Thursday 7 April 2011


Common Grazings, South Uist
Yet another anecdote, written on 15 December 1894, from the pen of John Ewen (Iain Eòghann) MacRury from Torlum, Benbecula, concerns ‘souming’, the agricultural practice of enumerating the type of stock that an individual croft is allowed to have on the common grazings. As previously noted in this blog, Alexander Carmichael had been commissioned to write a report for the Napier commission about Hebridean agricultural practices and customs and one part of this picture was the topic of common grazings. It is interesting to note that these varied from place to place and from one landlord to another for in 1810 Lord MacDonald and MacCoinnich Bodhar of Lewis introduced new rules whereas Clanranald had no souming until 1820. MacRury states that in 1830 his grandfather had to send five heifers to Barra from North Uist because of a disagreement over souming rights. It also seems as if the system was open to abuse as in the case of Mull people taking advantage over grazings near Ben More, South Uist.

When a cow reached
ten years, a quoy
calf was not counted in soum
ing till she was
four years old so
as to keep the
“leibhidh” in full. The “leibhidh”
was kept in full
in the Long Island
till about the year
1810, when Lord –
MacDonald and Mac
Coinnich Bodhar
of Lewis introduce
ed new rules of sou
ming on their estates
Simply for to get
more money out
of the tenants.
Clanranald had
no such souming on
their extensive till
1820. But those
tacksmen who held
ground under the
Still-bow tenure
could do as they
pleased with their
own subjects.
My grandfather
in 1830 had actually
to send five heiffers
to Barra from
Carinish North Uist
as Lord MacDonald
would not grant
on any account graz
ing to any person
and not only that
but other tenants
who was short
of full souming were
strictly prohibited
from giving it for full
value to their neigh
bours. The generous
laird of Barra gave
pasture to MacRae
& Cameron also
other two tenants
in the township of
Carinish. Beinn-
Mhor a chinn-a-
deas, was open
to all, even people
from Mull used
to send cattle &
horses there and
take them away
without paying
a fraction for
them. The curtail
of the Common
in the Long island
was the first attempt
to saddle the indu
strious natives.
Under these circumsta
nces the tenants who
were unsuccessful in
rearing stock were not
benefited, and those who
were more lucky were
handicaped in increase
ing their fortune in
an honest way. To put
it in the plain word
of one of their sons
deceased twenty years
ago, Mhill iad (“na
h’ uachdaran) a chuid
a b’ fhearr dheth ’n tuath
’s cha do mhathaich
iad a chuid bu m[h]iosa.”

Carmichael, Alexander, ‘Grazing and Agrestic Customs of the Outer Hebrides’, The Celtic Review, vol. 10, no. 37 (1914), pp. 40–54; vol. 10, no. 38 (1914), pp. 144–48; vol. 10, no. 39 (1915), pp. 254–62; vol. 10, no. 40 (1916), pp. 358–75.
CW1/55, ff. 19r–22r
Image: Common Grazings, South Uist.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]