Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Mairi Ruadh and Miss Darling of Stornoway

Glass's wife was Mary Macneil(Mairi Dhomhnaill Fhionnlaigh),but she was always known as "Mairi Ruadh" (Red haired Mary). Born in Garenin like her husband,my grandmother came over to Dalmore when she was 50 years old, to take charge of a new home in a new village,without the support of her kith and kin in Garenin. She died in 1940,aged 69,so that anything I know of her was gleaned from the stories told to me by mother,aunts and others who knew her well. Mairi Ruadh was a woman of strong character,an imposing figure who had the love and respect of her family. She had the fine looks and hair colour of the Macneils. As a young lass,she was in service at a manse in Tarbert,Harris before marrying Glass at the young age of 19 years. As we have seen,Mary prepared wool for weavers in Garenin,including her husband. Her most prized possession in her home was an early model Singer sewing machine and with this she could run up men's trousers,jackets and a variety of ladies apparel. Mary was well known in the district for her prowess at sewing,and many were the favours she did for other people. When,in 1923,the family's goods and chattels were being moved by road to their new home in Dalmore,Mary was so afraid that her sewing machine would be damaged in the cart,that she carried the machine,strapped to her back,the 3 miles over the hills to Dalmore. That was some feat, which shows how much she valued her Singer sewing machine.
The following story involves my grandmother in the late 1920s,and in a strange way it has a resonance in the present. By about 1927, Mairi Ruadh had her new home to her liking,and her youngest Annie(Anna Glass,aged 16)had captured the heart of Alasdair Shoudie the "best looking lad in the whole district"(her very words to me). Even back then,Dalmore,and especially the beach,proved a great attraction to visitors, and in particular two people who came quite often to Dalmore in a "horse and gig" all the way over from Stornoway. These were "duine uasail"(toffs,if you will)as their clothes would attest. The lady wore a beautiful coat,trimmed with fur,a fur hat and expensive shoes.Her gentleman friend wore plus fours and brogues and his bonnet matched his jacket. In case one might think this to be fiction,we have photographs taken by the "duine uasail's" own camera - no one in Dalmore had a camera in 1927! One afternoon in late summer,our family were down at the "feannaig"(strip field) beside the road making stooks of the corn,when these two people stopped to chat. Mairi Ruadh invited them over to the house for a "copan the",and maybe some scones and pancakes. It transpired that the lady was a Miss Darling,who taught at Stornoway Primary School. After that, she and the man in plus fours often stopped off at 5 Dalmore to visit Mairi Ruadh and sample the very best home baking this side of Stornoway.
Now fast forward from 1927 to around 1994,and there was I, parked at the ferry terminal at Uig in Skye,waiting for the "Hebrides" to transport me to Lewis(via Harris,of course). A family pulled up in their car abreast of me,and the driver was immediately recognisable(white hair and jet black bushy eyebrows) as that able young Labour MP for Edinburgh Central,Alistair Darling. It was some time later,thinking of that name "Darling" that I made the connection between that man in the car and Miss Darling of 1927. She was possibly the Chancellor of the Exchequer's great aunt.
If the Chancellor gets wind of my blog,then maybe he will invite me to No.11 for scones and pancakes. And when he holidays in Lewis,as he often does,and he takes his family to Dalmore,he might want to glance across at the ruin at No.5,where two fine ladies,the Miss Darling and the Mistress Macleod once took tea together.

No comments: