MacRath Mòr in Caversta

Caversta’s claim to fame centres round the Rev John Macrae, minister of Lochs from 1857-1866.
MacRath Mòr, ‘Big Macrae’, who was a physical and spiritual giant was a household name in Scotland in the latter half of the nineteenth century , having ministered at Cross (1833), Knockbain (1839), Greenock (1849), Lochs (1857) and Carloway (1866) before retiring to Stornoway in 1871 where he preached regularly after his retirement.
Lochs (Crossbost) at that time was a congregation of around 5000 people. There were no Free Church buildings at Kinloch or Pairc in these days and with roads being few and far between in what was a large and widely dispersed area. It was with this in mind that the people of Snizort in Skye presented Macrath Mór with a yacht, The Wild Duck which was sailed to Lewis by his good friend Rev Roderick Macleod of Snizort.
This is where Caversta comes to the fore. Because of its central location ‘Gob Chabharstaigh’ became a meeting place and whenever Rev Macrae was to preach there, people came by boat from Kinloch, North Lochs, Cromore and Marvig while those from Gravir, Lemreway and Orinsay came on foot.

It is very likely that the ‘tent’ or portable pulpit, at present in the museum at Gravir was used there and there is part of a wall at number 3 in an area known as ‘Tobair na Tent‘.
Macrath Mór’s wife was Penelope Mackenzie, daughter of Captain Thomas Mackenzie, tacksman at Bayble. She is buried in Eilean Chalum Chille where the inscription on her gravestone is still legible but Macrae himself was buried at Greenock.

Unidentified – from Gravir?

This photo comes from Uig, where it was lying unidentified in the Comann Eachdraidh collection.  It’s marked on the back “M Campbell, Gravir” and there was a mark over the chap on the left.  But who was he, who are the others, what’s it doing in Uig and where was it taken?
Calum Macritchie believes that he is Murdo Campbell, brother of Mary Campbell, 13 Gravir, Mairi Dhomhnaill Ruaraidh who was married to a John Macdonald from Hacklete, Bernera.
Do you know any of the other people in the photograph?
Teen Anne from Uig has kindly solved the mystery as follows:-
“M Campbell was the late Maggie Campbell nee Saunders from 17 Valtos who married Norman Campbell who was missionary in Gravir.  Maggie supplied many of the Uig sheiling photographs in the CEU collection and I think everyone is from Uig. There should be a list of names, if not, I recognise most of them. Domhnall or Calum Beag a Creagain Mackay, 15 Valtos, Betsy Matheson nee Buchanan 7 Valtos, Catherine Smith 30 Valtos, not sure 3 Valtos or Christina Macleod 11 Valtos?, Bella Buchanan nee Smith 8 Valtos, Bell Bheag Mackay 9 Valtos and An “Eye Bheag” Buchanan 8 Valtos.”
Maggie Campbell is not in the photograph

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.

Gravir School, 1950

Donald Maciver at Lemreway School

The Lemreway school existing before 1881 was established by the Ladies Highland Association. The teacher was known as Murchadh Ban, a godly man from Uist. He was followed by Donald MacKay who afterwards went in for the ministry and served for many years as an evangelist in the Highlands and Islands. The public school opened in 1881.
The first headmaster was Donald MacIver (Domhnall Ruadh a Bhodaich Bhain), born in the parish of Uig in 1857. He left Lemreway in August, 1883 when he was appointed headmaster at Breasclete, where he remained for thirteen years. Following Breasclete he went to Bayble in 1896 and stayed there until his retirement in 1922. He is remembered today as the composer of the Gaelic song An Ataireachd Ard.
When Mr MacIver came to Lemreway he brought his sister, Margaret with him as housekeeper. His father, Am Bodach Ban, a retired teacher with the Gaelic School Society also joined them and became a leading member of the new Free Church at Gravir which opened on the first Tuesday of November 1882. Margaret later became the second wife of Kenneth MacMillan (Coinneach Dhonnachaidh). They were the parents of Angus MacMillan “The Hero of Buzancy” whose life story, written by his son the late Rev Kenneth MacMillan was published by the Historical Society in 1993.

June 7th. 1881

This school opened today for the first time by Donald MacIver, Certificated Teacher of the Third Class. The teacher after spending most of the day finding out the extent of the children’s attainments, find that the work in future will be very elementary.Of the 25 present only 12 know the alphabet properly, a few of these can read fairly number 2 and number 3 Royal Readers. Only 1 boy and 2 girls can write and the acquirements in arithmetic are equally backward.

February 20th. 1882

Opened school as usual but only 12 children came. Advised during the day by Dr. Ross to close school as Typhus seems to be raging in the district.

October 13th. 1882

Compulsory Officer was in school on Monday. He does nothing towards bettering the attendance of the school so that as far as I can see, he is, in his capacity quite useless. Everything assumes an air of indifference as far as school matters are concerned.

November 24th. 1882

I am sorry to understand that one of the pupils has died this week of the whooping cough. Had a visit on Thursday from Mrs Platt, Eishken Lodge, who was pleased to give two sewing prizes to the girls. This lady takes much interest in the industrial work of the school.

December 4th. 1882

“These certify that I am of the opinion that owing to an outbreak of measles at Lemreway, the Public School ought to be closed for a few weeks” Signed Rodk. Ross, Medical Officer for Lochs
“These certify that owing to the prevalence of whooping cough in the township of Lemreway (almost all the children being affected), I am of the opinion that the Public School in said village ought to be closed from this date till the epidemic subsides”
Signed Rodk. Ross, Medical Officer for Lochs
SCHOOL RE-OPENED 5th. January, 1883

May 16th. 1883

Of the 59 pupils on the roll a week or two ago, only 19 put in an appearance today. It is probable that not more than 2 or 3 of them will be present tomorrow.The work is over for the season; the weather is good and I can’t account for my school attendance.

June 15th. 1883

It should be remarked here that the sewing always depend on the quantity of material at sewing mistress’ disposal. Girls could never be got to take any stuff to school with them for sewing.

August 31st. 1883

School closes for 5 weeks holiday. Present teacher has bidden farewell to the scholars as he is about to leave to another school.

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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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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Kristine Kennedy delivers 5th Angus Macleod Memorial Lecture

Kristine Kennedy from 13 Orinsay was the star of a sensational evening on Thursday 23 October when she delivered the 5th Angus Macleod Memorial Lecture in Pairc School, Gravir.
Speaking in Gaelic on the subject Phairc – Sealladh Pearsanta (Park – A Personal Perspective), Kristine looked back at her childhood in South Lochs, both the hardships and the privileges of being brought up in a close-knit Gaelic-speaking community. She reviewed, with humour, songs, and personal stories, the profound social changes which have occurred over the last 30 years, one indication of which is that this article is being written in English. Here is an extract:

‘B’ e a ’ Ghàidhlig cànan na coimhearsnachd agus gu dearbh cànan na h- eaglaise. ’ Se an eaglais gu ìre mhòr a chum a’Ghàidhlig a’ dol fiù’s an uair a bha foghlam a’ cur cùlaibh rithe. Agus cha b’e bloigh Gàidhlig a bh’ innte air chor sam bith ach Gàidhlig ghlan, làidir a’ Bhìobaill. Sin agaibh dìleab phrìseil na h-eaglaise agus ann an cur a- mach na loidhne.
Luiginn aghaidh m’athair a bha na fhìor phrecentor agus aghaidhnean gu leòr eile a tha air falbh fhaicinn nam b’urra mi innse dha gun do chuir mi blasad dhe na seo air a’ CD mu dheireadh a rinn mi (CD – Dè?) agus gu bheil mi air a bhith a’ toirt an ‘style’ seinn seo air feadh na dùthcha ’s a dh’Eirinn ’ s bho thòisich an ùidh eadar-nàiseanta cuideachd air a thoirt gu ruigeas NewYork agus Alabama! ’S dòcha gu robh còir agam a ràdh cuideachd nach robh e ceadaichte neo cò-dhiù cumanta do bhoireannaich a bhith a’ cur a- mach na loidhne ged a tha cuimhne agam air ‘Small’ agus ‘AnnaDan’ ga dhèanamh corra uair mura robh fireannach a làthair sa choinneamh sheachdnach as a’ bhaile da b’ aithne seinn.
Tha an dòigh seinn seo gu mòr glaiste nam anam ’s nam chridhe ’s chaneil mi chaoidh gu bràth a’dol a dh’iarraidh leisgeul dhaoine airson a bhith a’ brosnachadh chan e mhàin fir ach caileagan gus an neamhnuid luachmhor seo a chumail beò.
Cha dean mi diochuimhn’ air a’ chiad turas a chuala mi fear dhe na h-èildearan san eaglais an Grabhair ag ùrnaigh sa Bheurla – bha mise air imrich an ceann mo chosnaidh ach a-stigh air saor-làithean. Cha robh mi riamh air facal Beurla neo seinn Bheurla a chluinntinn san eaglais againn roimhe seo ’s bha e dìreach cho coimheach dhomh – cha ro fiù’s fhios agam gu robh comas facal Beurla aige. Tha e do-dhèanta dhomh dealbh choilionta a dhèanamh air – bha an cànan fuadain seo cho mach às àite am broinn na h-eaglais seo. ’Sann ag iarraidh gu gàireachdainn a bha mi chionns’ bha suidheachadh cho annasach ’s cha b’ urra mi dìreach a thoirt a-steach.’

English Summary

Gaelic was the language of the community and indeed of the church. The church to a greater or lesser extent was central to the continued survival of the language when areas such as education turned its back on it. This was no pidgin Gaelic but the strong rich Gaelic of the Bible. That and the tradition of precenting the line is a gift of the church to us.
I would love to have seen my father’s face – no mean precentor himself – and that of many others if I could tell them the many shores to which that gift has taken me, be it Ireland or New York or Alabama. I should probably add that it was not permissible or at least not common in their time for a woman to precent the line although I do recall the odd occasion when Anna Dan or “Small” as she was known led the praise because there were no gifted singers amongst the men present at the weekly meeting.
This style of singing is close to my heart and soul and I will never apologise for promoting it amongst young boys and girls so this priceless jewel can be preserved.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard one of the elders in the church in Gravir praying in English. Having left home to earn my living I was visiting on holiday. Never having heard a word of English or of singing in English in the church before then made it a truly alien experience – I didn’t even know the gentleman in question had such a grasp of the English language. It’s difficult for me to describe the enormity of hearing this language echoing around the walls of this particular church. My instinctive reaction was to laugh… I just couldn’t take it in.
This was a speech which had it all – from Ministers to Cailleach an Deacon, “Beaver”‘and “Peggy Diry”, from the Stornoway school hostels to the Stiomrabhagh fank. And at the end of her address, Kristine looked ahead to the sort of community South Lochs is today, and what kind of community she would like it to be in the future.
Whatever lies ahead I hope that Pairc will be a community with Gaelic at it’s heart. A warm, welcoming and successful community – a place where people and young families live, work and grow up. A growing, united community, a place of natural beauty, songs and music, stories and wit, faith and freedom.

Some 100 people, locals, others from all parts of Lewis and Harris, and some who had come specially from the mainland, packed into the school on an evening of gale-force winds and horizontal rain. There was no question in anyone’s mind that it had been worth it, an evening that will live in the memory for many years.
Our thanks to everyone, too numerous to mention individually, who contributed to an unforgettable occasion. The full texts of Kristine’s lecture in Gaelic (and a summary in English) are available price £5 from Margaret Macdonald at Ravenspoint (tel 01851 880737).

November Gales of 1881

From the Scotsman, 29 November 1881:

A Hundred Fishing Boats Destroyed in the Island of Lewis

Stornoway, Thursday night: – The weather still continues stormy here, with a good deal of lightening and heavy peals of thunder at night, and occasional squalls of hurricane force. This morning, between eight and nine o’ clock, a gale blew from the south-west, and a very heavy sea was raised in the harbour.
The vessels driven ashore during Tuesday’s gale have all been got off more or less damaged, except the schooner Burncoose, of Aberystwith, with oats, and the Telegram of Stornoway, both of which were driven very high upon the beach, and will be difficult to float. The Burncoose is being discharged. The German brig Anna Sophia, whose mainmast was cut away, was towed to the inner harbour, and will be discharged here in order to be repaired.
Reports from the country districts of Lewis and Harris state that the effects of the gale have been most disasterous to houses, stacked grain, and fishing boats. In Harris scarecely a fishing boat is left undamaged. In order to show the intensity of the gale there, it is reported that a large fishing boat was lifted by the force of the wind and carried across a loch half a mile broad, without touching the water.
Telegraphic communication is still interrupted with Harris and Uist. In Lewis the effects have been most serious for the fishermen prosecuting the cod and ling fishing, which is generally commenced about this time on the east coast of Lewis, and owing to the number of boats destroyed this important industry will be seriously crippled.
At Lochs scarecely a fishing village has escaped. At Crossbost, three large herring fishing boats were damaged by the wind and waves, one of them – a decked one – being smashed into pieces. Luirbost lost seven cod and ling fishing boats, one of them being carried out to sea.
At Marnish, five large herring fishing boats, which were lashed together, were carried for some distance into the sea, but happily a projecting piece of land kept them from being carried out to sea entirely. They were all damaged.
At Gravir, twenty miles from here, one large decked herring-boat, named the Ann More, valued at £180, was carried off the beach out to sea, and was not seen again; and nine cod and ling fishing-boats were broken into pieces.
In the Stornoway district the havoc among boats have also been very great. At Knock, three boats were broken into pieces; at Sheshadir, two were blown away and smashed; At Aird Point, four boats were destroyed; and at Portnaguran, fourteen miles from here, three boats were smashed, whilst at Shadir one, and at Ganabost two boats were destroyed and broken into small pieces.
On the north side of Broad Bay, the effects of the storm were also very serious – three boats and Tongue, three boats at Vatsker, and six at Tolsta being more or less damaged. The majority of them were broken into pieces. At Carloway, on the west side of Lewis, and twenty-four miles from here, three large boats were completely smashed. There are no accounts from Uig, but at Ness the boats all escaped.
In Lewis, close upon one hundred boats have been more or less damaged, and in the most of the cases completely destroyed. The Clydesdale steamer arrived tonight. Telegraphic communication is still partially interrupted between here and Inverness.

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