Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

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.