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Last Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006, 09:58 GMT
Scots hero spider legend 'on Rathlin'
Rathlin Island prides itself on being a haven from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but a descendant of Robert the Bruce claims this tranquil setting may have been the backdrop for one of the most enduring legends about the heroic King of Scots.

Rathlin Island
The earl claims the legendary cave is on Rathlin Island
Faced with spending a bleak winter on the island off the coast of County Antrim, what better way than spending the cold nights than sheltering in a cave watching a spider repeatedly trying to spin a web?

Such is the story of Robert the Bruce, who gained Scotland's independence in the 14th century, allegedly inspired by the lesson learned from the spider's persistence.

His descendant, the Earl of Elgin, says he should be celebrated on the same level as other great Scots like William Wallace or Robert Burns.

Although the owners of three separate caves in Scotland also claim theirs is the one where the spider incident happened, the earl believes it was on Rathlin.

The Earl of Elgin, who is the 37th chief of the Bruce clan, says he first visited Northern Ireland about 40 years ago in his role as Boys Brigade president.

Spider web
Legend has it that the spider inspired Robert the Bruce
His cousin, Terence O'Neill, who was Northern Ireland prime minister at the time, suggested he visited Rathlin to see where his "forebear had been holed up all those years ago".

"We saw the cave, which was very rough, but what interested me was that there was sufficient arable land and people had always lived there," he says.

The Earl of Elgin says he is convinced the spider legend began on Rathlin.

"It wouldn't have been a deserted place but a place of great strength for his small army. It seemed to me to be absolutely perfect because of course he knew the waters between the Ayrshire coast and Northern Ireland very well because that was where he was brought up.

"He knew the dangerous seas, which would (allow him to) prevent sudden attack on Rathlin. He thought it was a really safe place."

Of course, not all would agree with the Earl of Elgin's claims about his ancestor's Rathlin links.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the spider story related to Robert the Bruce's contemporary, James Douglas, but was reattributed and embellished by the writer Sir Walter Scott.

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