Origins of the Smiths

From Rev William Matheson (Mac Gille Chaluim), Families of Lewis (1959) in the Stornoway Gazette.  Rev Matheson begins by explaining how he reckons the Smiths of Earshader (from whom are descended the Smiths of Strome, Valtos, Laxay and Keose) were Morrisons sometimes known as Mackinnons, before they acquired the surname Smith in English.   He continues:

If we may take it that the clan surname of the Smiths of Earshader was Morrison alias Mackinnon (the latter representing Gaelic Mac Cianain and not Mac Fhionghuin as in Skye and Mull) we are not without some traditional information as to how the first of them came to the parish of Uig. In the Morrison manuscripts there are a number of traditions about a noted character whose career began as a personal attendant to Donald Cam Macaulay. His name calls for some comment, for it was misunderstood by Captain FWL Thomas [who wrote on the history of Uig families]. He calls him John Du Chroig, and explains this as Big-fisted Dark John. But the Gaelic for that would be Iain Dubh na Croige. The reading in the Morrison manuscripts is in fact “John du Chraik” and, better still, the tradition Gaelic form is still known in Uig and is Iain Dubh Chraidhig. This last word must be a place-name, but unfortunately we cannot identify it. It may be in Harris or in Uist. [A subsequent letter to the Gazette suggests it may be in Barra.]

The story in the Morrison manuscript is that the Lewis clans were concerned in the capture of a fully armed ship in Barra, sent, as was thought, to subjugate the Long Island. All the crew were killed, except a man with his wife and child, who were discovered to speak Gaelic. The child was Iain Dubh Chraidhig.

Matheson suggests that this story may relate to a historical event in 1610, from a letter written by Neil Macleod of Berisay, a close ally of Donald Cam.

Long an Iaruinn: the Ship of Iron

Sgeir an Iaruinn

Dolly Doctor, in Tales and Traditions, tells of the wreck of a ship at Carnish in 1775. In the picture Sgeir an Iaruinn is the small island in the middle of the picture, with Shielibhig in the distance on the far left.

All night the people round Uig Bay had listened to the cries of woe and frightful screaming from the crew of the ship gone aground, as piece after piece broke away from the ship and the crew were being washed overboard; but they could do nothing to help them, for no boat could live in those awful waves and the night was inky black. She was a big ship, and had come into Camas Uig the evening before, seeking shelter in the lea of Sgeir Sheilibhig, putting out two anchors for futher safety. The wind began to get stronger as night came on, and by midnight it was blowing a howling gale right into Uig Bay. She began to drag the two anchors until she scudded before it, gaining momentum all the time, until she struck on a sunken bogha with such for that she gave off a loud clang as of metal being struck, so that all the houses in Carnish and Crowlista heard the noise. This was a mortal blow for it ripped part of her timbers off, then she scurried with renewed force onto the sharp fangs of the skerry at Carnish Point, where the mighty billows kept on tearing her asunder, but she was well out from the land and no human being could get to her on such a night of doom.

Petition for the Arrest of Mac an t-Sronaich, 1834

Mac an t-Sronaich was a notorious and shadowy murderer and robber of Lewis legend who was active in Uig in the early 19th century.  He lived in a cave behind Keose in Lochs that is still known as Uamh Mac an t-Sronaich and he was reputedly the first cousin of Lilly Macaulay Linshader, the wife of Rev Robert Finlayson, Keose Manse. On many occasions he found refuge at the manse at Keose and Lilly would leave food for him in one of the outhouses.  Tradition maintains that on occasion he slept in the manse, and the marks in the panelling above his bed show where he would stick his dagger overnight.  

When things got hot for him, he came to Uig:  “As long as I keep to the Uig hills, the Uig hills will keep me,” he said.

The only person reputed to have frightened Mac an t-Sronaich was Domhnall Ruadh Beag from Enaclete.  Mac an t-Sronaich was on the hill Mula Chaolartain and he saw something going down the side of Beinn a Deas, the route to Hamnaway. Domhnall Ruadh Beag was barefoot and taking a herring net on his back to Loch Hamnaway where there were huge shoals of herring being caught.  All Mac an t-Sronaich could see was this round black thing moving along on little white legs. He couldn’t understand what it was and came to the conclusion it was the devil himself.

Bean Aonghais Bhig, or How Angus Beag Got his Wife



As told by Rev Donald Macaulay.  English text follows the Gaelic.  Photo of Brenish by Chris Murray.


Bha an cogadh a dol bliadhnaichean agus am màrbhadh eadar Clann ‘ic Leòid, Clann Choinnich agus na Moireasdanaich agus an deidh dha Clann Choinnich an t-eilean fhaiginn mu dheireadh dhaibh b’fhèin agus thàinig siothladh de shìth anns an eilean an uairsin.  Ach cha tugadh fìr Ùig gèill do chlann Choinnich idir gu h-àraidh am fear a bh’air an ceann – Dòmhnall Cam.  Cha b’e Sìthphort a bh’ann ach MacCoinnich eile – bha Sìthphort airson sìth anns an eilean.  Bha Oighreachd mhòr aige air a’mfor-thìr agus ‘s e a’siamarlan a bh’airge air a mhor-thìr duine uasal eile ris an canadh iad Alasdair MacCoinnich, Achilty de theaghlach uasal.  ‘S e daoine de’n seòrsa sin gle thric a bha nan siamarlan, gu h’araidh anns na h-oighreachdan mòra.  Bha Sìthphort agus clan Amhlaigh air a bhith cogadh cho fada agus mu dheireadh thainig e gun cho-dhùnadh nach dèanadh iad rèit a chaoidh.  Thug e a nall Alasdair MacCoinnich gus an tigeadh e gu Dòmhnall Cam airon Cùmhnant sìth a dhèanamh ris.


‘S e an cumhnant a bha e a’dol a dhèanamh ri Dòmhnall Cam gum faigheadh a h-uile duine a bh’ann an Ùig an talamh mar a bha iad roimhe sea bho Mhacleòid agus nach cuireadh duine dragh orra a chaoidh fhad’s a dheanamh iad síth ri Clann Choinnich.  A thilleadh air a sin, gu’n toireadh Achilty a nighean aige do mhac Dòmhnaill Chaim airson a pòsadh.  ‘S i seo Anna.