Wednesday 12 December 2012

Objects in Focus: Cruisies

The cruisie lamp was the common form of lighting found in the homes of the islands and along the coasts until the introduction of paraffin lamps. Carmichael presents a comprehensive account of the lamps in Carmina Gadelica: 

Giuthas coinnil, giuthas coinnle. Before the introduction of paraffin into the Highlands the people were ill off for light and adopted many expedients to overcome their disadvantages. In the Isles and on the coasts the people, along with tallow candles, used fish oil, seal oil and whale oil [eòlan]. This oil was burnt in ordinary black crusies with the one point for light, but occasionally in a lamp with a circular body with three light points at equal distances. These lamps were sometimes of iron, sometimes of brass and sometimes of copper, and were pretty and effective. This style of lamp was called crùisgein tine (?), the ordinary black lamp being known as crùisgein dubh. On the Mainland, along with tallow candles, the people used bog pine. The bog pine made good light but was not lasting. In some places when the bog pine was good and plentiful little else was used in the houses of the crofters.

Gleanna mìn Moireasan
Far nach ith na coin na coinnlean,
Cha tugainn gaol na comain dhaibh
Gun solus na gun soillse.

The lamp comprised of two iron vessels stacked over each other, the lower being attached to a notched upright bar. The upper of the vessels was separate but hung from a hook on the bar. The lamp was portable and could by positioned at various points around the home to produce the best light. To shape the lamps a thin plate of iron was hammered into a mould and Grant reports that many blacksmiths had such a mould in the corner of their anvils. The shapes were traditionally leaf-shaped but with many variations. In the Carmichael Collection at the West Highland Museum there is part of a square cruisie lamp that was used by craftsmen.

Square Cruisie
Fish-oil and animal fats were used to keep the flame burning. And the wick was traditionally made from the pith of rushes or alternatively yarn. The wick was lit from the fire that was always kept burning.

The word itself is old Scots derived from the Latin crucibulum and is very similar to the French creuset.

In the introduction to a prayer Mary MacRae describes her nightly routine that included the extinguishing the cruisie:

Clos Cadail
Beulachice: Màiri Nic Rath, coitear, Camas Luinge, Cinn Tàile
Ars am beulachie: An dèidh dhomh mo chomhla a dhùnadh agus mo chrùisgein a smàladh agus mo dhol dha m' leabaidh, tha mi guidhe air Tì nan dùl agus air Dia nan gràs, agus ag ràdh ris-

Dhé nan dùl, na dubhr dhomh do shola
Dhé na dùl, na dùin dhomh do shonas,
Dhé nan dùl, na druid dhomh do dhoras,
Dhé na dùl, na diùlt dhomh do thròcair,
Dhé nan dùl, mùch dhomh do dhòlas,
Agus a Dhé nan dùl, crùn dhomh do shòlas,
Agus a Dhé nan dùl, crùn dhomh do shòlas.

Repose of Sleep
Reciter: Mary MacRae, cottar, Camas Luinge, Kintail
The reciter said: After I have closed my door and put out my cruisie (lamp) and gone to my bed, I beseech the Being of life and the God of gracem and say to Him-

O God of life, darken not to me Thy light,
O God of life, close not to me Thy joy,
O God of life, shut not to me They door,
O God of life, refure not to me Thy mercy,
O God of life, quench Thou to me Thy wrath
And O God of life, crown Thou to me Thy gladness,
O God of life, crown Thou to me Thy gladness.

Carmina Gadelica iii, 342-3.
Carmina Gadelica vi, 83.
Grant, I. F. Highland Folk Ways (Edinburgh, 1961).

© Carsten Flieger

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). [©]