Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Fainge Dhal a' Mor. The Dalmore Sheep Fank.

A "fank" is a sheep pen,an enclosure where the animals are temporarily corralled, offering the shepherd close access to his sheep. "Fank" is not a word you often hear,and I'm not sure if it's used at all outside the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The Gaelic for "fank" is "fang" ( no, not a wolf's tooth ),but pronounced "fing-e",the "i" pron.as "eye". I used to think that "fang" derived from the English "fank",but it is in fact the other way about.
Let us clear up a couple of ovine facts,if we must. LAMB in Britain is called "lamb",if it is sold within one year of its birth.After this it is known as a "hogget" (or an old season lamb ),but the meat is still called lamb. Only when the animal has its first incisor tooth (forget about wolves),around 1 year to 18 months,will the meat become MUTTON. Although lamb is tender,it lacks the flavour of mutton,especially the Lewis variety. They say that it's the young heather shoots favoured by the sheep, which makes the meat so sweet. But,I was talking about fanks.
During July and August each year,various fanks took place in our district.Of course,the Dalmore fanks were the ones that interested me most,as it concerned our own villagers, although there were some interested parties from nearby townships. Our fank was " at the back of Dalmore",by the road to Dalbeg,and utilised a small gravel quarry,used a long time ago to build the road. Stone walls were built to complete the circular enclosure. The lands around the fank, and especially far out on the moors was where our sheep were to be found,and this took the concerted efforts of the men and their magnificent sheep dogs. There would be perhaps twelve dogs,each obedient to the commands of its own master, who used the voice,the whistle or even arm gestures.From a small hillock,you could witness the outrun of of all twelve dogs,going as far out as one or one and a half miles on the moors towards Beinn Bhragair. Working in concert,and moving right and left behind the sheep,these dogs demonstrated their instinctive skills,all on the single command of "Way Out" or "Mach a'seo",given a long while back. Hundreds of sheep and lambs were coaxed into a large group,inexorably moving towards the fank. Often sheep and lamb would attempt an escape but would be quickly brought into line. Close quarter shepherding saw the large flock enter the fank,and the "gate" closed behind them.
The men would start moving among the sheep and lambs,identifying their own,and passing them up to their people at the fank's side. Identification was possible using coloured markings on the fleece,or having your name or address burned into a horn (ours was GLASS). The ear markings on the sheep,cut into them as lambs,were the definitive identification of one's ownership. Each house had a unique set of ear markings ( holes.slices,cuts etc. ),which were centrally registered. The sheep were sheared ,the lambs set aside and sheep from distant climes held,and their owner contacted.The conversations were light hearted,the banter playful and the laughter infectious.Sometimes there was a bit of sexual innuendo,but it was never taken seriously. Sometimes the less responsible young men would release their dog to fight with another's dog (male machismo?),but the hue and cry of the womenfolk put an end to that. If they were anything like my mother,Anna Glass(and they were!),these young men had no option.
All the Dalmore sheep were brought across to the village's "common grazing" through the Board of Trade's "iron gate",a gift of yester year.If it were the season for separating the sheep and their lambs,the latter were taken into the village,proper. The bleating of these lambs for their mothers,and the ewes calling for their "little ones" was constant,and to me,quite upsetting.Day and night for 2/3 days these sad cries filled the valley of Dalmore,but in sheep and in crofting, there is no room for sentiment.I could ,even then,understand that argument,but I knew that I loved the crofting life, only at a distance (ie. from Renfrew ).

1 comment:

scadoo said...

Thanks for explaining the term "sheep fank" which I came across in an Alexander McCall Smith book:
The Sunday Philosophy Club (chapter 21), and could find no reference anywhere else.