Township: Balephetrish

Map Reference: Balephetrish 9

Name Type: shore

Meaning: Balephetrish | At the centre of a natural amphitheatre created by the raised beach above the Balephetrish shoreline is a rock known as ScG Clach a' Choire 'the rock of the hollow'. More commonly today it is called The Ringing Stone, because of the sound it produces when struck (Canmore ID 21529). This rounded glacial erratic stands as a perched boulder 1.8 m high. It is an outstanding feature, pock-marked as it is by fifty-three Bronze Age cup markings: 'A rock gong ... listed by John MacKenzie as one of the seven wonders of Scotland ... Clach a' Choire was, 'said to contain a crock of gold, but if it ever split Tiree will disappear beneath the waves'.' (Black 2008, 396-7)
There are at least seven other rock gongs in Scotland, for example the Iron Stone at Huntly in Aberdeenshire (Canmore ID 17827), which, like the Ringing Stone, 'has been wedged off the ground by small rocks placed at both ends’ possibly to enhance the stone's resonance (Fagg 1997, 5). These are particularly common in Africa, where ‘the voice of the rock is believed to be the voice of an ancestor or other spirit with power to summon the supernatural’ (Fagg 1997, 3). It is possible it was played as a musical instrument: ‘Two people working at the same site, knocking stone upon stone, might well have set up quite complex rhythms, as Nigerian tribesmen do to this day using resonant rocks, sometimes singing through bits of tubing and other items to distort their voices, which are intended to be those of their ancestors speaking from another world’ (Purser 1992, 25). Limestone and granite seem to be the commonest rocks forming rock gongs, the most important characteristic being their crystalline texture (Fagg 1997, 6).

This first element for this amphitheatre derives from ScG coire 'circular hollow surrounded by hills; ring' (Dwelly) < EG coire 'cauldron'. Coire occurs in two other locations on Tiree: Poll a' Choire 'the pool of the hollow', and An Coire Geur 'the sharp hollow', Barrapol; it is a very common element in Gaelic-speaking Scotland, for example Coire Liath on Lismore (SP).
The second element contains the mythological Early Gaelic personal name Finn mac Cumaill (Fionn mac Cumhaill, Campbell 1891, 16). Names based on this warrior-hunter, who lived 'outside society in a wilderness boundary zone' (Fitzpatrick 2015, 28), are found throughout Europe, but particularly in Ireland, Man and Scotland: for example, Seefin in County Wicklow and Suidhe Coire Fhionn or Fingal's Cauldron Seat (Canmore ID 39705), two stone circles on Arran. These names derive from the Finn Cycle of Tales (the Fiannaigheacht), which appear for the first time in Ireland by the seventh century (Fitzpatrick 2015, 25), and in Scotland by the twelfth century (Meek 1998, 149). Finn-names are particularly located in places of geological transition or prehistoric significance (Fitzpatrick 2015). This isolated spot on the northern shore of Tiree appears to have been a place of story and mystery in both prehistoric and medieval times.

Other Forms: Kory Finmackoul - The map MVLA INSVLA in the Atlas of Scotland, Atlas Novus, by Joan Blaeu, 1654. These maps were largely based on work by Timothy Pont who mapped Scotland between 1583 and 1596. NLS, 123.

The Ringing Stone or Clach a' Choire - MMcK

Related Places:

Information:The Gaelic Otherworld, ed Ronald Black, p 396-7:

...a 'rock gong' similar to Clach a' Choire, listed by John MacKenzie (1845, p8) as one of the seven wonders of Scotland - a huge granite erratic covered with 53 cupmarks, the deepest of which are at the most resonant parts of the stone...According to Fagg (1997 p86), Clach a' Choire was 'said to contain a crock of gold - but if it ever split Tiree will disappear beneath the waves.' If true (Mrs Fagg mistakenly attributes the staement to SHIS) the legend thus contains both a motive for destroying such stones and a warning against doing so...Compare Newton 1992 p145 where it is claimed that if Clach a' Choire 'ever shatters or falls off the pedestal of small stones on which it rests, Tiree will sink beneath the waves.'

Local Form:

Languages : Gaelic, English

Informants: Mairi MacKinnon, Parkhouse, 1/1994