November 15, 2011 § 1 Comment
October 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
One of the abiding things I remember about Stornoway in the early eighties was the constant clickety-clack from a shed or garage on Plantation Road. You could hear it on endless repeat from the crack of dawn every morning but Sunday. I had no idea what it was, I never saw the thing playing this background soundtrack, only now can I match it to the sound of an old Hattersley Single-width being worked…
As of the mid-90s a new loom was introduced, the pedal powered, double-width to meet market demand, made in Huddersfield, Bonas-Griffith loom.
I saw one for the first time a few years back in my uncle’s garage and was mesmerised.
Admittedly rather geeky but, to me, this was an awesome machine, a bizarre and beautiful hybrid of engineering, art and magic. I had no idea how it worked. Hundreds of threads of yarn went in one end, pedals were turned and in mysterious sharmanka-esque piece of sorcery, Harris Tweed fed out the other.
And all the time things whirred, clacked and flew in a hurdy-gurdy, like Uilleam Wonka’s favourite bit of cloth making kit.
I loved many things about it immediately.
The vast swathe of warp yarn that stretched off the big steel beam at the back in a reverse waterfall, pulling itself taught through a myriad of delicate, shiny heddles. Lit from beneath by a fluorescent strip light the wool colour seemed to shimmer like a fish-eye view of the sun through flat calm sea.
There were four metal boards, trimmed in wood and hung by day-glo ropes of pink and green, as if the eighties hip-hop culture was still alive and well right here on the John Deere green trusses of the loom frame.
In front lay the length of the reed, all baleen teeth, for beating weft threads tight into the clo,while between the warp yarns a rapier flashed, almost unseen, dodging the ever changing shed, calling the shots with every streaking run.
And, oh, the weft, spider strings pulled in from a nearby table, so cleverly programmed by a looping punch card like some old manual IBM computer. Each hole flicking a wire finger of thread into the throng, handing off to the grasp of the rapier flawlessly every time. Until the bell pinged a warning otherwise.
And there were other things, a tilting wheel, hidden tappets, selvage cutters…
I watched inch after inch of woven tweed form before my eyes, transfixed, soon to be tied for collection and returned to the mill for finishing.
Plain twill, herringbone, plaid.
Tomorrow I’ll begin the 12 weeks training needed to learn how to make sense of this wonderful contraption.
It will doubtless take me as many years to master, but while he clackety-clack might sound a little different, as long as it’s still being heard then all to the good.
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
May 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Almeda Riddle was born in 1898 in Cleburne County, Arkansas.
She sang traditional unaccompanied ballads and hymns.
April 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The Scottish Island Writers Network (SIWN) is very pleased to be able to announce the forthcoming publication by Polygon, of a new landmark anthology of Scottish Island poetry. The anthology is edited by Kevin MacNeil, and the project has received the financial backing of SIWN for associated launch and author events.
Many of Scotland’s most important poets grew up or chose to live on Scottish islands. This anthology pays tribute to the islands’ creative output by bringing together a huge array of poetic talent, from the internationally-renowned – Sorley Maclean, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Hugh MacDairmid – to those fantastic poets deserving of more attention – Jim Mainland, Aonghas MacNeacail, Meg Bateman, Alex Cluness, Jen Hadfield, and many more – in one wonderful collection. With poems exploring the themes of love, language, landscape, identity and belonging, These Islands, We Sing is a significant and heartfelt celebration of poetry and place.
Editor Kevin MacNeil was born and raised in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Novelist, poet, playwright, editor, aphorist and lyricist, his books include A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde, The Stornoway Way, Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides and Be Wise Be Otherwise. He is currently working on an album with William Campbell, a new novel, a film, a play and a travelogue-memoir based on his 1,300km cycle down the Danube in September 2009 for two cancer charities.
A full listing of author events will be available in the near future.
To receive notification of the publication and to buy a copy please go to:
February 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Duke Riley is an American artist.
Riley earned a BFA in painting form the Rhode Island School of Design, and a MFA in Sculpture from the Pratt Institute. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is noted for a body of work incorporating the seafarer’s craft with nautical history, as well as the host of a legendary series of illegal clambakes on the Brooklyn waterfront for the New York artistic community.
Duke began tattooing in 1993 under the guidance of Steve Williamson of Art Freak Tattoo in Providence, RI. and has worked in various tattoo shops in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Zealand.
In addition to tattooing, Duke works in a variety of mediums and his work is exhibited in several museums internationally including the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
Freakin’ love his work.
For more info, visit www.dukeriley.info
Images © www.eastrivertattoo.com
February 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Martin is from Leurbost and before the set up of the company was previously employed in the seaweed processing industry with over 14 years of experience working in the field (sea?!). Simon hails from south of the border (England not Harris!) and is the founder and managing director of Seagreens whose founding aim was simply ‘to get a gram of the best seaweed into the human diet on a daily basis’.
Both are passionate about the islands and their products and it was inspirational to hear of the progress and plans for this natural Hebridean product and the possibilities for the island and its economy. More so when you consider the long history of seaweed’s use on the islands by crofters. It’s this sort of thing that floats my boat, age-old traditions finding applications in today’s world.
From use as fertiliser, food, fodder, industrial ingredient and alginates of yesteryear to health products and more today, seaweed has been a vital part of island life. You can learn more here.
My particular interest was for use in our restaurant where we continue to champion island products and traditional ingredients. We’ve taken samples of two of their primary organic seaweed products, gathered and processed on the Isle of Lewis and our chef is currently experimenting on integrating them into new dishes but meantime we took delivery of the Seagreens Mineral Salt and currently have a tub on every table alongside the traditional condiments.
The good news is that this unusual mix of Lewis seaweed and Cornish sea salt has really hit the spot with customers who have been readily adding it to their dishes from handcut chips to beer battered fish to piping hot soups and more. It really adds something to food and is far healthier than ordinary salt.
Oh, and if you rather have seaweed on you than in you the excellent spa at Blythswood Square Hotel offers a number of Hebridean Seaweed “Turus” treatments from baths and wraps to facials and scrubs. Those of you living near a Lewis beach might save yourself a journey (and a little money) by gathering your own