The Megantic Outlaw: the Show, in Uig 14 July

The Megantic Outlaw
O an strì ann an tìr a phailteis,
O am fallas, o am fuachd,
Cha robh cùisean mar bha dùil seo idir
Le olc is aingidheachd is cruas.

— Tìr a Phailteis, Calum Martin

The Megantic Outlaw, Donald Morrison, is a folk hero in Quebec and Uig alike and his story is well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. The ruins of his grandfather’s blackhouse can still be seen in Kneep, on the hillside behind the machair and Loch nan Cuilc, but the family left for Quebec, where they settled near Lake Megantic and where Donald was born, their youngest son.

This year, as part of the Hebridean Celtic Festival, local musician and teacher Calum Martin is bringing his Gaelic folk-rock song cycle based on the Megantic Outlaw’s life, to Uig and Stornoway. The story follows the family’s voyage from Lewis, their hardships in the new land, and Morrison’s ten months on the run until his capture, imprisonment and eventual demise.

For this show Calum has brought together an amazing cast of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic featuring Fraser Fifield (Sax/Whistles), Graeme Stephen (guitars), Bobby Millar (bass guitar); from upstate New York by way of Nashville Tennessee, Peter Young (Drummer/Producer) from Nashville, Scott Neubert (guitars/dobro/banjo/mandolin) and from Lewis Andrew Yearly (keyboard/accordion) and Calum’s own daughter Isobel Ann Martin (vocals).

Tuesday 14 July 2009 at Uig Community Centre, 8pm
Wednesday 15 July 2009 at An Lanntair, Stornoway, 7.30pm

Tickets from the Hebridean Celtic Festival box office (online, from 01851 702333, or on Saturdays 11-4 from the office in Stornoway, and a little nearer the time from us Uig Museum in the community centre) for this and all the other Festival gigs. Calum Martin also wrote and performed the new Festival anthem, Blue on Green, which is available as a free download from the Festival website (and playable here – click the arrow.)


And now for the Megantic Outlaw’s story, from the CD insert; the Gaelic follows the English version. Song titles are in bold and the full text in Gaelic and English, plus more audio samples, are at the Megantic Outlaw website. (It’s worth noting that the double-crosser, Lieut-Col Malcolm Macaulay, was also an Uigeach, apparently of a family cleared from Baile Nicol (now Ardroil) about 1840.)

* * *

Donald Morrison was born in the township of Megantic, Quebec in the year 1858, the youngest son of Scots immigrant parents. Years earlier Murdo and Sophie Morrison had been driven by hardship from their native Hebridean Island of Lewis and forced to set sail on The Ship of Hope for a new life in Canada. Building a new life was not so easy for the new immigrants, not only did they have to overcome a harsh environment but deceit and injustice were rife in this Land of Plenty.

Being the youngest, Donald was the last to leave the family home. Like many of his generation, he headed westward to seek his fortune, working as a cowboy, and he became used to the freedom of the wide open spaces, and from this work, sent home regular contributions to help his parents re-pay the debt on the family home.

On The Journey Home after 7 years toil, he fondly imagines that by now the debt must be about paid. To a Lewis man, like Donald’s father, Murdo, a man’s word is his bond; he had paid off the family debt with no thought of written receipt, but Macaulay, the unscrupulous money-lender, denied receiving the payments, had the Morrison’s evicted from their home, and after The Deceit sold it off to a Frenchman. After trying in vain to obtain justice through the courts, Donald is left with nothing but deep anger and bitterness.

Donald Maciver and An Ataireachd Àrd

Donald MaciverDonald Maciver was born in Crowlista in 1857, son of John Maciver, the Gaelic schoolmaster and missionary, and they lived in Ness and then South Lochs.  Donald also became a teacher, at Lemreway (see the school log), Breasclete and latterly Bayble.

The family had come from Carnish, just across the sands, which had been cleared in the early 1850s.  Donald would spend a lot of time in Crowlista with his maiden aunts, Mary, Ann and Effie, who were very enterprising.  Effie used to take a passage to Glasgow, with tweeds and eggs to trade for goods which she sold on her return to Uig.

Donald composed An Ataireach Àrd when he was visiting in Uig accompanied by his uncle Dòmhnall Bàn Crosd, who had had left Carnish in 1851 for Canada.  While they were walking around Carnish, long cleared of all inhabitants, the uncle remarked, “Chan eil nìth an seo man a bha e, ach ataireachd na mara.”

On being asked later about his inspiration, Donald said, “An Ataireachd Bhuan, or the everlasting blustering of the sea on the sands of Uig.  Hero, Donald Ban, an uncle on a visit from Canada.  Scene, Carnish Bay, which he left in 1851.  This finest pugilist in the Island of Lewis in his day shed tears this Sunday afternoon in Carnish.”  The song won first prize in the 1908 Mod.

An ataireachd bhuan,
Cluinn fuaim na h-ataireachd àrd,
Tha torann a’ chuain
Mar chualas leam-s’ e nam phàist,
Gun mhùthadh gun truas
A’ sluaisreadh gainneimh na tràghad
An ataireachd bhuan,
Cluinn fuaim na h-ataireachd àrd.

Gach làd le a stuadh,
Cho luaisgeach, faramach, bàn
Na chabhaig gu cruaidh
‘S e gruamach, dosrach, gun sgàth,
Ach strìochdaidh a luaths
Aig bruaich na h-uidhe bh’ aig càch,
Mar chaochail an sluagh
Bha uair sa bhaile-sa tàmh.

The Marquis of Stafford Sails

A further entry from the 1851 Diary of John Munro Mackenzie, enumerating his difficulties in getting the emigrants away.  They sailed first for Troon, and thence for Quebec.  It seems the Marquis of Stafford that took them to Canada was a steamer, unless the reference here refers to another boat that transfered them to Troon first (although when she first arrived in Loch Roag, Mackenzie records being on board the Marquis.)

Tuesday 20 May

Arrived at the Port of Ness at 3am having had rather a disagreeable passage from Loch Roag, there being a heavy swell, which brought on Sea Sickness among the women & children and the appearance in the morning of the decks and fore hold were anything but agreeable.

Landed at Port immediately on arrival and walked about for some tiem before any of the Emigrants appeared — Had considerable difficulty in getting the fishermen to get their boats to put the Emigrants on board the Steamer, but after losing much time & using entreaty & force by turns got the Emigrants will their luggage all in boats, but observed the first boat sent to the Steamer returning with her cargo without getting it on board — On proceeding on board the Steamer found that the Uig people had rebelled against allowing any of the Ness people on board saying that there were quite enough on board — that there being fever and smallpox at Ness they would not allow a man on board at this place — I remonstrated with them but to no effect, and the Ness men having taken fright returned to the Shore.

TB Macaulay’s Speech

On TB Day, 18 June 1929, TB Macaulay of the Sun Life Assurance Company, Montreal, visited Valtos and was presented with an illuminated address by Rev Malcolm Maclennan, on behalf of the people of Uig.  Rev Maclennan gave a speech, and TB followed, as reported by the Gazette:

Mr Macaulay, acknowledging the presentations, said it was not an easy thing to reply to such an address as he had been listening to, and to express his thanks for such as welcome as they had been kind enough to give him.  He would have been glad naturally to come to Valtos, but as he had realised the warmth and enthusiasm of their welcome he felt humbled and overwhelmed, because after all he could not help asking himself why he should be so signally honoured.  there was only one reason that would not apply to scores of other right there in that crowd, and that was that he had been blessed by providence with the means that enabled him to do some things that many others present would have been willing and glad to do if they had the opportunity.  After explaining the ways in which he had first become interested in Lewis, Mr Macaulay said that, beginning with his reply to the appeal in connection with reconstruction of the Stornoway Municipal Buildings, he got into it, and the more he got into it, the more he felt the call of the blood.  (Applause.)  And he felt that, as he had been blessed financially, he wanted to give away something, and he decided that he should give it, first, where he would be interested, and second, where it would do good.  (Applause.) 

That was the beginning of his interest in Lewis, and since then he had got in deeper and deeper, and gradually got visions of what might be done to improve conditions in the Island.  He did not need to tell them what he had endeavoured to do, for they had recounted very kindly in the Address some of the things he had done.  Scotsmen and Highlanders, and Islanders even more so, he continued, had a feeling of affection for their old home, and somehow he felt, standing in the home of the Macaulays, as if he had been there before.  (Applause.)  The place seemed to him to be inhabited by the spirits of his ancestors.  (Applause.)  These forebears of theirs had looked around on these same hills that he was looking at now, n the same scene of beauty that was all around them there.  He was really more happy than they could possibly imagine to feel that he had a claim in that place, and that he was not just like some visitor, some Englishman, looking round and saying, “This is a beautiful spot.”  So it is a beautiful spot, said Mr Macaulay, but it is more, it is your spot, and it is my spot.  (Loud applause.)

Rev Maclennan’s Speech on TB Day

TB Day:  the worthies

Pic: some of the worthies of Uig and Stornoway at the ceremony.

TB Macaulay, president of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Montreal and descendent of the Macaulays of Uig, visited Lewis in the summer of 1929 to open the new Municipal Buildings in Stornoway (replacing those destroyed in the fire of 1918) and to continue various development projects he had already begun, including the co-operative Macaulay Farm at Arnish. They arrived on 15 June and stayed at Lews Castle as guests of the community, hosted by the Provost Louis Bain and his wife; on their first night a huge bonfire was lit on Goat Island to salute them. They spent three weeks on the island, and on 18 June visited Uig on what became known as an Latha TB – TB Day.

The Gazette reported that sixty motor cars came out from Stornoway to join most of the population of Uig, and parked on the high flats above Valtos – being unable to get down the steep hill to the village. A platform had been erected, with flags and a piper, and an outdoor ceremony took place. TB was greeted by the four oldest men in the village, led by Hector Matheson (97). After a welcome from Murdo Maclean (of Uig and Stornoway), Rev Malcolm Maclennan presented TB with an “illuminated address” and made the following speech.

A Dhaoin’ Uaisil Uig! (Noblemen of Uig. Let me so address you in terms used of old by outsiders, when speaking of your ancestors.) We assemble on this familiar spot to-day to welcome a gentleman only a few ‘Knees’ (as our Gaelic idiom has it) removed from one whose hearth glowed and whose home flourished, attached to this soil – Mr T. B. Macaulay, of Montreal. (Applause.) For the honour of this day’s proceedings we are indebted to the untiring energy and organising genius of our esteemed Chairman [Murdo Maclean] – himself so well known here in his own parish – and who will be long honoured by us for having – shall I not say ? – ‘discovered’ for us our guest, and, not only for introducing him to the Island and to the parish of his forebears and of his Chief, but for having arranged his transport from Montreal so as to make Stornoway his first port of call-a singular thing in ocean travel. (Applause.) If one could dare suggest a possible improvement on what is perfect in this case, it would be to express the wish that it could have been arranged that the ‘Minnedosa’ should have made its first call in Caolas Phabaidh, in sight, if not within hail, of the old hearth of the Macaulay home.

An Saighdear Chaluim Bhain

Donald Matheson, an Saighdear Chaluim Bhain, was a son of Malcolm Matheson (Calum Bàn) of Valtos and Crowlista.  (Calum Bàn has some interesting ancestors who can be found by following the lines back via Hebridean Connections.)  Donald was born in the 1740s and joined the army, serving at the siege of Louisbourg in 1758, and later with the 78th Seaforth Highlanders in India and Ireland. He returned to Uig where he married Chirsty Macdonald and had a large family.

One of their children, also Donald, joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1815 and was offered land in Manitoba, but came back to Lewis in 1821.  He married Helen Maciver of Carnish and lived in Timsgarry until they emigrated to Nova Scotia; three of their children were born in Lewis and nine more in Canada.  After Donald Sr. died in 1831, his widow Chirsty joined the rest of the family across the sea.

The following song, An Saighdear Chaluim Bhain, is said to have been written for Donald Sr during his time as a soldier in Ireland, though whether by Chirsty is unknown.

Hi horaibhe hoirinn hoirinn
Hi horaibhe hoirinn ail
Hi horaibhe, och is eileadh
Leamsa b’eibhinn d’fhaicinn slan.

Chuir iad thu air tìr an Eirinn
‘S aotram bha do cheum air sràid
Chuir iad umad dèise an t-saighdear
Bu fhèin an diaman a-measg chàich.

Proposals for Emigration, 1851

Following his tour of the island in the spring of 1851 to assess arrears owed by tenants and determined which of them were “to be emigrated”, the Chamberlain of the Lews, John Munro Mackenzie, drew up the following memorandum (from the Acair publication of his 1851 Diary.)  Two emigrant ships, the Marquis of Stafford and the Barlow, sailed from Loch Roag in May and June of 1851.

1.  112 families have volunteerd to emigrate this season.  184 families have been told that they may avail themselves of the proposed means of emigration, which latter number are on an average upwards of £10 in arrears of Rent and the greater number of whom have not any visible means for their support till next crop.

2.  It is proposed that the emigrants shall embark during the month of May 1851 either at Stornoway or Loch Roag as may be arranged, a free passage and food during the voyage being secured to them.

3.  The locality fixed on as their destination in Qubec [sic] in the first place from when they will be forwarded to the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada, or Montreal in their option.

4.  On arrival at Qubec the ordinary Govt Tax or Head Money will be paid by the party sending the Emigrants and for which Tax the Government Emigration Agent will forward them from Qubec to the above localities where employment and land can be procured.

5.  By the summonses of removal executed it cannot be inferred that compulsory emigration is in contemplation.