Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Friday, 30 January 2009

A Radan S' Iolaire.

Iolair(fem.iolaire)is the Gaelic for "eagle",and in the Island of Lewis we are talking of the "golden eagle", a majestic and beautiful bird. It is pronounced "yoo-lir". Unfortunately in Lewis the word "iolaire", when pronounced as "eye-oh-lare",takes on a different meaning altogether(an anglecised pronunciation). This was the name of the boat (M.V. "Iolaire")which went aground on the dangerous rocks outside Stornoway, known as the Beasts of Holm. The Iolaire was requisitioned to bring home hundreds of Islanders who had survived the Great War of 1914-18. 205 brave lads died that New Year's Day,January 1st.1919,the greatest disaster ever to befall Lewis.
When I was a child,the golden eagle had a terrible reputation on our side of the island. It was responsible for the killing of lambs,they maintained,and its appearance high above Dalmore elicited a form of blind panic in the people.I heard repeated cries of "Iolaire,Iolaire",and shotguns discharged in an effort to scare the eagle away from our village. The eagle soared past, well above the "beinn". With what we know now,this behaviour was irrational and bore the hallmark of mistaken beliefs from the past.Today you will find pairs of golden eagles throughout the Highlands and Islands. I used to enjoy lying down on a heather hillside, and with powerful binoculars, watch the eagles soaring high above, or just coming and going from their eyrie - truly,magnificent birds which should be respected,and not shot or poisoned, as still happens in some quarters. Ravens are in fact a bigger threat to sheep and their lambs.
While one can go along with a story about the great golden eagle,one is definitely uncomfortable with anything to do with "a radan",which appears in the title of this post. Gaelic speakers will know this word "radan", but if I had titled this post "Rats and Eagles",some might have recoiled in disgust,and now that wouldn't do! You see,humans living in "black houses"(traditional/thatched)were never more than a few feet away from a rat(Rattus rattus,the black rat or the "Norwegian" species,Rattus norvegicus,the brown rat). It was common to see rats scattering when the stooks of corn were being dismantled, or occasionally when removing a peat stack,but only in a black house did one realise how close we lived with these brown whiskered rodents. Night and day,but more so at night,one could hear the noise from that other world, just above the pink painted wooden ceiling. There was the odd squeak,but the main noise came from the rats scurrying to and fro throughout the full length of the "taigh dubh". At times there would be no noise,but often when I lay in bed at night, the whole rat population seemed to be engaged in a ho-down. Later, I would gently slip off to sleep, seduced by the gentle sound of squeaks and scrapings.For all their proximity to us,I only once saw a rat inside the house,and this happened one morning when I awoke in my box bed to see a rat eating corn seed, which had spilled from one of the bags kept down in the closet,where I now slept. As I moved my head the rat vanished. You might say we lived in harmony with the rats,or more probably, that humans and "radan" had no other option in a "taigh dubh".
One place where you might see a rat was in the hen house,whose roof was merely an extension of that of the main house,although if you entered, there was never a sign of them. There was however plenty of evidence that they had been there, in the number of damaged eggs and empty shells. Action had to be taken to rid the hen house of rats. Shonnie bought 3or 4 cages to trap the rats alive. I remember them as large metal traps, which looked like, and functioned like a lobster creel. Whatever the bait was, those traps filled regularly with our egg-eating rodents. We carried the traps to the "leathad"(slope)under the "beinn",and there Shonnie released the rats one at a time,with Fancy our collie dog yelping in anticipation. It was no contest as, one by one, Fancy caught the rats and disposed of them by shaking and breaking their necks. I have to admit that as a small boy I enjoyed this gratuitous slaughter,but nowadays I think I'd call Rentokil. I would not mourn for Rattus rattus as they have been here as long as man ,and are certain to be here long after our demise, which we seem hell-bent on.

1 comment:

Hallaig said...

Fascinating . . as are all of your posts !