Thursday 21 April 2011

Captain Scott ‘Visiting’ Mingulay

As is well known the Hanoverian government, in the wake of Culloden in 1746, took some very heavy handed reprisals in order to put a stop to any future resistance from any disaffected Jacobites. One person – namely Captain Carolyn Scott – did not paint himself in glory at all for, according to oral testimony, he was a bloody and brutal man who gave but scant measures of justice to those who he had been ordered to repress in no uncertain terms:

The notorious Capt[ain] Scott came
to Mi[ng]ulay after Culloden. He got hold
of a man there Iain Mac Fhearachair ic Neill who had been in the army
of the Prince and without trial judge
or Jury hanged the man. The man whose
name was Iain Mac Fhear[achair] ic Mhur[chaidh] MacNeill
Iain mac Fhearachair ic Mhurach[a]idh ic Neill
was remarkably big and strong. When
his bones are still bro[ugh]t up they all
were large. Capt[ain] Scott and his soldiers
car[r]i[e]d them[selves] most ferociously. They
amused them[selves] by flaying the cattle
of the people alive and allowing them
then to run mad about the island.
Among the band was a High[lander] who after
the man was hanged whisper[ed] to the
peop[le] not to touch the body as Scott wou[ld]
yet return before going into the boat
and would give their houses to the flames
for the simple want [of] an excuse
The peop[le] took the advice. Scott re[turned]
from the strand but the body of the
man was where he left it so Scott
went away. The man had been
living in a cave long previous to this.

Another anecdote about Captain Scott in Mingulay stems from the pen of Miss Ada Goodrich-Freer in her rather romantic and over-wrought work entitled The Outer Isles (1904):

There was about this time a soldier, who had been in the ’15, who belonged to Mingulay. He was great-uncle’s son to Ian yonder, the son of Hamish, and he had some money, and the soldiers were coming after him. His brother advised him to put away the money in case of what might happen, but he said, ‘They’ve not done with me yet.’ However, he was surrounded by soldiers, and Captain Scott [whose name is execrated in the islands] ordered him to be shot, and he was robbed and murdered at the back of the house where the stackyard is.

The very same Captain Scott had been captured at the very outset of the ’45 Rebellion when he was captured at the skirmish known as the Battle of Highbridge (in Brae Lochaber). He was later released and, apart from his reputation for cruelty, is remembered for his successful defence during the Siege of Fort William in March 1746.

CW114/72  fos, 83v–84r.
Goodrich-Freer, Ada, The Outer Hebrides (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1904), pp. 401–02.
Mingulay and Berneray.

Monday 18 April 2011

MacNeil of Barra and Rob Roy MacGregor

One of the most renowned of the MacNeil chiefs of Barra, Ruairidh an Tartair (fl. 1634), once challenged Rob Roy MacGregor (1671–1734) to a duel. Alexander Carmichael took down this information from Roderick MacNeil or Ruairidh an Rùma, who coincidentally shares the namesake of the protagonist in this short anecdote concerning a sidelight of Highland history. Others aver that the likelier candidate for the MacNeil chief in question was rather Ruairidh Dubh, who, after hearing of Rob Roy’s prowess with a broadsword, rashly challenged him. Rob Roy was no fainting lily-livered coward and took up the challenge and as a result the MacNeil chief almost lost his arm. Despite this rather ill-starred beginning they became fast friends:

Rua[ry] an Tart[air] once went to challenge
Rob Roy. He reach[ed] his house along
with one body ser[vant]. He ask[ed] Ellen
if her hus[band] was in. She repl[ied] that he
was at a market but that he must
be coming home by this time. He i[?nquired]
were any met a batch of gent[lemen] on
the road ask[ing] if they said one with
whom he had some business to him
– Rob Roy. Yes said one of the gen[tlemen]
What’s your bus[iness]
Nist or is dileac[hd]an boc[hd] mi
Oighre dir[each] eir Ois[ein]
Bha gri inns[eadh] chruai[dh] fhortain
Do Phad[raig]

Another version of the this duel is given by Alexander MacDonald in his article about the MacNeils of Barra that appeared more than a century ago in The Celtic Review:

At another time Black Ruairidh went to try Rob Roy. When he reached the district of Rob Roy he met a little man on a horse, and the little man looked very tired. Black Ruairidh asked him where Rob Roy lived. ‘You have him here,’ said the man, ‘and he will be very glad to welcome you to the district.’ ‘Well,’ said Black Ruairidh, ‘I am MaNeil of Barra, and since I heard of your having a great name I came to try you.’ ‘I am very tired just now,’ said Rob Roy, ‘after making a great journey, and you had better dwell peacefully with me this night and we will try each other to-morrow.’ ‘Out of here I will not go,’ said Black Ruairidh, ‘till you try me.’ ‘Right enough, if that is how it is,’ said Rob Roy, coming off the horse. The heroes began at each other, and at the first beginning the top of the ear was taken off Black Ruairidh, and Rob Roy asked him if that would do. But with the way that Black Ruairidh was so full of the wickedness that had given him his name, he said it would not do. At the next draw his right arm was in two even halves above the elbow. He could not do more at that time and he yielded. Rob Roy took him home with him till his arm healed, and Black Ruairidh was as faithful a friend as Rob Roy had after that.

CW114/25, fos. 58v–59r.
MacDonald, Alexander, ‘Some Legends of the MacNeils of Barra’, The Celtic Review, vol. I, no. 3 (1905), pp. 264-67.
Sinclair, Rev. Alexander Maclean, ‘The MacNeils of Barra’, The Celtic Review, vol. III (1906–1907), pp. 216–23.
Image: Rob Roy MacGregor.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Fulling the Cloth in Mingulay

Two years in a row saw Alexander Carmichael visit the remote island of Mingulay, lying some dozen miles south of Barra. On 8 August 1867, he had the opportunity to get to know some of the islanders, especially Roderick MacNeil or Ruairidh an Rùma, mentioned previously in this blog. Such an event as a luadhadh or waulking the cloth may have been something rather unusual for Carmichael to have witnessed as it was in the main the preserve of women. Carmichael did not show any reserve and what may be taken as something he had not previously seen clearly piqued his interest. His jottings help by way of providing a context for the social setting of waulking or fulling of cloth:

Fulling at Miulay. Heard a fulling song
sung while pas[sing] a hut and went in. Found
six good looking comely girls waulking cloth
One sung the verses the rest the chorus
and all took their turn at this. All the
songs suited the body made in ful[ling] and all
to my ear wild weird and beautiful.
One was a fairy song and fairy like.
Measured the arms of two of the girls. Each
meas[ured] 11½ inches in circ[cumference] The rest seemed
to be gen[er]ally stout and yet they did not
seem to me to be any sup[erfluous] flesh about them.
The ful[ling] song com[mences] first slowly and ma[jestically]
and all keep time to this in their mov[ements].
Then it becomes ‘fast and fun till the
whole as by feel] a dif[ficulty] in rest[raining]
their prop[riety]. The cloth is sent round
with the sun. upon no ac[count] would they
attempt the con[verse]. The cleith luai[dh] is a
a plank a fair in[ch] thick 1½ bro[ad] & 10 f[eet] long.
It must have been tossed ab[out] in the At[lantic]
for a time for it is perfor[ated] all over by teredo
One of the songs sung was a comp[osition] one
made to [supra: the Stranger] all the rest sung the chorus.
I asked them to sing the fairy song again
They hesi[tated] and when I pressed them they
said that did they repeat a song twice
at a clei[th] luai[dh] the cloth would
become as thin as before and in[stantly] lose
all its col[our] and become pure white!
I did not then press.

Elsewhere in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael writes thus about the different stages involved in waulking: ‘Five minor processes are involved in waulking. There is first the process of thickening the cloth; second the process of cleansing the cloth; third, the process of folding it; fourth, the process of giving it tension; and after these the rite of consecrating the cloth. All these processes are performed with the care of eye and deftness of hand come of ability and experience.’ He then continues with the aspect of rhythmic choral singing used to lighten the toil of the sheer hard work involved in fulling the cloth: ‘During the work the women sing lively, stirring, emphatic song. One sings a verse, all join in the chorus. The leader usually sits a the head of the waulking frame; if she is advanced in life she is not allowed to work, in which case she sits a few feet back and in line with the frame. The women keep time with their arms and feet.’

CW114, fos. 62v–63r.
Carmina Gadelica, iv, pp. 88–89.
Image: Waulking the Cloth, Talisker, depicted by Moses Griffiths from Thomas Pennant’s Voyage to the Hebrides (1772).

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.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Blood Brotherhood

John Ewen (Iain Eòghann) MacRury from Torlum, Benbecula, took down a note about ‘goitseachd’. Under the heading ‘goistidheachd’, Dwelly’s dictionary glosses the word as: ‘Office or duty of a godfather. 2 Gossiping. Ri goistidheachd, assuming the office of a godfather; cleamhnas am fagas is goistidheachd am fad, affinity at hand and sponsorship afar off.’ It seems that this definition does not take into account all its meanings, for it is rather interesting what MacRury reveals about this word by the way in which he offers some social contexts behind the word:

I remember when a
school boy of Goist-
eachd being a common
saying with us,
If I were bristeadh
rudan with another
and blood issuing
from the knuckles
of either of us the
one producing blood
put it on the bare
skin of the other and
say roinn mi
goisteachd riut,
signifying that we
were friends in all
plays henceforth, but
very often the friend
ship did not last very
long, for as soon
as play commenced
every one so positive
we were sure to fall
out, and ultimately
end the dispuit with
blood which very
often produced more
blood than on the
occasion on which
we made the goist
eachd. However there
was something in it
as the goistidhean
showed a warm
side to each other
“an am cruaidh chais[”]
in time of hardship,
If I were to put the
blood on the bare
hand of a girl for
it was mostly on
the back of the
hand the blood was
put “air cul an
duirn[”] then they
would say “roinn
thu goisteachd rithe”
and that signified
that she was to be
one of my Godmother[s]
and if I were to fall
in love with her I
dared not say a word
to her for my life
as goisteachd was made
with her, It was a
common occurrence
for boys to put a
drop of their blood
on the hands of
girls that were not
nice looking signify-
ing that they would
not have anything to
do with them as their
lovers. Nice young
girls did the same
on coarse wild boys.

CW1/70, fos. 35v–38r.
Dwelly, Edward, The Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary (Glasgow, 1994), p. 516.
Image: Drops of Blood.

Friday 1 April 2011

Folklore from the Hebrides: A Disclaimer

The reputation of Miss Ada Goodrich-Freer (1857–1931) was made upon the collection of folklore gathered together  by Fr. Allan McDonald of Eriskay (1859–1905). Maighstir Ailein, as he was affectionately known, originally hailed from Lochaber but will be for ever associated with Eriskay, an island lying at the southern tip of South Uist, where he served the remaining years of his priesthood. More than anyone else John Lorne Campbell proved that Goodrich-Freer unashamedly plagiarised McDonald’s folklore collection without paying him due acknowledgement.  She had accepted all the plaudits for his hard work while her own selfish end must have been at the uppermost of her mind. McDonald’s motivation for writing this short reply was to distance himself completely from Goodrich-Free while making it clear that Carmichael had in no way borrowed material from him. Some two years earlier, on 7th October 1901, Carmichael had written to McDonald expressing his concerns over Goodrich-Freer: “We hear from various sources that Miss Freer is not genuine and some call her a clever imposter. I never got my wife to believe in her. In London it is said that one society after another, and one man after another, have thrown her off.”

In a paper entitled “More Folklore from the Hebrides,” by Miss A. Goodrich-Freer, read at a meeting of 6th November, 1901, and published 25th March, 1902, occur the following words: “In the very few cases in which I have presented examples already published by Mr. Carmichael in his Carmina Gadelica, it is because we have both borrowed from a common fount, the Rev. Allan Macdonald, &c.”

I should be guilty of an injustice to my good friend Mr. Carmichael if I were to allow the statement to pass without comment. The author of Carmina Gadelica borrowed nothing from me. I did put a book of notes at his disposal, as he courteously mentions in the introduction of his great work, but, as he tells us in the same paragraph, he was unable to make use of these notes, having so much material of his own. Mr. Carmichael has done more for the collection of Island folklore than any living man.

Eriskay, South Uist, 7th January, 1903.

Campbell, John L. & Hall, Trevor H. Strange Things (London: RKP, 1968), p. 211.
McDonald, Fr. Allan, ‘Folklore from the Hebrides: A Disclaimer’, Folk-lore, vol. 14, no. 1 (1903), p. 87.
Image: Miss Ada Goodrich-Freer (1857–1931).

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). [©]