Getting Rid of the Buannas

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Abridged from Dolly Doctor’s Tales and Traditions of the Lews (Acair):

The Buannaichean or Buannas of the Lord of the Isles were a set of picked warriors who were supposed to keep close to him and protect him from danger, especially when he left his own district.  They were outstanding in strength and stature, very brave and skilled with any weapon.  Macdonald visited many of his islands and at each place the Buannas were quartered out on the people near where the great man stayed.  The poor people had to feed them and give them accommodation and keep them amused.  These big warriors got to know the islands where the best food was and where they got the warmest hospitality.

This information spread to the mainland and to the islands further south, and there began to arrive hordes of beggars and sorners seeking food and shelter and pretending they were members of the cut-off bodyguards no longer able to work.  They got as far as they could northwards into the islands, and owing to the laws of Highland hospitality it was not easy to get rid of them.  The matter became so serious that at last the Government passed successive laws to keep them from coming and to force them to do some work to support themselves, but they persisted into the nineteenth century.  In the end the Gaelic name Buanna came to mean a mooching sort of fellow, who did not want to work, and who lived at th expense of the natives, on the best he could obtain.

Such a band of quondam Buannas must have ensconced themselves in the area of Valtos, Kneep and Beirghe, then called the Fourteen Pennylands.  They stayed far too long and the people were getting very tired of them and their lazy ways, especially the women, while their meagre resources got less and less.

A plan was formed to do away with them or to frighten them out of the area.  It was a very hot, bright summer and the natives, young and old, kept going to the sandy beaches to bathe and keep cool.  Everyone knows the sugar white sands at Kneep.  It was fixed that everyone in the village would turn out on the beach on the first hot day, and each woman was to pay special attention to a buanna.  She was to flatter him and flirt with him and divert his attention, and when one of their number gave a yell each woman was to fasten her arms around the neck of her male stranger, cling heavily to him making a fearful din, and keep his head under the water.

The day came and for a time there was lots of dalliance and water splashing, till one woman gave an ear-piercing screech and others followed suit, each grabbing a man and holding him under while the strangers tried to throw off the women.  Eventually they got the mastery of the women and made for a Kneep man who had offered to ferry them across Loch Roag if they got their clothes on and came hurriedly.  They got into the boat and rowed out by the narrows of Siaram and across the sound in the direction of Bernera, but instead of putting them ashore on the mainland of Lewis as they expected, the Kneep man landed them on Eilean Eunaidh.  The Buannas lept ashore but on ascending the rise of ground, they saw the sea all around them and were furious.  By this time the Kneep man was rowing furiously back towards home, and he escaped the arrows that followed him.  We have no record of how long these Buannas were marooned on Eunaidh but they were there for a good while, for there is a well in the island called Tobair nam Buannaichean.

A similar story is told in the Pairc district of a group of tinkers who were forever taking advantage of their hosts and declining to pay the fare for being ferried across Loch Erisort.  Eventually one foggy morning a local man offered to take them across gratis, and after they had landed on the other side, they realised that they too had been marooned on an island.