“The wanderlust of the Uigeach”, from the Stornoway Gazette, 30 December 1949.
Swedish timber houses allocated to West Uig are not to be built there. Owing to the depopulation of the district there is very little chance of finding tenants. When this news was given to the Lewis District Council by the chairman, Councillor John Maciver, there was a scramble by the other districts in the island to claim the houses. The houses had originally been allocated to West Uig in the hope that they would help to arrest depopulation, but it was not likely that they would ever find tenants for twenty houses in Uig, he said.
Rather than lose the twenty houses, he thought they should try to get them for some other district in rural Lewis. He recognised the congestion around Stornoway, with people coming in to find work in the mills, but he wanted ten of the houses for Shawbost, and he understood Councillor Donald Macleod wanted ten for Point. For the last four houses at Springfield, there were over 100 applications, but only nine of these had come from outside the burgh, although the houses were intended for Point, Back and the central ward of Stornoway.
“Where do you want these houses to go?” he asked.
“I think Councillor Duncan Maciver and I have the first say in that,” said Councillor Smith, Uig. “I think they should be erected near Stornoway, and priority should be given to the people of Uig when they’re finished, as the people of Uig had been chased out of Uig by the County Council and partly by the Lewis District Council. Today we haven’t got the young men and young women left there to occupy them. If they get married they have to go and live on the mainland.”
Councillor Smith went on to say the conditions under which they had to live were a disgrace to humanity, and he made a vigorous attack on the authorities for the neglect of the road.
“It is not my fault. I did my best to get you twenty houses in Uig. It was hoped it would arrest the depopulation, but there’s always a wanderlust in the Uigeach,” said the chairman.
O an strì ann an tìr a phailteis,
O am fallas, o am fuachd,
Cha robh cùisean mar bha dùil seo idir
Le olc is aingidheachd is cruas.
— Tìr a Phailteis, Calum Martin
The Megantic Outlaw, Donald Morrison, is a folk hero in Quebec and Uig alike and his story is well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. The ruins of his grandfather’s blackhouse can still be seen in Kneep, on the hillside behind the machair and Loch nan Cuilc, but the family left for Quebec, where they settled near Lake Megantic and where Donald was born, their youngest son.
This year, as part of the Hebridean Celtic Festival, local musician and teacher Calum Martin is bringing his Gaelic folk-rock song cycle based on the Megantic Outlaw’s life, to Uig and Stornoway. The story follows the family’s voyage from Lewis, their hardships in the new land, and Morrison’s ten months on the run until his capture, imprisonment and eventual demise.
For this show Calum has brought together an amazing cast of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic featuring Fraser Fifield (Sax/Whistles), Graeme Stephen (guitars), Bobby Millar (bass guitar); from upstate New York by way of Nashville Tennessee, Peter Young (Drummer/Producer) from Nashville, Scott Neubert (guitars/dobro/banjo/mandolin) and from Lewis Andrew Yearly (keyboard/accordion) and Calum’s own daughter Isobel Ann Martin (vocals).
Tuesday 14 July 2009 at Uig Community Centre, 8pm
Wednesday 15 July 2009 at An Lanntair, Stornoway, 7.30pm
Tickets from the Hebridean Celtic Festival box office (online, from 01851 702333, or on Saturdays 11-4 from the office in Stornoway, and a little nearer the time from us Uig Museum in the community centre) for this and all the other Festival gigs. Calum Martin also wrote and performed the new Festival anthem, Blue on Green, which is available as a free download from the Festival website (and playable here – click the arrow.)[audio:blueongreen.mp3]
And now for the Megantic Outlaw’s story, from the CD insert; the Gaelic follows the English version. Song titles are in bold and the full text in Gaelic and English, plus more audio samples, are at the Megantic Outlaw website. (It’s worth noting that the double-crosser, Lieut-Col Malcolm Macaulay, was also an Uigeach, apparently of a family cleared from Baile Nicol (now Ardroil) about 1840.)
* * *
Donald Morrison was born in the township of Megantic, Quebec in the year 1858, the youngest son of Scots immigrant parents. Years earlier Murdo and Sophie Morrison had been driven by hardship from their native Hebridean Island of Lewis and forced to set sail on The Ship of Hope for a new life in Canada. Building a new life was not so easy for the new immigrants, not only did they have to overcome a harsh environment but deceit and injustice were rife in this Land of Plenty.
Being the youngest, Donald was the last to leave the family home. Like many of his generation, he headed westward to seek his fortune, working as a cowboy, and he became used to the freedom of the wide open spaces, and from this work, sent home regular contributions to help his parents re-pay the debt on the family home.
On The Journey Home after 7 years toil, he fondly imagines that by now the debt must be about paid. To a Lewis man, like Donald’s father, Murdo, a man’s word is his bond; he had paid off the family debt with no thought of written receipt, but Macaulay, the unscrupulous money-lender, denied receiving the payments, had the Morrison’s evicted from their home, and after The Deceit sold it off to a Frenchman. After trying in vain to obtain justice through the courts, Donald is left with nothing but deep anger and bitterness.