Bruce watched spider 'in Northern Ireland'

ONE of Scotland's most famous historical meetings - that of Robert Bruce and the spider which inspired him to continue the struggle for independence - took place in Northern Ireland, it was claimed yesterday.

A direct descendant of Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, has identified a cave on Rathlin Island off the coast of County Antrim as the spot where the national hero hid from English forces and was spurred on to fight again after watching the creature spin its web.

According to tradition it was seeing the spider fall and get back up again which inspired Bruce to gather his army and tell his men: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again."

Lord Elgin said: "He was very much a seafaring man. There are currents at Rathlin and in the days of sailing you wouldn't have been able to approach it swiftly. He would have seen anybody and been able to defend himself."

Legend says that after Bruce was defeated in battle he was outlawed and escaped to a hideout in a cave.

He remained there for three months and reached his lowest point, when he decided that he would have to give up his fight for Scottish independence. But one day he spotted a small spider weaving a web in the cave's entrance, which despite falling down time after time eventually finished its web.

According to the tale, Bruce was so inspired by the spider's battle that he began his fight once more. He gathered his army and eventually drove the English out of Scotland in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn.

It has been claimed that Bruce's Cave in Dumfriesshire, King's Cave on Arran and Uamh-an-Righ in Craigruie could each have been Robert the Bruce's hideout.

But the latest revelation from the 11th Earl of Elgin and the 37th chief pinpoints Bruce's Cave on Rathlin Island as the home of the legend. Lord Elgin, who has visited the cave, said: "I was very intrigued by Rathlin. It seemed to me to be absolutely perfect because he knew the waters between Ayrshire and Northern Ireland very well because that was where he was brought up."

Robert Bruce died in 1329, nine years after the Declaration of Arbroath, seen as the founding document of the Scottish nation, was drawn up.

• A free Robert Bruce map is being given away with every copy of The Scotsman this Saturday.

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