Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
March 2002 Issue
Contents of the online version:
MALLAIG FISHERY TRAINING PROJECT LAUNCHED
The official launch of the Mallaig Fishery Training Centre on Friday 15th February was a double celebration, combined as it was with the presentation of the certificates gained by fishermen who had accessed training in their own village.
Welcoming guests to the launch, Study Centre Manager Jill de Fresnes said that thanks were due to the North Atlantic Fisheries College in Orkney which had made this local training possible and had provided the role model for the ESF project now under way in Mallaig.
She said ‘there is considerable enthusiasm locally, and in the last few days we have been training local assessors and taking names of new candidates for the courses. I thank the assessors who have been involved so far – Ian Coates, Raymond Manson and ,in particular, Michael Currie.’ She emphasised that the key to success with projects such as these is the ability to work with agencies such as Lochaber Enterprise, and form partnerships which most importantly include community involvement – this project has been financially supported by Mallaig Harbour Authority, M&NWFA, Denholms, Kilkeel Enterprises and Sunderland Marine.
Irene Williamson of the North Atlantic Fisheries College presented the Level III certificates for Fishing Vessel Operations (Inshore Area) - commonly known as a skipper’s ticket – to James MacBeth, Allan Eddie and Barry Nolan.
Hugh Allen of M&NWFA thanked Jill for putting Mallaig ‘ahead of the game’ to enable Mallaig fishermen to take advantage of bad weather to study at home and save the money which would have been spent in travelling away to study.
Dan MacLeod from Lochaber College congratulated Jill and those who shared her vision to get the project off the ground.
SHEARWATER LEAVES ARISAIG
The MV Shearwater slipped quietly out off Arisaig last month, crewed by Ronnie for the last time up the Caledonian Canal to her new home at Inverness. She has been bought by an ex-ferry man from Bristol who will live on her and take her for the odd outing. He has been living on a narrow boat so the Shearwater should seem palatial!
We hope to have an article on the Shearwater’s history in next month’s West Word – meanwhile, if anyone had any special anecdotes of memorable trips on her, please send them to West Word at Morar, PH40 4PB, tel/fax 10687 462720, e-mail email@example.com and we’ll include the best ones.
The presentation of three Royal National Lifeboat Institution Vellums, two of them posthumously, took place at a special ceremony held in the Mallaig & Morar Community Centre on Friday 22nd. February.
The event, which included a cheese and wine buffet (splendidly prepared by Mallaig’s sole female Lifeboat crew member, Helena MacPherson), was attended by local Lifeboat crew and personnel plus family members of the three Lifeboatman being honoured.
Station Hon-Sec. Charlie MacGillivray extended a warm welcome to all and after detailing the first year’s service of Mallaig’s Severn Class Lifeboat Henry Alston Hewat, he paid tribute to the three Lifeboatmen being honoured by the day’s ceremony, expressing everyone’s sadness that two of them, Derek Fowler and Patrick Morrison, had passed away in 2001. He then called on Mr John Caldwell, Inspector of Lifeboats, Scotland, to present the Vellums.
‘I am privileged to be here,’ said John Caldwell, ‘and am proud to be able to present these awards.’ he then read out the words inscribed on each parchment prior to presenting them.
who had served as crew member of the Mallaig Lifeboat Station for 31 years 10 months during which period the Lifeboat rescued 129 lives from shipwreck. The Vellum was accepted on behalf of the Morrison family by son Michael.
Derek James Fowler
who had served as Third Mechanic, Second Mechanic and crew member of the Mallaig Lifeboat Station for a total of 15 years 5 months during which period the Lifeboat rescued 95 lives from shipwreck. The Vellum was accepted on behalf of the Fowler family by son Mark.
Bruce B. C. Watt
Second Coxswain and crew member of the Mallaig Lifeboat Station for a total of 13 years 4 months during which period the Lifeboat rescued 75 lives from shipwreck. The Vellum was presented to Mr. Watt who has recently retired from Lifeboat service.
On Wednesday 20th February we had a very interesting talk and slide show on the plants and animals that lived and grew in Loch Nevis. I think most of us will be walking the shore line with our eyes a bit more open than we used to. It’s a pity we can’t all go diving to see the wonders that are under the water, but thanks to Mark for letting us share his experiences.
A walk down memory lane for most of us when Isla put on a photograph display in the Village Hall on Friday night. A fantastic amount of photographs all around the hall and some great shots of the new Hydro scheme which let us see how much work was involved. The cute baby shot was...Iain Wilson!!!! Hardly possible eh? Thanks for the cheesy bits Isla and the wine, they were both lovely.
Chair’s Report on the Work of the Knoydart Community Association 2001
The Community Association has covered a wide range of local topics over the past twelve months.
The main priority given to the Association at the AGM in January 2001 was the lack of housing for local people and incoming workers. A survey and a series of meetings were held to develop an overview of the housing needs, available housing, potential new-build and renovations. A proposal by the Community Association was made to the Knoydart Foundation for the creation of a ‘temporary’ wooden unit which was completed during the year. Thanks are due to all those whose efforts made this possible. Community Directors have continued to promote the importance of housing as an issue for the Knoydart Foundation and some progress has been made. The renovations to the old shop are underway and planning permission sought for conversion into a mini-flat.
We are pleased to have welcomed Angela (and family) to the community in 2001 as our Development Manager for the Foundation. This has made a big difference to the smooth running of Foundation matters and development of new initiatives and communications and information are helped enormously by her regular reports and newsletters.
We have been asked to provide comments on a number of local and national topics of interest – notably the Land Reform Bill and the Loch Hourn Aquaculture Plan. A questionnaire about community education was also circulated. The Foot and Mouth Crisis was also dealt with at community meetings early in the year. There have been a number of planning applications to deal with. These included the plans by the Housing Association to build new units at St Agathas which is to be welcomed.
The provision of computer facilities in the library has now achieved and classes are lined up in different subjects for those who wish to improve their computer skills.
There has been liaison with the GP and the Health Board over the future of health services to the area, and it is anticipated that in the future we may have better facilities available in the hall for GP and other health professionals.
The community coal-run was organised again this year, making it easier for us all to be ready for the winter. Thanks to all those who played their part in this.
The Community Association has also continued to liaise with the Council about the designs for the new pier and there have been a number of consultation meetings and visits by officials connected with the location of the pier, its major design features and the environmental impact assessment, in addition to a trip to Rum to have a look at the work in progress there with the new pier.
Progress has been made towards the establishment of a Moorings and Anchorages Association and a visit has been made from the Crown Estates Moorings Officer.
Day to day issues also come up at the association - cars, scrap cars, dogs and the state of the village are ongoing topics.
It has been a ‘busy’ year for community members – not only is there Association business, but residents are active in the Village Hall, there is the School Board, the Foundation, the Trading Company, the Hydro Company (which has had a lot to deal with over the past twelve months), the Games Committee and other ad hoc activities which take up our time in addition to everything else we have to get done too. The Community Association is just a small part of everything that goes on, but with limited time we all do seem to manage to get through quite a bit of business.
ISLE OF MUCK
And suddenly they were gone! On 10th February CCG gave up the struggle with the elements and departed, followed by their rented machinery which disappeared to a variety of destinations. The pods remain and a return to work in April is rumoured. But that is a new financial year as far as Highland Council is concerned. The only reason for CCG being crazy enough to continue to build the Muck slipway in winter was a funding deadline and that will be missed. Perhaps they will be paid in advance!
The departure of CCG did nothing to improve the weather and the week commending the 18th February was the worst of the winter. We had no Lochnevis from Monday till the following Sunday. On Tuesday a television team arrived to shoot the Muck part of a film about the Small Isles. A one night stay became somewhat extended when they did not depart till Sunday. The Wednesday was memorable in that the Lochnevis departed Mallaig in Force 8 with Alan and Helen Lamb, Mandy Ketchin and Charlie MacKinnon for Muck and Eileen Ferguson for Eigg. The wind soon increased to Storm Force 10 and although Lochnevis showed her sea going capabilities the passengers did not appreciate it, especially as there was not the slightest chance of the flit boats making a rendezvous and they were carried back to Mallaig.
Another notable event this month was the arrival of the Gallus Grafter on the 28th for scrap steel and plastic. We don’t have any scrap cars on Muck but we did load some old machinery and nearly 10,000 feed bags and three years of silage wrap all carefully packed by Barnabus Jackson.
On the farm there is not much to report yet. It has been a month of puddling through the mud to feed the stock. All the ewes are now being fed concentrates and the 30 lambing during the next fortnight for Mull Meat are getting over 1.5 lbs Bannerewe and ad-lib hay.
ISLE OF RUM
So far this month we have had to say goodbye to two Rum institutions.
The first was Chrissie MacDougall, who left on Saturday (2nd March) after several years as Rum Primary School’s head teacher. We threw Chrissie a surprise party last month, which was so much of a surprise that half the village had turned up before she realised what was going on....and again, we’d all like to say thanks to Chrissie for all the work she has put in over the years.
The other major change is that the shop is the shop no more. After three (very trying) years Aidan has given it up, he has sold it to the Community Association who bought it with funding from the LEC and the CED. It is now operating from what was the kitchen by the village hall, however this is only meant to be a temporary measure till we manage to build a brand new one. So, naturally we had a ceilidh to celebrate the new shop and mourn the passing of the old one, which everyone has very fond memories of. The McHoodgie Ceilidh Band (Gabe, Fraser and Michael) were supported by Aidan and Sandy (on the drum) doing poetry from the ghetto... There was also a special gust appearance by Rum’s very own fledgling ceilidh band Sleidh Mor – the first public appearance of an all Rum line up since the dissolution of the Nipplettes.
Now he is no longer the shopkeeper, Aidan will relax into roles to which he is perhaps more suited – poet, raconteur, fly-fisherman... it’s a hard life.
On a more practical note, CCG have left the pier mid construction, not surprising as the weather has been atrocious. We’re told they’ll be back in May – just before the midges then.
Rhouma, our flit boat, is off to Arisaig for its annual MCA test and we have Bella Jane from Elgol acting as a replacement for a few weeks.
Finally anyone interested in composting may be interested to know that the community have obtained an in-vessel composter known as ‘Big Hanna’, courtesy of the Small Isles Strategic Waste Fund. It composts large quantities of all your usual stuff plus cooked food and meat. Hopefully, we can now prevent any cooked food going to our tip and in some way help alleviate the rat problem in the village or at the very least get loads of luvvly compost.
ISLE OF EIGG
With surely the windiest February on record, we sustained little damage on the island, as the few trees that fell managed to do so without causing too much havoc: one ancient sycamore missed the hall's new roof by centimetres only . This was a close shave, just as we are considering renovation work as well!
Accommodation work has been approved for the new pier, which is scheduled to start in the spring. At long last it was recognised that work should start by upgrading the old pier which is in real danger of crumbling away as the Highland Council divers were able to report, after one of their visits to the island. The latest gales would have certainly made the matter worse. So it is good news for yachties, they will have soon two straight areas to moor up to, the old pier and a stretch of the causeway, and when all the work is completed, they will be able to stop on Eigg for refuelling, water, shopping, showers and nice food at the tea-room.
The Highland Council divers also did a wonderful job of protecting our maritime discovery in Galmisdale bay. 7 tons of sand were deposited in sandbags around and above the ancient wooden wreck which was discovered during the autumn spring tides. It will now be adequately protected from the effect of weather and work on the causeway. An exclusion zone has been designated to protect it further and it is envisaged to carry out a proper investigation once the causeway is finished. This discovery has caused quite a lot of excitement in maritime archaeology circles as there are very few remains of Scottish boats, but so far no date has been suggested for the wreck. On the island, we are still investigating whether the wreck is that of the Dubh Ghleannag, the famous Moidart boat. Could any of the local history societies in our area shed more light on the matter? Are there any traditions associated with the Dubh Ghleannag in Moidart that we should know about? Eigg tradition has preserved the text of the song about the boat, but we wonder if it is the same song as the one composed by Alexander MacKinnon, a native of Eigg, who fought in the Egyptian Campaign of the early 19th century and wrote quite a bit of verse, according to Derek Thomson's Companion to Gaelic Scotland. Please pass on the enquiry to whoever you think may be able to help!
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust had its quarterly board meeting on Eigg last Friday followed by an open meeting. As the trust is soon to celebrate its 5th anniversary, it was thought that it was now time for an audit of where we are at before we embark on a new 5-year plan. It is especially important to check if the trust is meeting expectations and if not, why not. It was also remarked that on Eigg, everyone has a well above-average possibility of involvement in the democratic process, although it remains up to people to get involved! In any case, the good news is that we have decided to have an Eigg open day in the week leading to our anniversary in June. See you all here then!
Arisaig Historical Society - Comunn Eachdraidh Arasaig
Some twenty members attended the meeting in the Astley Hall on 13th February, when Allan MacDonald had on show several copies of old maps which illustrated his description of old estate boundaries. The first project of the Society is to try to fill the maps with names of old abandoned settlements, cairns, hill forts, etc. Allan and Elizabeth have made a start on this but there is a lot to do – anyone with any information, please get in touch! He pointed out the sites of Iron Age round houses, ancient graveyards and ruins of different kinds. Thanks go to Angie and Anne Cameron and Angus MacDonald (Roshven View) for loan of original maps.
Allan spoke on several subjects apart from the mapping project, touching on MacDonald genealogy and showing some old photographs, with fascinating information on the subjects. He mentioned an ancient graveyard at Meoble which has slate slabs on top of the grave sites. No-one seems to know exactly why this was done, which is strange – mention of a smallpox epidemic has been made but no confirmation of this has been found. If anyone has any knowledge on this subject, please ge tin touch with Allan at Upstairs Downstairs.
A committee has been formed for the Society and office bearers were elected before the meeting. Chairman: Allan MacDonald; Treasurer: Janette Sutherland; Minute Secretary: Nancy MacDonald; Membership Secretary: Theresa Skea; Correspondence Secretary: Ann Martin. Committee meetings will be half an hour before the general meetings and anyone is welcome to come along. We will draw up a list of projects.
The Society will meet on the second Wednesday of every month the evenings are free and membership fee for the year is set at £5. There will be a collection for refreshments. Our talk on 13th March is by Alasdair Roberts on ‘Morar to the Maritimes’. Good craic and tea and biccies too!
DRIFT SEEDS by Jo Markland
One spring day a small pebble was found. It was lying on the close-cropped grass, just above high tide mark. It measured about one and a half centimetres in diameter, was very pale grey, and looked like a monstrously engorged tick, if you can imagine such a thing. But, it did not sit in your hand with the weight of a pebble. There was a rattling noise when you shook it, and on one end a small scar where it had once been attached to a stalk. It was not a pebble at all. ...it was a seed!
Some months later I was loitering around the West Highland Museum, as one does, when a selection of drift seeds in a glass case came into view. Amongst the smooth, brown, orange-fringed or grooved seeds on display is a little grey one looking very much like my pebble. It is Caesalpinia bonduc.
I read that it is "extremely rare" and a "lucky find". Caesalpinia bonduc seeds were highly prized in former times, especially in the Outer Hebrides. It was strongly associated with the Virgin Mary, and was known as 'tearna Moire', the Virgin's charm of deliverance.
Midwives carried it with them to their patients to ease child-birth. It is said of one man that nothing would induce him to part with his charm till his wife was past child-bearing age. Caesalpinia bonduc seeds were sometimes chased in silver, as is one of them in the West Highland Museum, and they were valued as heirlooms.
Included in the West Highland Museum collection of drift seeds is a nutmeg. Don't you wonder ......did it jump or was it pushed? Did it fall from a tree into tropical waters, or was it washed overboard from a cold Atlantic cargo boat? There are occasional reports of Brazil nuts coming ashore on European beaches. But they also may have been cargo loss. Not so Caesalpinia bonduc.
It is a true long-distance drift seed. It has made its own way from tropical America, carried on the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift. It is generally agreed that the journey would take around 15 months. In a recently published book called "Sea Beans and Nickar Nuts", Charles Nelson says that the seeds of Caesalpinia bonduc are known to be capable of floating in salt water for more than 19 years.
Caesalpinia bonduc seeds are washed up on the western shores of Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia, and there are records of them having been found in Iceland and the Faroe Islands. One was found in a fulmar's nest on St.Kilda in June 1883 (and is in the National Botanic Museum, Dublin). On someone's lucky day in February 1985, 10 Caesalpinia bonduc seeds were gathered from a single Cornish beach.
That same part of the country figures in the first record of tropical seeds arriving in Europe.
"Many. ...very rare beans which are said to be found in great plenty on the shores of Cornwall", goes a report published in the 16th century. They were thought to have come up from the sea bed and to be the product of marine plants. Some of those living in the Hebrides believed that - others claimed that the seeds came from the Molucca Islands in the East Indies. Perhaps sailors had been the first to see these strange seeds when they were searching out spices in the east. However it came about, drift seeds were called Molucca beans.
Another name for the Caesalpinia bonduc seed specifically is nickar nut, from a Jamaican word 'nickar'. Nickar seems to have come from the Dutch word 'knikker', which was a boy's baked clay marble.
Back home, Dwelly's dictionary gives the Gaelic ‘cnobhachaill’ for drift seeds, and goes on to say that the "nuts" were "strung on a string and worn by young women round their necks as a charm". 'Suil an asail' is a name for a drift seed, and as it means "eye of the ass" I think it is referring to a flattish brown seed, with an inner ring of orange colour. Another seed is 'airne Mhuira', Mary's kidney, which explains itself.
A friend on Muck describes a seed she has as a rich, dark purple, with a slight indentation on one edge, very smooth, more than half an inch thick and two inches in diameter. A regular visitor of hers picked one up from a south-facing beach on the island two years in succession. Then he had such a run of bad luck that he gave them away!I am told that in the past the bigger seeds were hollowed out and worked, had hinges and decorations fitted and made fine snuff and pill boxes.
Barra is, or was, a rich source of drift seeds and has supplied most of the seeds for a collection preserved in the University of Aberdeen. It was claimed to be the most comprehensive collection of drift seeds obtained from beaches in Western Europe. I don't know what the situation is at present. What about local collections? Has anyone tried germinating a drift seed?
But to go back to Caesalpinia bonduc. I don't suppose that the seed with a rattle could be persuaded to burst into life, but germination of fresher Caesalpinia bonduc has been successful in this country, given sub-tropical conditions. The mature plant is a shrub around 2 metres high, with yellow, pea-like flowers in spikes up to 25 centimeter long. The prickly pods have two grey seeds. Pebble look-alikes.
Clearances - The longer context by Denis Rixson, Mallaig Heritage Centre
Many years ago the editor of an American magazine devoted to Highland issues commented to me that he received an article on the Clearances about once every three weeks. I strongly suspect that 99% of these articles were of the same type. "Modern liberal adopts moral high ground and is severely critical of ruthless landlord engaged in cold-blooded eviction of his/her impoverished and defenceless tenant(s)". The danger of even querying such an approach is that you run the risk of being branded revisionist or pro-landlord.
I am not going to defend landlord policy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - there may be an economic, but there is certainly no moral defence. However, I am going to try and put clearance into its longer context. There is more to the history of the Highlands than the 'Clearances' and the danger of writing about the past in this morally charged way is that it limits quite as much as it liberates.
Firstly tenants have always been in a precarious position. They were always subject to the whim or caprice of the landlord. There was never any security against power or prejudice. In earlier times families and clans jostled for land and resources. As one family rose in power (often because of military prowess) - so another might sink into obscurity.
For instance, in the mid fifteenth century Ardgour was owned by the MacMaster family. The story goes that their chief was rude about the Lord of the Isles when the latter smelled rather strongly - apparently as the result of a stomach complaint. The Lord of the Isles then allowed Donald MacLean to kill the MacMasters and seize Ardgour - something Donald is unlikely to have done without at least the tacit approval of his lord. We can be sure that a number of MacMaster supporters were given their marching orders. Indeed this is a reason offered for their movement from Ardgour to Lochaber. Similarly, in the early seventeenth century the MacDonells of Glengarry wrested Knoydart from the MacDonalds of Clanranald. Over the next 150 years MacDonell cadets established themselves in all the important farms. It was their families who now controlled the critical resources of land and livestock. The previous landed families lapsed into poverty and then obscurity.
During the fifteenth century Clan Donald North established themselves in Skye - first in Sleat then Trotternish. Their intrusion caused a bitter feud with the MacLeods, which lasted many years. Tenants had to choose where their loyalties lay. If they chose wrong they risked losing all. There was a similar dispute between the MacLeans and the MacDonalds in the Rhinns of Islay. This eventually ended in a pitched battle at Traigh Gruineart in 1598 and the death of Lachlan MacLean. Historic rights and the concept of 'fairness' have always been jeopardized by power and ambition.
Huge changes took place in South Argyll in the seventeenth century. The erstwhile MacDonald tenants of Kintyre had always been troublesome to their new Campbell masters. It is possible that the Massacre of Dunaverty in 1647 provided a very convenient way of disposing of some of them. In Islay one of the new Campbell lairds openly rejoiced at the death of some of the pro-MacDonald tenants who had been fighting in Ireland. Over the course of the seventeenth century the Campbells established themselves ever more firmly in Islay and Kintyre. They brought new families of farming tenants from Ayrshire into Southern Kintyre. These English-speaking Lowlanders could be counted on for loyal support to the family of Argyll. With the passage of time these have now become the 'old' families of Kintyre - but once they must have been regarded as 'white settlers'.
What do we know of these earlier clearances and evictions? Almost nothing. To the victor the spoils! There was no legal process, no right of redress. The old order accommodated to the new or went under. We simply have no idea what happened to local tenants who fell foul of the landlord but it would be fair to assume that most of them were summarily replaced. Arbitrary power might be tempered by social cohesion and a strong sense of custom - but Highland society was always hierarchical and often violent.
Our perspective is also affected by the survival of legal documents. As the West Highlands were gradually brought within the Scottish legal framework - so there developed a need for landlords and their agents to use the processes of law. Just because we have no early records doesn't mean there were no early evictions - they just didn't bother with the paperwork. In this area it is only really after Culloden that we begin to see the procedures in action.
In 1768 Angus Smith, Sheriff Officer in Inverness, acting on behalf of John MacDonald of Morar, started the process of removing Rory MacDonald, tacksman of Scamadale, Alexander MacDonald, tenant in Cross, and Angus MacDonald, tenant in Bunacaimb. The surviving document does not record any offence, or outcome, but it is well to remember that this took place within 22 years of Culloden - and at the instance of a local landowner. This was long before the introduction of large-scale sheep farming overturned the traditional Highland economy.
There was always eviction and clearance in earlier Highland history - just not on the scale of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The scarcity of documentary evidence means that early evictions usually escape our scrutiny - but that doesn't mean they didn't happen. It is no good casting back for some sort of egalitarian Golden Age. Here was no democracy.
A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
A Morar-Canadian family –‘the Loddies’
At the inaugural meeting of Comunn Eachdraidh Arasaig I had difficulty persuading a member present that the ‘Loddies’ and the ‘Lotties’ were two distinct families from different parts of Arisaig and Morar.
Some time ago I made mention of Simon and Isabella MacDonald in Ardnish – ‘Muinnter Shime’ (West Word March 2001). Well, Isabella, who died on 7th February 1913 aged 99 years, was the daughter of Lewis and Margaret MacDonald,which Lewis was the original ‘Lottie’. Tearlach MacFarlane is pursuing this angle and getting places, he still needs you ‘Lotties’ to make contact with any information, or contact West Word or myself.
The ‘Loddies’ spring from a different source altogether. Lodyvick MacDonald and his wife Mary Grant, daughter of Donald (Kinloid), emigrated on the Jane in 1790 and had with them two children under two years of age.
Mention of this family is made in the Clan Donald magazine No. 9 but is a bit disjointed, though a theme running through the article suggests they were definitely of the ’Morar MacDonalds’.
Also on the ship was Ranald MacDonald, his wife and one child from Rhetland; Ewan MacDonald, Rhetland, three adults and two children; Isabella MacDonald, Rhetland, one adult; and the same Donald Grant, Kinloid, with 5 adults and a 12 year old child.
The patronymic ‘Loddies’ is well known in Canada and a descendant of ‘Loddy’ was the Hon. Angus Lewis MacDonald, former Premier of Nova Scotia and Canadina Minister of National Defence for Naval Services.
The late Rory MacKay (married to Catherine MacKellaig, Beoraid, Morar) in a talk in 1960 made mention of the late Allan MacDonald (Kinsadel) as being of the line of the Canadian Loddies, still at ‘home’.
It is probably correct to assume that all these MacDonalds of Rhetland and Suinsletter were brothers and sister and descendants of MacDonald of Morar, the remnants of ‘Rhetland’. Captain Allan MacDonald of Rhetland, being the son of Angus, the son of Allan Og, and brother of Allan Roy VII of Morar, had purchased 10,000 acres of land in Prince Edward Island in 1770. Emigration came later!
Leo MacDonald (Canada) made mention of the family last year on ‘Noticeboard’ on the web, because his grandfather’s grandfather was ‘Loddy’.
Which opens another area of discussion. If ‘Allan Rhuadh’, Kinsadel, is a descendent, so must surely be ‘Craigmore’, Sheamus-an-Allan and other families in Arisaig. Let’s get the picture together. Reply to West Word or to the Coffee Shop, Arisaig.
Growing up a Highland Scot in Nova Scotia (continued from last month)
by Marlene MacDonald Cheng
When I got to high school, and started going to dances, I always made the required stop at Granny and Grandpa’s on my way to the dance. They would check me out to make sure I was presentable. Granny would tell me to "stand up straight and not to hunch my shoulders". There was nothing less attractive than a round-shouldered girl, said she. The night I was on my way to my first dance I was very excited and nervous. After Granny was done fussing over my stature and my hair, Grandpa spirited me away into his little room and closed the door. "Now", says he, "I have a special treat for you. Since you are such a big girl now, you must have a little dìlich (digestive) before you leave, to fortify you for the long night ahead." At that he pulled out a bottle of Scotch whisky from behind his bookcase, and poured me a very wee dram. Of course, I had never tasted the stuff before and was immediately wary. With some encouragement I managed to get it all down with Grandpa's insistence and help, but I thought for a few moments that I would never be able to speak again. My throat burned and my eyes watered and I sputtered like an old geezer. There was no way I was going to admit to Grandpa that I hated the horrid stuff. So I brightly smiled, straightened my spine, and accepted his admonitions to watch out for all those young men, as I marched out the door on my way to another of life’s milestones.
My Mother was a MacEachern, whose people were among the first pioneers in Judique, Cape Breton. Her father was Willie MacEachern, descended from a long line of Highland Scots, with a little Irish thrown in. He was a big, strong man, who became a blacksmith like his father before him. Her mother was Maggie Crispo, descended from a Basque fisherman who had married a lovely Acadian girl after being ship wrecked in the Canso Strait. They settled in Havre Boucher, Nova Scotia, a community on the mainland, right across the water from Judique. Maggie Crispo was a tiny little woman, not even five feet tall, with extraordinarily small feet.
Mom’s grandfather, a real character, was called Seamus Dubh an Gobha (Dark-haired James, the Blacksmith), and both he and his wife, Sarah MacDonald, were believed to be fluent Gaelic speakers. He was a blacksmith all his life until injuring his back working on a horse. Most of the MacEachern men before him were either blacksmiths or horse traders. They were all big tall men, as were the women. The MacEacherns had large feet and hands like hams and were renowned for their physical strength. When his son Willie (my Grandfather) brought home his girlfriend, Maggie (later my Grandmother), to introduce her to his parents, Seamus looked her up and down, then looked at Willie and said, "I like a woman with a strong foundation!"
Grandfather MacEachern was a gentle, kind man who entertained his children and grandchildren by telling stories. He was also a good singer. I remember him singing Scottish and Irish songs, and whistling Scottish and Irish airs, while churning butter in the back porch of their home. His grandmother, Margaret Lamey, was Irish and fluent in Irish Gaelic, and her people were famous fiddlers, step dancers and singers.
My mother was very talented musically. When she played Scottish or Irish airs on the piano, the keys simply danced, and it was impossible to sit still. Her fingers flew over the keyboards, and it was all done by ear, as she had never had a piano lesson in her life. After my parents married they didn’t have a piano because they couldn’t afford one. The only time Mom got to play was when they visited her parents in Havre Boucher. I always felt, even as a child, what a shame it was that she wasn’t able to keep up her playing.
These Scottish people, my ancestors, were made of strong stuff. Their lives were hard, but they made time to nourish their spirits. Their strong sense of attachment to their language and culture helped to fortify them when times got tough. Their sense of community supported them ‘through thick and thin’. Their sense of humour and their imagination played vital roles in their lives. It is certain that their separation from the homeland caused them to cling tenaciously to the songs and culture of the old country. A well-known Cape Breton proverb illustrates this: "Is trom geum ba air a h-aineol." "Deep is the lowing of a cow on unfamiliar soil." Because of this, the language, songs, dances, pipe tunes and sayings of more than two hundred years ago have been preserved for the present generation.
People always ask me why I know so many Gaelic songs and airs. With a background like I have, is it any wonder? The older generation has given me a wonderful legacy and for that I am very grateful. I am no wandering soul searching for an identity. My sense of self is well defined and I have a deep knowledge of my roots and culture. This has kept me grounded in life.
The message is clear. Talk to your children and grandchildren. Pass along the old songs and the culture and genealogy of your ancestors. The next generation will benefit greatly from your attention and the sense of belonging they will develop from knowing their own roots. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
(Next month: Seanair MacDhòmhnaill (Grandfather MacDonald)
A Backward Glance by Rev George W. Baird: Kirks here and there
What a thrill for a laddie to get out on a fishing boat. I think of our trip on a Gamrie drifter during the Easter school holidays. We were great - line fishing in the Minch for cod, ling, skate or whatever. Over the Sabbath, of course, we tied up. It was at Lochboisdale Pier. We joined the local folk at worship. It was psalms and paraphrases at a slow pace, led by a precentor. At the back of midnight, we were off to haul our lines.
Another time we were at Castlebay in Barra. In church, we heard an intimation from the pulpit: ‘Volunteers needed to tar this church roof.’ On Monday morning, the minister called his wife to look over at the Church. A squad of our lads were busy tarring the corrugated iron roof. He just had time to thank them.
In Canna it was a week-night we tied up, but we did manage a walk along to the kirk. A snug little house of God it was.
At Dunvegan we were tied to the pier on a Saturday evening. A few more boats came in, and tied up on our outside. This was too much for the pier master. Fearing for his precious pier, he made us cast off. Anchored in the loch, we didn’t get ashore to the kirk next day.
When a Divinity student, I preached at Arisaig for Rev. Logan, when he was on holiday. There, church and manse adjoined each other, sharing a common wall. It is the same at Harthill, near Motherwell. A preacher robed in the manse drawing roon on the first floor. When the gathering bell stopped ringing, you opened a door and stepped into the pulpit. At the end of the service, you came back out the same way. There was no precentor; a harmonium led the praise, mostly psalms and paraphrases.
‘The Small Isles’, Eigg, Rum and Canna, was a charge under the Mallaig minister’s jurisdiction. There was a lay missionary, Neil MacKay; Rev. R. P. Aitchison only going over to take the Communion services. I took the service, on one of Mr. MacKay’s holiday Sundays, staying with a gamekeeper, MacNaughton. What a warm welcome from everyone! I had time to appreciate the beauty of the island, for the Lochmor didn’t return for five days. Mr MacKay ploughed the glebe with his horse; he kept a milking cow, and he reared calves.
When a scholar at Fort William High School, I attended the McIntosh Memorial Church. A Boys Brigade company had been started there, and I got quite keen. Rev. Alan MacLean took a warm interest in me, having me along to the manse. An elder there, Duncan Ainslie, established a bursary for any prospective Divinity student in the area. Ian Collins of Kinlochleven held it, then I got it after him, while studying in Glasgow. The £25 was a real godsend.
In Fort William I attended other places of worship now and then; the Free Kirk, when the precentor was Mr MacKenzie the Chief Constable; the Faith Mission, founded by J. G. Govan, who had a house at Glenelg; the United Free, started by the MacIntyre family, who had the garage and motor business where my father bought his car.
P. S. At Arisaig Manse were three lovely daughters. I didn’t manage to get off with one, but a fellow Divinity student did – Alick MacAulay, a Lewisman, married Gertrude Logan, the second daughter. He was my mother’s minister when she stayed in Fochabers.
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