Whisky Galore at the Upper End

From an Uig News series of articles about beachcombing, by Dave Roberts.

The variety of things that washed up is quite incredible, and unexpected. In 1924, long before “The Politician” sank off Eriskay, “Saltier” (Malcolm Buchanan) from Brenish, disappeared for three days. He was eventually discovered down by the curing houses, sleeping soundly alongside a 40-gallon drum of extra strong whisky. It should have been diluted at two or three to one, but Saltier hadn’t bothered with that.

Another drum was washed up at Husinish opposite the village on Scarp, and although it had been identified, the Scarpachs had not got around to removing it from the beach. Someone had died on the island, and an all night wake was taking place. If the drum was not above high water mark, then it was fair game, so a clandestine expedition was mounted from Breanais. “Teaghlach” (Donald Macaulay) of number 19, “Sheocan”( John Maclean) of number 3, the Morrison brothers of No 20 (John “Scundar” and Norman “Block”) and Murdo Buchanan, rowed out at night to recover the whisky. As they neared Scarp the oars were wrapped in sacking to muffle the sound. When they landed, they laid their jackets on the ground, and rolled the drum over them down to the waiting boat. And not just a drum of whisky went missing that night – five or so bannocks, newly cooked by Sheocan’s wife, also disappeared in the early hours. The contents of the newly acquired drum, was rapidly transferred to any containers they could find, and hidden, but the empty drum was just left lying around. There were a few sore heads the next day, but mainly the spirit was kept for weddings, funerals and for medicinal purposes.  There is a suspicion to this day that not all the 1-gallon and 5-gallon, stoneware jars were recovered, and that some still lie buried somewhere. So if you see a bodach furiously digging on the Breanais moor, you can be sure its not peat that he’s after.

There is word of another drum coming ashore that was found by a bodach. He was hoping for a finder’s reward, and so he reported it to the authorities. In due course an official arrived, struck the bung from the drum and the amber liquid poured out onto the ground, until eventually all that was left was the delectable smell. The excise man got into his car and drove off. As the dust settled, the bodach could be seen staring at the damp patch, his head shaking in disbelief. His pockets were empty, for there was no reward.

Yet another drum is said to have washed up on Mangersta shore. Fearful of the contents (after all, it could be poisonous) they decided to try it out on a very old cailleach, who was presumably expendable. She took a full tot, and promptly fell to the ground in a faint. They were aghast at what they had done – she was surely dead, but no, she was still breathing. Eventually she regained consciousness, declaring that it was a powerful dram and promptly took another. The bodachs were made of sterner stuff, and took quite a few before they all ended up in much the same condition as the cailleach.