neal and his family visited Loch mo-Naire and posted their encounter with the magic qualities of the loch on-line. Find Ian’s story on: http://www.electricscotland.com/travel/tours/tour29.htm
|Loch mo-Naire – Ian Neal’s photo – with permission|
It has not been difficult to find other writings to back-up what A Native of Badbea has told us.
As recent as WWI - Gordon Wilson
Loch Mo Naire
Named after an ancient Celtic goddess, this was probably a holy place in pre-Christian times, with the tradition surviving into the Christian era. The loch was famous all over the Highlands for its healing powers. For hundreds of years, until the first World War, sick and disabled people came to immerse themselves in the waters.
Another story about Loch Mo Naire
An early Strathnaver woman, who had the second sight and great healing powers, possessed a sacred stone. She was persecuted by the incoming Gordons (much hated by the locals). The chief pursued this woman with the intention of possessing either herself or the stone - or both! On fleeing to the loch, she threw the stone into the middle crying, "Mo-naire, Mo-naire," meaning "My shame. My shame," and thus escaped the Gordon's attentions. From that time, the loch has been attributed with great healing powers. Source: Early History of Strathnaver by Gordon Wilson http://www.caithness.org
Loch mo-Naire – Ian Neal’s photo – with permission
Calder's classic - History of Caithness
There were particular times for visiting it, viz., the first Monday of each quarter of the year. The summer quarter was on many accounts considered the best. The patient had to walk round the loch early in the morning; and if his strength did not permit him to do so, he was carried round it. The ceremony which he had to go through consisted in washing his face and hands in the lake, and throwing a piece of money, commonly a halfpenny, into it; and, if he would derive any permanent benefit to his health, it was absolutely necessary that he should be out of sight of it before sunrise. It is difficult to account for the origin of this superstition, for superstition it undoubtedly was. The waters of the loch do not seem to possess any healing or medicinal qualities.
There is a loch in Strathnaver called Lochmonar, which the common people believed to possess the same wonderful healing qualities as the one at Dunnet; and what is curious enough, the ceremonies which the patients had to go through were the very same at both lochs. There is an old tradition (evidently a monkish invention) which says that on St Stephen’s day its basin was occupied by a pleasant meadow and that on St John’s day the meadow was covered with water. This story of its origin, so akin to the marvellous, would, among a simple and credulous people, very naturally heighten their belief in its supposed curative powers.
“The Loch of Watten (N. – “Water”), 5 miles long by 1 ½ miles broad, is the largest lake in the country, and next to it in size are Lochs Calder, Shurrey, and More. There are no fewer than twenty-four lochs in the Parish of Halkirk, and a large number also in Latheron and Reay. St John’s Loch in Dunnet like Loch Ma Nathair in Strathnaver, enjoyed in olden times a reputation for its healing virtues. Invalids resorted to it in large numbers, especially at Midsummer (St John’s Day) plunging into its waters and going through certain ceremonies, which were expected to result in an effective cure.
Source: Caithness and Sutherland - Cambridge County Geographies,Scotland. Ed:W.Murison