Weddings – Old Style

Customs associated with marriage continue to evolve and fascinate. The following extract is taken from the writings of the late Angus ‘Ease’ Macleod of South Lochs and describes typical rural weddings in the early part of the 20th century.  .
“Weddings were one of the highlights of the winter social round.  Most of the weddings were celebrated at home with an all night barn dance.  Sometimes the dance was held in the school if it was convenient.  The wedding celebrations extended over a period of weeks, beginning with the betrothal party (reiteach) or engagement party at the home of the bride.  Then the preparations for the wedding feast, when all the neighbouring women and some of the men were on hand to carry out any chores that were to be done, including the preparation of large quantities of food for the wedding feast.  After the wedding was celebrated in the time-honoured fashion, there was the house warming party (banais-taigh), which was exclusively for the neighbouring senior citizens.
Some weddings took place at the east coast fishing ports.  Practically all the young people, male and female following the herring fishing found it convenient to get married at the end of the fishing season.  On occasion, boy met girl at the fishing for the first time and one of the parties might be from another area of the island or further afield.  On one occasion in the early 1850s three men from Marvig married girls from Sutherland at the Wick fishing.  They married in Sutherland at the end of the summer fishing season and the brides came home to Marvig along with their husbands on the fishing boats.  At that time it was customary for Lewis fishing boats to go to the Caithness herring fishing every summer.  The three girls married were Barbara MacDonald from Bettyhill who married Donald Maclennan of 6 Marvig who moved to 26 Lemreway later on, and her sister Betty MacDonald, who married Alistair MacFarlane of 10 Marvig.  The third girl was Jean Munro from Melvich who married Roderick Finlayson of 8 Marvig.  They all raised large families in Lochs.

Normally, boy met girl nearer home, possibly because travelling outwith walking distance was difficult and therefore opportunities for courting girls who lived some distance away was not easy before the bicycle and car came.  At one time the Old Norwegian courting custom called ‘bundling’ (caithris-na-h’oidhche) was prevalent in Lewis.  However, among the changes that took place was the disposal of ‘leabaidh-an-teine‘, the sitting room bed and possibly that institution was among the things the bard Kenneth MacDonald laments when he says ‘a charaid dh’falbh a h’uile rud nuair a dh’falbh an cabar sùidh‘ (‘friend, everything went, when the thatched rafters went’).  Boy meets girl now-a-days in a flashy limousine with an air of prosperity that is designed to sweep her off her feet.
A story is told about a local man who set off with a companion in the usual way with a ‘pigeadh‘ of whisky to celebrate his betrothal party at Achmore, a distance of about twenty-five miles over the roadless moor.  After walking some distance the men were getting weary and they were invited into a house for a rest and hospitality.  Being a thatched house, the men left the container of whisky outside on the wall top (air tobhta an taighe).  The men were received well by the head of the house and after they were refreshed he enquired about the nature of their journey and suggested that there was no need to go further as there was an eligible young lady in the house.  All the parties agreed with the old man’s suggestion and the whisky was brought in and the betrothal celebrations commenced at once.