The Crofting Year in Geshader, as told by Finlay Maciver (born 1930 in Geshader).
The first task of the crofting year in Geshader was taomadh – this was turning the earth in the ditch at the side of the runrig (feannag), putting it on top of runrig, where the crop had grown the previous year. They didn’t turn the ground on the rig itself, they put the oat seed (corc) in it and broke it up with the croman. When this earth dried it was as hard as rock and trying to break it up was backbreaking work.
The earth from the ditch was rich and good for growing potatoes. It was used with ocrach, this was seaweed and cow manure matured and mixed. In February the crofters put down one layer of seaweed, then a layer of cow manure, then seaweed and so on, then they stamped it down well. The two materials would combine and break down to become very fine.
The seaweed was gathered at the big February spring tides (rothad). The seaweed was harvested and collected in a rath (raft) and sometimes it came to the shore as luchd – a boat full. I remember as a boy being involved in the gathering of a rath of seaweed and also luchd, the boatload. Luchd was filling the boat jam-packed with seaweed, except for a wee space in the middle of the boat and a space on the thwart for a boy or small person who would bail out the boat. Two men had to have room to row and the boat was piled high with seaweed. I remember as a wee boy baling like fury and not being able to see where I was or where I was going. Geshader was unique in having its own canal for floating the seaweed rafts up the freshwater loch to the crofts.
If the seaweed was put directly on to the ground it would harden and dry and be of no benefit whatever, so it was dug into the earth or combined with manure as described above. If it had to be used on its own for potatoes, the seaweed was in the fallow row. It didn’t go in the same row as the potato, because when the seaweed rotten through time it would also rot the potato. The seaweed in the fallow row was often used for growing seed potatoes. Seed potatoes (buntàta sìl) were planted each year to give seed for the next year.
Then the crofters turned the ground for planting barley and oats. I remember a horse pulling a plough turning the ground. But I’m sure it was spadework for generations before that. It was usually a young boy of maybe twenty who was in charge of the horse. He would stay here in the village for a week and plough all the village fields.
Just as soon as the oats were planted the crofters started cutting the peats. The peat crew (sgiobadh) often had 6 irons (tairsgeirean) working, that’s twelve people. Around each peat iron two people worked, one person cutting (a buain/leagail) and one throwing (tilgeil/sadail). The lining of top of the bank and the preparing of the turf (rusgadh/feanadh) began a day or two before the crew commenced the cutting. If the turf was removed and the weather was sunny, the top layer would dry out and be difficult to cut.
Members of the peat digging crew would have to be repaid, by the crew spending a day cutting peats for them. But if there was a house in the village that didn’t have menfolk, their peats would also be cut, nobody was left without the winters supply of peat.
Peat cutting day (latha buain na monadh) was quite an event. Never does a cup of tea or a meal taste as good as it does on the moor at the peats. On hot days, peat cutting was very thirsty work. We had deoch bhan to quench our thirst. This was well water with a sprinkling of oatmeal in it. This was better to quench your thirst that just water on its own. A little boy had the job of being on stand-by with the bucket of deoch bhan and a big ladle. The boy stirred the drink occasionally and raced around when the thirsty crewmember called him to fill a cup of the liquid. It was delicious and kept the thirst at bay.
Hay & Oats
Each crofter had to have winter feed for the cattle which supplied milk throughout the winter. So in July the crofters would cut the clover, this was grass which was planted specially for cutting. But the natural grass crop was harvested much later in the autumn. The very edges of the ditches of each runrig (mala na feannaige) were also cropped. This was done once the potato shaws had wilted and the corn was harvested. The grass from the rig edges was very fine and dried very quickly. Every bit of grass that grew in the ditches and between the rigs was harvested.
The oats were harvested in September. An armful was gathered and several strands removed from the centre of it to make a band, which was tied around it, to make a bundle (a cuir bann air a’bhad). The band was twisted several times and the strands tucked underneath to secure it. Ten or twelve of these sheaves (badan) stood supporting each other in a circle (adag). They were left to dry out and some time later, several adagan were gathered together in a circle and made into bigger stooks (toran). The band of one sheaf was loosened, the sheaf turned upsidedown and it was secured to the others in the stook. That’s how the dried oats (corc) were stored until the crofter was ready to make the corn-stack. On the morning of the day the corn stack was to be constructed, the sheaves in the stooks were spread out, stacked and turned to make sure they were dry. Then the sheaves were carried in bundles (eallaich) to the walled crop yard (iodhlainn). Each corn stack was built on a circle of stones, to raise it off the ground to keep it dry. When the time came to dismantled the stack and put the sheaves in the byre, there was a scramble to get rid of the mice and rats which had been nesting there all winter. Once they were made homeless they would move into the barn next!
– interview and translation by Maggie Smith.
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