The Royal Mail came by creel

From an article in Tional – May 1992
The history of the delivery of mail in Pairc is a story of considerable achievement by the handful of men and women whose determination, vigour and sense of purpose enabled their small, remote communities to receive the advances in communications offered by the Post Office in the second half of the last century.
The role of the redoubtable Ishbel Nicolson, Calbost, in pioneering the postal service in Lochs as it opened up new frontiers to reach more and more people stands out as a tribute to her resourcefulness, enterprise and ingenuity at a time when women were not generally expected or encouraged to play a prominent part in the day to day life of their communities.
Mail Deliveries in Pairc

Much more so than nowadays, women were left to tend to the family’s needs, rear children, manage livestock and perform some of the more burdensome and unpleasant tasks associated with the crofting way of life.
Ishbel, or Belle as she was known, was the daughter of Murdo Nicolson (Murchadh Dh’ol Thormoid), of Calbost, and she had gone over the Loch to Crossbost in the late eighteen sixties on her marriage to Kenneth MacKenzie (Coinneach Ledidh), 28 Crossbost, who had recently returned home from service with the Hudson Bay Company in Canada.  Over the Loch (null air a loch, or thall air a loch) were commonly used phrases of the day which have now fallen into disuse, signifying the close bond of friendship that existed between the inhabitants of the villages that existed on both sides of Loch Erisort and the harmonious social interchange that prevailed when only a short sea crossing separated them, compared with the long, winding stretch of road that served to isolate the communities from each other from the late nineteen twenties onwards.

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Roads in Pairc,1900

A report of a meeting about roads in the Pairc district, held 15 January 1900. From the Stornoway Gazette, 27 January 1900.
A large meeting of crofters, cottars and fishermen from the townships of Lemara, Gravir, Calbost, Marivig, and Cromore in the district of Park was held on the 15th inst. in the Cromore Schooolhouse. Captain Macfarlane, Marivig, was in the chair. The meeting was opened with prayer by the Rev. J. Macdougall. The Chairman, in an able and clear speech, stated that it was a well-known fact to them all that the Lewis District Committee have unanimously been of the opinion that the best way of making roads in the Park district was to construct a main road from Cromore to Gravir, with the intention of ultimately extending it to Lemara, with branches to Marivig on the left and Garyvard on the right. It was also stated that the District Committee were fully under the impression that they had the unanimous consent of the people in favour of the above route, until they heard from Colonel Gore-Booth recently that a numerously-signed petition had been sent out from certain townships against the route proposed by the Committee, and in favour of another route along the coast from Cromore and passing through Marivig and Calbost to the lower end of Gravir, and recommended by Captain Andrews as the result of his visit to the place last harvest. It was explained to the meeting that the main object of their being called there that day was to find out whether the petitions referred to by Colonel Gore-Booth were genuine or not.

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The Best Kind of Education

The Angus Macleod archive, now accessible to everyone at the Ravenspoint Centre, Kershader, South Lochs, contains much material on the early history of education in Lewis, and particularly the Pairc area where the late Angus ‘Ease’ Macleod was born at Calbost in 1916.  Visitors can read about the first parish school of Lochs established in Keose in 1796, the Gaelic schools opened in Gravir, Marvig, Loch Shell, Cromore, and Kershader between 1822 and 1832, and the five schools in South Lochs following the passing of the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 which once had over 500 pupils under the age of 14!
But perhaps the most memorable item on education in the archive is the following short story told in Angus’s own words and written in his own hand:
‘They say that the home is the main and best source of education. For some unknown reason the following incident which happened to me while I was still a very small boy of probably five or six years old remains in my memory as vividly as the day it happened about 80 years ago. Certainly, I was not more than seven years old, because my grandfather, John Macleod, died in 1924.
My paternal grandparents’ thatched house was close to our own house and there was as usual a small window at the top of the wall in the thatch in the byre end of the house, consisting of a single pane of glass of about one foot square. Probably it was a portable window for the purpose of letting the hens in and out of the byre (uinneag nan cearc).
Boys will be boys, and idle hands are mischievous hands. Seemingly I felt challenged to aim a stone at this window. It took me quite a while and a lot of stones before I eventually scored a direct hit and crashed a stone through the glass. It was then that I realised my guilt and the folly of my action, and I ran to hide under the nearby rock, much the same as the story of Adam and Eve.
After a suitable while I innocently popped my head up to see if all was clear, and lo and behold, there was my grandfather, a tall quiet dignified man, reputed to be an unusually strong person. There was nothing for it but to face the consequences. To my surprise he did not scold me as expected, but said quietly: ‘Angus, you should not have broken the window.’
Then we both walked away silently. That was my first and abiding practical moral lesson in right and wrong. The old man was then over 80 years, an experienced man. As a young Gaelic speaking child whose mother passed away when he was very young, he emigrated to Canada, in the service of the Hudson Bay company.He used to say he learned to read his Bible sitting under a tree in Canada. In his old age he was a man of the Book and read it regularly and preached from it as a local Church Elder in the Village Prayer House both on Sunday and weekday prayer meeting.’
The above extract from the Angus Macleod archive is reproduced by kind permission of Angus’s family. The archive has been made available to the public at the Ravenspoint Centre, Kershader, South Lochs as part of a project led by The Islands Book Trust and Comunn Eachdraidh na Pairc.

The Fireman in Southern Park, 1887

by Angus ‘Ease’ Macleod, Calbost and Marybank.
Even now, more than a century after the event, the people of Lochs still talk about the body that was discovered in Southern Park on 2nd August 1887. The body, and his grave, are normally referred to as that of “the stowaway” or “the fireman” to this day, and there are only a few people still left in Lochs who know the story of the stowaway.
However, his death is registered and there is no doubt that such a person existed, even though the details of who he was or where he came from is not known. His death is noted in the register on January 1888 as an unnamed man about 30 years old whose body was found at “Colbal Hill” in Southern Park on 2nd August 1887. He is referred to as “the fireman”.
At that time people were under the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the law of the land required that human remains be buried near where they were found. Probably that is why there are single graves to be found here and there. There is a grave on the writer’s croft called “Donald’s grave” and no one knows who Donald was.
It is said that Joseph Platt who took over the tenancy of the sporting estate of Pairc in 1886 when the Park Sheep farm was converted into a Deer Park, made enquires with a view to identify the remains. He approached the Federation of Shipping to see if they knew of any ship that might have been in the vicinity of Pairc at that time.
They were not aware of any ships being there and in the circumstances Mr Platt provided a coffin for the remains and gave it a decent burial where he was found, not far from Buthinish/Gearraidh-Riaghsaigh near the southern shore of Loch Shell, not far from the Black Burn. The grave is marked with two cairns of loose stones, one at each end of the grave. The place is well known to gamekeepers and others who move about that district.

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An Island Dresser

The following account of a traditional dresser is taken from a publication by The Islands Book Trust ‘Back to the Wind, Front to the Sun’, a richly illustrated description of croft housing by Caroline Hirst based on the collections of the late Angus ‘Ease’ Macleod of Calbost, South Lochs. The book was launched on 18 October 2005 when Professor Jim Hunter gave the second annual Angus Macleod memorial lecture in Pairc school, Gravir.
On entering the living room (aig-an-teine), the most prominent piece of furniture would have been the dresser, which stood against the wall facing the central fire. It acted as both a work area for the housewife and a display area for the family’s precious items of china and other cherished items collected on travels away from the croft. The standard Highland design of dresser consisted of a base with either a two-door cupboard or an open area with a place to store large pots, above which would have been two drawers. The top of the dresser base would have acted as a work area for baking and the preparation of food. The display area was in the form of a plate rack, which sat above the base with three or four shelves. A distinctive feature of Scottish dressers is that each shelf incorporates a rail against which the plates lean and also prevents them from falling off.
Their leaning position would have also stopped the soot, which accumulated from the peat smoke, from collecting on the face of the plates. Like the box beds, the top of the dresser incorporated a sloping top, a further design feature to protect drips from the roof and soot spoiling the display area. On a regular basis the dresser would be taken outside and scrubbed, which over time gave it a bleached appearance. It was also a common practice to decorate the edges of the plate-rack shelf edges with lengths of scalloped newspaper as Angus showed in a photograph taken by himself of a fine example of a Lewis dresser from the Calbost Collection whilst still in Calbost.
Angus made in depth notes about this particular piece of furniture:

It is a typical Lewis dresser which I found in Calbost. It has two drawers and two cupboard doors in the bottom part. The top and bottom parts are constructed separately and then married together into one unit by the two arm boards at each side. There were three shelves, which were used in a practical way to hold dishes (as well as a display cabinet). The large plates at the top, then the medium plates in the centre and the small plates in the lower shelf. Eggcups, salt and other nick-nacks were placed on the two top shelves including ornaments. On the lower shelf the big bowls and very often the small ones were placed on top of the big bowls. The surface of the bottom part of the dresser was the working top where the housewife prepared the food in conjunction with the table. The food was served from the working top of the dresser and after the meal the dishes were washed at the dresser and put away, in other words the dresser functioned as a kitchen.
All crofts had at least one domestic cow and very often two. The domestic cow was a form of factory. It produced in the first place milk from which a variety of other items of food were generated such as cream, crowdie, sour milk and buttermilk. Jugs and bowls were therefore used extensively and the milk itself was set in basins of white and brown clay in the bottom part of the dresser and in a portable cupboard. You will see the jugs on the inner side of the working top of the dresser.
You will see a large ‘ashet’ or blue tray in the centre of the dresser. That blue traditional pattern was used as the crockery of almost every house. Once the girls began to follow the fish gutting round the Scottish and English ports, they brought home with them nice ornamental glassware and many other trinkets, very often stating ‘A Present from Wick or Yarmouth.’ There are some such items in the Calbost Collection.
Do not overlook the Bibles on the right hand side of the dresser surface, the clock that was my Grandfathers, was bought in 1896 for 7/6, which today would cost £37.50 and is still going. Also the English lever breast watch and chain belonged to the man of the house when duly dressed. Hanging on the left of the dresser is a small period shaving mirror.  It was common for the dresser top to be decorated with ‘scalloped’ newspaper edging.

The GAMA Award, 2009

The Gatliff Trust and the Angus Macleod Archive have combined forces to establish the GAMA (Gatliff Angus Macleod Archive) award, offering funds to a student or researcher at a British college or university for the summer of 2009.
The purpose of the award is to encourage research on an aspect of history, geography, culture or environmental studies, relevant to an appropriate area of the Western Isles. One successful applicant will receive a stipend and accommodation at one of the Trust properties and the resulting work will be published. For details and to apply, see the GAMA Award website; deadline for applications, 31 March 2009.
Herbert Gatliff (1897-1977), a pioneering member of the Outdoor Movement, was keen to see people, particularly the young, visit the Outer Hebrides. This enthusiasm led him to establish, in these Scottish islands, a network of crofters’ hostels which continues to thrive. Angus Macleod (1916-2002), born in Calbost in the South Lochs area of the Isle of Lewis, created a remarkable collection of material relating to many aspects of local life. This is now stored in the Angus Macleod Archive, housed at the Ravenspoint Centre, Kershader, close to his place of birth.

Memories of Caversta

Reminiscences of Ruaraidh Rob Mackinnon, 2 Garyvard, who was born in Caversta in 1909. Translated by Elizabeth MacGowan from the articles in Tional in 1992/93
It was from Cluthar in Harris that the Mackinnons on my father’s side came. Domhnull Mhaoil Domhnaich came to work in Crobeg. At that time, Caversta, Torostay, and Orinsay belonged to Crobeg. When crofts were allocated in Caversta, one of Domhnull’s sons, Ruairidh (my grandfather) got No 4.
I remember an old ruin in Caversta on croft 2 that belonged to my grandmother’s family. It is known as “Tobhtag Nic Ailean”. Anna Macsween was her correct name. She also worked in Crobeg. She originally came from Harris. I remember the ruin still with a roof on it. Many an hour myself, Nobles and Louis Fhearchair spent there. It was there that the local bull was kept. Many a night I tumbled over him making my way home in the dark. If they had not brought him in, he would lie on the road that was going down to our house.
Anna Macsween was a poor woman. I remember my father saying that when the men were landing their catch from fishing, that her share would be allocated before the share of the crew. There was another lady in Caversta called Raonaid, but she must have been there long before Anna, as her ruin had fallen down in my time.
There was another man in Caversta called Fearchair. He had a big house. It was built during the time of the fishing. It was Ruairidh Cubar from Keose that built it. They had collected all the stones for it before they left for the fishing, and the house was built by the time they came back. He got paid around four pounds for building it. I have never seen such beautiful stonework; he was a wonderful stonemason. He was well respected in those days. The house was about thirty feet long, and had a stair in it as well. Fearchair had a big family of ten, and some of them are still living.

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Rockfishing in Calbost

Written by Iain Sheonaidh Alasdair (John A. MacKenzie), Calbost. Photo by Iain MacArthur.
Rock fishing loomed large in our childhood and teenage years in the long summer and early autumn weeks that seemed to last forever.
Growing up in Calbost in the 1940s and 1950s, we got to know intimately the rocks and perches stretching north and north-west from the mouth of Loch Odhairn to Mol a’ Gho.
The catch depended on a good bit more than chance. The state of the tide, the time of year, the set of the wind were all factors to be weighed in the balance. Also, the kind of fish one optimistically hoped to catch was another consideration in deciding the rock to try on a particular evening.

Some of the rocks were relatively easy to get to, others were not. You could more or less walk onto the Creag Ruadh (just north of Mol an Eich) but to get onto the Corran (the northern point of Bagh Mor an Eich) was a different kettle of fish altogether.
As you descended to the Corran, you had to negotiate a steep slope, overlooking a fearsome, vertical drop of many metres into the sea, made slippery and treacherous by grass and loose stones. To pause mid-way down to look at the boiling sea below was not recommended. Once safely down, however, the fishing was often first-class. It was one of our great favourites for large lythe.
The tackle we used was, by modern standards, primitive but surprisingly effective. A bamboo rod (from Buth Thearlaich – Charlie Morrison’s) of 12-15 feet long, strong twine, nylon weed, swivels and either a haddock hook for fish like saithe or a much larger one for lythe. Bait was either par-boiled limpets or strips of mackerel or herring. Although the mackerel is more or less as oily as the herring for some strange reason, fish preferred herring.

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Kirsty & Alasdair

Kirsty agus Alastair, Gubh Gradh Innleachd – as told by Angus Macleod, Calbost and Marybank.
Usually there was a moral to the stories told in the village Ceilidh House and romance had a prominent place on the agenda. The following story is true….
In the mid 1850s parents took a keen interest in their daughters’ choice of a prospective husband and if he did not meet with their approval, they withheld their consent to marriage, and very often nominated a candidate of their own choice. Usually the young ladies had no alternative but to suppress their amorous feelings and gracefully accept the choice of their more mature and wise parents? Obviously it worked well because divorce was unknown.
Some of the young ladies however, had a mind of their own and they were not always prepared to accept their parent’s choice. One such young lady was 21 year old Kirsty Macaskill, 17 Gravir, who was born in 1836 (Kirsty Dhomhnuill-a-Phiobair) she was not prepared to substitute her own lover, Alistair Macleod, Marvig for her parent’s choice of Norman Matheson, Gravir, nicknamed ‘Cigar’. Her parents, and particularly her mother, Anna Bard, who was a formidable lady, a daughter of Iain Mhurchaidh Bhard, Gravir, forbade Kirsty to associate with Alastair from Marvig anymore.
Undaunted by the opposition of her large family of both parents and her six brothers, (her two sisters, Mary and Margaret were on her side). She and Alastair set about secretly planning to elope and be married at the nearest Church at Crossbost in 1856. As there were no roads in Lochs at that time they needed to arrange for a boat and crew to take them to Crossbost.
Kirsty would also need to plan her escape from home without raising undue suspicion and it was here that she needed the cooperation of her 24 year old sister Mary who was unmarried and living in the family home. Her older sister, Margaret who was born in 1831, was already married to Alastair Maclennan, Alastair Dhonnachadh, 18 Marvig.
It was customary at that time for young folk to go to the peat banks on the moor daily, first thing in the morning to bring home a creel or bag of peats because there were no roads and no tractors. Kirsty and Mary were in the habit of going to the moor for creels of peats each morning, and they conspired to pass out secretly, some of Kirsty’s clothes through the bedroom window (unnag-na-culaist) each morning to the other girl who would hide the clothes in her creel and carry them out to the peat-stack on the moor, awaiting the appointed day of elopement.
When eventually, all the arrangement were ready, including Kirsty’s clothes, and a boat and a stalwart crew of young Marvig men, ready waiting at the departure point at Leck-Dubh with Marvig Bay, the girls got up early as usual and went off with their creels to the moor, ostensibly for the usual daily quota of peats, only this time they knew they were going to race over the moor to Marvig where Alastair and his team were waiting to whisk the Bride and Groom off in a boat to Crossbost Church to be married by Rev Robert Finlayson Free Church Minister of Lochs.

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Fishing at Cromore

by Angus “Ease” Macleod, Calbost and Marybank.
Fish was the staple diet of Cromore people and this made the sea of prime importance. Inland lochs were used for trapping fish and it is believed that Lochs Beag and Mor nam Bodach were used for this purpose. Both lochs have stone dams and at high-water flood-tides, the sea brought fish into the lochs where they were trapped when the tide ebbed. On the seaward side (east) of Loch nam Bodach Beag, there is a stone wall built across that acts as a fish trap – known as a carraidh. You can wade in this loch at low tide and catch fish quite easily.With the introduction of nets, sailing boats fished the fertile waters of Loch Erisort for all types of fish. Herring was the most plentiful and easy to catch. Due to this, a herring curing station and salt house was set up on the foreshore. The men folk did the fishing and the women the gutting, salting and barrelling. The remains of the curing house at Buale Fhairinish can still be identified above the foreshore where there is a large and level area now covered in grass.

The cairn in the Crossland Island was used as a marker for the sail boats tacking into the loch and the bay was used as an anchorage for boats waiting to discharge their catch. Local tradition suggests that the island originally had a cross mounted where the stone cairn is today and that it was thrown into the sea when the area moved away from the Catholic faith.
Cromore Bay itself is a very safe harbour with the encircling arms closing the bay off, except from the north at the mouth of the bay. Flat and white fish such as plaice, haddock and whiting were fished on small lines baited with mussels found in abundance on the shoreline. Cod, ling and eels were fished on great lines, salted and dried on the flat rocks on the shore. Marker cairns were built on other hilltops and islands to guide boats home and to act as markers for the fishing grounds.
Shipwrecks and drownings were sadly very common, bad weather and the numerous reefs on the coastline being the chief cause. Brothers’ Reef is named in memory of three local brothers after their boat was wrecked there and all drowned. This was one of the most dangerous, as it is covered from half to high tide. The brothers’ bodies were later recovered and are buried in the Temple graveyard. Between the 1st and 2nd World War, there were two trawlers and seven drift net fishing vessels operating out of Cromore.
Over the years, the following boats fished out of the village:
Safeguard, skipper Murchadh Dhomhnaill Ruaraidh, Murdo Macleod (Dick), 26 Cromore.
Thistle, Iain Beag Iain ‘an Oig, John Macleod, 24 Cromore.
Kilravock Castle, Seonaidh Ruadh, John Kennedy, 4 Cromore.
Cherry, Domhnall Alasdair Mhoir, Donald Macleod, 11 Cromore.
Spray, Fionnlagh Sheonaidh, Finlay Smith, 15 Cromore.
Aurora, Iain Mor Sheonaidh, John Smith, 16 Cromore.
Ebenezer, Murchadh Fhearghais, Murdo Macleod, 21Cromore.
True Love; Dochas; Columbine; Star of Hope; Cailleach; Oidche; Constant; Good Hope; Dove; Violet; Village Maid; Isa; Wood; Spray; Ripple; Willena.

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