Long, long ago – when the Scotland was invaded by Viking forces, there was a young Norse warrior named Breakan who fell in love with a local beauty. When the couple told the maiden’s father of their desire to marry, he was not happy to think of a union between his only child and the leader of the force that had invaded their land.
But the young woman pleaded with such intensity, that her father finally said that he would consent to the marriage — IF Breakan could pass a test. He had to endure the force of the whirlpool for three nights.
The Corryvrekan Whirlpool, as it has come to be known, was and is a fearsome thing. It was believed that it was the place where the Cailleach, the witch, washed her great plaid every fall. And such was the force and the fury of the whirlpool that after three days of churning in its waters, the plaid was washed pure white. At the end of the washing, the Cailleach would spread her plaid over the land to dry, and its pure white mantle formed the first snow that covered the land at the beginning of winter every year.
When Breakan thought of the fury of the whirlpool, he trembled with fear, for no man had ever endured such a thing, but for the love of the chieftain’s daughter, he agreed.
He went back to Norway to prepare — and in doing so, he sought the counsel of the wise woman of that land. She told him that to have a chance of meeting the test, he would need to prepare three ropes, one for each of the three nights of the test. One rope was to be made of wool, one of hemp and one of the hair of maidens who were pure and innocent. The ropes of wool and hemp were quickly procured, though great care was taken to see that they were of the finest quality and strength. The third rope was a challenge. A call was sent out around the land for young women who were pure and were willing to sacrifice their hair in the name of love, to come to the lodging of Breakan, where their hair could be shorn and plaited into a strong rope, a rope with magical powers. The women volunteered. The hair was cut. The rope was formed. And, now with all three ropes, Breakan returned to Scotland for the test.
There his love also cut her hair to add to the rope. The night before the test, their parting was filled with tears and hope.
The next morning, Breakan set out in his small craft with the three ropes.
The first day, he anchored his craft with the woolen rope. When the whirlpool began to churn, its force was greater than anything he had ever felt. The ship was tossed and turned, straining against the rope, but just as Breakan saw the woolen rope begin to give way, the whirlpool calmed. He had survived the first night.
On the second day, the boat was anchored with the hemp rope, and all was the same as the night before. The fury of the whirlpool seemed even more violent, but just as the fibers of the hemp rope began to separate, the whirlpool calmed. He had survived the second night.
On the third day, as Breakan anchored his boat with the rope of plaited hair, he had a moment of uncertainty, for the rope was thinner than the other two. But he reminded himself that this rope had the advantage of magical properties by virtue of the virtue of the maidens whose hair made up the rope.
That night the whirlpool began to churn with a strength that seemed double that of the previous nights. The small craft was tossed and twisted in the waters, but just as Breakan began to relax in anticipation of victory, the hair rope snapped. The Viking warrior and his boat were quickly sucked down into the depths of the sea. When the waters were calm the next morning, there was no sign of the young lover.
It is said that several days later, Breakan’s faithful dog found the body of his master and dragged it ashore, where it was buried in a nearby cave.
Why did the rope break? Some say that back in Norway, a young woman came forward. She had contributed her hair to the magical rope, but now, filled with guilt, she admitted to that which caused her to feel certain that she had been the cause of the rope’s failure. Others maintain that it was the Scottish chieftain’s daughter herself who was responsible for the rope’s weakness, for although she had professed her devotion, she was in fact not as pure as all had supposed.
Many years later, a bracelet made of Viking gold was found in a cave near the deadly whirlpool, a reminder of the sad fate of Breakan.
Contributed by Marilyn McPhie