January 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Mor Macleod, a highly respected Lewis tradition-bearer and the very last orphan of the Iolaire disaster, has died peacefully in Ospadal nan Eilean, Stornoway, after a brief illness. She was 97 years old and had all her faculties to the end.
Born Marion Smith in Earshader, Uig, in December 1914 – her younger brother, Coinneach Iain Smith, would be a noted bard – Mor vividly recalled word coming (two days late) to Earshader of the wreck at Holm, on 1st January 1919, and the death of her father, 46-year old Kenneth Smith, and so many others. (Her mother, who died in November 1980, would be the tragedy’s last widow).
Over 200 returning service men had died when HMY Iolaire hit rocks and sank - just yards from safety - at the mouth of Stornoway harbour. Only 79 men survived. Celebrations to greet their home-coming on New Year’s Day 1919, turned to an extended period of mourning as corpse upon corpse washed ashore in the days and weeks to follow. Many bodies were never recovered.
It was Britain’s biggest peace-time maritime disaster and tore the heart out of an island as scarcely a single village on Lewis did not lose men in the sinking. The majority of the dead came from Lewis. Seven belonged to Harris while 31 were crew members from different parts of the UK.
Mor was frequently interviewed on the loss of the Iolaire and made a memorable appearance on BBC’s ‘Coast’ programme in June last year, quietly recalling how she had sat, puzzled, on her grandfather’s lap as his tears splashed onto her face.
But Mrs Macleod – who had spent her youth largely in the company of very old people and amidst rich oral tradition – was an authority on many aspects of Lewis lore, life and geneaology, and appeared frequently on radio and television, discussing everything from the healing properties of the bog-bean to Lewis Evangelicalism to oldtime wedding customs to how to make a really good marag.
With some help from the Iolaire Disaster Fund, and proving bright and capable at school, Mor duly travelled to Edinburgh and trained for nursing. She was duly appointed, in 1937, District Nurse for Barvas and Brue, and supplied primary-healthcare to that considerable area throughout the Second World War, armed with little more than a bicycle, the primitive physick of the time, and keen professionalism.
She had of course personally to deliver every infant born in Barvas and Brue – there were then no hospital confinements – and was quietly proud that in her decade of service she never lost either infant or mother.
She also liked impishly to recall the diplomacy necessary when pressed, more than once, if she believed in tinneas a Righ - the prevalent belief in rural Lewis that the touch of a seventh son (or, in a pinch, a seventh child) could cure scrofula, a glandular form of TB.
Retiring to marry local crofter John MacLeod in 1947, Mor settled happily into family life but never ceased to read, learn, and exercise her keen brain. Possessed of bardic dignity, matchless presence and speaking the most beautiful, purest Gaelic - to say nothing of utter, pitch-perfect command of English - in her latter decades she took quiet pleasure in being approached so often to impart lore and knowledge.
On the ninetieth anniversary of the Iolaire sinking – an exceptionally fine New Year’s Day, January 2009 – Mor sturdily attended the little open-air service of commemoration at Holm, along with the other surviving orphan: Alasdair ‘Sandy Mor’ Macleod of Garrabost, who died in 2010.
Mor and John cared at Brue for her mother, Mrs Christine Smith, in the final year or two of her life - six decades after the Holm calamity and when Mor herself was already an old woman.
- John Macleod
August 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The story behind the tale of the Megantic Outlaw Donald Morrison told in five parts.
In the 1800′s gaels from Lewis were forced into emigration from landlords and overcrowded crofts to the promise of better land and life in Canada, the reality was somewhat different on arrival and yet so familiar in terms of land, authority and struggle.
The new community built new lives on the hard foundations of “oatmeal and the catechism” but when the threat of eviction once again reared its head, one man took a stand…
August 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve imbibed more that my fair share of their raw spirit and have loved every drop. It was rough, wild, strong, warming, unconventional, ballistic, sea-soaked and apple sweet. Like marmite you either loved it or hated it and based on month after month of watching folk try it I can safely say far, far more people loved it than hated it.
It was a true island spirit based on old island stills and methods, no Islay imitator was here.
Distiller Mark Tayburn has stuck to his guns and did things his way throughout. His whisky, his vision, the distillery is a true one off, safe from the marketing and PR spin that afflicts a lot of newbie, indy distilleries. It has charm and originality in spades
Three years on and the new make spirit has languished in oak in his bonded warehouse and become legal malt whisky under law.
Pre-orders are being taken for a limited run of just 2011 bottles being shipped in a wooden case for October 2011 at £150.00 + delivery.
Not cheap but this is history in a bottle. Buy to keep or buy to drink?
I was lucky enough to enjoy a dram from cask #2 a few months ago, the spirit that was soon to be the final malt.
It was divine.
Without giving too much away, it was a million miles from the original spirit. Light, complex, delicate, Lowland-style, original, delicious…a real eye opener and confirmation that this is no rough and ready distillery.
This is truly great craft malt whisky, made with originality and skill, casked and matured with care and attention. Roll on the 5 year old and more.
For local drinkers there are a couple of parties planned for the launch in October. Watch this space.
Each 500ml bottle is individually signed by distillery owner Mark Tayburn
Bottles are numbered
Each bottle is comes in a stylized teak case with an Abhainn Dearg wooden plaque on the front
Non Chill Filtered
Natural Cask Colour
Single Cask Bottling
Bottled by Hand
They will come from casks numbered – 2. 4. 5. 6 & 7 these are all American Oak, bourbon casks laid down when the distillery started production in 2008.
July 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
We’ve covered Nigel Cabourn‘s use of Harris Tweed pretty extensively here on The Croft and are always pleased when the AW season rolls around to see what he has up his well engineered sleeves next.
Harris Tweed has always been an important staple to the Nigel Cabourn collection, not only because of its deep historical roots but also because of the quality of the wool and his collections can be found sat in the very pleasant area between catwalk, street and huntin’shootin’fishin. Strong on heritage and detailing, heavily practical but still with a twist of style it’s a valuable addition to the tweed repertoire.
This season they have used 4000 metres of Harris Tweed across 9 styles for AW11
An exciting new addition to the collection this season is the application of Dry Wax to the Harris Tweed on the Lined Cameraman Jacket. Apparently a first for Nigel Cabourn as well as Harris Tweed, the wax coating enables the tweed to be waterproof rather than just resistant.
Still on the HT tip, get yourselves over to the mighty fine 10engines blog to check out a nice piece and interview by John Fox with Mark Hogarth of Harris Tweed Hebrides and the resultant but more compact article on Details.
Nice to see them hooked up.
May 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
Today is no ordinary day.
At 3pm, the first Camanachd Association league match to be staged on the Isle of Lewis will get under way at Shawbost, the new team kitted out by sponsors Harris Tweed Hebrides as part of a three year deal.
Harris Tweed Hebrides chairman, Brian Wilson, said: “We are delighted to support Camanachd Leodhais at this crucial stage of their development. Shinty, Gaelic and Harris Tweed are all part of the same culture, so it is a very appropriate sponsorship”.
The company will host a reception for Camanachd Leodhais on May 14th to mark their first-ever league appearance to be played on home soil.
In the book “An Clarsair Dall”, edited by W. Matheson, one can find early evidence of shinty being played in Lewis but the first organised shinty came into being with the Stornoway Shinty Club which was established around 1893. There is a record of game being played at Broadbay on Christmas Day between the Captain’s team and the Vice-Captains team as well as a famous ”Geam Challainn” at Tong beach against the tailors of Stornoway. The Stornoway Athletics Club was originally set-up to cater to both Shinty and Football.
It was considered that a young Leodhasach before the Great War would take three things to school, his books, his fad of peat and his caman. Shinty was played on the sands of Uig into the 1920s but slowly died out like many great traditions after the great catastrophes that befell the Island. In an early Shinty Yearbook, shinty writer Martin MacDonald described the thought of shinty in Lewis as being akin to “Snow in the Sahara.”
The great Rubhach poet, Iain Crichton Smith (born in 1928) recalled in a lecture in 1990 being knocked out by a shinty stick the one time he played the sport as a child in the 1930s in Point. He was out cold for a hour! However, this is evidence that the sport was still being played at community level until the second war and was continued to be played at the Lews Castle School until the 1960s due to the island being part of Ross-shire.
Through the work of several individuals, including Neil Ferguson, Boyd MacKenzie and Dr. Alasdair Patrick Barden in the mid-1990s, shinty was resurrected in Lewis under the title Comunn Camanachd Leodhais and it is on these roots that the present Camanachd Leodhais continues to grow.
This winter, the Camanachd Association took the historic step of allowing Lewis Camanachd entry to North Division Three on a one-year trial basis. Today’s first home game, therefore, is a milestone.
Somewhat comically, the team’s official website puts it in perspective, saying: “Shinty, home at last, older than the Lewis Chessmen and a lot more fun to watch.”
May 11, 2011 § 2 Comments
Guthan Nan Eilean (Island Voices) is a bilingual project that aims to collect video slices of life and work in the Hebrides, with a view to encouraging further community-based recording and language learning. It is run by Benbecula resident Gordon Wells.
The website has a wealth of links (150+) as well as audio and written material on all sorts of topics from Lazy Beds to local residents but if you just want to dive right in, the videos the YouTube channel are very accessible and highly recommended. I’ve spent a fair few hours watching and listening so far.
It’s surprising that there are so few resources / projects of this kind, it really is very valuable for documentation, education and communication of island culture, history and language. I look forward to picking up a video camera (video – how quaint) towards the end of the year as a long mothballed project finally finds some time and energy to get going.
Here’s some of Gordon’s work, film of Benbecula resident Archie Campbell demonstrating and talking in English (Gaelic is also available) about the traditional peatcutting process.
May 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment