Tuesday 23 August 2011

Storm-bound on Mingulay

Ruairidh an Rùma / Roderick MacNeil
A topic and a name mentioned previously in this blog is that of Carmichael’s visit to  Mingulay and also that of the tradition bearer Roderick MacNeil, styled Ruairidh an Rùma (c. 1790–1875), so-called ‘from a hogshead of rum he found on the shore and from the contents of which he nearly died’. Alexander Carmichael visited the remote island of Mingulay on more than one occasion and in September 1871 he found himself there in company of his folklore mentor, John Francis Campbell. Whilst storm-bound for a three whole days, Campbell took the opportunity to sketch MacNeil and Carmichael wrote down some traditions from this excellent tradition bearer. An account written by Campbell says ‘Rory Rum the story man about 85 the best climber in Minglay till he got past work…He never wore shoes or stockings, never had a bonnet on his head till some years ago and how is crippled by the Rheumatism and stoops over a longs stick.’ MacNeil’s knowledge of birds, their habitats and behaviour must have been phenomenal given his many years of actively taking part in bird-fowling. Here is but one example that Carmichael noted down from MacNeil’s recitation about the langaid or guillemot:

Incident in Langai[d] – bird life. A Lang[aid] came
with a siolag and herring and left these with its
peite and left. Another came with the same
to its own peite which was young. The big
pet did not con[sume] what was given it and the
parent bird of the little pet with [went] over
and took the siol[ag] and the her[ring] over to its own pet
and left. The par[ent] bird of the big pet re[turned] and
foun[d] that its pet had nothing. The pet and
bird chattered for a moment after
which the pa[rent] bird went over to the small pet
took it up in its bill gave it a fierce shake
and threw it with the pre[cipice]! An old wom[an]
in Miulay has a pet gull 7 ye[ars] It goes am[ong]
all the house[s] in the place can un[derstand]
all said to it – and do what is said to it.

CW114/41, f. 67v.
Image: Ruairidh an Rùma as sketched by John Francis Campbell. Courtesy of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland (NLS Adv.MS.50.4.6, f. 119v).

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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). [© carstenflieger.com]