The common origin of the bedrock in these three areas, fractured and
split apart by the Atlantic ocean, and the circumstances on Earth at the
time of its formation constitute, in many ways, the foundation of this
The Outer Hebrides were subject
raids and ultimately occupation from the late 8th up until the mid-13th
centuries when the 1266 Treaty of Perth returned them to Scottish rule.
During this period these phenomenal navigators, whose distance tables
for sea voyages were so exact that they only differ 2-4% from modern satellite
measurements, also landed and established settlements in Greenland and
Labrador 500 years before Columbus's "discovery" of America,
tales of which are preserved in the Norse
sagas and in the oral
traditions of the Mi'Kmaq
Nation. And while the Vikings might seem completely irrelevant to
this story (since it's only the more recent relationship, between Scotland
and Nova Scotia, that comes into focus), in order to get your bearings,
to plot your position, you need to triangulate. The Viking connection
is what hovers just out of view as a poetic, subtle, but crucial reminder
of how to navigate this story. All is not as it might first appear. (See
astrological chart for further comment on
the Viking connection.)
The name Roineabhal itself is Gaelicised Old Norse meaning "rocky
mountain". Roineabhal is a 2,500 million-year-old (see
note below) outcrop of the mineral anorthosite.
Anorthosite is a hard, coarse-grained igneous rock which crystallises
at high temperatures below the Earth's surface. It constitutes almost
entirely (90% or more) plagioclase, a calcium aluminium silicate feldspar,
with small amounts of pyroxene, ilmenite, magnetite and olivine. Its chief
economic uses are as an architectural material and as road stone, as a
and as a raw material in the extraction of the titanium contained in ilmenite.
Labradorite and some other feldspars exhibit pleochroism,
the property of doubly refracting light into two paths at 90° to each
other so the stone changes colour according to the direction of the light
source. Pleochroic rocks are thought to be the "sun
stones" used by Viking navigators to determine where the sun
was in bad weather.
Anorthosites are relatively uncommon on the surface of the Earth, though
where they occur, they tend to do so in large masses or "plutons"
(named for Pluto, the Roman god of the Underworld). Not so in Scotland
though. The only outcrops (large enough to appear on the IGS 1:625 000
Geology map) are Roineabhal, and two smaller areas at the other end of
Isle of Lewis at the Butt of Lewis. There are much larger areas in
In contrast to the Earth, anorthosite is one of the most abundant rocks
on the Moon, forming all the light-coloured highland areas. It's also
believed to be part of the geology of the planets Venus, Mars and Mercury
(see the astrological chart for the essence).
The salient part of Roineabhal's 2,500 million-year-old story begins
in 1991, when a Scottish businessman named Ian Wilson announced that he
had procured the mineral rights to several deep-water coastal locations
in National Scenic Areas or other areas of outstanding natural beauty
around Scotland. This included Mount Roineabhal, where he planned a quarry
to extract stone for building roads and railways across Europe. Wilson
entered into partnership with Redland Aggregates to pursue the venture.
He unveiled his vision for the site and applied for planning consent for
a massive superquarry which, over a period of years, would create possibly
the largest hole in the world. (One which he tentatively envisaged backfilling
with such things as polluted silt dredged from the River Elbe in Germany.)
The proposed quarry was some fifty times larger than any quarry then operating
in Britain. At full production, it would yield between 10 and 20 million
tons of stone per annum. Over the life of the quarry, around 550 million
tons of rock would be removed by an amount of explosive equivalent to
6 atomic bombs of the size that destroyed Hiroshima.
Montage of what the quarry might have looked like.
Prepared by Envision for SNH for 1994-95 Public Inquiry
Initially, many in Harris were in favour of the venture. It promised
employment in an area where there is precious little, and after a local
referendum showing 62% in favour of the project, the Western Isles Council
almost unanimously (24-3) approved planning consent. But ecologists and
environmentalists working through the media started to focus attention
on some of the serious drawbacks, in particular to the sheer scale of
Among them was Alastair McIntosh, an ecologist at Edinburgh's Centre
for Human Ecology. He was brought up on Lewis, the northern two-thirds
of the island that includes Harris, and had become an active opponent
of the plan after Wilson first unveiled it at CHE in 1991. (Ironically,
as a boy he once thought of quarrying Roineabhal.)
Eventually a public inquiry over the proposals was conceded. It began
in October 1994 in Stornoway, Lewis, and subsequently became the longest-running
public inquiry in Scottish history, lasting 8 months and sitting for 100
days. A month after it began, the inquiry moved down to Harris for three
days to hear submissions from local people. It was here
that Alastair McIntosh took the highly unorthodox step of inviting both
a Native American chief (Mi'Kmaq Warrior Chief and Sacred Peace Pipe Carrier
Sulian 'Stone Eagle' Herney) and the principal of Edinburgh's Free
Church College (
Reverend Professor Donald Macleod) to speak in Roineabhal's defence.
His approach was designed to appeal to a sense of spiritual and ecological
responsibility for the land. It was an appeal for a sense of reverence.
For heart and spirit, not mind and pocket.
After Stone Eagle's testimony at the inquiry, an elder of the Harris
community presented Alastair McIntosh with the summit rock
from Mount Roineabhal which he had broken off and brought down from
the mountain, asking him to give it to Stone Eagle. Knowing that First
Nation peoples view life as immanent, present in everything everywhere
including rocks and mountains, Alastair took it with considerable misgivings,
anticipating that Stone Eagle would probably feel unable to accept
In the hugely powerful piece of writing in which Alastair describes
these events in his book Soil
and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, he says "I think
how, to me, the power is in the metaphor. It's what the summit rock
symbolises that matters; not that it is the summit rock, which,
after all, looks indistinguishable from any other rock on the mountain.
And I think that to Sulian's mind it'll probably be the other way round.
For him, the symbolic power will be only the secondary quality. For
him, the rock will have symbolic power precisely because it is
the summit rock."
The rock was presented to Stone Eagle at Calanais (the 5,000 year-old
stone circle of Lewisian gneiss on the Isle of Lewis) the next day. As
anticipated, Stone Eagle was stunned and horrified and could not accept
the gift, despite recognising with compassion what it took to bring a
people to decapitate their own mountain.
Calanais standing stones. Photograph © Frantisek Staud
He sought spiritual guidance for a solution. The Mi'Kmaq Nation made
a treaty with the British in 1752, promising to give aid and sanctuary
to emigrants who had been cleared from their own lands. The Mi'Kmaq had
always honoured their side of the treaty, so Stone Eagle undertook on
behalf of his tribe to take the summit rock into sanctuary. It journeyed
across the Atlantic to Cape Breton to remain with the Mi'Kmaq Nation until
such time as the mountain's future was determined one way or the other.
It was to remain there for 11 years.
The inquiry rumbled on, and as it did so, the 62% majority of islanders
in favour of the project turned into a 68% majority against on an 83%
turnout. On the penultimate day of the inquiry, the Western Isles Council,
having spent an estimated £500,000 supporting the quarry, voted
21-8 to join the objectors.
By 1997, with the report on the inquiry into its flagship development
still pending, Redland's share price went into steep decline and it became
victim to a hostile takeover from French multinational Lafarge. A year
later, Government funded research commissioned by the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revealed a collapse in European
Finally, in March 2000, the report from the public inquiry was submitted
to the Scottish Executive. Four months later, Scottish Environment Minister
Sarah Boyack announced that she was considering designating the mountain
a Special Area of Conservation, but made no pronouncement on the fate
of the quarry.
Lafarge took legal action, claiming that the long delay had violated
their "human rights" under Article 6 of the European Convention
on Human Rights. The court of session upheld their complaint, ruled that
the delay was of “scandalous proportions” and ordered the
Executive to make a decision within 21 days. (And in the process established
precedent that corporations, hitherto regarded as 'fictitious persons'
in law, had human rights.)
During the court case it was revealed that the public inquiry had come
down in favour of the application.
A cabinet reshuffle gave the decision to Sam Galbraith who refused
permission on the grounds that the inquiry had "seriously underestimated"
the environmental impact of the quarry.
Lafarge promptly appealed. The Scottish Executive were forced to concede
that their rejection of the superquarry was not robust enough in law.
The rejection was withdrawn and the matter went back for reconsideration.
In March 2001 Lafarge mounted a challenge claiming that planning permission
granted in 1965 for a small-scale quarry at Lingerabay was still valid.
A public inquiry ensued, returning its decision a year later that the
original consent was still valid, but only for the five hectares in the
original application, not the 600 claimed by Lafarge. In August 2002,
Lafarge once again appealed to the courts to overturn the Executive's
ruling. The court of session finally heard the case over a year later.
They upheld the ruling, rejecting Lafarge's appeal in January 2004.
Mount Roineabhal (right) from St Clement's Church,
(Photo © Alastair
St Clement is the patron saint of
stone workers. His martyrdom entailed being put to work as a slave in
While all this was going on between the Scottish Executive and Lafarge
UK, pressure on the French parent from both the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
and Friends of the Earth, plus a series of serendipitous connections which
led to Alastair McIntosh becoming once more directly involved, made significant
inroads on corporate opinion the other side of the Channel.
Lafarge had signed a 5-year £3.5 million partnership with WWF,
but WWF UK rejected its share because of the company's refusal to cancel
the superquarry. In one of the bizarre twists and reversals which spiral
through this story, the money was sent back by WWF UK’s chief executive,
Robert Napier, whose previous job had been as chief executive of Redland.
Alastair McIntosh, meanwhile, was invited to a meeting with Lafarge senior
management at which he arranged for three company vice-presidents –
Philippe Hardouin, Michel Picard and Gaëlle Monteiller – to
visit Harris and talk to local residents in January of 2004. The visit
duly took place and in April 2004, the same three executives returned
to the island to announce that Lafarge was unconditionally and permanently
pulling out of any intent to quarry Mount Roineabhal.
"On the eve of Lafarge making their historic announcement, a small
group of people assembled in the Elder's house on Harris. We re-read
Stone Eagle's public-inquiry testimony together and gave thanks
for the wonderfulness of what he, with the crucial support of his former
partner, Ishbel, had helped to achieve.
"We recalled his request to us, before he went to
jail (*), simply to be prayed 'with and not
for'. 'During the darkest moments in your life,' he wrote in an e-mail,
'you'll find that even your shadow is gone.'
"In July 2004, after being released from prison,
Sulian wrote to us again. 'While I was in Waseskun
healing lodge,' he said, 'the Elder there worked with me and showed
me so many things that I must deal with and so many good things I must
dust off and bring to the front. He saved my life! The long house society
has made me a mask keeper but it is not time yet to think in what way
I have to use this healing mask. They did not break me in jail; they healed
me at the Mohawk treatment lodge.' (**)
"Only time will reveal the progress and completeness
of that healing. It will inevitably be a slow and even faltering process.
Cognitive skills not acquired in childhood are easily caught up with later
on in life. But putting right emotional apparatus that never fell properly
into place at the right time is very much harder. Healing this requires
far more than cognitive therapies. It takes nothing less than spiritual
power. No 'medicine' can go deeper. None is more needed in today's wounded
* Just after the first edition of Soil
and Soul was published in late 2001, Alastair learned that Stone
Eagle had been accused of the sexual abuse of a girl from his reservation.
He admitted guilt and served a prison term.
** It's worth noting here that the Mohawk were traditional enemies of
In June 2005, Alastair McIntosh travelled to Nova Scotia to reclaim the
summit rock from sanctuary with the Mi'Kmaq Nation. It was returned it
to its rightful place on July 30th, cemented onto the bedrock of the mountain
with mortar which, true to the patterns of its story, turned out to be
manufactured by Lafarge.
[A webpage describing Alastair's trip to Cape Breton to reclaim the
summit rock and the restoration of the rock to Roineabhal can be found
Most geological texts date the anorthosites
of Roineabhal at around 2,000 million years old, but a recent study and
redating of the South Harris Complex from zircon samples gives 2491 +31/-27
Ma. (Mason A J, Parrish R R, Brewer T S. U-Pb geochronology of Lewisian
orthogneisses in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland: implications for the tectonic
setting and correlation of the South Harris Complex. Journal of the Geological
Society, Volume 161, Number 1, 2004, pp. 45-54(10))
Return to text (↑)
Specific references hyperlinked in text. More general and extensive references
(1) Alastair McIntosh, 2001. Soil
and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, Aurum Press, London,
and Alastair McIntosh's website.
of the Earth, Scotland.