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Lochaber history experts say thieves launched an amphibious raid on a tiny islet in the loch made famous in the Harry Potter movies and stole a rare medieval bell.
The theft of the bell from St Finan’s Isle – Eilean Fhianain in Gaelic and also known as the Green Isle – is believed to have occurred in late June or early this month and was confirmed this week by Moidart History Group (MHG).
St Finan’s Isle has been a Christian burial ground since the days of St Finan, a Columban-trained monk who died in 661 AD.
Loch Shiel is famous the world over, not just for its place in history when Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard at Glenfinnan, which sits at one end of the loch at the start of the Jacobite Rising of 1745, but also for its role as the ‘Black lake’ in the Harry Potter films.
Historians believe it is probable the island was used for burials long before Christianity. The island is covered in graves and is still used for burials.
For centuries, the altar stone in the roofless chapel held the now missing early-medieval hand bell, which is said to be of great religious and cultural value, and of a particular type found in Scotland and Ireland, perhaps even brought here by St Finan himself more than 1,000 years ago.
MHG says it was ‘horrified’ to hear the bell had been stolen and has alerted police and a kayaking forum.
‘The island is remote, on a loch which until four or five years ago was only visited by a handful of people each year, but the popularity of kayaking increased this to an estimated 2,000 in 2016,’ said the group in a statement this week.
‘The thief would have needed heavy bolt cutters, since the flimsy chain that attached the bell to the altar was replaced by a hand-forged bronze chain in 2017, so the theft was likely to have been a planned affair.’
However, whoever took the bell could be in for a nasty shock as it is said there is a curse on anyone who removes the bell from the island.
MHG added: ‘There is a curse on whoever takes the bell off the island. It was stolen by a British soldier in the 1740s but returned after a chase along the 17-mile long Loch Shiel. The thief was flogged severely and the bell returned by his officers.
‘A similar bell was stolen from Fortingall Church in Perthshire in 2017 – so was St Finan’s Bell stolen to order? It has no monetary value but is of great religious and historical value and has huge significance for the local population.
‘It is immensely sad someone has no regard or respect for the feelings of local people and has seen fit to steal the bell for his or her own profit or perverted pleasure.’
A police spokesperson confirmed an investigation had been launched into the disappearance of the bell.
‘Anyone with information about the theft or the whereabouts of the bell is asked to call 101, quoting incident 2838 of July 18, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111,’ said the spokesperson.