Seonnaidh Gorabhaig, Ungeshader

Seonnaidh Gorabhaig, John Maclean, was born in Ungeshader in 1888.  He was unmarried and remained in the family home at No. 3 with his brother Peter (the Coll) and latterly Peter’s wife Effie (Oighrig Mhorgain from Bragar).  The two brothers built Taigh na Coll themselves in the 1930s, carrying the stone in from half a mile away.

Seonnaidh served in the Royal Naval Reserve and was called up in 1914 to join the First Naval Brigade. He was posted to Antwerp and was taken prisoner, a brutal experience that affected him badly. DJ Macleod, Enaclete and Aberdeen, recounts the following:

Seonnaidh Gorabhaig“The Germans transferred these prisoners to the Eastern Front where they were in the front line trenches serving the German soldiers fighting the Russians. They had a hard time. Seonnaidh was amongst the British prisoners captured by the Russians along with the Germans. They were brutally treated by the Russians and many of them died from starvation, slave labour and maltreatment. I cannot remember if Seonnaidh worked in the salt mines – he certainly was treated worse than a slave. He survived but it left its mark.

He would go two or three days without shaving; sometimes he would appear shy as if he had a complex. He used to walk over the hill to Enaclete for a ceilidh some evenings – ceilidhs were common after work in these days – and used to go usually to Finlay MacLeod’s (2 Enaclete) and Donald MacLeod’s (3 Enaclete). Once during WW2 in one of the houses they were discussing the brutality of the Germans and Seonnaidh said, “Wait till they meet the Russians.” This was one of the few times he mentioned the war – he would not discuss his experiences.

Seonnaidh worked like a trojan, and slaved day and night and in all weathers on the croft. Some of those who suffered brutality in the war were like this; they would work like horses. In retrospect I think it acted like some kind of therapy for them. People sometimes mocked Seonnaidh’s behaviour and his being unshaven, but he was not like this before he joined the Navy. It’s amazing how war can change a person.”

He outlived Peter and Effie and was still keeping a cow on the croft in his 80s, cultivating entirely by hand.  There’s another picture here.

4 thoughts on “Seonnaidh Gorabhaig, Ungeshader

  1. Seonnaidh and my Granny, Annie Smith,nee Macritchie, were the last two houses tenanted in Ungeshader (now there is another house behind Seonnaidhs) and Seonnaidh would visit every night except Sunday nights. He was always recounting war stories but not the minutiae of the incidents. It was always about “an Russianach grannda” – “the awful Russian”.
    Granny had heard the stories countless times but each time she would provide the necessary prompts for him to carry on as if she was hearing them for the first time!
    In the background the old Tilley lamp would be hissing on her sideboard – of which the mirror is now hanging in my lounge!
    My uncle Kenny Dan Smith, was listening to the radio when the US astronauts landed on the moon and said to Seoonaidh, “Well a Sheonaidh, sud an Ameigancach air a ghealaich a ruighinn.” Well, John, that’s the Americans landed on the moon.”
    There was no internal loo in the house at No2 and Seonaidh would always go out to attend to Nature’s business around 10pm. That evening, he came back in and wasa heard to say, “Well, a’charaid, thug mise suil air a ghealaich agus chan fhaca mi sgeul air duine ach bodach na gealaich fhein oirre.” “well, I have had a look at the moon and I didnt see anybody but the man in the moon on there!”
    He was renowned for being mean himself, but he always talked about someone in Enaclete as being the meanest man he had ever encountered! One of his favourite sayings to my Granny was,” Anna, innsidh mi seo dhut, bheirinn-se nota dhan a cheard,” always followed by the codicil,” ‘nam biodh fhios’am gu’n robh feum aig oirre.” Annie, let me tell you this, I would give a pound to a tinker – if I knew that he needed one!” I am sure he comforted himself in the knowledge that he would never encounter such a situation wher ea tinker would prove to him that he needed one!
    I once went to visit him at his house with Calum, my younger brother, when both he and the Coll were resident there. Of course, they had no experience of youngsters and the Coll eventually offered us each a slice of cold marag dhubh- black pudding – of the home made variety! After holding it in our hands for an eternity, Calum, sprang up with the words, “Ta,tha cho math a bhith falbh.” OK, it’s time for us to go. No sign of his slice of black pudding. When we got outside, I asked him what he did with his slice. I dropped it into Seonnaidh’s wellingtons!!
    mine got a difuir over the back of Seonnaidh’s byre and nothing was ever heard or mentioned about it again – at least not in our hearing. Maybe my Granny heard about in between more sgeulachds of “an Russianach Grannda!”

    Having said all that, I am sure that Seoonaidh must have had a very traumatic time whilst being held as a POW at the hands of the Russians.
    To us youngsters, he was just anothe bodach in the village. His brother, the Coll was much more reserved, but his sister in-law, certainly was not, from my memory of her!! Mind you we were bad boys, too!
    Someday, I will write that book!

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