The One Night Shieling

One Night Shieling

From an article in Uig News by Dave Roberts.

It appears that shielings were constructed so that one airigh could easily be seen from another, but it is said that very often the girls from a number of shielings would sleep in one building for company. The ancient shieling grounds for Brenish, Islivig and Mangersta were way beyond Raonasgail valley, in the moors north of Loch Craobhaig, at Fidigidh. The people of Carnish had their shielings by Loch Raonasgail, and at Ceann Chuisil. There are also ruins of old shieling structures closer to home, west of Mealisval, Cracaval and Laival. In the late nineteenth, and into the twentieth century, shieling activity was largely restricted to these closer locations.

About half a mile from Tealasdale is one of the shieling grounds of Old Mangersta, situated north of Ron Beag and west of Loch Faorbh. At the west end of Tealasdale is Sgorr Reamher and Bealach nan Imrich – “the pass of the flitting”, and below the Sgorr is the ruin of a very large and well built airigh. It is marked clearly on the first edition ordnance survey map. Its location is not very inviting. It is sheltered from the easterly winds but not from the southwesterlies. Even in summer the sun does not reach it until well into the day. This is Airigh na h’Aon Oidhche – “the one night shieling”.

Going to the Shieling

Emily and Effie at the Shieling

From left, Emily Macdonald Gisla, Effie Maclennan 36 Cliff, and two visitors, visiting a shieling.

From Emily’s Twenty Years of Hebridean Memories (1939) – observing from Gisla Lodge the girls going to the shielings at Airigh an Fhorsa and Bo Nighean Mhuirich.  The ones Emily mentioned visiting near Loch Coirgeabhat may be at Airigh an Uisge

Crogabhat, one of our fishing lochs, is a mile from the bungalow, and there we constructed a concrete boathouse which is useful as a lunch hut too when it is cold or wet.  About a mile beyond it are two shielings to which we occasionally make an expedition.  Shielings are small huts of stone and turf, where girls live for six weeks in the summer while herding the village cattle, brought there to feed on the fresh hill grass of the surrounding moor.  This serves a doubt purpose, as it gives the grass round the village a chance to grow, while at the same time the cattle are getting the benefit of moorland feeding.  The shielings are often as far as ten miles from the villages, and the day of migration thence is full of excitement.

Of course, we at Gisla can only guess at all the bustle of preparaton that must have gone on since the early morning, but any time after midday the first of the precession begins to pass the bungalow.  Groups of cattle of various sizes pass by, accompanied by old women and young girls, and dogs anxiously helping them with the herding.  These all turn on to the moor just beyond the boundary of our garden, and there the humans sit down to rest and await their friends still on the road, while the cattle begin to browse, and the dogs fuss around and interest themselves in canine affairs. 

After a while, a couple of boats can be seen coming up the loch, and we rush down to the shore to see the unloading.  In them are the men, with a miscellaneous collection of bedding, stools, milking pails, churns, meal bags, pots, kettles and all the paraphernalia required for a stay of some weeks on the moor.  Also a number of calves too young to walk the whole distance with their mothers and of course more dogs.  After leaving the boats, the men load the good into creels which they carry on their backs, and joining the women folk who have already arrived, the whole procession starts off for the distant shielings.  There are four lots in Uig [by this stage, when they were falling out of use], and these people I have just described have a much longer way to go than those occupying the sheilings we sometimes visit.