The winter of 1306 found Scotland’s Robert the Bruce on the verge of giving up. Having just been crowned King of Scots on March 25 (and again on March 27) of that year, his fortunes had turned. Instead of sitting on a throne in a castle, he was hiding in a cave on the Island of Rathlin off the coast of Ireland.
Separated from his queen, his castle, and his country, the Bruce shivered in the cold and considered giving up his fight for Scottish independence. He always wanted to go to the Holy Land, and perhaps this was God’s way of telling him that he was not meant to wear a crown in this world.
In the midst of his dispair, the Bruce’s attention was drawn to a tiny spider that was trying to build a web. Every attempt brought defeat as the spider kept falling. After every defeat, the spider resumed its efforts.
As he watched the spectacle unfold, the Bruce thought to himself, “Six times has the spider tried and failed. Six times have I fought against the English and failed. Now if this spider fails again on the seventh attempt, I too shall give up the fight for Scotland. But if it succeeds, I shall try again.”
The spider, for its seventh attempt, swung itself again with all its tiny strength and finally succeeded, building a web for itself and securing a glorious future for a king in exile.
Robert the Bruce emerged from that cave, reinvigorated, and determined to fight until Scottish independence had been secured. It took eight more years, but his persistence paid off in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn.
Today, the cave is identified with these words above the entrance:
“Within this cave King Robert the Bruce
from Foes pursuant sought a truce
like my forbears who for him fell
I Irving Guard do guard it well”
The identity of this “Irving” is as much cloaked in legend as is the spider who inspired the Bruce. Local legends speak of a Sir William Irving who stood guard over the king for three months, but the details appear to have been lost to the ages.