CAPTAIN GORRY'S RIDE
Captain Gorry was a military officer renowned for his sporting prowess.
One night he was involved in a race with the Devil himself - and won!
Captain Godfrey MacNeill of Ardnacross – known locally as Captain Gorry – was a well known soldier who was also renowned for his sporting prowess. He was a fantastic athlete and a tremendous rider – so good, in fact, that he was widely recognised as the best rider in Islay. He is said to have ridden the 28 miles between Callumkill (near Ardbeg) and Port Askaig in an hour.
The nature of the terrain meant that the route Captain Gorry took passed over moorland and several miles of strand (beach). He left Callumkill late in the evening on his grey horse, Captain. The evening was peaceful and calm as he set out, but by time Gorry reached The Big Strand (Laggan Bay) the horse began to behave strangely and unpredictably, as if fearful of an unusual presence. Worried by Captain’s nervous behaviour, Gorry himself soon became afraid.
Darkness had descended now, but as Captain Gorry glanced over his shoulder he managed to make out the figure of a large, black horse and a rider now far behind. Somehow, perhaps through intuition, Captain Gorry knew this to be none other than the Devil himself. Gorry urged his horse forward as he sought to outrun the Devil, but couldn’t shake him off and Old Nick* pursued him all the way to Port Askaig. Fortunately Gorry was able to reach his stable just in time.
Gorry and Captain had somehow evaded the Devil and were safe but the horse, completely exhausted by the ride, collapsed and died. Gorry, understandably distraught at the loss of his faithful companion, buried Captain with full military honours.
Thomas Pattison compiled a book, Gaelic Bards, which was published in 1890. Among the poems is to be found an English translation of Captain Gorrie’s [sic] Ride, originally a Gaelic composition by Neil MacQuilkan. The final two stanzas tell of Captain Gorry’s reaction to his horse’s death:
As the Captain looks in pity,
The salt tear fills his eye.
He thinks of that dread horseman.
Through all the night so nigh.
And swears to raise a monument.
And dig a noble grave,
For the horse that beat Beelzebub
Beside the salt sea wave.
Whatever the truth about Captain Gorry’s legendary journey, he was certainly a local hero. In February 1785 the Cargo vessel “Jenny”, which was travelling from the United States to Liverpool, was wrecked in Laggan Bay – the very site of the supposed apparition of the Devil. It was Captain Gorry who personally organised the rescue mission, saving both crew and cargo from the stormy sea. Could the myth be a symbolic retelling of the events of that fateful night?
The full poem can be read here (from page 239) The Gaelic bards : and original poems (from the National Library for Scotland's website)
* Old Nick is the old Scots name for the Devil.