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When Wordsworth tried to depreciate the beauty of Loch Lomond by comparison with the smaller waters of the English Lake District, there is reason to believe that he did not sufficiently take into account the many islands which strew its surface with their sylvan loveliness, Of these islands there are some thirty-three, from mile-long domains like Inch Murren and Inch Cailleach, to mere spots of greenery like Aber Island and the Isle of Vou. An ancient jingle credits Loch Lomond with possession of "a wave without a wind, a fish without a fin, and a floating island". Of these marvels no satisfactory data has been furnished, though there are waves without wind at every burn mouth, and, apart from the oaken crannog said to have been built by Keith Macandoll, the contemporary of Fingal, there are masses of water weed that float to the surface in certain seasons, like the lovely white-blossoming ranunculus in Balmaha bay, and rafts of timber from the islands used frequently to be floated down the Leven, As for the "fish", it may have been an adder or an eel — schools of immense eels have sometimes been seen sunning themselves in the sandy shallows off the Endrick's mouth; or the reference may be a corrupted allusion to the "powan", or fresh-water herring, which is peculiar to Loch Lomond and one or two other waters, like Lough Neagh in Ireland.
In early times the islands of Loch Lomond were probably used as places of security, In the year 1263 they are said to have been full of people when Hakon of Norway, by way of quickening negotiations with Alexander III, detached Olaf of Man with sixty ships from his fleet in Millport Bay, and sent him up Loch Long. The narrow neck of land between Arrochar and Loch Lomond probably got its name of Tarbet, or the Boat Pass, from Olaf's enterprise, It was a fearful day for these inland shores when Olaf dragged his ships over that two-mile rise, launched them on Loch Lomond, and swept the islands, and all the Lennox eastward and southward, with sword and fire. In that fierce slaughter and conflagration the little nunnery on Inch Cailleach, founded in the seventh century by Kentigerna, mother of St. Fillan, must have gone down in blood and smoke, as well as the monastery on Inch Tavanach, the hermitage on Eilean Vou, and little chapels such as those at Glenmollachan and Rossdhu on the eastern shore and Shenagles in Kilmaronock.
The islands of Loch Lomond, however, still continued to be used for retreat and defence. We have seen how the Duchess Isabella in 1425 retired to the stronghold of the Earls of Lennox on Inch Murren; the Macfarlane chiefs had strongholds on the island of Inveruglas and on Eilean Vou; and the Galbraiths had a castle on the islet south of the Straits of Luss which bears their name.
Like the Dennistouns, these Galbraiths were at one time a powerful race which played a noted part in the destinies of the Lennox. The chartulary of the earlier Earls of Lennox shows many grants of lands to the Galbraith chiefs in the early part of the thirteenth century. In 1443, when the arrogance of the Earls of Douglas was beginning to set itself up against the authority of the Crown, Patrick Galbraith, as a partisan of the Douglases, took possession of Dunbarton Castle. He was driven out by Sir Robert Sempill, the Deputy-Governor and Deputy Sheriff of the county, but returned next day with a stronger force, captured the fortress, slew Sempill, and made himself governor. In 1563 Robert Galbraith of Garscadden was summoned, with Archbishop Hamilton and forty-seven others, for assisting at the celebration of Mass in the chapel of his own house. Thirty years later Robert Galbraith of Culcreuch was reported to the Privy Council as bearing "haitrent and malice" against Alexander Colquhoun of Luss, a man on each side having been slain in the feud between them. The Galbraiths, in fact, seem to have had a fatal tendency to espouse a losing cause, and to this may be attributed their downfall. Many of their names still live on the shores of Loch Lomond, but the stronghold of the ancient chiefs on Inch Galbraith has long been a picturesque ruin.
Other interests associated with the islands are the facts that Clairinch, near Balmaha, which was the first possession of the Buchanan chiefs in the district, furnished the slogan, or battle-cry, of that clan, and that the yew trees on Inch Lonaig, opposite Luss, are said to have been originally planted by King Robert the Bruce, to furnish bows for the Scottish archers. Whether or not the earlier Scottish patriot ever found refuge there, the name of Wallace's Isle is still given to an islet in the northern part of the loch, and — a relic of different sort — on Eilean Vou still grows an early-flowering species of daffodil, probably cultivated in a bygone century by the priest of the chapel there for the Easter decoration of his altar.
In addition to their associations, however, the islands Of Loch Lomond are endowed with a perennial natural charm. Nothing, surely, could be lovelier in its way than the winding narrows between Inch Tavanach and Inch Conachan known as the Straits of Luss.
While most of the islands, and all the larger ones, lie in the lower and wider part of the loch where the depth is only some sixty feet, no little part of the beauty of the upper waters, where the loch, under Ben Lomond, is narrowest and deepest — 612 feet — and the banks are steepest and wildest, is owed to the rocky islets which rise from its surface. This is indeed the most romantic part of Loch Lomond. Thus, at any rate, it seems to have impressed Wordsworth, who made Eilean Vou the scene of his poems, "The Brownie" and "The Brownie's Cell".