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The Ringing Stone of Tiree, Argyll and the Isles (Credit: Marg Greenwood)
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The Ringing Stone of Tiree

By Marg Greenwood

A large grey stone stands in the centre of the image. Large cup-marks are visible on the surface of the stone. The Ringing Stone of Tiree, Argyll and the Isles
Image provided by Marg Greenwood

I was determined to find the Ringing Stone as I'd heard so much about it.

From Vaul on the north coast of Tiree (Scottish Gaelic: Bhalla; Tiriodh) I made my boggy way to a broch, Dùn Mòr Bhalla. A broch is a circular Iron Age stone-built fortified home, with an inner and an outer wall. This is fascinating in itself, but my goal was the Ringing Stone, about a mile to the south of the broch, and I found it easily on the shore although there was no marker post or explanatory information board nearby.

Its Gaelic name is Clach a’ Choire, the Rock of the Hollow, and it stands five feet high. It is pock-marked with over fifty Bronze Age cup marks, which were probably used in religious rituals. Legend has it that if the stone breaks, so will Tiree. People have helpfully left small stones in the cup marks, so all you do is pick one up and strike the boulder. It is supposed to 'ring' when you hit it.

I picked up a pebble and struck the Stone, but I was disappointed to begin with the noise was just that, a noise; but when I knocked gently at the edge of some of the cup marks I heard a faint difference - not a noise, but a sound, a musical note. I recorded the knocks and sounds on my smartphone, with me singing the same note. I guessed it was about G sharp.

Later I listened to the recording but the microphone hadn’t picked up the pitched sound. All I heard was pitch-less knocking. But the microphone did register my sung note, so I was able to confirm my guess on the piano. It was indeed G merging into G sharp.

I composed a song about the Stone to teach to the children in the Tiree school. We had fun clonking the G note on xylophones and glockenspiels.