Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
May 2002 Issue
Contents of the online version:
NEW HEAD FOR MALLAIG HIGH SCHOOL
Martin Sullivan has been appointed the new Head teacher of Mallaig High School.
Mr Sullivan left university in 1978 with an MA Hons in English. He underwent a year’s teacher training in Winchester before starting his first job as English teacher at St. Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn, West Lothian.
He became the English teacher in Mallaig in 1984 and became Depute Head in 1985.
Martin said ‘I am delighted to be Mallaig High’s new Head Teacher. The appointment of an internal candidate is a marvellous vote of confidence in the school and a tribute to the dedication of all those who have helped the school to develop so well over the last twelve years.’
Martin takes over from Forbes Jackson, who retired last month.
EIGG WRECK - ‘A MOST IMPORTANT ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIND’
The remains of an old ship found in Galmisdale Bay on Eigg last October may turn out to be ‘one of the most important archaeological finds of recent years, according to the Highland Council’s Archaeological Unit.
Writing in their quarterly newsletter, Digging Deep, they explain the detailed research carried out on the remains.
The wreck became uncovered during extremely low tides and Eigg fisherman Stuart ‘Scruf’ Miller was sure it was no ordinary wreck. Islanders have been wondering if it could be the remains of the Dubh Ghleannag, which sank in 1817 while returning to Eigg from a mainland cattle sale. The island’s doctor and minister were on board when it sank.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland was called in to examine the wreck. Now radiocarbon dating may be used.
The Dubh Ghleannag was a birlinn, or type of Hebridean galley, and had probably been built for Alasdair an Or, father of Alasdair the 10th of Glenaladale, who built the Glenfinnan Monument.
ARISAIG TO HONOUR SOE TRAINER
Readers of West Word may recall the article in last August’s issue on the visit to the area by General Antonin Petràk, together with a party of his fellow Slovaks.
The group were here making a documentary for the Slovak Ministry of Defence about the assassination in 1942 of Reynard Heydrich, ‘The Butcher of Prague’, by Slovak partisans Kubis and Gabcik. The connection was that the General had been an SOE trainer here during the war and Gabcik had been one of the first batch of trainees to arrive at Camusdarach.
The General, who celebrated his 90th birthday in April, enjoyed his visit immensely, and is returning in June.
On Sunday, 9th June, a ceremony is being held at Traigh House to unveil a plaque in his honour, and Jack Shaw Stewart is hoping local people will turn out to welcome the General and make the day a little bit special for him.
Antonin Petràk escaped Czechoslovakia during the war and joined up in France. He came over to Britain through the evacuation of Dunkirk and joined a Slovak regiment here. When he left Britain he had a brave war and was awarded the MC and MBE, only to be imprisoned in his own country by the Communists for 15 years, during which he was treated very harshly.
MALLAIG MISSION WEEKEND - 8 & 9 June 2002
As I mentioned last month, plans are now well advanced for the special weekend of celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Mallaig Mission. Over the weekend of the 8th and 9th June, past Superintendents, guests, and friends of the Mission will gather to share the celebrations. And what’s more, we would love as many of you to join us as possible.
The first of the special events will be a celebration dinner held in the Mission at 7.00 pm on the Saturday evening. This dinner will be open to all, with tickets costing £7.50 for a three-course meal. Due to size limitations, there will only be 100 tickets available in total, so please book early.
On Sunday afternoon we have chartered the ‘Loch Nevis’ for a Special Anniversary Cruise. We will be leaving the pier at 2.30 pm for a cruise to Canna. On route, Senior Superintendent Jim Ralph will be conducting a Service of Thanksgiving and Praise to commemorate the last 25 years of the Mission’s service to the fishermen and the community.
On arrival at Canna we will be landing for an hour giving everyone the chance to go ashore. On the return trip there will be live music for a ceilidh. A buffet tea with tea or coffee will be served to all. Throughout the whole trip the normal bar facilities on the Lochnevis will be open for anyone wishing to purchase drink.
The cost for this Special Cruise will be £14.75, and will include the entertainment and the buffet tea. Numbers are strictly limited to 190, the maximum number allowed on the ‘Lochnevis’, so tickets will be on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.
Tickets for either the dinner or the cruise can be purchased direct from the Mission, and as an extra special offer, anyone buying a ticket for both dinner and cruise can obtain them for only £21, a saving of £1.25. We are certain this whole weekend will prove to be very popular and will be one of special celebration for 25 years of Mission Service here in Mallaig.
Len Scott, Mission Superintendent
ISLE OF MUCK
It is May and CCG are definitely not back so work on our new pier has not restarted. Rumours abound but the people who really know (Highland Council and CCG themselves) do not bother to tell us anything. The great thing is that because the slipway itself is complete we have our low water pier and ferrying passengers ashore by dinghy is a thing of the past.
As I write (1st May) we have just welcomed the first call of the new Shearwater – not like the old one but very welcome all the same. And Murdo grant has given passengers 45 minutes more ashore on Wednesdays which is also very welcome. Perhaps more time on Mondays and Fridays as well next year?
Lastly we are hoping for a fine day and lots of participants from the other islands for the sports, bar-b-que and ceilidh which is one the 25th.
ISLE OF RUM
April has been a peculiar month, even by Rum’s quirky standards. First the BBC were in touch asking if they can descend en masse in July. Apparently they are hoping to do some sort of survival programme, where poor, unsuspecting contestants are set a series of challenges in order to escape from ‘Mystery Island’. As far as we can make out the tasks are going to be of the ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ type – ‘take this coathanger, a rusty fridge and an old pair of Y-fronts, and build yourself a helium airship that can carry you to Mallaig.’ Well, it all sounds a bit strange, but it should at least provide great entertainment as we watch the London luvvies doing the Midgey Dance every evening.
Rum seemed to be the flavour of the month in MediaWorld. More and more calls from the press were coming in, culminating in a researcher from the Richard and Judy Show claiming that the fragrant couple wanted to do a piece about Rum. Covert attempts to persuade Rhod, the Reserve Manager, to appear on live TV wearing Eddie Izzard style drag are continuing. Who knows, daytime television might be about to become much more entertaining.
Outside of the media circus, life goes on at a relaxed pace. The first of our highland cattle has just calved, the cuckoos and warblers are returning, red throated divers are selecting their favourite lochans, and the manx shearwaters have returned to their burrows high on the slopes of Hallival, Askival and Trollaval.
Humans, too, are migrating back to their summer grounds, with large flocks expected to arrive for the May bank holidays. To the dismay of the headline writers, the Forbidden Isle will be as welcome as ever. The community run shop is thriving, two Guest Houses have started up in the past year, and ceilidhs are planned for many weekends throughout the summer. May alone sees bands visiting Rum on Friday 10th, 24th and 31st – all welcome. On top of this an art gallery will soon be opening, the Rum teashop will be open six days a week throughout the summer, and our shop is stocking an ever increasing range of island crafts – including Regge’s spectacular and popular Norwegian hats (as sported by all self-respecting Oslo lunatics).
This summer sees Rum’s biggest ever events programme – a joint effort between Scottish Natural Heritage and a private enterprise, Rumwild. The events are aimed at all ages and abilities. They range from short introductions to the island’s wildlife, to night time expeditions to the manx shearwater colonies, to explorations of Rum’s fascinating archaeological remains. A leaflet describing all the evetns will be available soon – we will also try to publish details in West Word each month.
Finally a big thank you to M. Jones and all the pupils from Arisaig and Lady Lovat Primaries who came to Rum last weekend. Having 30 wildly enthusiastic youngsters running around gave the island a great buzz, and the Rum children were delighted at having so many friendly new faces to play with.
(P.S. If anyone would like details of our 2002 events programme, call us on 01687 462942 (Rumwild events) or 01687 462026 (SNH events).
Mick Blunt (Reserve Officer)
ISLE OF EIGG
Well, folks, I have flown back from France specially to write this column, thus missing what promises to be the biggest street demonstration since Mai 68! In the aftershock of Le Pen’s victory in the first round of presidential election, ("Superfascist" against "Superlier") a huge mobilisation movement spearheaded by the youth of the country – touted throughout the campaign as one of the biggest threats against law and order – and supported by good old Zidane of course, has rippled throughout what I used to think was a modern democracy! It is a relief to come back to the West coast, one of the most hospitable places I have ever known, and one which could give lessons in civic responsibility-taking to our continental neighbour.
It is also a problem of trust in the institutions, We in Scotland should know that the French envy us our new Parliament and the way it sincerely tries to get close to the people it represents: half of the problem in France is that people do not believe in the corrupt politicians who have discredited what attempts have made at reform through the uncomfortable system of "cohabitation". Maggie, our Trust secretary was for instance invited to explain to the members of Rural Development Committee during their visit to Lochaber this month, how new ownership by a community trust had succeeded in removing most of the barriers to "integrated rural development" on Eigg – in sharp contrast it must be said to the evidence given from Rum. She thought the whole evidence -giving experience was interesting particularly because members of the public were invited to have a say and was very much moved by the homeless young lad who was given the opportunity to make his representation.
However, one thing that France has over Scotland is its recycling policy: it is now part of everyday life to sort your rubbish into paper and plastic, glass, composting material and the rest, and the amount of information given is staggering, but then the green Party did achieved 5% of the vote! On Eigg, we did our bit for the environment, by attending the now annual beach clean-up at the Singing Sands organised by the Eigg Waste Management Group on Easter Sunday, complete with barbecue and Egg hunt on the beach! It was wonderful to see everyone so enthusiastic, visitors joining in the fun. The Waste Management Group is preparing a programme of plastic litter collection on our beaches for the summer as part of their Network 21 award, and the new visitor facility on Eigg at the Old Shop - which offers a display on the story of the building (once the smallest Co-op in Scotland), the island geology, seashore and trees – will also have a wealth of information on what everyone can do to help the environment. (The grand opening of the Old Shop is scheduled for our June open day event, watch this space!)
Work on the pier has finally started, with contractors R J MacLeod visiting the island to give us their work schedule, quite a reassurance actually, and now setting up camp at the pier with 3 static caravans and one more to come: World Cup nights will be well attended at the Pier Tea-room, I should think! Their 60 ft barge has already done to trips to bring aggregates from Glensanda and heavy plant , causing minimum disruption, to the great relief of pier users.
Progress has been achieved on the Lodge, with the study team put together by Mia Scott of the Highland Building Preservation Trust, visiting Eigg after Easter and getting a very positive feedback from the islanders, who were delighted to hear that despite the dry rot, the building was in much better shape that any other they had worked on before! As Mandy Ketchin – of the Astley Hall fame - is involved, we are confident that the resulting study will be of the highest standard!. Work has also finally started on Kildonnan, much to the relief of its occupants! The evening shift will no doubt be entertained in style by George’s drumming and electric guitar playing in the "penthouse" next door! What a shame he did not have the chance to meet Mick Jagger in Mustique like our youngsters did! I am sure he would have been suitably impressed!
I am most disappointed that my son did not bring me back an autograph of this idol of my youth, but I guess it would have too embarrassing for a 11 year old to admit his mum was ever into something which is as ancient as good old fashioned R&R! In any case I will let the boys tell the readers themselves what their experience of the high life in the Caribbean was!
Happy April Birthdays to Eilidh Carr and Ruaridh Kirk.
Coastal Ranger Report
Well for me, April has been an eventful month. With Easter being so early, there were quite a few people about, and this was reflected in my walks programme. Since the start of the month my numbers have been good, despite the poor weather that we have experienced. Not only have my numbers been good, but so has the crack, with all the groups in great form, particularly the happy bunch of local charmers that finally decided to give the walks a go!! One other interesting day was spent with a group that included a young German lady who had very limited vision. This was quite a challenge for me as I was completely at a loss as to whether it was safe to take her along or not. How bad were her eyes? How fit was she? Would she manage? Thinking that I was no fool, I decided that the best way to check her out was to climb hard on the first hill. Typically, I got it wrong! As I, and other members of the party crested the hill blowing like old hippos, there she was, glowing with excitement, right behind me! "O.K." says I, so she’s fit, that’s fine, so let’s carry on. Wrong! Her weakness was in fact on the downhill sections where she could not judge any height of drop, even of a few inches! Nevertheless, with everyone in the group being very helpful, we continued and completed the walk, offering a helping hand or arm when required. I am pleased to report that I recently received a letter from Germany thanking everyone, and enclosing a couple of photos with the comment that the walk had been the high spot of her life so far! (No pun intended!) You see, if she can do it with only 25% vision then so can you!
But enough, what else has happened since last month’s report? The biggest thing was the two days spent during "Green Week" with the glass-bottomed boat in Glenuig bay. No doubt many of you will have heard all about it from your children, but for those of you who haven’t, I will summarise. The boat, the "Atlantis" from Kyle has a flat keel about 4 ft. wide with seats set low down, allowing the passengers to look through the large laminated glass windows set into the hull below the waterline. Unfortunately, there was not much life to be seen in the shallow water of the bay, and only a few scurrying crabs, a flounder or two, some starfish and umpteen jellyfish were all that broke the monotony of the swaying fronds of kelp. The children, fortunately in small groups, did not have long enough aboard to get fed up, and were further entertained with a woodland walk, some beach games and challenges, a wildlife display and of course the best parts, the packed lunch and snack!!
As far as I know, everyone enjoyed the day, but I honestly can’t quite figure out why, on each day, a schoolteacher decided that I was big enough and ugly enough to aim a kick at! (damned accurate they were too!). Not to worry, all is forgiven, I’m still speaking to you both!
Finally I have to mention my two days of misery at my latest course. In a pleasant setting in Cromarty, all the Highland Council Rangers gathered for a course in Health and Safety. All I would say about this is that it was exceedingly boring, and had very little relevance to what we actually do, but regardless, we will have to do "risk assessments" on all of our walks, or suffer the consequences! In future, should any of you readers be accompanying me on a toddle through the hills, if I say "be careful here" you had better heed my warning ‘cos you can’t sue me!!
To finish, I must advise you all that my May programme is likely to be somewhat disrupted, but I will keep you informed as best I can with posters in the usual places, and of course the "ring me" number remains - 01687 462 983. For those of you who have taken to walking, and there seems to be more and more, keep up the good work, with Spring in the air as well as in your step, you’ll feel great!
Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
This answer is for Winks: Why are there standing stones?
Standing stones are large, often weighing several tons, deliberately erected in the ground by humans for religious, commemorative or landmarking reasons. There may be as much stone below ground as above. Standing stones are found in many places in the British Isles. Many were raised in the Stone and Bronze Ages (about 3000 BC to about 300 BC in Scotland). A standing stone may not be of the same rock as its surroundings. How these stones were transported to their present sites and what tools were used to shape them, are often still mysteries. The Picts, (between about 300-900 AD) decorated their standing stones with symbols which are not understood today.
Standing stones may be solitary, or arranged in patterns which may now be incomplete making interpretation about their purposes more difficult. For example at Callanish in Lewis the remnants of a stone circle with radiating rows of stones is thought to relate to astronomical positions at key times of the year and may have been a place where ceremonies took place.
Some erratics, which are stones which were carried along by Ice Age glaciers ( about 10,000 BC) sometimes deposited miles from their original rock, may look as if they were placed by people.
Standing stones are still being erected today, such as the commemorative stone on Eigg to mark the start of ownership by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust in 1997.
Dr. Mary Elliott
Do you know where this very recent standing stone has been raised in West Lochaber ?
Life in Japan by Allie MacDougall
Another month passes with its usual standard of oddness.
This month we’ve had a shake up of the rubbish collection system. Until last week, us foreigners up at the Okudogo apartment block had been blessed with a simple and convenient garbage disposal method – compared to other parts of Japan – in that we only had to separate our waste into burnable and non-burnable. Sure, it was a bit strange at first, but as long as you remembered to put things in the right bin, you were sitting pretty. Then all we had to do was take it to the enclosed area right in front of the building. Nice and easy.
However, in Japan things are often done with the outward appearance of making life as difficult as is humanly possible, and if it is possible to upset a system that works well and is convenient, it’s a fair bet that it will be done. How many categories of rubbish you must have depends on the area, but the maximum I have heard of is seven. Guess how many we now have. We have been provided with charts, detailing exactly what these seven categories consist of, and which days they will be collected. No more taking the rubbish out simply when it is full, as we used to do in the good old days. Now we must carefully separate into burnable (collected twice a week), metals (once a week), plastics (surely burnable but apparently not, twice a month), paper (each kind separated and tied up with string), mercury (what?), bulky items and I can’t even remember the last one! My neighbour Lesley is the biggest Pepsi addict I’ve ever met – not that it’s a common addiction, I must admit, so perhaps that should be changed to the only Pepsi addict – so by the time of the next plastics collection we will have to call in the St Bernards and dig her out from under a pile of empty bottles. The first plastics collection was yesterday, and as it had been rumoured that not only must we comply with the anally retentive plastics separation, the lids of the bottles must also be removed. At this I was shocked, but not disbelieving. Sure enough, we checked some other rubbish bags put out by our Japanese neighbours (not as bad as it sounds – all waste must be put in clear bags, as anything in black rubbish bags will not be collected) and some of their bottles were missing the caps. Where did they go? In the same bag of course! Such logic, or complete glaring lack of it, we cannot argue with as words consistently fail me.
So many times we see this kind of crazy thinking, but as nobody questions anything in this society, illogical and roundabout methods prevail in all walks of life. School is a good example. As I mentioned last month, Spring is the start of the new school year in Japan, and the teachers are moved around the city’s schools according to the Board of Education’s decision. It is also the time when teachers move year groups, become a homeroom teacher etc. The desks in the office are arranged into three groups, for the three years of students, so each teacher belongs to a year group. They may be a homeroom teacher or are just attached to that particular group. Now, with that information in mind, here’s a test. Close your eyes and imagine a school office. Some teachers are moving across the room, some will be moving a shorter distance. Each desk in this office is identical – a bland, grey, metal desk with drawers in it. There is nothing to separate these desks except the contents of the drawers and items sitting on top. Question: What is the quickest and most efficient way for the teachers to change places?
Your answer is probably to move their things to their new desk, right? Or to take out the entire drawer and move it? Afraid not. Here, the desk moves with the teacher. Those identical, heavy desks are hauled across the room or even just one space along, complete with identical chair. Oh how I chuckled as I observed the spectacle, happy in the knowledge that I did not have to change year group and would not have to go through such a palaver. Oh how I laughed inwardly as I tried to appear serious, as if nothing unusual was happening all around me. Oh how I thought I’d never see anything like that again in my life. Oh how I was wrong.
On the student’s first day back, it is of course their first day in their new school year, and they must change homerooms. In Japanese schools the homeroom class is central to the student’s life because instead of students changing classrooms for every lesson as they do at home, teachers visit their classroom. So, instead of just changing the class number outside of their room, they physically move to the assigned homeroom. Nothing wrong with that, you may say, and indeed there isn’t. It’s not such a hardship for them to move onto a different floor. But here’s a scenario for you which may seem familiar. Imagine a school classroom. It is filled with 30 identical bland, wooden desks and 30 bland, identical wooden chairs. There is nothing to separate these desks – not even drawers in them – except a small, handwritten nameplate on the front. Question: what is the quickest and most efficient way for these students to move classroom?
You’ve got it, haven’t you? Yes, I watched as 200 students lined the stairwells, each carrying their own desk and chair, and moved it into their new classroom. Presumably the old third years’ desks became the new first years’, which would have involved a simple change of name tag. The reason why the same procedure could not apply to the rest of the school is currently unknown, but when the FBI finish their investigation I’ll let you know. At least this is a small school and the move was over relatively quickly. At my friends’ schools, the average number of students is between 700 and 1000, and they all go through the same drawn out rigmarole, year in, year out. No wonder all the teachers smoke like chimneys.
Denis Rixson, Mallaig Heritage Centre
The more I study the past the more I am struck by the similarities between us and our ancestors. Many of the differences - of costume or technology - seem superficial. So often we find that they were motivated by exactly the same fears and concerns as ourselves.
One way we can gauge this is to look at issues of community politics. Anybody who has served on a committee or community council will know how much time and energy are expended on small local issues - sheep, litter, dog-fouling, traffic problems. Occasionally an event in some far corner strikes a local chord - or there may be some conservation issue that puts us all in a moral quandary. For instance:-
Recently a boat laden with timber was wrecked off the coast of South West England. Newspapers and television were full of pictures of wood washed ashore. Most of us were enticed - if it had taken place here, how many of us would have succumbed? New garden sheds might have mushroomed west of Lochailort. Would we have been right or wrong - and where do you draw the line? All local communities have faced similar dilemmas in the past - some have even been accused of deliberate wrecking. In 1798 the Stent Book of Islay had this to say on the matter:-
This Meeting, with every feeling of humanity for the distressed Sufferers, who have the misfortune to be shipwrecked on the coast of this Island, have to regret that numbers of the Country people, shaking off all fear of God, or regard to the laws, are in the constant practice against every rule of Christian charity, or hospitality, of resorting in numbers to the shores, where strangers have the Misfortune of being shipwrecked, and that for the sole purpose of plunder; which practice this Meeting hold in the greatest abhorrence, and now declare their disapprobation of; and in order, as much as possible, to remedy the evil, this Meeting not only collectively, but individually, pledge themselves to use their utmost exertions, not only for the preservation of the property of the individuals, who may have the Misfortune to be wrecked on these coasts, but also for bringing to condign punishment all and every such persons as may be found plundering from wrecks: And in order this resolution of the Gentlemen of Islay may be made as public as possible, the Clerk is hereby required to send an Extract of this Minute to the Ministers of the different parishes of the Island, to be affixed on the Church doors, that none may pretend ignorance, and it is hoped that the Ministers, for the sake of good order, will explain these resolutions to their parishioners from the pulpit.
Sheep and Graveyards
Sheep have troubled the conscience of Mallaig for many years - worse still when they are seen in the graveyard at Morar. In 1791 the good people of Islay faced a similar situation with local livestock.
Mr. Murdoch, Min(iste)r of Bowmore, represented to the Meeting that the Church Yard of Kilmeny is quite open, never having been Inclosed, & that besides the Indecency thereof, the Grave Stones are much Injured, by Horses and Cattle pasturing thereon: Hopes the Meeting will Stent themselves in the sum necessary for Inclosing the same with a stone wall - The meeting having considered Mr. Murdoch's motion they recommend to him to get an Estimate of the sum necessary for Building a Stone wall round the Church yard of Kilmeny and to produce it at next Meeting, when they will determine whether they will or not Grant his request. (Stent Book of Islay).
Not a day goes by without news of some new road accident. Proposals come and go, laws are passed, penalties imposed - but human nature remains as perplexing and difficult as ever. In 1806 the situation vexed the heritors of Islay:-
This Meeting being informed that Cart Drivers are very inattentive as to their Conduct upon the road with Carts - It is now recommended that all Travellers upon the road shall take to the Left in all situations, and that when a Traveller upon the road shall loose a shew of his horse, the Parochial Blacksmith shall be obliged to give preferrence to the Traveller, and any Driver not at the head of his horse when the Cart is upon the Road, shall be Fined at the Discretion of the Magistrate. (The Book of Islay).
Fishing and Seals
Fishermen do not generally love seals. Many, and not just fishermen, feel that conservationists do not face up to the issue of culling - whether it be of seals or deer. Anglers are always trying to 'improve' their fishing grounds. In the nineteenth century Lord Salisbury spent a fortune in Rum trying to dam and divert a local burn to increase the flow of water to Kinloch. Just after completion the dam broke and the whole scheme was abandoned. The dam is still there today - a monument to an expensive farce. In 1776 William Moffet was employed to recommend how to improve the salmon fisheries in Islay. His report is printed in the Book of Islay (1895). The grammar and spelling may appear old-fashioned but the practical suggestions could, for the most part, be tabled tomorrow.
Finds the Bay of Loch Grunigh not worth the expence of a nett, on account of a number of sales [seals] that atends at its entrance, which prevents the fish from coming in. The first thing to be done there is to destroay these animals, if posable, either by netts or traps or pausion [poison]. Then a small experement may be made, which can be improven on, acording as it is nown to answer the end.
'Remarks on the River of Ardnahow':-
Finds a very well looking beay, and a clean shoar; only one small rocke that devides the river at its entrance unto the soalt watter. I thinke six men in one day may clear the corse to the one side of the rocke, and throw all the watter of the river into one boady, so it may be found at a greater distans at seay to incoradge the fish to come in ...
Finds the river to be but midling for fish to spon [spawn] in, as there is more rockes than gravel banks. Finds two watter-falls or leapes, which prevents the fish to pass upe to a very hansom logh, which I thinke may be a mother to a greate many fish. These two leapes, I thinke, may be made, sow as fish may pass, for two guineays.
Iain Dubh, the Skye Wizard by Allan MacDonald (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The following is an extract from a letter which I sent in reply to an enquiry about Iain Dubh.
The stories that I have about him came from my mother, Mary MacLeod who, along with some others we are acquainted with, went to the same primary school in Skye as Iain Dubh, albeit at a later date.
Although he came from a God-fearing people, Iain, due to his exploits, became known as "The Wizard of the North" or, sometimes, "The Wizard of Skye." Iain was a merchant seaman, sailing the seven seas, as was my grandfather, John MacLeod , who lived at No. 1 Fiskavaig, Waternish before moving to Harlosh, by Dunvegan and who sailed with him many times.
I don't know too much about Iain Dubh other than that, he supposedly sold his soul to the devil and in return had received magical powers. I was told that when he died he was buried in Montreal and that no grass or even weeds would grow on his grave. I remember a photograph which I was shown many years ago, which suggested that this was true. I will relate to you some of the stories told to me by my mother, whose truth and veracity I cannot doubt also, my grandfather was present on four occasions.
When Iain was at home in Skye, his drinking habits were legendary and his mother, who lived alone, was always scolding him and trying to get him to go to church to no avail. One day she arrived home from Sunday Service, accompanied by the minister who tried to reason with Iain to mend his ways and return to a life of sobriety. Iain listened for a while without arguing, then got up from his chair, wound up the gramophone and set a record playing. The Minister and Iain's mother began to dance and Iain left the house. He returned an hour later, the gramophone having re-wound itself with no assistance. The couple were unable to stop dancing until Iain stopped the record, whereupon they collapsed, exhausted.
My Grandfather and Iain left a ship in Glasgow having been round the world. Having a couple of hours to while away till the Pay Office of the shipping line opened, they went to a Bar. The only money that they had was a sixpence which my grandfather had in his pocket. Iain asked to borrow it and they both went to the bar where it would buy them two whiskies and two beers.
Iain paid the barman who put the sixpence into a bowl at the back of the counter with all the other money and went off to serve another customer. When the barman's back was turned, the sixpence came out of the bowl and landed on the counter. This continued for a number of times. Each time the barman put the sixpence in the bowl, it would spring back of its own volition. The last time Iain Dubh asked for a drink, he spat on the sixpence, said that it had done very well and told it to stay in the bowl, which it did.
Iain was walking down a Glasgow street and came to a corner shop which was selling, amongst other things, oranges. He went in and asked the old woman, who owned the shop, for an orange for which he paid a penny. He took out the knife which all sailors carried, cut the orange in half and out dropped a sovereign. He did this on three occasions, after which the old woman refused to sell him another one. She put him out, closed the shop and he watched through the window as she sliced all the oranges. Needless to say, she didn't get a sovereign
Iain and John were travelling up the west coast of Scotland on a ferry taking passengers to Skye and Lewis. On the ferry was a cheeky young girl who, somehow, annoyed Iain. He told her to go and sit in the corridor and when anyone approached her she was to cackle like a hen. This she did and he kept her there till the ferry reached Portree.
Iain was at home in Glendale, being his usual self and once again, his mother (poor soul) called on the good offices of the Minister (brave man) who duly lectured him on his conduct. After a lengthy telling off by the Minister, Iain scowled at the cleric and said, "Who do you think you are, speaking to me like that? Look at the state of your own clothes!" The minister looked down at himself and found that he was now wearing a pair of dirty old shoes and his trousers were in rags. When he had entered the house he had been in impeccable clerical garb.
The last time my grandfather sailed with Iain Dubh, they were on passage to Australia via South America. John had been curious for years as to what was Iain's secret but Iain would reveal nothing. However on this trip, John was more persistent than ever and Iain said to him, "Go down to No. 1 hold tonight and if you can stand what you see there, you can have my secret."
John duly did go down to the hold but, whatever he saw that night, never, to his dying day would he reveal it.
When the ship reached Montevideo, he left the ship, bag and baggage and never again sailed on a ship which had Iain Dubh on board.
Apparently Iain composed Gaelic songs which were sung by others and claimed to be their own. I have heard my father sing a Gaelic song many years ago, either in praise of Glendale by Iain Dubh or, by some other bard about Iain Dubh and his exploits.
These are probably just a few of the tales that could be told about Iain Dubh. The chap I was corresponding with, lives in Canada, not far from Iain Dubh's grave and is writing a book about him. That will be something to look forward to.
The Highland Scot in Eastern Nova Scotia - Part 1
by Marlene MacDonald Cheng
The exodus of people from the Highlands of Scotland in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was precipitated by a number of circumstances. As Charles W. Dunn so succinctly put it, "…basically people left their homeland either because economic pressure drove them out, or because the prospects of the New World lured them away."
The defeat of the Highland clans at Culloden in 1746 and the subsequent proscription of their language, culture, and religion drove some clansmen to feel they would have more freedom in another country. A population explosion in the late 1700s brought about by a decline in warfare, inoculation, and the discovery of the potato put pressure on the limited land resources of the Highlands. Then when the landlords found they could make more money raising sheep and turned the people out of their homes (the infamous ‘Clearances’), many were forced to seek refuge elsewhere and came to the "New World" where, they were told, their prospects would be better. In the early 1800s the kelp industry failed and many of the poorer class of Highlander had to emigrate or starve. The old order was changing quickly and the people were frightened of what the future had to offer.
Whatever the reason for leaving, it must have been extremely difficult for the Highlanders to leave the beloved homeland, celebrated in song and verse, and the friends and family members who stayed behind. But they looked forward to owning a piece of land, the ability to live without oppression, and freedom of worship. They were independent and stalwart people, made so by the rugged conditions under which they had lived. The prospect of setting out on an adventure to a new land must have filled them with hope for a better future for themselves and their children. Eastern Nova Scotia was the place of choice for many of the Highland emigrants.
The hope and faith they felt when leaving Scotland would be sorely tested. There was a long and dangerous road ahead of them. The trip took thirty days in the best weather, but usually it was much longer. Most of the sailing vessels were not well equipped for carrying large numbers of people and often there was not enough food to last the entire trip. Conditions on board were filthy and unsanitary and many died of smallpox, dysentery, measles, typhus, cholera, or starvation. It was heartbreaking to bury loved ones in the depths of the ocean, especially the children. Shipwrecks took whole boatloads of people to their graves below the Atlantic swell.
Even if they managed to survive the long and arduous crossing, their trials were just beginning. They would have to endure "that slow, uncertain struggle with nature and the land, the struggle which their descendents still maintain today." The first problem they encountered was that of food, especially if they landed in a very isolated and inaccessible location or if they did not have friends or relations living close by. It was not unusual for the ships to arrive, after difficult voyages, on into the fall, so there wasn’t time to plant, or to gather enough food to see them through the rugged winter ahead. Another task facing them was clearing the ground for their new home. A late arrival often meant that the people’s survival depended on the generosity of others, including the native Mi’kmaq people. My MacDonald ancestors, for example, arrived at Pictou in 1801on the ship Nora, having been several months at sea. Many hardships had been endured on the passage, including the death of 50 children, and there was still smallpox on board when the ship docked. They were quarantined at Caribou Island, just off shore from Pictou, without food or water and with many desperately ill people. A Catholic priest, Father Angus Bernard MacEachern, himself an emigrant from the Highlands of Scotland, came from Prince Edward Island to minister to the people. Without his and the native people’s help, most of them would not have survived that first winter. The Mi’kmaq showed them how to make shelters for protection from the cold and snow, helped them to gather food, and provided them with blankets and clothing made from skins. They also showed the new settlers how to make medicines from the bark of trees and from roots. My family and many other families owe their lives to those wonderful people.
Many of the Highlanders had come from the almost treeless and windswept Hebridean Islands, or from the relatively barren stretches of coastline of the western shores of the Scottish mainland. Their new homeland was densely covered with trees from one end to the other. The most back-breaking work they encountered on arrival was clearing the forests for homes and gardens. The Bard John MacLean who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1819 and settled at Barney’s River expresses the despair the people must have felt when faced with the daunting task of pulling up the forest after all the difficulties of the voyage.
Chan ioghnadh dhomhsa ged ‘tha mi bronach,
‘S ann tha mo chomhnuidh air cul nam beann
Am meadhon fasaich air Abhainn Bharnaidh
Gun dad a’s fearr na buntata lom.
Mu’n dean mi aiteach ‘s mu’n tog mi barr ann
‘S a’ choille ghabhaidh ‘chur as a bonn
Le neart mo ghairdein, gu’m bi mi saraichte
Us treis air failinn mu’m fas a’ clann.
It’s no wonder that I’m sad,
Living here back of the mountains
In the middle of the wilderness at Barney’s River
With nothing better than plain potatoes.
Before I make a clearing and raise crops
And tear the tyrannous forest up from its roots
By the strength of my arms, I’ll be worn out
And almost spent before my children have grown up.
The work was hard and the people had few implements to help them till and furrow the soil, and harvest the crops. There was the cas crom (crooked leg), a spade-shaped hand plow, the corran (sickle) for cutting the hay and oats, the suist and criathar (flail and sieve) for threshing, and the brath (quern or hand mill) for grinding the grain. These tools often accompanied the people on their journey to the new world. The rewards of their labours were long in coming, but finally the cleared land, the coille dubh (black forest), was a rich and fertile place for growing their potatoes and other crops. The remaining forests, the rivers or streams, and the ocean also provided a wealth of food to sustain the settlers. There were moose and deer, partridge, ducks, salmon, trout, cod, herring, mackerel, clams and oysters, crab and lobster. The winters, however, were extremely long and frightfully difficult, and the deep snow made it almost impossible to hunt for food. The people faced starvation during these long months and the dangers of bear and other wild animals made life hazardous. Their families were large and existence was constantly threatened by the harsh climate, potato blights, lack of amenities and a complete lack of knowledge of how to survive in these conditions. They learned what they could from the Mi’kmaq people and from each other, and slowly they adapted to life in the new environment. As Charles Dunn tells us, "Whatever the trials besetting the pioneer as he cleared, built, and planted, he was consoled by the realization that he was clearing, building, and planting for himself and for his family. He appreciated the luxury of independence after his experiences in his homeland, and he gloried in the possession of land of his own."
The physical strength and determination, and the industrious and cheerful nature of the Highland settlers helped them greatly in coming to terms with their new lives. The oral traditions of their ancestors provided relief from their toils and sustained them when times were tough. They sang their oran luaidh (waulking songs) as they milled the cloth. They sang as they churned butter, rocked the cradle, felled trees, fished, spun yarn, and worked in the fields. They came together as much as possible for barn raisings, milling frolics, ship building and so on. This provided companionship and shared experiences to lighten the collective load. They congregated for ceilidhs (house parties) sharing songs, stories, piping, fiddling and dancing. They sang laments for the ‘old country’, for missed relations and loves, for loses in their lives. This allowed them to vent their sadness and loneliness, and the frustrations of living. William D. Cameron, otherwise known as "Drummer on Foot", provides a closing image in a few short lines. "There was no backbiting of neighbours then; they were too few and too precious. Though not by blood related, they were brothers all, by the kindred tie of voluntary exile to a land unknown but in name, an unpeopled wilderness to be converted into a prosperous country… With continuous labor and a sufficiency of life’s needs, they were contented, they were happy."
A Backward Glance by Rev George W. Baird: The Gamrie Men
Sanny Torry would be about the last of them. A close friend of the family, he was, as was Jan Mitchie and Jimmy Lovie. As a lad, I had trips to sea with these skippers in the Xmas Eve, Convallavia, Young Dawn. I went out in other boats as well: Harvest Hope, Ocean Searcher, Bracoden, Headway, Rising Sea, and others. Fine steam-drifters, with grand skippers and crew.
It was mostly from Mallaig I sailed with them as holidays came round. Flashes of these days come back to me. Stumbling out of the hot galley along the heaving deck, holding onto the handrail in the biting wind, fighting back sea-sickness; boxing the compass in the wheel-house, guided by the steersman; holding the throbbing, leaping ship to her course. Nets shot, watching the ripper – boys pulling in cod and ling; listening to the religious convictions of some God-fearing man, as he unfolded Bible prophecies, or related the account of Paul’s shipwreck. Sanny Aitchie would read to the lads from the last chapter of Proverbs on ‘the virtuous woman’. Singing would be heard from boats round about as men gathered in the lee of the wheelhouse.
Other memories come to me. Tucking in on the second day out (I ate nothing on the first day) to ‘live’ fried herring and their roes; grabbing a steaming mug of tea before it slid across the table; licking my soup-plate clean so that I could have my rice pudding in it; venturing down into the engine room, but being soon forced up by the heat and the noise and the oily smell.
I remember the skipper and I taking the boat out to the fishing grounds; everybody else asleep, except the engineer. On and on we sailed late into the setting sun. ‘Go down and waken the cook’ he said. Soon the cook was up and had the tea ready. ‘Wakey, wakey!’ he roared, shaking some of the heavier snorers. Tea over, they all donned heavy boots and oilskins and made for the deck to shoot the nets. Later, the watch took over and the rest went below to their bunks. ‘Jump inot my bunk,’ said the skipper. I was no sooner in than he was clambering in beside me. It was some squeeze. At least I couldn’t fall out on the floor.
In the ‘wee sma’ hours’ I woke to a heavy clump, clump on the deck a few inches above my head. Looking sleepily around in the dimmed gas light I saw all the bunks were empty. I was missing all the fun, they were hauling in the nets. I hurried into my clothes, and soon I was in the wheel-house by the skipper’s side. This was a strange new world – the oilskin clad men swaying in the hold, the capstan clanking, the nets with their gleaming catch slapping in over the gunnel , a lone seagull’s cry, the phosphorescent splash of a whale lurking around, the vessel rolling all the while from side to side, and tossing up and down. My sleepy eyes peered fascinated from a side window. This was life, high adventure, battling with the elements, wrestling a living from the sea.
And a bare living it was! How often after a winter’s line fishing did a drifter return with expenses barely met. What optimism is theirs! Perhaps the summer fishing would make up for it. So in their home port they would be busy painting their boats and changing their nets.
My mother, Gamrie herself, often had some lad up to the house for a poultice for a ‘beeled’ finger, a bandage on some neck sore. At the week-end the teapot was never off the mask. How they appreciated a cosy crack by a glowing fire, a real touch of home. Plates of scones and pancakes went the rounds. One night mother was apologising to Geordie Pipie that they weren’t very well shaped. ‘Gie’s a haud o’ them,’ he cried, with his loud laugh, ‘we’ll soon shape them.’ ‘Whaur’s Jean to gie us a tune?’ Jean, my sister, would play the piano, and all would make the roof ring in the rousing Sankey hymns they loved. ‘Capital quines’, they’d say of my sisters, Jean and Margaret, as on Monday morning we punched our way across the Minch.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Feel free to Sign our Guestbook
List of Issues online
Copyright © 2002 West Word
Site designed by
Page last updated: May 2002
The Internet Guide to Scotland
Copyright © 2002 West Word
Site designed by