Monday, 30 May 2011

Plague on Mingulay

Mingulay / Miughalaigh 1888
Another short historical anecdote taken down by Alexander Carmichael probably from the recitation of Roderick MacNeil, nick-named Ruairidh an Rùma, tells of the time when plague visited the remote island of Mingulay. Although the actual word ‘plague’ is not used in the story it may be assumed that an outbreak of this or some other devastating disease took place at some point during the sixteenth century just as a similar outbreak of smallpox decimated the population of St Kilda during the late 1720s. A disaster of such a scale was bound to remembered by any of the survivors and their descendants or, indeed, by those that chose to relocate to Mingulay. MacNeil’s narrative suggests that MacPhie along with others helped to repopulate the island community as MacNeil of Barra granted them land there.

About 300 years ago ten families lived in Mi[ng]ulay
One time in win[ter] the MacNeil of the day won[dered] that he
was see[ing] no per[son] from Mi[ng]u[lay]. He sent a boats crew
to in[vesti]g[ate]. The boat came over and land[ed] and sent
up a man the name of MacPhie. When he came
to the houses which then stood on a rocky Bun[?]
N[orth] E[ast] of the pre[sent village] he found all within dead. He
ret[urned] to his com[panions] who were keep[ing] the boat. They as[ked]
him what news. I’ll tell that pre[sently] said Mac
Phi not a bone of your bone [recte: body] shall come
in till you tell us first. as he would
not do so the boat left him and ret[urned] to Cas[tlebay]
and told MacN[eil] For 7 w[eeks] no other boat was
able to come. In the mean[time] Mac[Phie] went to the
hill op[posite] Bearn[aray] where there was a hut where
the sheep shelt[ered] dur[ing] snow. He got hold
of some sheep skin and made a cov[ering]
for himself and used the fat of the sheep
when frozen as food. When MacN[eil] came fire
was set to all the huts and the dead bod[ies] were
burnt. MacN[eil] asked MacPh[ie] if he were
committed[?] an[d] live in Miul[ay]. He said he wo[u]ld
and chose 3 or 4 trust[y] frie[nds]. They built the
huts down on the stran[d] but from
this the pred[?ecessors] of the p[?opulatio]n had to remove
on acc[ount] of the en[croachment] of the sea. Ruary saw
a man to whose house the sea was
ap[proaching]. He left his old moth[er] in his [hut] and
had not got six y[ar]ds from the ho[use] when a
sea came and left not one stone.

CW 114, fos. 63r –64v.
Mingulay / Miughalaigh 1888.

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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). [©]