Tag Archives: unicorn

West Highland heraldry

For a very long time I have been interested in the symbolism of the animals on the forepillar of the Queen Mary harp. In their book Tree of Strings – Crann nan Teud, Keith Sanger and Alison Kinnaird discuss these animals, suggesting that they may have religious symbolism: “We have examined the possibility of the designs having some family or clan significance but they do not seem to have any apparent links”

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In Dundee on the eve of the Referendum

Last night we went to Dundee, as I was performing my concert on board the Unicorn. We travelled in early just so we could have an hour or so wandering around the centre of town to see if anything was happening.

In city square there were perhaps a thousand people with flags and music, very peaceful and friendly, lots of family groups. They organised a procession around the block, so we followed on at the end.

We left the gathering and headed down to the docks. The Unicorn is a really beautiful ship, genuinely old and not over-manicured like many historical things. On board, the captains cabin had been cleared and was set with chairs; the wine was laid out on a table ouside the cabin entrance, on the main deck. The ceilings on board are very low!

As it got dimmer, people started arriving. There was not a huge turnout, but the low ceilings and the homely atmosphere of the ship seemed to draw people out; everyone was talking to each other in unexpected intimacy.

For the first half of the concert, I played a selection of 18th century music, from the pibroch Maol Donn to the breezy baroque Blossom of the Raspberry. My fiddle tune went OK and was well received – especially with the story about it.

In the interval everyone went into the main deck for wine and conversation. This went on for quite a long time!

Then for the second half I played the Lament for the Union set.  People were interested and sympathetic to the sentiments – it felt like a historic moment, thinking about the beginning of the Union in 1707, on the eve of the historic referendum to undo it. Especially with the evening glow from the docks through the windows…

Walking back up through the town late at night to the bus station to catch our ride home, we saw a battle of the billboards. Looks like Yes is winning this one!

Shrine of St Patrick’s Tooth

I have always been strangely fascinated by the shrine of St Patrick’s tooth. Its shape, like an outsized sporran, is kind of fun, and the idea of it containing an actual tooth from the head of St Patrick is just odd enough to be distracting.

Here’s my 3D photo of the 14th century embossed decoration on the reverse side. I am pretty pleased with how this stereo image has turned out.

Unicorns

Yesterday I was listening to In Our Time and they were discussing unicorns. The discussion of how unicorns were depicted in medieval art was very interesting and made me think of the unicorn on the forepillar of the Queen Mary harp, carved perhaps in South Argyll, Scotland, in the 15th century. That one is slightly unusual in that it has a short, thick, snout-mounted horn rather than the usual long twisted forehead-mounted one, but most strange of all is that it is stuffing a fish into the mouth of a Lindworm (wingless bipedal dragon). It is also not clear what the projection above its eye might be – a forelock or mane, or an eyebrow, or a rudimentary second horn?

The illustration here shows the Queen Mary harp unicorn as copied by David Patton on my replica of the harp.