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        Croft Histories 

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        Grimshader -                                £14
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        A’ Leantainn na Mara   

        Bàrdachd a sgrìobh 

        Dòmhnall Angaidh Macleod  (A’ Chang)

        à Ranais nan Loch - £6 

 

        Laoich nan Òran (Heroes of Song) 

        A collection of bàrdachd 

        from North Lochs - £15

 

        Balach a Griomsiader

        On sale for £6

 

        

      Bannaimh Nach Gann

        The Gaelic secular writing of Rev Murdo Smith (1878-1936)

        of 31 Leurbost, includes nature poetry, humorous compositions 

        and elegies, an extensive history of the time.

         The collection was written when travel was by boat, families were

         evicte to make way for sheep and emigration to Canada was encouraged. 

         This Comann Eachdraich Cheann a Tuath nan Loch publication

          is published by Clo Fuigheagan and costs £7.99.  It is available from NLHS,

          local book shops and electronically at www.clo-fuigheagan.co.uk

          We are indebted to Magaidh Smith for editing this publication,

           her efforts ensure that Rev Smith’s writings will be preserved for future

          generations.

Scroll down for More Stories

 

 

 

 

 

The Minister’s Bull

 

The action of taking the law with one’s own hands is usually a risky business, as the outcome cannot always be assured. One man who did take the risk at the beginning of the first half of the 19th century was Aonghas Ban of Keose who had retired from the Army and returned to live on a meagre pension in his home village.

Much to his dismay after long years of absence, he found his village ruled by the local minister, well, not exactly by the minister in person, no, but by the minister’s prize bull. This fearsome creature was wont to stray beyond the bounds of the unfenced minister’s glebe and in the course of his wanderings terrorise the villagers. Particularly the womenfolk as they went about their tasks of carrying creel-loads of peats from the moor, or loads of seaweed from the shore. In spite of protests about the nuisance and indeed the danger of the animal to the community, the minister did nothing.

So it was that Aonghas Ban, the retired soldier decided to take the law into his own hands. There was only one answer-get rid of the bull, somehow.

With the knowledge of the locality Aonghas Ban managed one day to lure the bull beyond his more familiar surroundings until he got the animal to an area of bog land where he well and truly trapped and swiftly the old soldier used his army dirk to despatch the unfortunate creature.

Boldy Aonghas Ban repaired to the manse, told the minister of his deed and declared to the village at large, that the womenfolk no longer need live in fear. The bull was dead.

The minister was furious and in a mean act of retaliaition he wrote to the War Office in London and succeeded in having Aonghas Ban’s pension cut off.It would appear that taking the law into his own hands cost him dearly. But the champion of the village was not one to lie down and accept deafeat, without hesitation he prepared for a long journey. He gathered some personal belongings, but more importantly he armed himself with a good supply of well baked oatcakes and cheese. Aonghas departed for the mainland, travelling we are told, first to Ullapool and the southwards on foot on the drove roads, till eventually he reached London.

There he related the full story of the bull and made a urgent plea to have his pension re-instated. As just reward for his outstanding efforts and public service, Aonghas Ban’s pension was fully restored and he returned triumphantly homeward.

But the story did not end there as years later Angus’s wife became involved in a dispute over croft boundaries with her neighbour as they cropped the grass with sickles. The dispute must indeed have been a bitter one as the case was brought before the kirk session in order to be settled. When Aonghas Ban’s wife was called to give evidence it was the old warrior soldier that stood up.

Waving his arms in the air Aonghas who had not darkened the threshold of the church since the year of the bull, shouted to the minister:“ Remember minister that I am still here”

“ Yes, Yes Aonghais” replied the minister “We can see and hear that you are here, but sit down until justice is done”

It is not at all surprising that history relates, whether justice was done or not in the boundary dispute the victory of the day went in favour of Aonghas Ban’s wife”

CE Archives 

 

Grimshader

 

Comann Eachdraidh member Donald Morrison of Grimshader, Domhnall Caley contributed the following information to commemorate his 90th birthday in July 2012.

In my younger days at 14 Grimshader, my mother and father were not church communicants. My father would rise about four o clock in the morning and go to weave tweeds on an old wooden loom. At ten o’clock in the morning, he would return, we all had to be gathered and he would lead family worship.There was a tradition then, which is not observed today. When my mother sat down for family worship she followed the Biblical tradition …A woman’s hair was said to be her crowning glory ... She would sit down and the first thing she did was cover her hair…hiding her own glory before she came to the word of God. She was not a communicant but this was the custom.


I was 14 years of age in 1937. That was the year of the “Dusgadh” the revival in our village and my mother and father were converted that year. There were two houses on the croft we were on and five people professed their faith, the year of the revival. The house next door to ours was Taigh Cluaisean, there was Duidhlan (Alasdair) his sister Murdina and Dolaidh.
I remember that a man in the village had seen an unearthly light going to every house in the village. I am not sure whether it was in a dream he had seen this. But they talked about this man having seen a very bright light which visited every home.


In the previous year 1936, the congregation in the Free Church in Crossbost had got so few in number, that there was only one elderly man who could lead the psalm-singing. On expressing his concern to the minister the Reverend Malcolm MacIver responded with “Keep it up for the next year, things are going to prosper here”


At the time of the revival in 1937, I thought it was a good thing, although it was not for me. I would go fishing. People came from the Westside to the revival gatherings in Taigh Cluaisean, the other house on the croft. The village meeting house was packed to the limit, it seemed as if half the village had found the Lord. I had only been to church once when I was eight and I was 30 years old before I went through the doors again. This is how it happened.
My mother had a great friend who lived in Laxdale, Catriona Mhurchaidh Chaluim Mòr from Bragar. Although my mother had passed on ten years previously, I used to visit Catriona regularly.

My sister came home one Tuesday evening and said that both Catriona and her brother were very ill with the flu. I quickly threw my shoes on and drove to Laxdale to see them. Iain ’an Biodaidh’s wife was looking after Catriona and her brother, as they were so ill. She told me that Catriona was so poorly that nobody was getting in to see her. I said I would go upstairs to see Donald. When I came back down the stairs she was waiting for me and said “Catriona wants to see you”. I went to her beside.
The first thing she said was “Did you go to listen to the minister tonight” Na h-ordaighean beaga were on and Catriona’s minister Rev MacRitchie was preaching.” No “ I replied. “Did you go to listen to him last night”she said “ No”“ I replied. To my surprise I found myself adding “He is preaching again tomorrow night and I will be there for sure”. Now I did not say those words. The Lord put those words in my mouth. I cannot tell a lie, I would rather keep my mouth shut.


That Tuesday night on the way home, I suddenly had a terrible thought. It was that I had told a lie. But then I reasoned, that if I went to the service on Wednesday evening, it would not have been a lie. So on Wednesday evening I went to the service by Rev MacRitchie and that was the very night the Lord came into my life. An taobh a staigh do d’ bhallachan bidh sith ’s sonas maith. That was what stayed with me that night and has had special relevance ever since.


Many times God’s Providence has helped me to prosper during my lifetime. After all I will be 90 years of age in July 2013. There are a lot of other things that happen to me during my lifetime that some people would not believe. If they don’t believe it, it does not matter.
One time was when I was building an extension to the house. I was working in Arnish at the time and there was a rig in the bay. After my day’s work in Arnish I was working on the extension. I knocked down the back wall of the house, propping up the roof and joined the new wall to the old. Duidhlan next door used to say to his wife “ Tha eagal mo bheath’ orm gun toir e an taigh air a mhùin” I had not planned what I was going to put in the gap I had made, where I had propped up the roof.One day in Arnish I was helping with an H-Beam that was to be taken to the cutting machine. The foreman gave the required measurements for the H-beam. Ten minutes later he turned to me and said he had cut it short and another H- beam was to be ordered.


At the home extension that evening, I was just at the stage when I would have to support the roof, where I had knocked down the wall. I had no idea how I was going to do it. Measuring the gap it was ten feet and a few inches. That night in bed I came up with answer. Back in the yard the next day I went back to the mainlander foreman and asked him what he happened to the H-beam. It had been thrown in the dump he said. The rig was a government contract, as it was not a private contract they weren’t counting the cost of material. They just ordered another beam for the rig. I expressed a wish to buy the beam which was too short to be of any use for the rig contract. He said “You leave it to me”. He went to speak to the next man in charge. That morning they went out to the dump with the digger, as it took more than two people to carry it. They found the beam, loaded it on a lorry and dumped by the roadside at my house in Grimshader, later that very day. They would not take a penny for it. Who knows how much that would have cost me if I had had to pay the going rate.


The beam was just perfect for my purpose. It was six inches too long for the gap, easily sorted, with a further three extra inches broken out on both sides. There was no way it could be cut without a specialist saw anyway. It was protruding about quarter of an inch on the ceiling of the room and I would often sit and look at it and remember how that H-beam had been provided for me.

In my latter years I lost the sight in one eye. I was at the front of my own house one day, by the porch which was made from white wood. I could see the paint was flaking badly and as I had a knife in my pocket I scraped it gently, to my horror the knife sunk right into the wood. It was full of dry rot. As I had lost the vision in one eye I couldn’t repair it myself so I rang Seòras Mackenzie the joiner from the village. He said he would come to have a look at the job later in the day. An hour later I went to the byre and my eye landed on the old hardwood windows from the main house, which I had replaced with UPC windows some years before.
I took two of the hardwood windows down and put a plank of wood between them. I went back to measure the side of the porch and it was exactly the same size as the two hardwood windows with the spacer. When Seòras the joiner arrived, we took the other hardwood windows out of the byre and lined then up around the porch.


Two windows and a spacer did one side of the porch. Two windows and a spacer fitted the other side of the porch. One window and a spacer was a perfect fit to the door jab on the third side. When Seòras began to work on the porch, it fitted together like a piece of furniture with those heavy hardwood windows. It fitted so well we didn’t even have to disturb the roof.
The whole thing is so unbelieveable, that I am not surprised that people think I made it up. But Seòras is my witness he knows as he worked on my house. It was a miracle. When the Lord does something He will do it right. I think about the help He provided me with, all the years of my life. I would wish that everybody would receive the abundance that I received myself.

Maitheas an Tighearna.

 

 

 

Conch shell:

 

 In the hustle and bustle of life we rarely have the time of reflect on things that surround us. One day soon, someone may ask “Why is there a conch shell in a glass display case at the Lochs Free Church in Crossbost”. Inanimate objects have a life of their own too.


This particular queen conch shell Lobatus Gigus (conachag) was brought to Leurbost by a village sailor, probably from Tri...nidad or Tobago. The sailor knew that his fellow villagers would be intrigued by such a shell, as they fished in Loch Leurbost to provide for their families and were very familiar with the kind of sea shells found in the Minch. In foreign climes this kind of conch shell, was used as a wind instrument, by boring a hole into the spire of the shell near the apex. In Leurbost the conchag shell became a thing to marvel at and blow into, in order to make a sound.

Several years passed and the conch shell then appears to have been used prior to 1840, by the Gaelic School in the village of Leurbost. The purpose it appears, was to summon the village children to lessons.


In 1849 Murdo Macleod An Ceistear (1811-1898) was appointed Catechist in the parish of Lochs. An Ceistear summoned the villagers to the religious gatherings, by blowing on the conch shell. In Leurbost if the families were working on the crops in the fields, all work would cease immediately and they would make their way to Seathar a’ Cheistear, at Cnoc an Stùirm, where croft 40 Leurbost is now.


Murdo Macleod, The Catechist served in Lochs for forty nine years and the conch shell was passed to his son Murdo. Murdo’s family cherished the conch shell and in the last ten years the shell returned to the village of Leurbost. The Conch with the link to the past can now be seen in a glass display case in the Free Church Hall in Crossbost.

 

 

 

Alasdair MacDonald

 

In 2012 Comann Eachdraidh member Alasdair MacDonald of 40 Leurbost, looked back at some of the ways he earned a living since he was a boy in the 1940s.

My father had one of the wooden looms for making Harris Tweed and I used to try working it and that was how I learned about weaving tweeds. The wooden looms must have been were very complicated to make, they were very slow and you used to have to pull the... tweed through it by hand.


In those days schoolboys used to fill the bobbins for the weavers, filling enough to keep the weaver in bobbins, until they came back from school the next day. I use to fill the bobbins for Sandy Allan for two years before I left school. They used to call the boys “monkeys” and we got 2d (two pennies in old money) for each yard of the tweed that was in the loom at the time. Around this time the weaver got about four pounds for a tweed. The tweeds were a lot longer in those days, they were between forty and forty five yards long. Today the tweeds are only about thirty five yards long.


Back then the loom shed had a machine for filling the bobbins and some had a warping frame. If a weaver was going to make a tweed for himself, he would buy the wool from the mill and make the weft on the warping frame. Then he could weave it and sell the tweed for himself.


There were a few small producers of Harris Tweed in Leurbost then, people like Dòilean Dhòmhnaill Ruaraidh and Shonaidh Dhonnchaidh. They had people warping and weaving tweeds for them, not just in Leurbost, but in some of the other villages as well.
I bought a new iron loom from Hattersley which cost me £50.00 delivered to the door. This was just before I had to do my National Service in 1946. When I came back from the Army I was weaving until I got my driving licence. Then I went back to the loom again, while I was driving the buses. When you were on morning shift on the buses you finished at 2pm. On the late shift you didn’t start till half past three.


When I was weaving, the tweeds came from Tod’s , Sticky’s and Newall’s Mills in Stornoway. The tweeds used to come to the weavers on the bus, in two bags, the warp and weft, cur ’s dloth, Then Aonghas Iain Ranish bought a lorry and twice a week he would go to collect the tweeds from Newall’s Mill. It was after that, Newall and Tod’s lorry started coming round delivering tweeds.


After I got my driving licence I drove Calum Mor Crossbost’s lorry, working for the County Council hauling material for the roads. Also any other haulage that was to be done and taking home the peats in the summer. In 1953/54 I started driving the buses, before that I drove the Co-op lorry. It was the paraffin lorry, with a paraffin tank on the back and a row of coal bags down each side of it. We sold lots of paraffin in five gallon drums then. I also went to Harris once a week with supplies for the Co-op store in Tarbert.

 


I worked delivering fish with Neilly my brother in law, for two years, sometimes going to Uig twice a day. We took herring over in the morning and then came back to Tong to collect haddocks and leobags from Angie Wimms and the Brogach. In the afternoon back we went to UIg to sell that fish around the villages. Sometimes Neilly’s two vans went to Uig twice a day.


I remember the time in Leurbost when Schubert and Dòmhnall an Sheoc got their Morris Commercials, they both arrived the same night. They were seven seaters with a wooden body, with bench seats along the length of the body not crossways. I have seen a lot of changes in transport since those days.

All my life I have been interested in vans, lorries and mechanical things and was lucky enough to earn a living working with quite a variety of them.

 

 

 

Grimshader

 

There was once a farm at Gleann a Gheàrraidh by the loch. Loch Glaic a’ Chapail, is the correct name for the loch. You can see the remains of the boundary walls of the farm, by the river and up on the side of the hill and the remains of a house and barn.

 

The only account I ever heard about the farm, was when an old woman, from up the district somewhere, came to Taigh Calum MhicCurchaidh. She recalled that when she was a girl, she was in service (air mhuighdearas) at the farm (tac).

 

She remembered the celebration (nurstan) of the birth of a child born at the farm. For the nurstan celebration, the bodach went to the shore and gathered a pan of limpets and cooked them in a spoon of salted butter and a horn of whisky.

 

There was a herring station here once. You can still see the built up stones of the pier at An Sgeir Dhubh. This is where the boats came in and discharged the herring. In my grandfather’s day they were gutting there in the field and they lived in my grandfather’s byre.

 

Down near the bay, where we have the boats, on that flat green patch, my father’s sisters used to work there gutting the herring for the curer’s, that used to come from the mainland.

 

When my brother Iain went to the fishing in Wick, an old man met him and asked him where he was from. Then he said in Gaelic as good as my brother’s, “When I was in Griomsiadar as a cooper at the herring, there were no houses there.

 

Murchadh Ban had been in the Shiants (Na h-Eileann Mora) then he lived in the south side of Ranais for a while, before he came to Ranais. Murchadh Bàn was the man who built a schooner. The only things he didn’t make were the chains. He bought lengths of iron and made the nails himself. I saw the flat anvil he used, it was in the doorway of Taigh Mhurchaidh Dhòmhnaill.  He bought trees strimmed the branches of them and the bark and cut them up into planks.

 

Working at the high water mark on the shoreline, the first thing he did was pile up creels of kelp before he laid the keel. When the planking was complete the high tide would lifted the schooner off the shore. Murchadh didn’t always sail with the boat as he was a first class craftsman and made furniture for the people in the villages here. One time the crew went to Uig to load  a cargo of salt ling for Ireland. The crew went ashore, a strong wind blew up, she dragged the anchor and she was blown ashore. I believe this happened in Reef or Kneep, that was the end of the schooner built in Grimsiadar.

 

In those days clocks were not the important things they are now. A bodach called Macrae came to my grandfather and great grandfather to go to Point to fetch some furniture.

It was winter and the bodach went to the barn and got a sheaf of oats, beat it with the flail to get the seed off it. He dried the seed in a pan on the fire and then made meal using the quern (bràth). He put the seed between the two stones, which were about 18 inches diameter and turned the upper stone using a handle. He ground the meal to make a pan of porridge for himself and MacRae and baked an oatmeal bannock to take with them, before they set off for Point to get the furniture.

 

Calum Donn once told about a winter’s night while he was preparing for the next morning’s fishing. His wife insisted on him twisting the neck of the big drake, for eating the next day.

 

He duly did as she wished and his wife plucked its feathers and left it on the table. In the morning there was no sign of the drake and he blamed the dog, or some animal which had come into the house through the night for carrying it off.

 

On the way to the boat the bodach saw the ducks on the mouth of the river and with them was a drake with no feathers. He hadn’t killed it after all! 

 

 

 

Picture a village

 

On a frosty November morning –people beginning to stir, women making their way to the byres to milk the cows- The dogs barking, being let out for the day- cockerels crowing- Smoke rising from every chimney with the smell of peat smoke filling the air.

 

The clickety click of looms as the men start work-the bus on the way to Stornoway with tradesmen and mill workers-children going to school –the postman on his bicycle delivering mail.

 

Despite lots of activity the neighbours would call-in on each other, later in the day to catch up on news and pass the time of day.  Grocery vans, bread vans, butcher vans, fish vans- hooting to announce their arrival.

 

There were communal gatherings at the time of deaths, births and marriages. People gathered for peat-cutting and taking home the peats. They came together to gather the sheep on fank days for dipping and shearing. Relatives and friends came from miles for the communion services in the spring and autumn and stayed for the five day duration. Every July, particularly at the Glasgow Fair fortnight, there was an influx of visitors and family members resident in other parts of the United Kingdom.

 

Insurance agents came regularly (on foot) to collect monthly instalments from clients. The first Indian Pedlars Kerr Singh and Dilib went from house to house selling their wares.

 

Every croft in the village was well maintained, potatoes were planted in the well maintained lazy beds, still seen clearly today. After harvesting potatoes were stored in underground pits on the crofts.

 

The lazy beds were also where the corn and clover was sown and in the late summer and autumn, the harvest was gathered in neat hayricks and corn stacks. Vegetables such as cabbage, carrots and turnips were grown for the family table in smaller well-tended plots.

 

Most families had a milking cow, some sheep and a few hens. One of the chores the children had to do, was to drive the cows out to the moorland pasture in the morning.

In the evening the cows made their own way back to the village gate, where they waited until their owners came for them.

 

Children had their own tasks to do at home, things like bringing water from the well. Most of the houses had a barrel which gathered the rain water from the roof of the house, this water was for general use. The drinking and cooking water had to be brought in from the well.

 

Another chore for the children was to cart the peats for the fire, from the peat stack into the house. Collecting the eggs from the hen house was an easier one. 

 

 

 

First World War

 

Next year 2014 commemorates one hundred years since the First World War began. This is a reason to relate the tale of the Leurbost man and why he had a pet lizard.

Donald MacLeod born in 1896, was at the fishing in Fraserburgh when war was declared in 1914. Enlisting in the army at Fort George Barracks, he was issued with a regimental kilt which he wore for eighteen months without undressing onc...e. In those days only one shirt was issued to soldiers and that shirt was on his back for thirteen months.

Donald MacLeod’s platoon served a marathon 31 days in one trench in France. In his own account he relates that he served in 27 of the regiment’s 29 battles. The Battle of Loos, Mesopotamia the 7th Battle of Assaye, The Battle of Gazza in Palestine, Messina in Asia Minor any many more.

It was while he was in Jerusalem, that Donald befriended a lizard, which he carried with him everywhere he went. The soldier from Leurbost kept it on his chest while he slept, as the lizard would eat the mosquitos and he could at least sleep in peace. Donald Macleod had the lizard put in a glass case as a keepsake and later took it home to Lewis.

Returning home on the mail boat the Chieftain on 28th April 1919, his earnings for five years’ war service was £42.00. Donald Macleod gave a family member an account of some of his wartime experiences in the 1970s, which illustrate some of the hardships in the life of a soldier in the First World War (1914-1918). 

 

 

 

The Shiants

 

Murchadh Bàn made a livelihood from the fishing while living in the Shiants. He built a house there for his family and the first item of furniture he made was a coffin. Someone asked him why he had made it, as it would be in his way each day.  “Ma bhàsaicheas mise chan eil duine ann a chuireas ciste orm” The coffin was made incase he met an untimely death, as he knew there was no one else living on the Shiants who could make a coffin for him. I don’t know what he did with the coffin when he left the Shiants, whether he took it with him or not.

 

His brother went to live in The Shiants after Murchadh Bàn left there. He lived there with his wife and daughter and they paid their rent and made a livelihood from fowling, perhaps it was gannets they were harvesting. He would put a rope around his daughter’s middle and lower her down the cliffs on the rope. She would choke the birds and tuck their necks into a rope around her waist. When she had harvested enough birds her father would haul her back up the steep cliff face.

 

One time the rope caught on a sharp point on a rock, it snapped and she fell into the sea. The fowls strapped around her waist prevented her from sinking and her father on the island helplessly watched her float away.  The only way of getting help on the Shiants in an emergency was to have a big gelly of a fire on the hillside.  I believe it was the people in Gravir that would come to their aid, when they saw the signal from the Shaints.