Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Dalmore Tales - 100 Blogs,Not Out.

I began this blog "Dalmore-Tales of a Lewis Village" on the 29th of December,2007 which,barring a few days,is almost one year ago. This is the 100th posting of the blog,but,as I said a long way back, I am grateful and relieved to have been able to document some of the history, and stories relating to Dalmore. I was happy to "resurrect" the people I knew,when I was on my summer holidays in Dalmore(mainly in the years 1945-1960). Had it not been for Google, and the services of an excellent software engineer,my son Alasdair,then the Story of Dalmore would have languished in a large plastic bag at the bottom of a wardrobe,or locked in my memory,as I am the last person alive who remembers this beautiful glen,and the great characters that inhabited it. Some other postings will follow,but another blog, not unrelated to Dalmore,is being hatched "for your delectation".

Monday, 22 December 2008

Preparing the Minks'Feed - An Offal Business.

You didn't get "mink-feed" in large paper sacks from the Crofters,or "The National Mink Breeders Federation" or any other source. By the way,that federation didn't exist. It was created for effect! Unlike feed for sheep(of course they harvested hay etc.in 1956!),the feeding of mink was an elaborate affair,where the main constituents had to be fresh,quantities had to be carefully calculated,and various additives had to be sourced outwith Lewis. We would go over to Stornoway once,sometimes twice a week for the protein rich fish and animal offal. The Broad Bay Fish Shop provided the fish,which was in reality the carcass remaining after the fish fillets had been removed. (mainly haddock and whiting,in these days!). The boys in the fish shop kept our fish aside,presumably for a "bung" from Seoras. Our other visit to town on such days was to Stornoway's slaughterhouse(they had one in these days!). The word "slaughterhouse" is very emotive,and one immediately understands what takes place therein. Today,we send our sentient animals to an "abattoir",which derives from a French word(abatre) meaning to "destroy/put an end to".It seems to have gained currency (even in Stornoway) with those of us who prefer to see our sirloin steak tastefully packaged and displayed in the shops. An abattoir by any other name is a gruesome and hellish place,and yet as a 15 year old with George,I didn't really flinch at what I saw.I once visited Dachau "extermination" camp,near Munich in Germany,and I can tell you that I would never visit such a place again. After what I saw in Stornoway's slaughterhouse,I could never ever revisit such a place,nor will I now recall what I saw there. Suffice to say that we collected two bags of sheep/cattle offal to feed the minks in Dalmore. After collecting the usual "proveeshons",only obtainable in the town(for the womenfolk,that is),a visit to the Star Inn was the rule(for the menfolk,that is). In our case,it was whisky for Seoras and a"sarsaparilla" for the boy. Remember,this 15 year old boy had to drive the A.35 van over to the West Side,but was only allowed to steer until we reached Dalmore road end,when I took over full control for the last mile into Dalmore. After a "te bheag" or two,we were off back home, and another batch of mink food had to be prepared. All of the equipment needed for the feed was housed in a purpose built "house" which we called "taigh na mhink",what else. The correct amounts of fish and offal were minced/ground in a large machine,and to this mulch,various other things were added to maintain the mink in the peak of health - an oil(perhaps olive oil),a coarse grain,and a mixture of minerals and vitamins essential for animals that lived entirely in captivity. This slurry mixture had to be of the right consistancy to be placed on top of the cage for the minks to feed,and perhaps for a few death defying seagulls.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Mating of Minks - Lost in the Blink of an Eye.

The mating of minks is said to be the "fastest" in the animal kingdom,but I've heard murmurs among the matrons of Shawbost. When the season is right,the designated male has his box attached to the far end of her cage(the mating hasn't started yet - although the wording might suggest it). The metal doors on each cage are simultaneously opened, and the big male gets the first look at his "brammer". In a few seconds,it appears that a maelstrom has inhabited the cage. There is a chase in progress,covering every inch of the cage,including the "roof", but to us all,it is a blur. Somewhere, and at a time known only to the minks(of course),union occurs and the male instantly high-tails it to the safety of his home,thereby avoiding a severe mauling from his "girl friend". "Ruith na oidhche" was a bit like that, if the father got a hold of you. If the mating went to plan,one could expect between 6 and 8 kittens. In theory,two amorous mink could return 3 or 4 times their own number. In practice,survival rates were nowhere near such ratios. Selective breeding gave rise to many different colours and hues of mink offspring. I used to know many of the colours'names,but only "sapphire" and "breath of spring" come to mind now. The mink were "humanely" killed using a special box and carbon monoxide from the car's exhaust. No physical means of killing could be used,as this would damage the mink's pelt and render it useless for sale. All of this took place(thankfully)when I was not in Dalmore,but Seoras told me how difficult it was to remove the mink pelt in exactly the way that was prescribed by those in London, who graded and valued them. I remember that a pelt on average would fetch about £12(a fair sum in 1956). The pelting and the curing of pelts required a lot of skill,infinite care and a lot of experience. If you got it wrong,you stood to lose a lot of money. So,no matter how well you cared for your mink when alive,it was the colour and quality of the dead mink's pelt that determined success or failure in this endeavour. I remember George saying that ,all things being equal,he would need about 500 mink for a viable farm,and that alone would take a lot of money.
A wild mink, after a kill,prefers to eat the internal organs of its prey ie.its heart,liver,kidneys etc. It rarely bothers to eat flesh. I remember once (the only time I can recall) a male mink escaped from its cage in Dalmore,unbeknown to us. Within a short time(perhaps 1 or 2 hours),an irate crofter arrived from Garenin(which is about 2 miles across the moor), to tell us that the black(****)mink had slaughtered over 20 of his hens, before he realised a carnage was taking place in his hen-run. The mink had only eaten the offal of a few hens - the remainder he killed "for sport". This cost Seoras quite a bit,and I don't recall what happened to the mink.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Mink - A Ruthless Killing Machine.

The mink's box was a wooden hutch,with a sloping roof and a waterproofed felt cover,hinged to open, to allow handling of the mink (only with special large gloves). A sliding metal door was built into the front of the box,when the mink required to be isolated eg.when cleaning the cage or after a "supersonic" mating session. Again,Seoras had everything worked out for me assembling the mink boxes. Measurements and angles were standardised,and all the tools were at hand - Black&Decker rotary electric saw(with angle guide),hammer,nails,felt tacks,sheet metal cutters,Stanley knife.I'm only giving these details for those DIY aficionados that enthuse about such matters,because I myself was very enthusiastic about the mink boxes and cages back in 1956. So,five years after "the electric" was switched on in the "dailean",there was I ripping up planks of pine with an electric saw! The mink boxes/cages were housed over in the "leis" in croft No.6 in long roofed stands,in parallel arrangement. The female mink were much smaller than their male counterparts,and were lightening fast in their movements,and could traverse their cage in a matter of milliseconds. You did not stick your finger through the hexagonal mesh,as a test of reaction speeds - never,ever! What I am about to recount illustrates the speed and tenacity of the female mink. The mink's prepared food was placed at a top corner of the cage furthest from its box,so that it stretched up to feed,with its sharp little nose protruding no more than one,perhaps two centimetres(at a push)through the wire mesh. Being beside the sea,there were always gulls around,and some of these would swoop to take a beakful of the mink's feed. One day while we were feeding the mink,a seagull,descending very slowly and hovering just above a cage, allowed one of its webbed feet to enter the top of the cage through the mesh,just for an instant. The mink's response was immediate;it now held the seagull's leg and was pulling it further into the cage. The gull's wings were flapping wildly,aiming to escape,but in a short time the mink's teeth had transferred to the bird's "undercarriage" and was eating its vital organs,with the gull still flapping its wings,albeit very slowly now. The death of this seagull occurred when it offered the mink a very small "window of opportunity",about 1 or 2 centimetres of the mesh's diameter. The death of the unfortunate bird was not intended as a piece of gratuitous violence. It merely illustrates the deadly killing machine that is the mink.

Friday, 5 December 2008

A Home Fit For Courting Minks.

You will remember that each summer,during our holiday in Dalmore,our Uncle Shonnie would set us up (an unfortunate phrase)with a "Big Job" that would take up a good proportion of our holiday time viz. taking home the peats by horse and cart. You will recall that in negotiating a price for this contract,Shonnie knew that he could not engage us for less than £1 (each)."You drive a hard bargain",was all he would say.
Doing the bobbins for the tweeds(5 shillings per tweed)or selling fishing net floats to my "agent" in Stornoway(1 shilling each)were looked upon as private enterprise,which was encouraged.as long as it didn't interfere with the "Big Job" or the "iteachan".Working for George at the minks was to see my income double, because making a box and cage, together earned me another 5 shillings.The young kids in the village could only stand and stare at the sight of "Spangles" and "Palm Toffee" sticking out of all the pockets of my dungarees,when I returned from town "on business". At times like this,my young friends appreciated my largesse with the "siucarean". I could appreciate how Carnegie must have felt!
I was involved in most aspects of George's mink business. To start with,I made the hutches and cages for the mink,and in doing so,earned good money. The mink cages were made of a strong hexagonal wire mesh,whose diameter would allow only about half an inch of mink nose to poke through. Any more than that - it would be goodbye fingers. Wire cutters, pliers and metal ring ties were employed in the construction of these cuboidal cages,which were big enough for the mink to move about freely. They had to be carefully made to prevent escape,with no sharp protrusions that would damage the animal's pelt. The hutch (or box) would be attached at one end,and a door provided at the other end when the male mink came "a'dean suiridhe" (came courting).
Now you must not think that I devised and planned the cages and boxes myself. Seoras had all the measurements and templates written down for me,and when he saw that I could do a proper job,he let me get on with it. By doing this,Seoras inspired confidence,and you felt a useful member of the team.
I'll continue with the minks in my next post.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Fifty years later, We meet on Loch Awe.

For some years now I have fished Loch Awe for trout , on a boat hired from Donald at Ardbreknish. The loch is about 25 miles long,and it takes a "dog left" at its northern end, past the Cruachan Power Station outflow,terminating at the barrage in the Pass of Brander.Here the loch is very narrow,where the hills plunge almost vertically into the waters. This allows us to fish very close to the loch's sides. Two months ago,near the end of the trout season,we were in the Pass of Brander fishing close to its south side,when only a few yards from me,I "espied" a long sleek black animal travelling parallel with us,and in our direction. It had been a long time(nearly fifty years)since I had seen a mink,but never in the wild. I recognised this long black "weasel-like" animal as a male mink, with its neat whiskered head and its undulating gait as it moved alongside us. We observed it at close quarters for about five minutes,and throughout, it was was completely unfazed. As I said, I'd seen minks a long time ago,hundreds of them,but all were in cages(well,most of the time)and all of them in Dalmore. Fifty years on,the American mink has acquired a very bad press indeed,and nowhere more than in the Outer Hebrides,where a programme of eradication was instituted some years ago. Mink farms were set up in Lewis in the period 1955-1960,but there were only a few. This was a labour intensive and costly enterprise in which Seoras wholly immersed himself, over a period of years. With the rise of the anti-fur lobby,and the vast financial investments needed to push the business into profit,the future looked bleak for Britain's mink farms. Over this period,mink did accidently escape into the wild,but there were accusations that during the closure of some farms,mink were deliberately released,as the killing and pelting of these mink would incur a lot of expense, with no return. I find that hard to believe, as farmers especially would know how vicious and destructive the mink can be,and how devastating it would be for indigenous wildlife.
We will see how Seoras' minks fared in Dalmore.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Learning to Drive the Usual and the Unusual.

In Dalmore,I got the opportunity to drive various motorised vehicles,without any licence and with no interference from the authorities. Anyway, you could not obtain a licence at 13 years of age. In a way,I had gained some experience with the horse and cart taking the peats home from "cul Dhaile Mor". It was only natural to progress to the "horseless carriage",the motor car - Seoras' motor car,the only one in Dalmore,an Austin A35 van,grey in colour with windows all round. I loved that little car with its flying A "mascot" at the front of its bonnet. Firstly I learned to steer the car by leaning across from the front passenger seat,while George operated everything else - gears,clutch,brakes and accelerator. Such dual controlled driving was restricted to the Carloway district,where the local police constable might not notice,or might even turn a blind eye! Later,as my steering competence improved,this dual controlled little van might be found on any single track road on the island. At times,as we motored past another car in a passing place,it could prove disconcerting for the other driver,as George acknowledged him waving both hands in the air. In time I was shown how to operate all of the controls,and by driving to and from the Mullach Beag just outside the village, Seoras was confident I could handle his Austin van. I often took it for a spin out to the Dalmore road end,and back.
George certainly was an innovator, and if proof were needed,his purchase of a two-wheeled tractor settled the matter. This was a miniature machine less than half the size of your regular tractor,whose engine,gearbox etc. was mounted centrally between two dinky wee tractor wheels and shod with wee tractor tyres. Red in colour,it had two long handles like those you'ld see on the lawnmowers they used at the Oval Cricket Ground,brakes as on a bicycle's handlebars,and you steered it carefully like you would any powerful wee two-wheeled bogie. Also on the handles were the clutch lever,and a lever for setting direction and speed - forward slowly,forward very slightly faster, and reverse. As far as I know Seoras only used this strange machine for carrying things. He connected the mini tractor to a trailer he had built himself, with a platform seat up front. It was a powerful wee thing which served us well at the peats and the hay. These were happy times with Seoras, my pal.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Daffodils in Dalmore.

One of Seoras' projects was "na bulbichean",a crude gallicisation for "the bulbs",being of course daffodil bulbs,which were to be propogated, and the resulting harvest sold for profit. I was surprised to see that there is a Gaelic word for the "daffodil" which can only have come into our lexicon,when in times past, Gaelic was spoken throughout a large part of mainland Scotland. I have seen the yellow iris down by the allt,the honeysuckle growing on the side of the beinn,and even some beautiful little orchids growing out on the mointeach,but I don't believe the daffodil to be indiginous to Lewis(I may be wrong). I've looked up the dictionary,which says that "a daffodil bulb" is succintly expressed in Gaelic as "bun cruinn a lus-a-chrom-chinn". I'm sure Seoras knew that,but if you were in a hurry, "na bulbichean" would do. The bulbs project was one of George's later enterprises,when I was a student hitch-hiking on the "Continent"(today it's called An Roinn Eorpa). So Seoras was without my "help" during the next successive summers. The original daffodil bulbs must have come from the Fens of East Anglia,and since the daffodil is propogated by the creation of further bulbs,in theory one should obtain a substantial yield on one's outlay. Seoras made use of that fertile half acre down on the machair,where the bulbs were cultivated and harvested. The "Daffy project" was not a success(I know not why), and after a few years was abandoned. I believe that there were some others in Lewis who were seduced by the lure of gold in "bun cruinn a lus-a-chrom-chinn". Some bulbs(overspill from the machair)were planted in front of George's house at No.8 Dalmore,so that for many years thereafter,there was/is each spring/summer a beautiful display of narcissi "anns a'leos bhuidhe Dhail a'Mhor". What better memorial to Seoras'enterprise than the yearly show of daffodils in front of the house built for George and his wife Mary.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

George Macleod. Innovator and Craftsman.

In recent years, a new breed of crofter has settled in Lewis,people with no ancestral ties to the island who came seeking a better life for themselves and their families. They may be called "na Gall" (Gael.foreigners),but in some villages they were like the blast of oxygen sometimes needed to revive the patient. As a general rule,the "good lifers" domain is readily identifiable. Attached to the end of the croft house is a small "greenhouse" fashioned from wood and plastic sheeting,where tomato plants and peppers are grown. There may be half a dozen cloches in the near vicinity and a variety of farmyard animals free to wander the croft - goats,poultry,ducks and for those with equestrian ambitions for their children,a horse. I wish such people "bon chance" in their search for the "good life".
Actually, Seoras Dhomhnull Chalum (George Macleod,8 Dalmore)was quite a breath of fresh air himself. He brought to our village things that had never probably been seen there before.He acquired ducks and drakes, and for his efforts got beautiful eggs of duck shell blue,of course,and sometimes little ducklings which went swimming in the "allt" with their mother. Later he bought a pair of nanny goats(for milk,I suppose),and I remember they were called Daisybelle and Marybelle(I think) and I can still see them standing at the corner of the house to be milked by Mairi Long, Seoras'wife. They were smelly creatures who would gladly eat your Harris Tweed guernsey,given the chance. True to goat mythology,they could give you a fair "dunt" from behind. I didn't like the taste of goat's milk then,and I don't like it now. Still,the goats were a novelty for me,and a first for our village in the district. In such things,Seoras was "ahead of the curve" - a phrase so often used today. Seoras would have given today's good lifers a run for their money. He was a skilled craftsman in wood and metal and many of his artefacts can be found in homes,far and wide. George's piece de resistance was the spinning wheel,which he so beautifully crafted in different sizes and in a variety of woods. I remember being asked by George to deliver a full sized, working spinning wheel to the textiles department of the Glasgow School of Art,which they had ordered. It was an exact copy of the spinning wheel that had been used by Bodach Glass,my grandfather. The art school were delighted to receive such a beautiful piece of George's craftsmanship.
Still to come - hosts of golden daffodils,sapphires,a breath of spring and a two-wheeled tractor - and then some more.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Seoras Dhomhnull Chalum.

In previous posts,I have acknowledged the influence of certain people I knew, for whom the stories of times past were important, and who would happily recount these in the ceilidh house or to an eager student like myself. These were the "seanachean" of my times(those who recorded,recited the histories and traditions of the past). Some were stories of this world,but in the birthplace of the Brahan Seer,one would expect tales of the "second sight", prophecies uttered,and strange supernatural happenings. No one influenced me more in these and other matters,than my old friend,the late George Macleod,8 Dalmore(Seoras Dhomhnull Chalum). I always found Seoras to be a very interesting man,a person of many talents who was entrepreneurial,who was by definition a "modern man"(not too many of those around in the Lewis of the 1950s and 60s). Seoras taught me many things, with a quiet patience, and in a way which was instructive,interesting and often useful. Seoras would regale me with the tales of old Dalmore,the people he'd been told about and their way of life. As many people may be aware,Seoras composed many songs about our village and its people,and in them it is clear how much he loved Dalmore. George was an intelligent man,who never received the school education which he and others deserved. Seoras would always talk to me as an adult,explaining things and showing me how they worked. Essentially,George had all the qualities to be found in a good teacher,and I was a dedicated pupil. I will have much to say about Seoras in the posts that follow.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Murdo has a Taste for "Drambuie".

Murchadh Shoudie(remember Murchadh am Phost)would take his turn on alternate years,going to Stornoway with the wool. Well,that was the arrangement until shame and opprobrium befell Murdo, "a fear ruadh"(the Red One). I witnessed his fall from grace. On this trip to Stornoway to sell the wool,everything went as one would expect until Murdo,with Seoras and me in attendance,passed through the portals of the Star Inn. Murdo did not have the capacity for liquor that his brother Iain had,but it has to be said that he relished its taste. Iain was "urbane and socially adept" and always kept an eye on "Red". I can still see Murdo at the top end of the bar,getting in the first round for Seoras and himself. Mine was a half pint of "lemonade". Murdo went all posh,and ordered a double Drambuie (yes,I know,a liqueur). It seemed that when Murdo was in town, out of sight of brother John,he liked to imbibe the Jacobite spirit of Charles Edward Stuart. He ordered these double Drambuies,pronouncing their Gaelic name with gusto - "An Dram Buidheach" . After a few more doubles,Murdo was becoming a cause for concern. After his ninth double Drambuie,Murdo collapsed backwards like a falling chimney stack,and it was good fortune that someone was there to break his fall.Seoras was more than concerned now,as blame in these situations is often unfairly levelled at the "innocents". 'An Shoudie's "hooch" had still to be bought at "Buth Henderson",and "Red" delivered to 4 Dalmore in one piece. I still remember Seoras' van approaching the gate at the bottom of the long grassy "leathad"(slope)at No.4,not knowing what to expect. Looking up the hill towards taigh Shoudie,I could see Iain standing in the doorway,and looking over to taigh Glass,I could see my mother(The Commander)standing at the barn door. I don't think they had invented the saying at that time,but if they had, Seoras and I were truly "between a rock and a hard place". Murdo somehow got out of the van,navigated his way past the gate,all this time carrying the precious cargo,with his arms holding it to his chest. A few steps further,and Murdo toppled forward on the grass,still holding the "proveeshons" to his chest. Before we could come to his aid,'An Shoudie was racing down the leathad and was now standing over his brother,"Red". He very carefully turned Murdo over,prised the bag from his grip,and started slowly back up the hill,leaving Murdo lying there looking up at the sky. Seoras and I decided against visiting taigh Shoudie for a good couple of days. Later, we found out that the Glenlivet etc.had survived the crash,and that the giant pork chops went as usual into the soup.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Balaich Shoudie sell their Wool.

There was a time when a sheep's fleece would fetch a decent price ,which made the business of shearing sheep worthwhile. Today,a pound of wool fetches a mere few pennies,and the only reason one can see for using the "deamhais"(shears)is for the comfort of the animal. Why the price of wool has all but evaporated, I am not sure,but try buying a Pringle woollen sweater and it is impossible to reconcile its inflated price with the pittance paid for the wool.
Back in the mid 50s,wool commanded a good price,and for my Maclennan uncles("Balaich Shoudie"),the day they went to sell the year's wool at the Stornoway tweed mills was a day to remember,or not ,as the case might be. Murdo and Iain took it in turn,year about, to sell the wool in town,and undertake some other essential business.For such an outing,smart/casual was the dress order of the day - light pullover over what they now call a "grandad" shirt,navy blue jacket,grey trousers and black shoes. The best cap(not the everyday cap with the stained sweatband)topped all,and was worn at a jaunty angle. It was amazing that the "balaich" could emerge from that "taigh dubh" looking so clean and smart. On the big occasions like weddings or trips to Glasgow,Iain Shoudie donned full "Chicago" dress of dark suit,paper collar and tie,and his wide brimmed hat was worn with the brim pulled slightly over one eye at a rakish angle. Between times,the Chicago suit was kept up in the room,hanging from a nail on the "tallan",and covered by several pages of the Daily Express. I would usually go along on this jaunt with my uncle,who would "hire" the services of Seoras and his Austin A.35 van. After all,we had a large cargo of wool going to Stornoway, and possibly a very different cargo on the way back.
Seoras would have some business of his own in town,but the first stop would be "Moulin Stickey"(Kenneth Mackenzie's mill) to sell the large bales of wool. I never went in to the mill,nor was I privy to how much the wool fetched that day. I just knew that that wool paid well,and that an enjoyable day lay ahead.Certain bills had to be paid,and "proveeshons" acquired,mainly meat, which was not readily available in Carloway.In Willie John Macdonald's shop, beef and beef sausages was the order of the day.Then it was up to Dougie Maclean's butcher shop,and here was purchased two giant pork chops,the likes of which I'd never seen before or since. Onions,carrots.turnip and possibly cabbage completed the shopping list for now,and we all would have lunch in the Royal Hotel,courtesy of the "wool man". If it was 'An Shoudie who was in town,it has to be said that I never came across anyone as well-kent in Stornoway as "himself" . Anywhere 'An Shoudie went,men from different districts seem to know him,and would engage Iain in conversation, mainly of a light hearted nature,and possibly suffused with a little gossip. "Gaireachdaich"(laughter) - it must have been heard in Portnaguran. I'm not sure why 'An Shoudie was so well got with people. He was in the RNR ,did his stints at the Battery and was in the Navy during the war. But so were many other Lewismen. Basically Iain was an extrovert and "a very funny guy",He enjoyed a drink and was very clubbable,and it was guaranteed that your day was better for having met him. It could take half an hour,sometimes,with 'An Shoudie by your side, to travel the short distance from the Royal Hotel to the Town Hall.But I didn't mind-"torr gaireachdaich"
The penultimate stop of the day was always the Star Inn on South Beach Street,where the clientele was in these days mainly "balaich a'Taobh Siar"(West Side Boys). Quite a few nips vanished "down the hatch" and at breakneck speed,while a single half pint of beer seemed to last forever. How do I know such things? Well, this young lad sat in the far corner,watching the action and nursing my own half pint of "lemonade". On the way out of town,somewhere along Bayhead,George's van came to a halt,as if through conditioning. On the opposite side of the road was "Buth Henderson",Stornoway's only licensed grocer(as far as I know),and no sheepman straight from a sale, could pass it by without stocking up. Murdo,Iain's brother,would expect a carry out,and in this he was never disappointed. It invariably consisted of a bottle of Glenlivet whisky,six screwtops of beer, a 20 packet of Capstan Full Strength and another pack of Senior Service cigarettes. And of course,there were the giant pork chops to look forward to.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Iain Mor na Cnamhan.

Iain Mor na Cnamhan was a big man in every sense of the word. After an education in Carloway and at the Nicolson in Stornoway,John Maciver left Dalmore to join the Metropolitan Police in London,and within time,rose to high rank, in this his chosen career. He married a beautiful and delightful lady,a Londoner called Celia,who worked as a telephonist with the B.B.C. They had twins,John and Joan,who like us,spent every summer holiday in Dalmore. More so,they spent the whole of WW2 with their grandparents in Dalmore,away from the Blitz and the frightening V1 and V2 bombs. Through necessity they spent this time away from their mother,Celia, who related to my mother the impossible situation which arose when the twins were returned to London at war's end. Here was a mother who could not understand a word spoken by her children(they spoke only Gaelic),and children transported to an alien environment,now living with a woman whose language was utterly foreign to them. Celia spent a couple of years of hardship,getting the children to accept her,and educating them all over again in English. The strange thing is that ever after,John and Joan could neither speak nor understand a word of Gaelic.
Big John rose to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent at Scotland Yard and was in charge of many high profile cases including the "Jack Spot" London gangster case,and the Ruth Ellis murder investigations. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to hang in Britain,in 1955. John Maciver was in his time Master Mason of London. Any time we were staying in London or travelling on to mainland Europe,we would stay in Colindale with Celia and John,and we were always welcomed like family. I remember once being driven by John, with Celia at his side, to Euston Station to catch a Saturday evening train back to Glasgow.It was the end of the Glasgow Fair Holiday,and the station was packed with a multitude of people. John navigated his large black saloon through this throng to the station's main entrance. A young London bobby approached the car,and told John firmly but politely that he could not enter and would need to reverse. John said nothing,and his expression remained unchanged. Reaching into a waistcoat pocket,John showed the bobby what was obviously his warrant card."Just follow me,sir.Make way for this car".I felt like a thousand pounds.
P.S. The first time I tasted a mushroom was in Dalmore. Celia,on holiday one year in Dalmore,had espied large mushrooms high up on croft No.10,under the hill. I asked John and Joan why they were harvesting those large saucer like objects. "Come over to the house and you'll see". When I tried my first fried mushroom,it tasted like a juicey piece of steak - truely delicious,although it would be many years on before mushrooms appeared on my plate again.

The Two Annies and the Horse Treatment.

Anna na Cnamhan (Annie Maciver)was one of my mother's best friends,the other being Phemie Galbraith from Acharacle,whom she met during her days in the New Club in Glasgow. Anna na Cnamhan was also known as Annie Bones or Annie Smith,her own proper married name. Ages with my mother,and coming like her from Dalmore, they were in the same class throughout their time in Carloway School. In a class photograph(courtesy of the Carloway Historical Society),Annie appears as a sweet faced "doll"in ringlets,and attired in the most beautiful dress. These were the words of my mother,who had straight hair and no ringlets. "She was the only girl in the Cnamhan's family,and the youngest,and they really treated her like a doll",said my mother without the least hint of jealousy. They both went to Glasgow,where their friendship was further cemented,and they were regular visitors in each other's house. Annie would come to our house in Renfrew for a "sleepover",and bless them,they were just like two young girls again,crying with laughter underneath a pile of Harris Tweed blankets. I remember visiting my mother one Saturday afternoon and noticing that she looked very tired."A graidh,I'm knackered(unaware of this word's etymology,I think).Annie Smith was here yesterday, and we talked and laughed right through the night". I didn't stay too long.
I recall that one of the two Annies came across an article in the Sunday Post,concerning a treatment used by veterinary surgeons in equine "arthritis". The Annies were fellow sufferers of arthritis,and were always on the lookout for novel treatments. The Sunday Post was an invaluable source of modern medical advances. Now,Lewis ladies are never far from expert advice(there are many Ph.Ds around),and through the offices of one such person,they acquired a winchester full of this potent liquid,which would see to their aches and pains once and for all. The fair skin of these ladies are far removed from the hide of a horse,as they were to discover,and the experiment was immediately abandoned. No further mention was made of "the horse treatment" by Anna Glass or her pal Anna na Cnamhan That did not stop me and others from enquiring if there was anything new in the Sunday Post.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

John Maciver. "Na Cnamhan"

While I could never understand the origins of the names "Glass" and "Shoudie" for my two grandfathers,the nickname, "Na Cnamhan", for old John Maciver(10 Dalmore)was at least explicable by virtue of his rangy appearance. Tall and thin, Iain was known as "Na Cnamhan",which translates as "the bones". Note the use of the plural here. We are not talking of a single bone,but a collection. Addressed in the first person,he was known as Iain,but otherwise it was always "Na Cnamhan"(Bones). "Taigh na Cnamhan" was the last house as you left the village,and was the only other "taigh gheal" (white house)in Dalmore, when I was a young boy. Na Cnamhan and his wife had connections in Carloway and Doune(I think),and he was one of the original ten to secure a croft in Dalmore in the early 1920s. I only knew Iain and his wife to see them in the kitchen of No.10,but I do recall his slow sonorous voice. Seoras and Iain Shoudie,my uncle,were testament of Na Cnamhan's quick,and at times acerbic wit,delivered in a slow monotone.
They had a family of four boys(Donald,John,Murdo,Archie) and one girl,Annie,the youngest,who was ages with my own mother(Anna Glass). Donald married one of Seoras'sisters and they settled in Stornoway. Mudd na Cnamhan(Murdo),whom I often spoke to while he was weaving, married a beautiful woman from Shawbost called Mairi Anna,and they went off to live in Barvas. The one member of the family who looked like his father and with a similar physique was Archie,who inherited the croft,and whom I got to know well. Archie lived up to the "Cnamhan" moniker. He was tall,thin and gangly,but could he move on these long legs of his? He had a fine turn of phrase,very dry and very witty. He was a likeable man. Archie obtained his driving licence later in life(like many others in the district)and bought himself a Bedford Dormobile van,de rigeur among the fashionistas of the island,the whaling fraternity. Archie,I don't think,ever mastered the proper use of a car's clutch,and consequently his van travelled along the roads in a peculiar series of leaps and shudders. One tended to pull into the first available passing place at the sight of Archie's chariot in the distance. Maybe this was the reason for Archie's unblemished driving record. Archie often called into Taigh Shoudie for a wee bit morning ceilidh,and even the odd dram.
Archie was called up as a private in the Cameron Highlanders during WW2,and he was one of the unfortunates to be captured at St.Valery in France,when the entire 51st Highland Division were taken by the Germans in 1940. When Archie returned to Lewis after his captivity,he was literally a bag of bones, and very weak. Still,years of good Lewis feeding,especially from his wife Chrissie,was to put that to rights.
N.B. It was only recently that I realised that the Gaelic for Archibald was "Gilleasbuig",which means the "follower of the bishop". Now boys,don't fret. This was in pre-reformation days. A bit more on Clann na Cnamhan in the next post.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Shoudie has a Close Shave.

Communion services were (and still are) held throughout Lewis during 3 or 4 day gatherings in district churches,with many services and many visiting ministers in attendance. Communion would be offered at special services to all communicants during these days. There was a "season" during the year when "na h-orduighean" were in full swing throughout the island. People would travel long distances,often on foot,to attend communions in distant villages. This was the case with the two young ladies from Bernera who were making their way to "Orduighean Siabost" (Shawbost Communions). Darkness was falling as they made their way through Carloway,and they knew that they would not make Shawbost by nightfall,especially as they were now pretty fatigued. One of the ladies remarked that they had relatives in Dalmore - Maclennans, originally from Bernera. She was sure that they would find a bed there for the night. At this juncture,it should be pointed out(and there's no delicate way of relating this) that one of the ladies had an excessive amount of dark facial hair, on her upper lip and around her chin. They made their way to "taigh Shoudie",and Murdo answered the rap at the door. The ladies stated their business and said who they were. Ushering them into the house,Murdo said "Father,there's a girl and a young boy here to see us,relatives of ours from Bernera. They were made very welcome, given something to eat,and the conversation centred on their kith and kin back in Bernera. Gradually,Murdo realised that a great mistake had been made,and addressing his father Shoudie, he said "Father,it's not a boy and a girl at all,but two young women from Bernera". Well, Bodach Shoudie had to think fast. "Bless me,bless me, but my eyesight is not what it used to be,and the smoke in here can get so bad at times, that sometimes I call Mary,the Merak and at other times I think that the Merak is Mary.
N.B. Mary was his wife. As for "the Merak" - I've no idea who or what she was.It was exactly as I heard it! The ladies went on their way the next day,hopefully none the worse for meeting new found relatives.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Shoudie. His Exceptional Strength.

My paternal grandfather, Alexander Maclennan came from Garenin,the son of Murdo Maclennan, from Bosta on the island of Bernera,and known as "Murchaidh Drobhair" (his people had been cattle drovers). He married a Garenin girl,Mary Maclennan(b,1826),known as "Mairi Alasdair",and Murdo came courting his true love by rowboat across the salty waters of Loch Roag(weather permitting). This is not the case of consanguinity it might seem. Although all these Maclennans came originally from Bernera(Bosta/Kirkibost),Mary's people came to Garenin by way of a couple of generations' stay in Tolsta a'Chaolais. So,we have a Maclennan married to a Maclennan,albeit involving a slight separation of a couple of generations. Mary had a younger sister,Catherine(b.1837),who for some years(c.1860)was maid in the manse on St.Kilda,the "island on the edge of the world". When she returned home to Garenin,she was known as "Mairi Hirta". Hirta is the Gaelic name for St.Kilda. Mairi Hirta was my grandfather Maclennan's aunt,and it is he,"Shoudie",that is the subject of this letter. I've no idea how he came to be called "Shoudie",but I do know of two other Maclennans, also known as Shoudie,one living in Shawbost,and another in Point. Strange,wouldn't you say?
My grandfather had worked in one of the Glasgow shipyards for a time,and while there,had sustained multiple fractures to one of his legs,when a heavy steel plate fell on him from a gantry above. The way his fractures were set left Shoudie unable to straighten that leg for the rest of his days. It seems that in his youth, Shoudie had a "set-to" with a very powerfully built tinker from Stornoway called Seamus Drummond. A great many years later Drummond called at Shoudie's house to repair or sell tin utensils,and was invited in,not knowing whose house it was. Drummond,peering through the smoke,saw a man wearing a bonnet, at the upper end of the "being"(bench)lying stretched out with one leg bent,touching the clay floor,the other stiff and straight, resting along the bench."Shoudie,is that you,man? Is this truly the man I tussled with all those years ago?" I'm sure that they had much to talk about.Shoudie was not "big-made" but he was known for the exceptional strength in his arms and wrists. One day in Garenin,a group of young men were involved in a "contest" of strength to see who could lift a cart's axle,with the two large wheels attached. They all had various attempts,but no one could raise the wheels above the grass. An older man who had witnessed this trial of strength saw Shoudie come "hirpling" in the road,and baiting the youths,said that the man approaching could do what none of them had managed. They laughed at this and accepted the man's wager of a pouch of tobacco(Shoudie smoked a pipe). The man pointed to the cartwheel and axle,and told Shoudie "there's a poke of tobacco in this if you can lift that lot off the ground". Shoudie took up position and,with one hand,raised the "competition piece" clean off the ground.

1.My stupid error. It was Mary Maclennan's sister Catherine(Catriona),who had been maid to the minister in St.Kilda(Hirta),and on her return to Garenin was thereafter known as "Catriona Hirt"
2.I recently bought Calum Ferguson's exceptional book,"St.Kildan Heritage" (Acair 2006),and it was there I learned some information that was important to me,but would be the cause of this second error.
In Calum Ferguson's book,amongst a great deal of factual information on St.Kilda,he includes the 1891 census,which is of course the official Government Census initiated in 1841 to cover every part of Britain.
In House No.1(ie.the Manse), we have

Assuming the accuracy of the census details,if Catherine MacLennan was aged 43 years in 1891,then she must have been born in 1848,and not 1837 as in my blog. Again,she could not have been a maid to the minister in c.1860,being then only 12 years old.

Although my dates were a bit awry,I did know that my ancestor,Catriona Hirta was in St.Kilda "away back then" as maid to the minister. But her name is absent from the 1901 Census! For me it places Catherine in a different era,and persuades me to find out a bit more about her time on Hirta.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Sheepdog Trials. One Man and his Dog.

When I was a young lad in the early 1950s,the Lewis sheepdog came in all 57 varieties(it seemed to me),which might loosely be referred to as the "West Highland" sheepdog. Whether these dogs ever existed as a true breed,I don't know,but what I do know is that they were highly skilled in the tasks demanded of them. I believe they were better at sheep gathering and fetching on the wide expanses of the Lewis moors,than at close quarter work on the croft.There were exceptions,of course. The Shoudie dog,Julia(aka Stowlia or Dolita)was always impressed to see a large flock of sheep being brought towards the fank by two or three of her fellow canines. Stowlia would,at this late stage,join in the fun,running back and forward just like the class-act dogs,her tail wagging furiously at the kudos of being seen as a real sheepdog. She was just great! Even back then,certain men were recognised for their prowess with their sheepdogs,and their pups were always in demand by others.
In no time at all,sheepdog trials became very popular on Lewis,and contestants became increasingly high-profile in competitions which demanded great skills from both man and dog. Competition was keen at these trials,and in many cases, frankly, fierce. It was at this time that crofters began to import sheepdogs from the mainland,dogs of proven ability and known pedigree. They were almost entirely of the breed known as the "border collie",which originated in the Scottish borders,and which were the stars of the big UK trialing scene. They were small,very fast and highly intelligent. Usually black, with some patches of white,they were expensive to buy and this usually entailed the Lewisman going out to the mainland to assess the pup and its mother. All the serious trialists on Lewis and Harris bought into the border collie,and spent long hours training their dogs to obey their commands,using voice,whistle and who knows,what else.
Norman Macarthur(Tiger Navarre)stayed at the end of the Dalmore road,just inside the Carloway fence. If you knew "Tiger",you knew how appropriate was this name. "Navarre", his father,I assume was given that name because of his presence in France during World War One. Tiger,the brother-in law of Seoras(George,8 Dalmore),was already known as being good with a sheepdog,at that time,a large brown and black dog called Toss. Tiger went over to the border collies,and from that time (c.1955)he emerged as possibly the top sheepdog trialist in all Lewis and Harris. I was often in Tiger's house, as I knew Alex(Alexina)his wife from her days living in Dalmore. Alex was a kind woman,with a fine sense of humour. I remember one day going over to the dogs in their outside kennel with some some bread or potatoes,when I was stopped in my tracks by Tiger shouting at me "Don't go near the dogs.I am the one who feeds these dogs.and only me"
We would attend trials in Shawbost,Lochs and Barvas in George's Austin A.35 van,and often returned with a 1st.prize and a silver cup. The one to win was the Stornoway Sheepdog Trials,held each year in the Castle Grounds. Tiger did not get it all his own way,as at this time, there was a very worthy opponent in the Stornoway butcher,'An Bhragie.If anyone were capable of denting Tiger's crown,it would be 'An Bhragie. Often, these two would be well ahead of the field. I remember one Stornoway trials(1956/1957), when we went across in the A.35 van with Tiger and his dog,and Ia'Ruadh Dhomhnull Higort(Garenin),who felt like mixing it with the big boys. 'An Bhragie was there as expected and performed to his usual high standard. I don't remember how the points were scored in these trials,but I do recall parts of the trials viz. outrun,shedding,penning. Tiger won that year,and the Cup was Dalmore bound. A lot of whisky went into, and out of, that large silver trophy in the following few days.
I have not been to sheepdog trials in a very long time,and I would not be surprised to discover that they now employ satellite navigation and radio controlled collars.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Fishing at "Bandaberie",Dalmore.

I have written about the Gearraidh in previous posts,that beautiful, green and fertile part of Dalmore,a land of old corn mills, and at times home to the "iolaire",the majestic golden eagle. It is,however,a place in which one never feels at ease, and I'm not sure why! The Gearraidh pushes out into the Atlantic Ocean in a promontory at "Rudha an Trileachain"(headland of the oyster catchers ),and how well named it is. The rocks here are strewn with the shells of mussels and limpets,but gey few oysters. You see,the bulk of the island's shellfish leaves for France and Spain in giant refrigerated lorries. "Round the corner" from this point and flanking the wild beach of "Sheilagadh"is a sea rock called "Bandaberie",a favoured plinth for sea fishing with the "slat"(bamboo rod),yielding good catches,but it is an exceedingly treacherous place. Not for nothing was "Bandaberie" feared by the women of Dalmore.
To access the site,you had to climb down a near vertical rock face(about 20 feet down),and carrying the "slat",that could be difficult. However,there were enough finger and toe holds to ease your descent. Strong sea currents swirled around the rock from which we fished,and the top of the rock was only inches above the sea. You always had to be mindful of those freak waves that crashed over the rock,and be prepared to abandon your position. These bamboo rods were 20-25 feet long,and a strong twine,tied at the top,ran down the length of the rod(no reel needed here). Attached to the end of the line was a cast of 6 or 7 flies made from large hooks and white seagull feathers. Cold boiled potato left over from the "tatties and herring" lunch would be squashed in the hand and this ground bait tossed into the clear waters of the "geotha". Within a few minutes,the long bamboo("slat")would be arching over with the great strain on the line,and you could see perhaps 6 or 7 fish down in the waters below. While in the water,this heavy catch was buoyed by the upthrust(Archimedes'Principle,you recall),but when the fish were pulled from the water,you had a seething mass of disparate forces acting in every direction,including up. The only thing that might be considered art, was landing every last fish on the rocks behind you. You then had to "dehook" every fish,and stick them in the brown hessian bag, On Bandaberie, it was rare to catch any fish except the "cuidaig"(cuddy/small saithe)or the"saighean"(saithe/coal fish). The only thing which limited your catch(or enthusiasm) was the knowledge that you had to get a heavy bag of fish up that near vertical cliff,and then transport it nearly a mile over hill and dale. Then,of course,the fish had to be gutted and washed.
These fresh fish, fried in the morning's bacon fat,and served with Stag bread and butter and a mug of tea, was a meal to savour. I wonder if anyone still fishes at Bandaberie,or knows how to get down there. I doubt it.
Domhnull Lamont and my uncle Norman(Tormod Glass)fished on Bandaberie a great deal,and installed a rope/wire ladder there, which afforded easier access to the site.

P.S. Tamra (U.S.A.) Thanks for your comment. D.J.Maclennan.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Donald Macleod("Glass") Dies,Aged 92 years

It was a lovely April day and old "Bodach Glass" decided to take a gentle stroll,perhaps as far as the "traigh"(shore). His daughter Dollag agreed,exhorting him to be careful and to take his time.The old man set out across the "stairean"(path to house) with his "bata" in hand, Some time later in the afternoon,Domhnull Chalum had awakened after "forty winks" in his chair at No.8. He told his wife that he had a mind to take a walk into the shore. "O a'ghraidh,you have not been in there in years". "Well,I feel like taking a walk in there now", Donald replied. He was now in his late 80s,so each step was measured and taken slowly, down the road, past the cemetery and the "allt"(river) to the shore.
Anyone who knows Dalmore beach is aware of the large rounded stones situated half way along the traigh,where Allt Dhailamor empties into the sea. It was here, from a point above the river, that Domhnull Chalum discovered his old friend "Glass" lying prostrate on the stones. Donald set out back to the village to alert folk of the situation. Finding Glass on the stones,has given rise to two possible scenarios. The first of these is that Glass was making his way across the stones when his foot became trapped under some boulders. He was too weak to extricate his foot,and seeing the incoming tide approaching ever nearer,he feared he might drown and suffered a massive stroke. The second,and more probable scenario,is that he suffered a stroke and fell on the rocks. However it happened,a stroke was diagnosed by the doctor.
Villagers followed Shonnie with the horse and cart,which was lined with bales of hay,and Old Glass was removed from there to his own house at No.5 Dalmore. There in his bed,where I often heard him pray long and fervently to his Lord,Donald Macleod,my Grandpa, passed away peacefully on the 30th April,1953 aged 92 years.

Friday, 15 August 2008

"Glass". A Fearless Old Bodach.

The two incidents related here,though small in themselves,demonstrates the fearlessness of my grandfather,"Glass",even at his advanced age. In fairness,he was a fairly fit old gentleman,albeit he now carried a walking stick to steady his gait.
Shonnie had gathered together some sheep in a small impromptu fank,high up on croft No.9 under Beinn Dhalamor. Shonnie was dealing with some sheep helped by one of my aunts. I was standing just outside the "gate" of the fank,beside my grandfather,when a ram leaped over the gate,and with its large horns,struck my grandad square on his chest. Old Glass fell back,but as the ram continued over him,he held out his "bata" and its crook locked with one of its horns.As the ram was subdued,I heard the bodach utter the word "salachar"(filth)
One afternoon,I was sitting with my grandpa Glass and his old pal Domhnull Chalum on some seats down by the roadside at No.8. Two or three of the younger men were in attendance. The gate for the village was out the road at No.10(we called it "geata na Cnamhean"),and should always have been kept closed to stop animals making their way into the rich machair pastures and the cemetery. The sound of "thunder" drew our attention to a cloud of dust out the road,and emerging out of this were the three village horses coming in the road at a full gallop. Someone had left the gate open and our equine friends were heading into the shore. Nobody moved, and seeing these three stallions bearing down on us,it seemed the sensible thing to do. But no one could have foreseen what happened next. Glass got up and shuffled out to the middle of the road,and shouting and waving his arms and bata about,like a man possessed,the horses took one look at this wild old bodach and came to a sudden halt.One of the younger men saw the horses out the road,and shut the gate. The generational gap was beginning to show, even back then.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

"Glass" buys the Premier House Clock.

On the only visit "Glass",my grandfather,made to Renfrew(that I'm aware of),he was staying in Hairst(harvest)Street with his married daughter Kate,my aunt.This was around the early 1930s. Kate's tenement house was directly opposite Ross's Premier House,which was a large two-storey furniture store,also selling household "fancy goods". Bodach Glass was on the look out for a quality wall clock to take back to Dalmore. Glass knew that the Premier House had a good selection of clocks for sale, and finally paid a visit to their shop across the road. He was confronted by a large selection of clocks of all types and sizes,but almost immediately he knew of the one he wanted. This was a fine half-size case clock in dark hardwood,which chimed the hour and the half hour. It had an elegant,yet simple face and the pendulum lay behind a door of wood and bevelled glass. The salesman endeavoured to interest him in other clocks,but every time Glass made it plain that his mind was made up. "I'm sorry,sir but that clock is not for sale. You see,sir,that is the shop's clock". No matter,Glass told him that it was that clock,or none at all. Consultations followed,and one might have heard the manager say "A sale is a sale". Glass was very proud of his clock and on the way back to Lewis by train and boat,he carried it, held firmly on his lap(with the pendulum removed). As stated elsewhere,only the bodach saw to "his" clock in Dalmore,which he wound once a week,always on the same day. This clock is still keeping time and chiming away on the kitchen wall at No.7 Dalmore. The care taken by Glass with his clock to an extent mirrors the great care his wife Mary took in carrying her sewing machine from Garenin to Dalmore.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

My Mother is Employed by Madam at the Club.

My mother,Anna Glass,was born in Garenin in 1911,the youngest of a family of nine children. When she was 12 years old,she went with her family to their new croft in Dalmore,but a large part of her heart was left behind in Garenin,which she would freely admit. Like most girls of that ilk and time,she followed the herring fleets from Lerwick to Lowestoft, but earlier had worked as a maid in Taigh a'Bhaicair in Carloway,which also involved her helping out in the shop,adjacent to the Baker's house. In the early 1930s,my mother left for Glasgow to seek employment there,in service, like thousands of fine girls from the Highlands and Islands. It was during this time that a friend of hers from Lewis,told my mother of the grand position she had in the New Club,a gentleman's club located in Glasgow's city centre. This was the foremost and most exclusive club in Glasgow,the equal of any in London. It had in its membership the top lawyers and industrialists,people like Sir Peter Coats of the thread family, the two Weir brothers(Weirs of Cathcart) and R.W.Forsyth the Glasgow retailers. My mother went for a job at the New Club,and was seen by a Miss Dick,who was in overall charge, managing the club, and who had her own suite of rooms within the building. She was the daughter of a doctor in Burghead near Inverness,and with her background, was suited to her position of looking after such fine gentlemen. She was known by club members and staff alike as "Madam". My mother was taken on as a waitress,and working there at the New Club,was like working at Buckingham Palace,but with nicer people. She shared the good news with her older sister Kate,married and living in Renfrew. She wrote a letter to her mother and father back in Dalmore,extolling the grandeur of the club,and the kindness of "Madam". Bodach Glass had not been further than Peterhead,but the words "club" and "madam" had an unwholesome ring to them. It was not,they agreed,a place for their Annie to work in,no matter how grand she found it. A letter expressing their concerns was dispatched to my mother in Glasgow forthwith. It took a visit by my Auntie Kate to the New Club,and a long letter from Miss Dick(no mention was made of "madam") before Old Glass and Mairi Ruadh were satisfied that their youngest daughter was not employed in a house of ill-repute.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Glass,Radio Luxemburg and a Barrel of Whisky.

I was 12 year old when "Glass" died,but still have vivid memories of him. I have recounted previously that I always slept behind the bodach "up in the room",that I was privy to his long prayers to God,that he "took the book" every night without exception and that he closely resembled the King's father,King George V.
His people had remained with the established church(Church of Scotland)at the Disruption which took place back in 1843, giving rise to the Free Church, which the vast majority of Lewis people joined. I remember my grandfather,Glass, dressing for church,three piece black suit,white shirt,black tie,highly polished boots and fob watch and chain across his middle. The last thing before leaving was to stand in front of mirror by the room door,and gently comb the royal white beard. He had been an elder of his church in Carloway for many years,and strangely he had a doppelganger there in the Carloway church, in the person of the Carloway Postmaster,"Am Post Mhor". They really were alike,elders of their church and men of a certain standing. The "Eaglais Saor" lacked the gravitas of such men.
I think that Glass might have been termed a liberal of the Church,but in truth, most people outwith the Free Church were looked upon as such, adhering to some dangerous heresies of the "distant past". Glass,you'll remember,allowed us city boys to listen to Radio Luxemburg's "Top Twenty" at 11.00 pm on a Sunday night. "O mo gradh ort". Unlike "Shoudie", my other grandfather, Glass neither smoked nor drank(ie.alcohol)but saw no reason to denounce others who did. During the war, Glass found a barrel of whisky bobbing about on the surf on Dalmore beach. There was no need to worry the hard pressed customs' men,so Glass had the barrel removed to his barn by horse and cart, under the watchful eye of a couple of interested old friends in the village. "Dhe a'seo",they must have wondered. Well,they would discover shortly. Glass would invite Shoudie and Domhnull Chalum over to No.5 each day after lunch(except Sunday,of course - he wasn't that much of a liberal). Glass would excuse himself and head for the "sobhal",where the "uisge beatha" was secreted under the hay,draw off two good measures and return to his pals,who never once made a comment,but they did wonder about Glass's way with water and whisky. The conversations these afternoons were highly enjoyable and at times frivolous,despite the war and its privations. Shoudie must have hoped that Glass could change a few dockin leaves into tobacco! These afternoon get-togethers would last quite a while - well,until the barrel ran dry.

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.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

" Glass". Crofter,Weaver and Fisherman.

Glass,my grandfather,was an industrious man,who never let the grass grow under his feet. He was a great provider for his family,and in that regard,he was willing to turn his hand to many different jobs. In the first place he was a crofter on the five acres at 5 Dalmore, and happy he must have been to rent this croft here in the "Dailean",which recently had been Padruig Sinclair's sheep farm. He was also a weaver,weaving tweed on a wooden hand loom,which I can remember was stored in the "sobhal" (barn) at No.5, possibly hoping to be ressurected, if that new fankled iron loom proved a failure. Alas,alas old friend! These tweeds were made into blankets by his wife Mary,who was in business(in a small way) with a friend, Catherine Macleod,when they were still in Garenin.From time to time,Glass wove tweeds for the mills in Stornoway. He was reckoned to be a fine weaver in these days.
Glass was also a fisherman on one of the local sailing boats of the "Carloway Fleet",based at the Dunan. He was a crew member of the 21 ton "Press Home",owned by his cousin "Gherry" (Duncan Macleod). This was in the years 1880-1890,when there were 26 boats fishing all year round, out of Loch Carloway. Later,Glass would own his own boat,"The Plover" (SY 571),around 1890. At other times,he followed the fishing season over on the east coast of Scotland with Shoudie's brother, " Domhnull Drobhair" (Donald Maclennan,9 Garenin). These two men were lifelong friends. These sail boats operated 3 miles out to sea, and used the large line,each line bearing 1,000 hooks,baited with eel(sometimes halibut!).They were after ling which was a highly prized fish back in these days. A common daily return for these boats might be 500/600 ling and they were sold for 7 or 8 pence(old money)each. The ling had to measure 2 and a half feet,"eye to tail" or failing that, 2 ling for one.
I was told the following story about Glass,"eithear Gherry" and a colossal catch of ling,which occurred in the distant past. It seems that Glass ,with a crew of 5 or 6 in "eithear Gherry"(Gherry's boat)went out very early one morning to fish for ling using the large lines,and according to the storyteller,they struck gold almost immediately. The boat was up to the gunwales(or is it rowlocks)in an abundance of ling. They got their catch to the market just as it opened,and their catch commanded a record price for those times. Glass suggested that if they all put their shares of the money together,they would be in a position to buy the boat from the owner,Gherry,if he was in agreement. He was,and the ownership transferred to "Glass & Co". Well that's the story,and maybe that's how the "Press Home" became "The Plover" - maybe!

Friday, 8 August 2008

"Glass" and his wife "Mairi Ruadh".

As mentioned elsewhere,my grandfather,Donald Macleod ("Glass"),was born in Garenin in 1860, and was one of the Macleods whose ancestors first settled in the Sithean,the small hamlet below the present Garenin road. Garenin grew into a sizable village,with "Macleod" the predominant surname. In 1890,Glass,a young man of 30 years,married his sweetheart,Mary Macneil,aged just 19, who stayed out the road at No.14. She had striking red hair, and because of this my grandmother was always known as "Mairi Ruadh". Their first marital home was in the small building which today houses the "laundry" in the Garenin Thatched Village. In 1904 he moved to Croft No.4 where he had built a house on a relative's croft(his father,Norman's,I think).This is "Taigh Glass",No.4A,one of the thatched houses which today can be rented from the Garenin Trust. As we have seen in earlier postings,Glass acquired the newly created croft at No.5 Dalmore in 1920,and the whole family moved there in 1923. Dalmore was just a couple of miles up the coast,which was just as well as many of the children(my mother told me) were very homesick for Garenin,and were always making return visits there to see their cousins and friends. Two of Glass's nine children never lived to see the home in Dalmore,his son Donald who died in Holland in 1916 during WWI(see earlier postings),and Christina who died from tuberculosis in 1912,aged only 19 years. My mother said that "Cairistiona" was a very Christian girl,and that in the last week before she died in December,she wakened once and said to her mother that she would dearly love a piece of fresh fish, "A'Ghraidh,this is the middle of winter,and there are no boats out",said her mother. "God will provide,I am sure",replied Cairistiona. Her brother Norman,then aged 9,was out on the moor behind Garenin when he saw a strange thing indeed. There in a peat bog,jumping and flapping about,was a good sized sole,which could only have been transported there by some seabird,whose bill was unable to hold on to the "leabag" before Norman lifted it. Every one was amazed at what happened,except Christina.
Glass was 60 when he moved to Dalmore and 63 before he saw his house built and his wife and children settled there. How many nowadays could start a new life, at what is at present an age to retire. They don't make them like "Glass" and "Mairi Ruadh" anymore,and they have not done so for a very long time,I think.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Clann 'ic Iain. "Long" and "Glass"

My maternal grandfather, Donald Macleod,was known as "Glass",and this monicker.if ever understood,was forgotten in the mists of time. But, he would always be known as "Glass",somewhat neater than his "sloinneadh" in Gaelic, "Domhnall Thormoid 'an 'ic Iain". "Sloinneadh" means surname in English, but it conveys a lot more information than the anglicised surname "Macleod",which is a clan name shared by hundreds of thousands of people the world over. However this simple lineage explains Glass's "slionneadh" in Gaelic,of course.
Iain(John Macleod b.~1760)--> Mac Iain(John Macleod b.~1790)--> Tormod 'an 'ic Iain(Norman Macleod b.1824)--> Domhnall Thormoid 'an 'ic Iain(Donald Macleod b.1860 ie.GLASS).
Iain Shoudie,a Maclennan uncle,and a nonsense rhymster,used to sing a little ditty to me as a young boy, which made some allusion to a physical characteristic inherited from my Macleod side.The last line of the ditty was
"Ha sron clann 'ic Iain air an Dhada". Whatever he observed,I (Dada)could see nothing peculiar about my nose.
I remember when (in 1951)I was 10 years old being taken to see the only other survivor of Glass's siblings,his brother Duncan,known as "Long",who was on his death bed in his old style black house at No.18 Gearrannan.This was a very old design of "taigh dubh",with the long axis of the house perpendicular to the hill and following its slope downhill. There was only one door which was used by people and animals alike,and the interior was "open plan". There was no "tallan" to separate man and beast. Just inside the door on the right was the well supplied by a spring.I don't know if this was unusual in a house of this vintage ie. first find yourself a spring and then build your house around it! There were no windows at all,and the fire burned in the middle of the rough clay floor.There was a gap in the thatch above the fire,which allowed some of the smoke out, and a small amount of daylight in,by which one could just see "Long".I do remember some people around his bed who were probably close relatives like my mother,one of many nieces("Long" and his wife,Catherine,had no children of their own). There was a cupboard and a few chairs, and the box bed on which "Long" was lying. At the lower end of the house was a large amount of cow manure,which would have been cleared out in spring, if Duncan had been a fit man. My abiding memory of "Taigh Long" was one of great poverty,and yet, many people who lived in these black houses reared large families and lived to a good age. "Long" lived all of 89 years,and his brother Glass died a year later in 1953,aged 92 years - poor in some things,rich in the things that matter.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

R.A.F. Uig Crash Land In Carloway

There were some fine teams and fine players in Lewis at that time,and particularly so "re na samhraidh a bhalaich Goill" (ie.during the summers of the Lowland boys). These lads brought their own skills to the Lewis game,which meant that no one could be sure of the outcome of a game, as few realised the calibre of these "new signings",nor from whence they came. They played throughout the year in a very competitive and often punishing arena. Their close season would allow them the luxury of playing during Lewis'"summer season".
A game which is still remembered,and which is probably the finest ever on Lewis soil, took place around 1958 in Carloway,between Carloway and the RAF team from Uig, where the RAF then had a sizable base. Today Aird Uig, with the remains of that camp, has an eerie quality about it,and in some ways reminds me of the location for "The Wicker Man". Being a services' team,they wanted for nothing,and were immaculately turned out and well supported. What became apparent later was that over half the RAF team were signed players with various English sides(Divisions 2,3 and 4). Carloway could boast Donald Maclennan(Renfrew Juniors) and the "Pralan" twins,Murdo and Duncan from Upper Carloway,who both played for Ardrossan Winton Rovers at that time.Seen for the first time,certainly by me,were the binovular twins of Anna Gherchy, two lads called Donnie and Ronnie Mackinnon(father was from Skye,you see)who took to the field that evening. I must say that they they looked the part, and their recent slim history was impressive. They had recently played for Dunipace Juniors and Rutherglen Glencairn and had been signed by top Scottish clubs,Donnie by Partick Thistle and his twin brother,Ronnie by Glasgow Rangers. In the first half,RAF proved to be the professionals, of which we were unaware,and led 2-0 at the interval. As bad as the result was,continuing taunts of "Come on Carloway,show us your style!"began to exercise the sizable home support. Every English accent from Newcastle to the Thames estuary were arrainged in belittling the Carloway boys.
Murdo Mackay ("The Bear")was the team's manager by dint of having bought the orange juice and the plastic pail. He pulled Donald,my brother aside,and in not so many words,asked what the hell was going on. "Don't worry,A' Mhurchadh,we'll take six off them". In Glasgow,such a statement is one of hope over promise. Whatever was said or agreed among the Carloway team,the crowd witnessed a brilliant display of football,probably never repeated again on the island.Ronnie Mackinnon moved up to the centre of the forward line,Donnie remained in midfield,and Donald my brother had a roving commission down the right flank.The idea was to feed Ronnie down the middle,and being the consumate professional,he scored five brilliant goals fed to him mainly by my brother,who scored himself to make the final score Carloway 6, RAF Uig 2."We'll take six off them". Maybe a wee bit of a prophecy.What do you think?
During the second half,the Sassenach support were beginning to get a tad tired of my cousin,Aonghas Hearradh, continuing to cry "Come on RAF Uig,show us your style!"

Monday, 28 July 2008

The Stornoway Cup Final (Around 1956)

In the months of July and August each year,football on the island of Lewis was trasformeed by the arrival of scores of young proto Leodhaisich who were "home" on their fortnight's fair holiday. They came from all parts of mainland Scotland and there were even some from England and the USA. Foreign holidays were almost unknown to us in the 1950s, and the arrival of so many young men and women to the island in the space of a few weeks, recalled the days when these islands were rightly known as "Tir nan Oig" (The Land of the Young ). The Glasgow Fair fortnight was by far the busiest time,when the island was "jumping" with dances,"cattle shows",busy bothans,something called "ruith nan oidhche"(which never was explained to me!)and of course a packed programme of football fixtures. Young men who regularly played football on the mainland,at amateur,secondary juvenile and junior levels,converged on Lewis to pull on the strips of their host villages,albeit for a couple of weeks. The game was thus transformed the length and breadth of the island during these summer weeks. In some small way,it is similar to the influx of foreign players to the Scottish League nowadays. When my brother,Donald, arrived in Stornoway at the beginning of the Glasgow Fair(second fortnight in July),"officials" of Carloway F.C. were standing at the bottom of the ship's gangway to sign Donald as a Carloway player for the duration. At least once,they paid his fare from Glasgow for an important game, a day or two outwith the Fair holiday. Of course every team would sign up 2 or 3 "visitors",and no game would play out as one might have expected, in the days before the arrival of this windfall of football talent.
And so it was that Domhnull Glass and a couple of fellow professionals turned out for Carloway against Stornoway United in the final of the Stornoway Cup at Goathill Park (1956?). United were the top team in these days,and were loath to surrender "their town's cup" to a bunch of Siarachs.They were so determined to win this game that they flew two of their top players from Inverness to Stornoway,at the club's expense.Few ordinary people could afford the high cost of a plane journey. The two United stars were "Raleigh" and "Blake"( nicknames,of course ),and these lads were working on the mainland. No expense would be spared in bringing these men over for this cup final. I can not think of the names "Raleigh" and "Blake", without picturing two Royal Naval destroyers viz. "HMS Raleigh" and "HMS Blake" coming to wreak havoc on this wee boat from Carloway. The result was United 1, Carloway 5 and to say that this was unbelievable is close to the truth. Donald's performance was outstanding, and this galvanised his fellow team mates to secure one of the biggest upsets in Lewis football history. There was a large dance later that evening in the Stornoway Town Hall, at which the cup was presented to a euphoric Carloway team and its 3 supporters.

We often say that it's a small world,and sometimes we can't believe just how small!
Last Sunday,while in the middle of writing this post ,I and three friends went on a fast boat trip from Seil Island to Iona. The young lady assisting,after some discussion about seals,found out that I had Lewis connections in Dalmore. "My mother is a Maciver from North Shawbost" exclaimed Liz,and she then mentioned that her uncle was known as "Larry". "Is that the same Larry who played football for Carloway when my brother was there? I am right in saying that he was a handsome cove,with beautiful Brylcreemed hair,and a good player to boot?" Liz said that this was the same Larry, and to him I extend my very best wishes(Iain Alasdair Shoudie).
And to the beautiful little ecologist,Liz I thank you for making my trip to Iona so interesting. By the way,Liz,when you laugh your face lights up,just like Larry's.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Stornoway and the "Deedle Doddle".

I have to say that, when I was younger,I found Stornoway to be an interesting place,and at times,even exciting. It was of course a town,a Royal Burgh indeed,and increasingly cosmopolitan. There were people from Mallaig,Buckie,Inverness and a few Sassenaich in highly placed positions,with of course the Italians in the cafes and the itinerant Asian gentlemen with their large brown cases of clothing and haberdashery.
Some people had long since left their rural idyll for life in the town,in search of a job,a home and in some cases marriage and a family. Living in the city,you felt that it went on and on in all directions,whereas with Stornoway, you could define its limits - it had grown gradually around the harbour area over some time, in an easy and attractive way . Later,probably under Mathieson, Stornoway was rebuilt as a "model town" with its rectangular grid of streets. You couldn't lose yourself in Stornoway,unless your sat-nav was compromised by a few "halfs". Our reasons for "going across" to Stornoway were varied,and almost always pleasurable. Carloway Football Club played the different Stornoway teams at Goathill Park,and with 3 or 4 teams sharing that football pitch ( United,Athletic,Rovers and School? ),we were over in Stornoway many a night. Sheep dog trials in the Castle Grounds would also see us "in town". The mink farm required us to visit the slaughterhouse and the Broad Bay fish shop in Stornoway once a week for animal offal and fresh fish carcasses. I will return again to expand on "the mink" and the sheep dog trials.
My brother,Donald ,was a gifted football player and showed promise from an early age(primary school and secondary school teams). I remember that our Aunty Peigi took a great interest in Donald's career. When money was tight,after the war,she sent money to our mother(her sister)to buy Donald his first pair of football boots,and on another occasion a leather football.There was no Nike nor Adidas in 1948 ( perhaps the young Fritz Walter had heard of them ),but these boots were made entirely from a lightly tanned cow hide,and that included leather studs and leather boot laces. The boots had steel toe caps,presumably to allow one to "toe end" a long kick without the boot imploding. The toes,after a few games,pointed upwards and this could be useful in "punting the ball into the middle". The leather studs were hammered into the sole of the boot,which often resulted in the protruding nails piercing the soles of the foot. The leather football had an inner rubber tube (bladder) which was pushed through an opening in the leather panels. The bladder was inflated to the right pressure,the connector tied with string and the "tubey" laced up,boy's style.It was inevitable,that during a game, the lacing would ease a bit and stand proud of the ball. If one were to head this "tubey",the chances were that,more so on a wet day, your forehead was left with a nasty grase or worse. Goodness knows where this football gear was made,but it was the same for Willie Waddell,Billy Steel or "Bustling" Billy Houliston.Donald had this "state of the art" gear,but the difference was that the professionals were paid £5 per game. Coming up - The Stornoway Cup Final: United v Carloway,at Goathill Park around the year 1956?

Monday, 21 July 2008

Princes,Pictures and" Pogan"

There often was a reason for going to Stornoway. When we were young boys,we went with an adult, who would generally have some "business" there. Later on,as times changed,and we changed,we did not need a reason "to go to town".
I remember going over to town with my uncle Shonnie on his motorbike(I think it was 1956)to see the royal family,who were on a tour of the Western Isles aboard the Royal Yacht "Britannia". It wasn't that we were fervent royalists,it was just that like so many others, we were "making our way to Stornoway" to witness an event which doesn't come around too often. Actually,about 25/30 years later,I was the sole reception committee to greet Prince Charles who was aboard a large Wessex helicopter, as it hovered above the Callanish Stones.I think Charles had an appointment in Uig,and it was deemed quicker "by air".I happened to be there(a favourite place of mine)when the whole of the prince's party appeared above me. The door slid open to afford the prince a better view of the mighty megaliths. I waved and he waved back - it was as simple as that,just being friendly. Shonnie and I were stationed at the corner of Cromwell Street and North Beach Street when the royal motorcade approached. It's ironic that here at "Buth Hamish"(James Mackenzie's shop on Cromwell Street),the Royalists met a Roundhead head on, once more.It was a warm summer's day,and Prince Philip drove the Queen very slowly past us in an open Hillman car,and near enough for me to notice the deep tan on them both,which had not been acquired on the present tour of the Hebrides. It has to be said that they made a handsome couple,looking happy and relaxed. The crowd cheered as they turned right up past Woolworths(can't do that now).Other cars followed, but the only other royal I can truly remember is HRH Princess Margaret Rose, as she passed us in an open Land Rover. She was a very beautiful young woman,and her beauty was said to eclipse that of any of the debutantes or society ladies of her day.
As my school returned later than others,I often made the return journey back to Renfrew on my own,which I found exciting. The "steamer" left Stornoway around midnight,and I made sure I was in town for early evening. I might have coffee and cake in the Rendezvous Cafe.I could afford to play the toff with the money I'd earned from the various enterprises in Dalmore. After that,it would almost certainly be a visit to the Picture House(I liked that name - no need for a grand name,it was the only cinema in town.) I distinctly remember two films from those times in the Picture House. There was the film "Marnie" with Jack Hawkins,and a film which made a lasting impression on me,"The Man Who Never Was",how British naval intelligence duped the Germans in WW2 by placing the body of a young British seaman in the Mediterranean Sea,carrying secret documents. Strangely, I saw this film not so long ago, and I enjoyed it just as much.
When I was 15(going 16),I had gone to my first Cattle Show Dance in the Carloway Drill Hall with Donald,my brother(17 going 18). I had been there a few times previously to see the offerings of the Highland and Islands Film Guild.But a dance there, with music from accordion and fiddle, and a whole lot of lovely girls was altogether different. My eye was taken by this lovely girl from Carloway,and later that morning (the dances started at midnight)I "saw her home". I think I got a couple of kisses from this bonnie lass. I was leaving Stornoway the following week,and we arranged to meet in town that afternoon.I remember she wore a shiny black mackintosh style coat,the belt tied in the "French style". We may have had coffee and cake,but surprisingly we did not go to the Picture House. I cannot be sure,but I think there were plenty more kisses that day.
Note : "pog s. - pogan pl." = kiss,kisses

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Bobbins and Bluebottles.

Previously,I told of the "Big Jobs" which my Uncle Shonnie Glass allocated us at the beginning of each summer vacation. Taking home the peats by horse and cart and picking out the thistles from a field of cut hay, were just two examples of Shonnie's Big Jobs,ensuring continuity of work for us,throughout the vacation,and at the same time reinforcing the much vaunted presbyterian work ethic. This work ethic seemed to travel with the emigrant Scot,but mostly with the dour presbyterian ones,of which I suppose there were many. The Shoudie boys eschewed the work,making the ethic redundant. With them,there were no "big jobs",only those required to keep body and soul together(perhaps not even the "soul"). My Shoudie uncles never gave me a job to do,because they never had jobs to give. This was an ongoing ceilidh house,and no one would have had it any other way.
In my early teenage years,the two main "occupations" for me in Dalmore were the "bobbins" and the "minks",and the latter will be dealt with in full,later on.
Shonnie was a weaver of Harris Tweed,as were most men,and some women,in these days. A good weaver could earn a pretty decent wage,and many would later marry and set up home on the strength of the security offered by the "tweeds". Harris Tweed was always subject to the vagaries of fashion,and the strength or otherwise of the US dollar. At that time(1954-1959),the industry was booming,and weavers would get as many tweeds as they could manage. The mills which I remember were K.Mackenzie("Sticky),Newall and Smith,all of Stornoway and Kenneth Macleod of Shawbost(Coinneach Rodd). There may have been others,which I can't now recall. The woollen warp,coiled in a large hank,and the large bobbins of "snath" (thread)were dropped off at the roadside next to the croft at 5 Dalmore,and finished tweeds uplifted by the same mill lorry. I would watch Shonnie setting up the loom("beart") for the weaving of a tweed,which involved "beaming",sorting out hundreds of threads,and setting the shuttle box, whose rotations were obedient to the punched holes on metal "cards",similar to the Hollerith computer cards of that time. You can see that engineering and its attendant terminology passed me by. The only aspect of weaving which concerned me was "filling the bobbins",and it was a paid job to ensure that Shonnie always had "iteachan" for his "spalan"(ie. bobbins filled with thread for the shuttles). The "boban" machine was driven by that monster JAP petrol engine(you will recall!)and any decent boban man could fill a large wooden box of "iteachan" in a couple of hours,which would keep the weaver in harness for the rest of the day. The trick was to keep every spindle of the machine "occupied",and this came with some practice.The window by the bobbin machine had a ghoulish fascination for me,and it has to be said now,a source of entertainment, as I went about my business. This window was host to 3or4 spiders and the glass pane was a Spaghetti Junction of the finest of silk webs. There always were a great number of flies and bluebottles around,and there were many who were attracted to that window. When a bluebottle became enmeshed in a web,the noise of vibration was loud,as the poor insect tried to free itself. There was no escape as the spider shimmied out to mummify its prey in a silken sarcophagus. There were many skeletal remains dotted about these webs. By the way,I was paid five bob for a tweed's worth of bobbins. To this day,I associate the sound of a bluebottle with these days in the weaving shed,but now I usher them safely out the window.

PS. In the early 1960s,Mrs Perrins,owner of the Garynahine estate,was responsible for the launch of Ceemo Tweeds. She hired the "very best" weavers and designers to produce lightweight tweeds that would appeal to the couture markets of London and Paris. The Ceemo Tweed was exquisitely designed,very soft and light and a feature of these was the beautiful way that silver and gold Lurex was woven through the cloth. Ceemo was a brave attempt at bringing the "clo`mor" out of the past,to engage with a very sophisticated market. Ceemo did especially well in the fashion houses of Paris,but events were to see its demise,some years later.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Am Bhaile Mor. Steornabhadh Mhor a' "Chaisteil".

When I was very young,the only time I would see Stornoway("am bhaile mor" - the big village ie.the town),was in the coming and going, during our summer holiday on Lewis. Very few people had cars in the years after WW2. The local doctor would have a car,but ministers and midwives would,I think,have had to make do with a sturdy Raleigh bicycle. You would see vans and lorries in Dalmore,of course,but motor cars were rare visitors. An exception to this was the visitation to the cemetery in Dalmore of a steady flow of hearses for committal services in "Cladh Dhail a'Mor". So,when we saw a "car" coming in the Mullach Mor,it was generally a hearse taking the departed for "tiodhlacadh" (burial). As stated elsewhere,my older brother,Donald(born 17.12.38)stayed for his first four years at 5 Dalmore,with my Grandpa Glass and Aunts Peigi and Dollag,speaking only Gaelic(he never lost it).He eventually returned to Renfrew in preparation for starting primary school,and of course learning the "new" language of this strange and hectic place. Our house in Inchinnan Road overlooked the large roundabout at St.Andrew's Cross ,which was always busy with all forms of transport,including "real cars". Donald was looking out on this scene from the kitchen window,when he noticed my mother behind him. Like a wise wee man,with a slight shake of his head,he said in Gaelic,of course." Mother,what an awful lot of funerals there are in this place!"
I have one early memory(although vague)of "going over to Stornoway"(as we Siareachs would say),and that involved a visit to the Lewis Hospital. I know that it was nothing serious(Mother wasn't with us),but I do not recall which of us (Donald or me) needed medical attention,or whether one,other or both was detained there,but I don't think so. What I do remember is that the van was blue,and its owner/driver was "Calum Aonghas Alasdair",a close cousin of ours and a gentleman through and through.Calum was one of the few in the district who owned a vehicle,and who most certainly would have done this "mercy mission" for anyone who might have asked,whether related to Calum or not. On the way across to town,we sat in the front,as this, was the only part which had windows. I do remember that we went via Callanish,and that the roads were "morgnan"(gravel) until we reached the outskirts of Stornoway. It would be some years to come before tarmacadam(no abbreviation here - credit to the Scot) appeared in the rural areas of Lewis. I recall that when I walked along a stretch of "unmade" road ie.morgnan,it was surprisingly easy on my bare feet. At Achmore,the main road to Stornoway went straight ahead through "airidh" territory to meet up with the Pentland Road from Carloway.This was and still is the A.858 to Stornoway. The road to Leurbost via Cliasgro was a sheep track, for all I know. When the sheep track was made up and tarmaced,the sheep wisely made way for man and the car,and a very fine road it is now. We will visit "the town" again in the future when there's a bit more tarmac on the roads.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Cha n' aigh' husa Cheos.

My Uncle Shonnie was planning to build a new house(taigh gheal) on one of his four crofts in Dalmore. I suppose that by the standards of the time,Shonnie could have passed for a "wee" farmer in Dalmore,while the same might have been said of his friend and relative,Murdo Macarthur in Dalbeg (Murchaidh Dhale Beag). They were not men to let the grass grow under their feet,and had good business minds. Shonnie felt that the croft on No.9 was best suited for his new house,which,if you knew him,would have to be the biggest and best around. Shonnie had always admired a large bungalow which was located on the Stornoway-Tarbert road,opposite the Leurbost road end. How he acquired the plan of this house from the owner,I know not,but suffice to say that when Shonnie had his house plan drawn up,it was the same,except that 3 feet was added to all the "Leurbost dimesions". I don't think the man from "ceann rathad Luirbost" was very happy,and frankly,one couldn't blame him.
With the plans approved and the mason/clerk of works taken on(Coinneach Dhomhnull Dubh,Doune Carloway),fortune favoured Shonnie at this very time in the parish of Lochs. It so happened that the church in the village of Keose had outlived its usefulness,and tenders were invited for its demolition. I do not know if a new church had been built,or if its congregation was being amalgamated with another. Shonnie's tender was accepted,and gradually the demolition got underway. The main interest in acquiring the old Keose church,was the great quantity of Ballachulish slate on the roof,and the vast amount of prime timber in the roof,and in the body of the kirk. The slate and wood from the old church in Keose are to this day still in place in "Shonnie's bungalow" at No. 9 Dalmore. The church had been built at the head of a little creek, abundant in large brown fronded seaweed. Many years later,I visited Keose in my car to visit the site of the old church by the sea. There was no trace of the church,but there was a modern factory producing alginates from the seaweed. Well,some would say that this was progress!
Shonnie told everyone in the village how beautiful was the spot in Keose where the old church was built,so much so that everyone in Dalmore began to talk about Keose,how nice it would be to visit Keose,as they had never been over there "in their life". They had been in Lerwick,Lossiemouth,Great Yarmouth,Glasgow and London but,true to form,they had never been to Keose. So,the idea grew that maybe a trip to Keose was called for,and it was arranged that the whole village(and that meant everyone)would be transported there for the biggest ever picnic this side of Beinn Bhragair(Padruig Mor's bus - driver the Magaran,who else). Parents or friends would tease their children,in way of admonition,or simply for fun "Cha n'aigh 'husa Cheos".The children would repeat the mantra "Cha n'aigh mise Cheos" ( trans: "You will not get to Keose"). Of course,they knew the would get to Keose,because every man jack of them was going to Keose. Victuals were prepared for maybe 40 people in the biggest picnic that Keose ever witnessed. Excitement grew as preparations went ahead. Mothers chanted "Cha n'aigh'husa Cheos",the children just laughed.
When the day arrived,no one could believe it. Rain,as no one could ever remember,had fallen during the night and was still falling heavily at breakfast time. Every allt and abhuinn were now raging torrents,the allt at our house was over the bridge and large parts of the village were under water. It was the same along the west coast,we were told. A picnic - you must be joking, and the initial feeling was that it be called off. The Magaran arrived with the bus,with great difficulty,I'd imagine and left the decision to picnic with us. A lot had been invested in this day,and it was now a case of "Who Dares Wins",or something like that! With every soul aboard,and food and drink to feed a multitude,the bus climbed out of Dalmore,and despite the devastation around us,there were the first signs that we were going to enjoy this jaunt,whatever else might happen. When we got to Callanish(or thereabouts) we noticed that the rainfall there had not been anything like what we had in Dalmore.As we travelled further east we realised that here they had no rainfall at all. In fact,the sun was out now and it was hard to believe that the weather on either side of the island could be so different. Since then,I have noticed that this difference in Lewis weather(east v west) is not unusual.
When we reached Keose.it was warm and sunny and quite unbelievable. The tablecloths were laid and the spread thereon was sumptious.The Keose picnic was long remembered in Dalmore.
You will remember from a previous post about the old Dalmore Church, how the Reverend Finlayson would come over from Keose around 1850, to take a service in Dalmore(we think). Now the sad reality was,that 100 years on,a man from Dalmore had come over to Lochs to demolish the old church at Keose.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Peigi Glass. My Lovely,Loving Aunt.

When I was home in Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s,it was noticeable the number of houses(mainly "taigean dubh")that were occupied by unmarried people,the majority of whom were spinster sisters. This was the case in the Carloway district,where one or more of these ladies would be "looking after" a brother and/or an elderly parent. Why this was the case,may lie in the carnage of the World Wars,and the loss of so many fine young men in the trenches and on the cruel seas. The "Iolaire" disaster of 1919,when 205 Lewis boys died within sight of the lights of Stornoway,was more than isles folk could ever have expected,and swept away a whole generation of potential sweethearts and husbands. The nature of crofting law and inheritance was later to be the main reason for some young men leaving the island. I have heard it said that in these wars,and based on the island's population,Lewis lost more people than any other area of Britain.
At that time,in our family home at 5 Dalmore,my grandfather("Glass")was attended on by two of his unmarried daughters,my Aunt Peigi(Margaret)and her younger sister, my Aunt Dollag(Dolly/Dolina/Donaldina). My Uncle Shonnie(John) was, at that time,employed as an able seaman on the River Clyde with the Caledonia Steam Packet Company,but would sometimes get leave to return home for the peats or the harvest,while we were in Dalmore.
My Aunt Peigi was unmarried and in her 40s when I was a small boy. Before Shonnie returned to Lewis for good,Peigi was the engine room of Taigh Glass. She was strong for a lady,and was involved in everything relating to the croft. She was also in a small minority of women at that time who were full time weavers of Harris Tweed. The Hattersley loom,with Peigi in charge,would turn out at least three tweeds a week,all of top quality. The mills would entrust her with new or complicated patterns. She was recognised as a weaver "premier class",and there was nothing about that Yorkshire loom that she didn't know. She was often called upon to sort out the problems encountered by fellow weavers in the district.No,she couldn't fix motorbikes nor cars, but with the Hattersley loom ,she was weaver/mechanic "summa cum laude". My auntie Peigi was a lovely,and better still,a loving person,and she was fun to be with.Each Sunday,with Dollag remaining behind to prepare dinner,Peigi,my brother Donald and I would go "cross country" for the 12.00 o'clock service at the Church of Scotland in Carloway. My brother and I were dressed in kilts and balmorals,which we all wore( including our two younger brothers)every Sunday back in Renfrew. All of us were decked out in MACGREGOR tartan because my mother thought it so nice and bright and red, . Anyway,we looked like little Highland men,and that's what mattered. We each had a different Scottish regimental badge in our hat,mine being the Cabar Feidh of the Seaforths. Shoes and stockings were removed to be carried "air a`mointeach" until we hit the road in Carloway. Our route was the obvious one,out the beinn, past Beinn Iain Ruadh,Cnoc a'Charnan,up to the head of Loch Langavat,skirting Sheaval,and coming out at the doctor's house,where we adjusted our dress and marched proudly to church with Peigi. I always remember Peigi handing each of us a packet of Macintosh Rollo to ease our journey. It made the church service that bit more attractive for us,but I'm sure that was not Peigi's intention.
It must have been 1950,when I was nine,that a picnic was arranged by the "aunties" for Donald and me(the two younger brothers were still in Renfrew with my mother). I can tell you that a picnic, back then, was a very unusual thing on the west side of the island(on any side for that matter). A picnic in the Castle Grounds or the Grimersta Estate for " na daoine gallda",one could understand,but in Dalmore,with our hard working aunts,and straight out of the blue,well----- ?
And so it was that,on a fine warm day,we set out for the Gearraidh with Peigi and Dolly and picnic goodies that equalled the best of Lewis "soirees". On a sward of short green grass,protected from any wind by a massive rock face,my aunts laid the picnic in Cnoc a' Ghearraidh overlooking the allt and the golden sands of that tiny beach at Geodha na Muilne. I can still recall almost every minute of that wonderful day - sunshine,laughter and all blessed with the love of two Christian ladies. There was a slightly sad event when a young rabbit appeared near us,and Donald and I tried to catch it . It eventually ran up this crevice in the rock face,wedging itself well out of our reach,try as we might. The tiny skeleton of this poor creature was perfectly preserved there for years to come.
A bit more serious was what happened down on the tiny beach,when Donald and Peigi were there doing some innocent bathing( not swimming). The viciously strong current swept Donald off his feet and was pulling him away from the shore. Piegi rushed to his aid,holding him firmly by his shirt. No doubt - Piegi saved my brother from drowning on that summer's day. Later,as the picnic was ending,my Aunt Peigi said a very strange thing to Donald and me.She said "This is the last picnic you will have with the aunties". I didn't understand what she meant,because,firstly,we didn't have that many picnics.
Of course,we were not to know that Peigi had been feeling very tired for some time now,and had undertaken all sorts of tests at the hospital. Peigi was diagnosed with leukaemia,which in these days was an illness for which little could be done. Peigi came to the Western Infirmary in Glasgow when the only "treatment" possible was a series of blood transfusions. After each stay in hospital,Peigi would feel well,and during such times she stayed with my Aunt Kate,another of my mother's sisters,in Renfrew. These periods of remission began to shorten, and more and more transfusions were needed.The family employed the services of a "private" physician,a well known consultant,but there was little he could do to halt the progress of her leukaemia. Peigi died in the summer of 1951,her death a blow to all of us who held her dear.