Contact us on 01851 705743 or

      Uist and Benbecula News

      General News

An American has become the first person in modern history to lift the ancient Ultach Ghillieasbuig Ailein Heisker stone on Baleshare, North Uist.

Jon Cegielski lifted the ancient stone, thought to weigh around 250 kg, after flying in from New York State following a tip-off from local resident Jacob Hetherington.

But modestly, Jon insists that the credit should go to Jacob Hetherington for all his detective work establishing the stone’s whereabouts.

Jon told “I believe much credit should go to Jacob Hetherington as he is the man behind doing the extensive research and actually finding the stone! 

“He was generous enough to share that information with me so that I could go locate and lift the stone and I would not have been able to do so without him. He deserves recognition more than me.”

Stone lifting, a Scotland-wide tradition, is a pastime Jon only got interested in four years ago while hiking in the wilds of his New York State homeland.

He stumbled across hundreds of lifting stones under a bridge by chance: “I started lifting a few, and from there, I was absolutely hooked. I have always been into pushing my limits when it comes to physical strength and other physical aspects of my life, but this brought it to a whole different level.”

His new-found passion was fired further by a Netflix documentary called “Stoneland,” which examined the stone lifting traditions in Scotland. And the documentary “Fullsterkur” which looked at the famous lifting stones in Iceland.

As a bodybuilder, lifting stones was the next logical step. Comments Jon: “I would definitely say that the majority of my training routine has always revolved around some type of bodybuilding training, body weight training, and all-around athletic movement just because I love testing my body in different ways. 

“I’ve gone through phases of bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, and rock climbing, and now I am in my stone lifting phase! And this is my favourite phase of them all, as I don’t believe I will ever stop.”

It has taken Jon to Iceland, where he hefted his heaviest stone to date, the “Brynjolfstak”, which weighs in at 281 kg.

And his latest adventure in stone lifting found Jon crossing the Atlantic to tackle Baleshare’s famous stone.

But Jon insists he had the easiest job: getting the stone off the ground. Fellow stone lifter Jacob Hetherington conducted all the research to pinpoint the likely location of Ultach Ghillieasbuig Ailein Heisker.

“He [Jacob Hetherington] deserves recognition more than me. There are also a number of other guys who have done far more for the stone lifting community than I have when it comes to finding stones and getting more people involved in stone-lifting. I’ve done the easy part, which is just showing up and lifting,” says Jon.

However, despite his exploits on the stone lifting scene, Jon says he does it purely for fun and because it ignites a fiery passion within him.

Jon prefers to view stone lifting as a tradition rather than an official sport, as the history behind the stones dates back hundreds or even thousands of years.

This makes the question of whether Jon’s lift is official or unofficial moot, as there are no recognised standards unless it is stone lifting in a competitive setting.

Regarding the Baleshare stone lift, Jon adds: “As far as this stone is concerned, I believe just getting the entire stone off of the ground in any way, shape or form is considered a valid lift.”

It seems likely that the Outer Hebrides haven’t seen the last of Jon Cegielski, who has vowed to return to try his hand at more ancient lifting stones.

His achievement on Baleshare has been hailed by Jacob Hetherington, who comments: “It’s a ginormous stone clearly, even larger than the other existing North Uist stones, which are already the largest in Scotland. 

“He estimates 250kg/550lb. Jon was certainly the man for the challenge, however, as thus far, there’s not been a stone in Scotland that’s got the better of him.”

There are five Ultach stones alone in Uist with confirmed locations. However, this is believed to be the tip of the iceberg as there are thought to be many others, the sites of which have now been lost to time.

In addition to Ultach Ghillieasbuig Ailein Heisker in Baleshare, the other four lifting stones are “Clach ic Caoilte”, “Ultach Na-H’ Airde Glaise,  nicknamed “Ultach Alasdair Mor,” “Ultach Dhomhaill Mhoir” and “Ultach Ghillie Mhor”, all of which where lifted first in the modern era by Jamie Gorrian, the man behind the McGregor Stone Lifting Games. 

Gorrian is also credited with rediscovering Ultach Alasdair Mor after it was thought to be lost. 

Also influential in the relatively small world of stone lifting is Calum Maclean, who accompanied Jon on his Ultach Ghillieasbuig Ailein Heisker lift and captured some great shots. He is currently on the trail of another lost stone.

But it is not just Scotland where stone lifting is enjoying a resurgence. David Keohan has uncovered 30 previously lost stones in Ireland, while Sean Urquhart has rejuvenated the stone lifting tradition in the Faroe Islands.

Stone lifting is a long-standing cultural tradition, often used to test strength and manhood.

Historically, a boy was not considered a man until he could lift a “manhood stone” to waist height.