Sweeney's Bothy, Bothan Shuibhne

A full house couldn’t

be more lovely
than my little oratory
in Tuam Inbir

Where the stars are
set in their order
together with the sun & moon

A house where the rain
does not pour in
a place where spears
are no longer dreaded

My wee hut’s
as bright as a garden
but there’s no wall
to fence me in

after ‘The Pity of Nature’;
Suibhne's 'oratory' perched
in a blackthorn tree

then the giddiness

came over Suibhne

intoxicated with horror,

panic, dismay, fear,
flightiness, giddiness, & terror

his joints a shaking mass

& he rose into the air


the thorn is Sweeney's memory
   of the spear

the harsh brang of battle

is the riddle    our design must settle

the blackthorn drinks my blood again

my face bleeds on the sodden wood
thorns lace my sores

   – Trevor Joyce, Sweeny, Peregrine










the thorn marks   Suibhne’s aloneness
which inspires us   & challenges us

how shall we bring   the thorn
   into translation?

the morphology

of the thorn tree
is torn with intensity

the thorn
has its reason
in every season

the thorn proceeds

by throwing itself
out of symmetry

the thorn is drawn

over and over again
reducing the blackthorn’s profusion
to a single articulation
   a figure

the thorn finds purpose
as pillar   or pilotis

the thorn turns its points   skywards
away from delicate flesh

in our design
the thorn column suggested
extending the angled roof     outwards
    beyond the bothy walls

a space began to open
   a verandah 

a space within which

the thorn-pilotis
   would hover

in our discussions
we revised the thorn's position
shaping a screen

providing due protection

from the Atlantic winds
which whistle   twice around
   the cliffs

only when the revisions

are precise
will the bothy stand

square and plumb

on a hill   facing
a rugged mountain skyline

the hut-yet-to-be-built

has found its home
in the vale of Cleadale
on the Isle of Eigg

the furthest of the leaps

the outcast Sweeney made
in his mad journey
through the wilds

Sweeney's wee hut

will have it's windows
faced to the west

aligned so as to be

filled with the massif
skyline of Rum

the sun setting

the upslope

of Sgurr nan Gillean

the spear point

of Askival


where the shearwaters
have their burrows

from behind the hut
will be sheltered

by the echoing curtain
of the cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe


between Camas Sgiotag
Bay of the Whisk
where the quartz sands
shrilly sing

Coig peighinnean
The Five-Penny Land

The Barley Hollow

and Sron na h-Iolaire
Promontory of the Eagle

the sharp point of the thorn
will be exchanged
for beak & wing
as we enter Sweeney's
aViform vision

to become

tree high
clamber the truth
of the tree

through rafter-
& canopies
of birdsong

to the cloud's


image credits

TBP bothy, Inshriach, Luke Allan, 2013; Shuibhne, Hanna Tuulikki, 2013;

blackthorn sketch, Alec Finlay, 2013; TIME / tine (for John Purser), Alec
Finlay, 2013; blackthorn sketch, Alec Finlay, 2013; pilotis, Iain Macleod
(TBP), after AF, 2013; sketches for Bothan Shuibhne, AF, 2013; Shuibhne,
Alec Finlay, 2013; Eigg from Skye, Hanna Tuulikki, 2013, Cleadale, Eigg,
and the beach, Lucy Conway, 2013; birdskulls (collection John Purser),
Hanna Tuulikki, 2013; birdsong, Alec Finlay, 2012; Carbeth, Morven Gregor;
Shuibhne, Hanna Tuulikki, 2013.

The poems draw on Trevor Joyce and Seamus Heaney's versions of the Shuibhne cycle, Sweeney Peregrine and Sweeney Astray.

Further reflections on huts and viewing are published here.

Bothan Shuibhne | Sweeney's Bothy

Alec Finlay & The Bothy Project, 2012-13

a new bothy for creative residencies
located on the Isle of Eigg

commissioned as part of Creative Scotland's
Year of Natural Scotland, 2013

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