Side Schools in Uig III: Hamnaway, Luachair and Crola

Part III of a series on the small, remote schools in Uig, set up to cater often for single families with three or more children.  From research by Maggie Smith for Hebridean Connections and the Stornoway Gazette.  See also Part I and Part II.

In the 1950s the daughters of John Shaw, the gamekeeper at Hamnaway, were taught in a side school.  Flora, Mary Peggy, John and Donalda studied there until it was time to sit their qualifying exam for entry into the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway.  They each attended Mangersta school on the day of the exam.  The family moved into Carnish in 1957.  Ina Macdonald, who had been a pupil at the Ardbheag side school, herself taught at Hamnaway in 1952 after leaving the Nicolson.

In the hamlet of Luachair, just over the Harris border at the head of Loch Resort, the earliest account of any education provision was a school built by the gamekeeper Roderick Mackenzie for the education of his own children.  Roderick was well-known for his support of education.  His son Alexander (later Rev Col AJ Mackenzie) wrote in his memoirs:

The responsibility of providing for the education of the young at Kinlochresort was undertaken by the Free Church of Scotland or at least by their Ladies Highland Committee under the direction of Miss Rainy, a sister of the famous principal.  They supplied the books and material and a constant succession of divinity students to act as teachers.  What they did not and probably could not supply was accommodation.

The teachers consequently were put up by the parents and the teaching was done in our house.  This obviously was an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and my father determined to remedy it.  He was a man of quite market genius.  Already he had built boats and made a threshing machine which was a constant source of wonder to the rest of the community who had never seen or heard of threshing done by any other means that the flail.

These were the days when men did not wait for, or even expect, government or county council grants towards public amenities.  if they felt that certain things were necessary for their social and spiritual welfair, they did the best they could for themselves with the means at their immediate disposal.

Under my father’s direction the good folk at Kinlochresort planned to build a schoolroom with suitable accommodation for the teacher attached. The first task was to collect stones and clay.  Everyone gave freely of his time and labour; it was a labour of love.  In a remarkably short time the walls of the clay biggin were up to the necessary height and ready for the hand of the carpenter who in this case was my father himself.

Every bit of wood used in the building was collected on the shores of Lochresort and the Ardmore and sawn in a saw pit beside the school.  Benches, forms, doors, windows and furniture were all made by my father who all through had been the driving force and ruling spirit of the whole enterprise.

As several Scarp families moved into the area, the roll peaked at 25.  However it dwindled thereafter and oral tradition says this school closed in 1902, when the Mackenzie family moved to Uig Lodge estate and their children went to Crowlista School.  The Luachair school was used as a reading room and church meeting house and fell into disrepair; in the 1930s it restored at the instigation of Rev Macleod of Tarbert, and in 2006 was still in reasonable condition, though the settlement is long deserted.

After the Luachair school had closed, Calum and Catherine Macdonald lived at nearby Crola.  When their daughter Kate reached school age, she went to live with her father’s three married sisters in Scarp and attend school there.  After her mother died, when she was seven, she returned home to help look after her younger brother Murdo.  As only two, they did not qualify for a side school, so Kate taught her brother to read and write, as she had learned in her few years in Scarp.  Murdo Crola was a voracious reader and studied many subjects; he took his exams at the Nicolson and passed five highers without ever having had a day’s formal education.  Murdo had hoped to enter Divinity College but died in 1939.