A “Footprint Stone” at Finlaggan by Gloria Gilchrist

Some fifty yards above the west shore of Loch Finlaggan is an isolated outcrop of boulders which forms part of a heather-covered mound. The boulders make a rough semicircle enclosing a small grassy area backed by a rock face and the lowest of them which is roughly pillow-shaped, bears the outline of a man’s foot. The foot is somewhat larger than life, unshod and naturalistic to the extent that a row of small fissures completes the foot with toes, The big toe and joint and gentle curve at the instep are clearly marked, as is the rounded heel and part of the outer foot; the outline then deviates from the expected direction but not enough to spoil the effect.

Corning across this phenomenon in a place with such a strong “footprint” tradition it is impossible to resist examining its suitability for use in the installation ceremony and to compare it with other, authenticated, examples such as Dunadd. Straight away it must be said that while the latter is the deep impression of a shod foot, the Finlaggan one is an incised outline – in other words truly “the tract of a man’s foot” and in, apparently, living rock. Significantly, it is also a right foot, rather than left which would have been distinctly unlucky. Allowing for some minor changes in the hummocky, wet ground over the centuries, it would appear that a man could stand with one foot within the tract without difficulty. He would then be facing slightly north of west and if there is no sacred hill, as there is at Dunadd, perhaps by the time of the emergence of the MacDonalds this was no longer important in a ceremony that had become Christianised.

The location of the outcrop suggests that it would also have served very well as a “mound of judgement” – perhaps the principal court of law in Islay. There is ample space below for a large gathering as well as room round about the outcrop for officiators and there is a fine, commanding view across to Eilean Mor and Eilean nan Comhairle. It is easy to picture processions leaving the two islands by their respective west side jetties, proceeding to the well-defined landing places on the loch shore and continuing on to converge upon the site of the ceremony.

Between the loch shore and the outcrop runs the ancient footpath which links the chapel near Duisker with that at Keills and which passes the north end of the loch en route. It is not impossible that centuries ago Eilean Mor was attached to the “mainland” at this point judging from the shallowness of the water between the two and the presence of a rather oddly sited burial ground shown on most maps, so the pathway may have taken in Finlaggan Chapel too.

All in all, the mound with its outcrop and the outcrop with its footprint make this appear the ideal location for public ceremonial and even if my hypothesis can be demolished the existence of this footprint at Finlaggan, if entirely natural, remains the most extraordinary coincidence.