Comann Eachdraichd Uig

John Munro and the Saighdeirean Mac a’ Mhinisteir

A series of articles on the Old Soldiers of Uig appeared in the Comann Eachdraidh Uig publication, Sanais, in the 1980s, from which this is an extract.

John Munro, Iain Mac a’ Mhinisteir, was the only son of the Rev Hugh Munro, minister at Bailenacille for fifty years; a son of the manse with a taste for adventure, he obtained a commission in the new battalion of the 78th (Seaforth Highlanders) raised from the Seaforth estates in 1804.  He was an ensign and his commission depended on his bringing a recognised quota of twenty men with him and from the stories extant, it is still very evident that these recruits went willingly and with confidence in his leadership.  His family had an excellent relationship with the people of the parish: Hugh Munro is still remembered for liberality to the poor and his son was to prove a good and caring officer to his men.  He had a strong bond of shared experience with them, he spoke their language and could intercede on their behalf and on one occasion he saved one of their number, Murdo Buchanan of Carnish, from execution.  Murdo was caught at inspection with his bayonet unpolished.  John Munro put forth a strong defence on his behalf, pleading his valour in the previous battle, and saved him from death.  He was also their only link with home’ he gave the battalion’s news in his letters to his father and this was passed on to the Bailenacille congregation from the pulpit.

He was promoted Lieutenant just a year after joining the regiment.  By this time the initial training at Fort George was over and the battalion was at Hythe, where they were trained in a new system of drill invented by General Sir John Moore of Corunna fame, who inspected them before they were posted for foreign service and expressed himself as highly pleased with their appearance.

They spent the best part of a year at Gibraltar and in May 1806 they were part of the expedition to Sicily and Calabria, commanded by Sir John Stuart. The Battle of Maida was fought in hot, sultry July weather and the British army were ordered to drop their equipment to fight unhampered.  It was a hand to hand fight with crossed bayonets with very little gunfire on either side.  French losses were colossal, the British buried 700 enemy dead on the battlefield, but themselves lost 44, seven of which were from the 78th.

Among those were Donald Mackenzie, Dòmhnall Alain Ruaidh, a married man with a family of four daughters whose home was on the island of Pabbay.  He was a native of Lochs but of mainland stock, a relation of Cailean Dearg, who was one of Seaforth’s officials.  His demise in foreign fields left his widow Anne Macleod on Pabbay in dire straits, lacking menfolk to man the boat.  Her army pension allowed her to acquire a holding in the old village of Gisla [her uncle Murdo Macleod, Murchadh mac Iain mhic Thorcuil, was tacksman there] and their descendents in Uig, Bernera and Canada are numerous.  Another soldier in John Munro’s battalion, Malcolm Macarthur from Bernera, was wounded but there seems to be no further mention of his service.  Malcolm Smith, Calum Gobha of Enaclete, and Murdo Macleod, Murchadh Chaluim Rhuaidh, later of Crowlista and a renowned bard, were also both at Maida.

By Open Sea from Kinlochresort

An further extract from the unpublished memoirs of Rev Col AJ Mackenzie, born Kinlochresort in 1887.  Here he tells of how the family came to be at Kinlochresort, and also how they left it for the gamekeeper’s house at Uig Lodge.  His account of the pleasures of Traigh Uig is here.

My father was a gamekeeper who worked on the Gruinard Estate (Wester Ross). It happened he had made the acquaintance of two brothers named Paget who were impressed with his qualities both as a keeper and an all round estate worker. They had taken the fishing and shooting of Barvas, in the Island of Lewis. Dissatisfied with the amount of sport they obtained and knowing that it was capable of much better showing, they asked my father if he would consider coming to Barvas with a view to trying to improve its fishing and shooting. It did not take long to make the necessary arrangements and one day the little family with all their worldy goods and chattels embarked on the good ship Ondine for Stornoway. In due course they found themselves at Barvas and settled in a modest thatched cottage there being no lodge or keeper’s house available. For five years they lived there. It was here the life long friendship began with James Young who leased the bag net fishing rights in several parts of Lewis including Kinresort.

The Pagets ultimately severed their connection with Barvas but the Lewis Estate retained my father’s services and offered him the position of keeper at Kinresort where there was a house that would more adequately meet the needs of the increasing family. The house, unfortunately, would not be available for a year. In the meantime there was the problem of where to live. This was solved by their old friend James Young who offered them accommodation in a house which he owned in Carloway in connection with his salmon fishing. Taking a few necessary pieces of furniture with them and storing the remainder in one of Young’s store house at Barvas, they proceeded to Carloway where they resided a whole year before they finally settled in at Kinresort. It was during this stay at Carloway, that the disastrous fire occurred in the store house at Barvas in which all their furniture was destroyed. The friendship with James Young continued at Kinresort.

The Education Act of 1872 was now in force and large well equipped schools with highly qualified teachers were available in many districts. One of these was in the vicinity of the extensive fishing and shooting of Uig. The head keeper here had no family and when my father suggested to him that they should together approach the Lewis Estate with a view to exchanging spheres, he readily agreed. The proposal was put to the chief authority who was known by the imposing title of the Chamberlain of the Lews.

Starting at Crowlista School

An extract from the unpublished memoirs of Rev Col AJ Mackenzie, son of the gamekeeper Roderick Mackenzie.  AJ was born in 1887 in Kinlochresort and moved with his family to the keeper’s house at Uig Lodge, where he began at Crowlista School.

In May 1892 after the spring holidays, I began my formal education. I had never been at school before except for one day at Kinlochresort when my mother sent me with the other boys thinking I would be happier at school, than alone by myself all day at home. I soon decided that I thought otherwise and as I did not show my enthusiasm to repeat the experience next day, I was not pressed to go any more. But now by law I was compelled to go to school and there was no evading it.

I set off in high spirits with the rest of the boys, buoyed up with their accounts of the joy of life at school. Hitherto I had only looked at the school from a distance and as I drew nearer I was conscious of a conflict of feelings. I began to feel that I was about to be swallowed up in something new and strange and that things would never be quite the same again. There were over a hundred pupils in the school at that time. It was in fact hopelessly over crowded, in the following year an extension was put to it, that was another thrill for us boys to see masons, joiners and painters at work.

I had never seen so many children together before, but what filled me with amazement was the amount of noise they made with their chattering. The master, obviously, had not come in yet. When he did, the scene underwent an astonishingly rapid transformation. He picked up a thick cane and gave half a dozen hard smacks with it on the blackboard. At that instance a dead silence fell on the school. I had never seen such behaviour before and I do not in the least exaggerate when I say I was not a little scared. It took me a little time to discover that our teacher, Mr Stevenson was not as terrifying a person as he appeared to be. The first day passed off uneventfully; the second was not so happy; and the third full of doubt and forebodings. The freedom I had so long enjoyed was gone unless I could do something to recover it.

The forth day was a historic one. I set out as usual with the others but when just out of sight of home I decided on my course of action. I sat down, and calmly announced to the boys that I was not going to school that day. Curiously they did not attempt to persuade me; they may have thought that a more effective authority would soon see that. The authority was soon forthcoming in the person of my mother. She evidently had a suspicion that I had something in my mind when I set out that morning, so she came out to see from the near hill if I was on my way over the moor path to school. Her unexpected appearance startled me, but in no way lessened my determination to make a bid to free myself from the obligations of school that day and for ever.

A Herring Girl from Crowlista

no images were found

An account, from the Gaelic, by Christina MacDonald, 25 Crowlista, of her memories of packing the barrels at the herring industry.  The picture above is of unidentified Lewis girls at the herring in an unknown port.

See the original Gaelic version here.

When you went to the herring for the first time, you had to be signed on with a curer. The curer would give us one pound to secure our services that was called a pledge. The first place I went was the Island of Baltey in Shetland, across the Balta Sound.

That first year I left Stornoway on the steamship for Lerwick, then a little steamboat from Lerwick to Baltey. We were lying down with seasickness. I would be lying down on the train [?] and on the steamer. Most of the other girls would be sick too – we would recognise the Shiant Isles when we reached them – every girl would then begin to vomit.

They would only give us until the morning after we arrived before they would put us to work – that being if the herring arrived. We would be setting the house in order and the dishes – our trunks would not arrive as fast as we would. We would take with us in the summer, bed clothes, a blanket, and clothes which we would wear. All of our clothes and shoes would have to be in the case. We would take things from the shops in Stornoway that would do us until we returned. It was ourselves that bought the oilskins and the shoes which we had on and leaving our names with them. Even the cloth we would put on our fingers – the strange “yellow calico” – we would bring with us.

We would stay in a wooden shed, which had a small type of stove, that’s all that was there when we arrived until they gave us things, in accordance with what they had. If it was three that was going to be in the room that was all that they would be given – maybe then we would be given a table, but we would sit on our trunks which were kept up by the end of the bed.

There were two beds in the sheds against each other. We would get coal from the master. The girls took turn about washing the dishes and preparing the food. We would buy the dishes, a mirror and a lamp when we would reach over. We would buy everything which the house needed and we’d divide it out amongst ourselves and anything that came was by luck. There was a ballot taken and if you got the dishes you had to do them.

Now, when we began working it was the boys that would take up the herring in the baskets to us and they would put them in a large box. The boys would call it “farlair”. They would fill this box with herring and one of the coopers would put salt into it as they were coming out of the barrels. When we were in England there were a type of basket – they called them swells, they made big barrels for them – they had big wide mouths on them. Two baskets went into each barrel. There was nothing on them to lift them. They went on to the trailer on the horse. There were no cars.

We were not sorting the herring but just as they came out. They were putting salt on them as they came in – no more was put onto them in the box as they took them out one by one. I was not as good at gutting as the rest that was why I became a packer. There were three of us in the crew two gutters and me packing. We would take out the guts and throw them in a box and we would put the herring aside big ones, middlesize ones and small ones- it was in the summer that we would do this. There was a herring brand in the summer the brand was going on them so that the masters would make more money on them, but there was a time of year when there was something on the herring which was making a mess of it unless they took it out. The name was “black bag” – a bulge like the sheep pile.

A Dol Chun an Iasgaich

Seo mar a dh’innis Cairistiona Dhòmhnallach, 25 Crabhlastadh mar a bhiodh i a dol chun an iasgaich na h-oige.

See the English translation here.

Nuair a bhiodh sinn a dol a dh’fhalbh chun a Sgadain airson a’ chiad uair dh’fheumadh sinn an toiseach Màighstear a lorg. ‘S e clann-nighean eile a bhiodh a dèanamh sin dhuinn. Bha sinne deònach falbh nan gabhadh e sinn ach dh’fheumadh sinn innseadh nach robh sinn a muigh a riamh. Nan gabhadh e sinn a1 falbh le ainm an fhir sin gan àite gu robh sinn a dol. ‘S ann a dh’Eilean Bhaltel a chaidh mise an toiseach. Bha am màighstear a toirt dhuinn aon not airson ar ceangal agus dh’fheumadh sinn a dhol thigesan. Sin and rud ris an canadh airlis.

Chaidh mise a dh’Eilean Bhaltey – bha Baltasound mar coinneamh. A’ chiad bliadhna ‘s ann a dh’fhalbh mise à Steòrnabhagh air a’ steamar gu Sealltainn – gu Lerwick. Bha sinn a’ faighinn steamar bheag ann a Lerwick an uairsin a dh’Eilean Bhaltey. Bhiodh sinn nar sineadh le cuir-na-mara. Bhithinn-sa ‘na mo shineadh anns an treana ‘s anns a’steamar. Bha mi fhein agus a chuid mhòr dhe’n a’ chlann-nighean eile a cur-a-mach – dh’aithnicheadh sinn na h-Eileanan Mòra a nuair a ruigeadh sinn iad – bha a h-uile tè an uairsin a tòiseachadh a’ gòmadaich.

The Hattersley Loom

Dol'ol at the loom

Dol’ol at the loom (photo by John Blair).  From an article for Uig News by Dave Roberts:

After the First World War there were ex-servicemen who had lost a hand, and one of the reasons for introducing the Hattersley domestic semi-automatic treadle powered loom to the island, was to give them an opportunity to make a living for themselves.  Originally designed for the Balkans, Turkey and Greece, these looms eventually caught on for everyone in Lewis and Harris, because of the superior speed of cloth production and the more intricate patterns they could weave. Lord Leverhulme’s interest in the industry, coupled with the serious decline of the herring fishery and the poor price of cured fish from the long line fishery, meant that weaving became a much more important part of the island economy. He had great plans to build weaving sheds close to townships to house a number of Hattersley looms. The weavers would be employed from nine to five, six days a week, weaving tweed for a wage. However this arrangement did not suit crofter-weavers, who would only weave when the croft work allowed, and the idea was eventually dropped.

Hugh Mackay, Carishader, bought the very first Hattersley loom in Uig; it was a single shuttle model. He was a marine engineer, trained in Glasgow, and could strip down the loom and reassemble it without difficulty. If he had a problem, he had no one locally to ask for advice, so he would get on his motorbike and go to Stornoway. However he admitted that quite often he had forgotten the solution, by the time he got back home! In 1936, John Buchanan of No7, Valtos, organised a meeting at Valtos school for local people. Pat Skinner from Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd was there and they arranged for Alasdair Hare from Lochs (mac piuthair Tharmoid Doinn), known as ‘am Breabadair’, to stay in the village for a few weeks. He went from shed to shed teaching as he went.

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.