There is a sea rock at NH857727 of the coast of Nigg which is marked on a number of maps as ‘Three King’s Rock’.
In the Robertson Manuscripts this is given a Gaelic form of: ‘The Three Kings’ (sea rock) Creag Haraill: Robertson NLS MS357, p. 42
There is a well-known tradition surrounding the rocks which is related succinctly in the New Statistical Accounts:
This rock is said to have got its name from the circumstance of three sons of the King of the Sea having been wrecked on it, and drowned. Their bodies were afterwards found and buried, one at Hilton, one at Shandwick, and one at Nigg; and there is, at each of these places, a monumental stone, covered on both sides with hieroglyphical sculpture. and said to have been erected to the memory of the royal princes.
Nigg, County of Ross and Cromarty, NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845
‘Down to The Sea’ has ‘King’s Son Reef’ at approximately NH8872:
Admiralty Chart 1823, dated to 1847 calls it ‘Three Kings’, with a note ‘Cover at 11ft flow’:
The Three Kings G. Creag Harail, Harold’s Rock. This skerry off the Nigg coast is called in the N.S.A. The King’s Sons. The story goes that three sons of a Danish prince, sailing to avenge their sister’s wrongs, were wrecked here. Their graves were marked by the sculptured stones of Hilton, Shandwick, and Nigg. Another legend of their burial is given below.
Watson’s Place-names of Ross and Cromarty, 1904, p. 54
At Nigg Rocks, below Cadha Neachdain, there is a graveyard, now covered with shingle. Here the Danish princes were buried. Their grave stones came from Denmark, and had iron rings fastened in them to facilitate their landing. So local tradition. This most unlikely spot for a graveyard was not selected without some good reason, the most probable being that hermits once lived in the caves, whence the place was reckoned holy ground.
Watson’s Place-names of Ross and Cromarty, 1904, p. 546
There are a cluster of other names containing seemingly containing rìgh ‘king’ on the coast here:
Caanrigh looks like Cadha an Rìgh ‘the king’s pass’. Robertson, however, gives Cadha ‘n Ruighe and Material from the School of Scottish Studies Place-name Survey Archive give “the ending is pronounced “rooie”. This may be the same pass as The King’s Footpath which is in Gaelic Cadha Neachdain ‘Nechtan’s pass’ (Watson 1904, p. 56 and 57). This leads to King’s Cave (NH834711).
Port an Rìgh looks like ‘the King’s port’; but the same Place-name Survey archive material gives “porth-n-drooie” as a pronunciation. Moreover Watson (1904, p. 56) reports this name as Port an Druidh ‘the druid’s port’ and gives us a proverb about it:
“Tobar a’ Chlaidheimh Dhuibh an Èirinn, ’s i air aghaidh na grèine am port an Druidh (or, a dh’èirich am Port an Druidh)” (Well of the Black Sword in Ireland, facing the sun in the Druid’s port (or, that rose in the Druid’s port)”
As with many proverbs, the context is lost to us now.
So it seems that although there is a strong tradition of kings here, many of the names do not originally relate to a king proper. In two cases the Gaelic form of the name give the actual name of the king: Cadha Neachdain ‘Nechtan’s pass’ and Creag Haraill ‘Harold’s Rock’. Unfortunately I have not come across any corroborating evidence as to any further tradition for the names, especially in the case of Nechtan. One could assume Haraill was the name of the Danish king in the story.
As to the stones mentioned, these are clearly three of the several Pictish stones in the area, at Shandwick, Nigg and Hilton. The assignation of Pictish objects to ‘Danish’ kings is of course well established in Gaeldom.
Finally there is a great Gaelic version of the story of the Three Kings from the Gaelic Column of the People’s Journal, submitted by a Calum MacArthur. It runs thus with my own rudimentary translation below:
Mic an Rìgh
Is e ainm glè neonach tha an so air sgeir tha anns a’ mhuir; agus ’s e so an sgeul mar a fhuair i an t-ainm. Muigh mu ’n cuairt air leth mhìle anns a’ mhuir, fo baile beag ris can iad “Seanduig,” ann am Paraist Nigg, air taobh an ear Siorrachd Rois, tha bogha na sgeire mòire fada ann an so a bhitheas ris nuair tha ’n traigh ann, ach tha dol fodha ris an lionadh. Tha e air aithris gu ’n robh soitheach mhuinntir Lochlainn tighinn nall do Alba bho chionn fhada agus i làn shaighdearan, agus ’nam measg bha triùir mhac an Righ. Chaidh an soitheach, le droch thìde, air an ’sgeir so, agus bhathadh an triùir phrionnsachan comhla ri móran eile, agus so mar fhuair i an t-ainm.
Nuair a chuala sean Righ Lochlainn an naidheachd dhuilich so, chuir e tri chlachan mora fada nall air son an cur air na h-uaighean aca. Bha dul mor iarainn anns a’ cheann aca air son an togail agus an slaodadh le buill; agus nuair bhitheas tu a gabhail an rathaid mhoir gus a’ bhaile so, Seanduig, chi thu clach mhòr àrd ’na seasamh ann am pàirc leth mhìle bho ’n mhuir. Tha chlach eadar ochd agus naoidh troidhean an airde agus eadar dhà no trì air leud. Tha e air aithris gu ’m bheil aon de mhic an Righ air a thiodhlacadh air an so, fear eile ann am Paraist Fearn, tha ri taobh Nigg, agus an treas fear ann an Cladh Nigg.
Tha buideal mòr dearg air an sgeir so an diugh; ach ged tha, chaidh bàta iasgaich oirre bha dol a Bharra an toiseach an t-samhraidh a chaidh seachad; oir thachair ceo bhi ann. Bhristeadh am bata, ach shabhaileadh na daoine.
The King’s Sons
There is a very strange name of a rock in the sea here; and this is the story how it got the name. Out roundabout half a mile out in the sea, under a small village which they called “Shandwick” in Nigg Parish in Easter Ross, there is a big, long rock here by it when there is a beach, but it goes under with the tide. It is said a vessel of Norsemen was coming in to Scotland long ago, full of soldiers and among them were three sons of the King. In the bad weather, the vessel went onto this rock, and the three princes drowned along with many others, and that’s how it got the name.
When the old Viking King heard the sorry news, he put three large stones over there to put on their graves. A large iron loop was in the end of them so they could be lifted and pulled by rope. And when you take the highway to this village, Shandwick, you will see a large tall stone standing in a park a half a mile from the sea. The stone is between eight and nine yards high and between two or three wide. It is said that one of the King’s sons was buried there, another in Fearn Parish, beside Nigg, and a third one in Nigg graveyard.
A big red cask is on the rock today, but even so, a fishing boat that was going to Barra at the start of the summer that went past, grounded on it; because there happened to be mist. The boat broke, but the people were saved.