December 31, 2010 § 9 Comments
Although born in Stornoway I wasn’t brought up The Stornoway Way.
My family moved to the mainland for work when I was young and I was brought up The Inverness Way instead. And yet I don’t hold the Highland capital city dear in any way. Indeed since leaving at the age of 17 for Glasgow I’ve rarely returned, only stopping off en route to the islands.
My first memories are of my Dad’s shop Hepworths in SY and the hallway of my folk’s house near Laxdale. I remember sandcastles on 70′s Tolsta and Eoropie beaches and the hot leather seats of my grandad’s old Triumph. I remember the peat cutting and boring Sabbaths and psalms at the sit-down-to-sing, stand-to-pray Free church. I remember fishing for mackerel at the harbour with a hand-line as shoals came in and my first spinning rod from the Sports Shop when it was on North Beach Street. I remember clouds of midgies at lochs across the island, poaching for sea-trout on Loch Erisort with a friend from Laxay, bumper hauls of cuddies on bright feathered lures from a wee boat launched at Valtos and my first trout on the fly on a loch near the Barvas Road. I learned to swim in the Niccy pool with its acrid green foot-baths and bhoy-orange plastic trays, I drove a car for the first time at Riof. I remember sweets from “The Pakis” on Bayhead and the putting green and the swings being tied on a Sunday. I remember a sheepdog called Gael (Galey-Waley). I learned to golf on the Stornoway course and got my head cracked open by my cousin’s 3 iron on the Manor Par 5 teaching him how to swing. I remember the worst Minch crossing ever on the Suiliven and playing the Nicholson at Back FC’s ground. I remember watching Ness FC for the first time at Goathill. I remember buying Hi-Teks from Nazirs (or was it Smiths) and cassette tapes from Woolies. I barely remember narrowly avoiding arrest after lock-in-at-The-Lewis hi-jinks with my brother-in-law on Cromwell Street. I can’t remember ending up at a party in the Cearns, overstaying my welcome and taking a long walk home to Tong afterwards. I randomly remember run-rigs past Mealista, churchbells, Mac An t-Stronaich’s Cave and the Iron Well on Sundays, Cheeky Chips, brawls in the Heb and the sounds and smells of HebEng. I remember burying both my grandparents at Sandwick and the wakes that preceded them. I remember the streets round Plantation, the sound of a loom in a shed on Rose Street, hand-shearing at a fank in Lochs, my first lambing season, Gaelic directed at me I could only half understand…
I remember all these things and more.
I’ve been trying to find a way home for years now. Each year it gets a little closer.
I spoke to my Granny once about this pull home, at the time it was a thing I could never fathom or make sense of. She matter of factly explained that it’s simply how a Gael feels when they’re far from where they were born. In fact there was even a word for it.
And thanks to this blog it all makes a little more sense now.
Who would have thought
I’d have to come
so far from home
to find a word that perfectly captures
the voiceless ache
of having left?
A’ dol dhachaigh:
Strange that I should
in a language where
you can never be home,
but only going
Cianalas: homesickness, longing, loneliness, melancholy
A’ dol dhachaigh: going home(wards)
from Wish I Was Here: A Scottish multicultural anthology (Pocketbooks, 2000), by kind permission of the poet
September 25, 2009 § 5 Comments
Located in the village of Garynahine, Isle of Lewis, local weaver/designer John R MacLean produces double width Harris Tweed of the highest quality.
A native of the island, and in addition to being a producer of tweed, John is also an active crofter. He has expertise and knowledge in all areas of the production of Harris Tweed, going back over 30 years. Design and production is something of a family tradition for John as his late father, Kenneth “Garry” MacLean, was himself a well known and award winning Harris Tweed producer and designer.
John undertakes the production of the tweed by hand from the warping stage right through to the actual weaving. Beginning with the design of a particular pattern, warping the yarn as the pattern requires, beaming the yarn onto the loom and carrying out the mechanical modifications required to the loom (draught changes, tappits etc) John undertakes all aspects with the confidence and flair that comes from his years of experience.
You can see his new website and in particular an excellent overview of the weaving process with some great photos via THIS link.
December 14, 2008 § 15 Comments
I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with the BBC’s Island Blogging website.
It began originally in the Argyll and Clyde islands as a project to promote digital literacy and grew to encompass communities in the Northern and Western Isles. As this digital literacy grew and the blogosphere in general developed, it became very easy to set up blogs elsewhere across the web and concerns about Island Blogging’s technical limitations, House Rules and Terms and Conditions were noted as well as problems with the blogging engine and spam filtering which recurred with increasing severity.
In short, five years on, it has become apparent that the site does not best serve the resident blogger’s needs and that the technology has reached the end of its natural life. So it looks like the site is shutting down and it’s bloggers moving to virtual pastures new.
Why love / hate? Well some of the blogs were frankly awful. Not that my own is any great shakes at all, at all but a good few of them were just dire, looked like crap thanks to the restriction of the Beeb’s site, comments appeared to be heavily edited or censored and, a minor gripe, locals were in the great minority, so it kinda felt like the White Settlers Association at times But some are quite readable and there are a couple I really enjoy. Anyway, here are the main Lewis ones in all their virginal glory and I wish them good luck starting afresh in the new format…
Arnish Lighthouse: An self confessed outsider’s view on the island.
Soap Lady: An duck keeping, soap making, sheep worrying dog owning English lady who loves island life.
The White Settler: Possibly the worst poet on the island on LSD…
Fred Blog: Newly arrived handyman from Kent now living in Point.
x33xxx: A Dorset man with an x-rated car registration getting to grips with Lewis life.
And there are a few more you’ll find as you trawl their own links.
November 25, 2008 § 2 Comments
Derick Thomson was born in Stornoway in 1921, and lives in Glasgow. After studying in Scotland, England and Wales, he returned to Scotland to teach in universities, and was Professor of Celtic studies at the University of Glasgow from 1963 to 1991. He founded and edited the Gaelic literary magazine Gairm, and included among his many scholarly publications are an English-Gaelic dictionary (1981) and a Companion to Gaelic Poetry (1983, 1994). He has published seven collections of Gaelic poetry, with many English translations, most recently Sùil air Fàire (Surveying the Horizon) (2007)
A’ leum bho ghèig gu gèig
ann a luimead geamhraidh;
tha an crann seo fhathast brìoghmhor,
glòr sìtheil bho na teudan
ged tha sgàineadh reothaidh
air an fhiodh. Am biathadh gann
ach na freumhaichean domhainn,
is dùil ri lì is lìomh is loinn,
bòrcadh barraich is beatha bhuan
anns a’ bhliadhn’ tha tighinn,
ceòl fo chabair is uaine duillich
‘s an cridhe mear
a’ leum bho lèig gu lèig.
From Branch to Jewel (English translation)
Jumping from branch to branch
in winter’s bareness;
this tree is still full of energy,
a fairy music comes from the strings
though the wood is split
by frost. Feeding in short supply
but the roots go deep,
and we await bloom and sheen and elegance,
sprouting foliage and continuing life
in the coming year,
music under the timbers and leaves’ greenery
and the lightsome heart
leaping from jewel to jewel.
November 13, 2008 § Leave a Comment
November 9, 2008 § 1 Comment
Lewis War Memorial. Via Harryfowler9
During the Second World War, the Hebrides were often referred to as the Isles of Sorrow. This was even more so the case during the 1914-1919 war.
Every second man from Lewis joined up, in the Army, Royal Navy or Mercantile Marine but every sixth man who joined up did not return. The island’s grief was compounded even further when returning survivors lost their lives within sight of Stornoway Harbour, when their transport, H.M.Y. Iolaire, foundered on the Beasts of Holm.
Philip Macleod of Steinish, a soldier of the Royal Field Artillery was the first Lewis soldier to fall at the Battle of Mons in August 1914, dying in No-Mans-Land. His name is recorded on Lewis War Memorial with 1,150 others from the First World War and 376 from the Second World War. The majority of those lost in 1914-18, died in the entrenched warfare of France. The casualties of the 1939-45 war, were mostly at sea but included members of the Royal Air Force and several servicewomen.
Though the new century draws on, the names of battles such as Ypres, Somme, Gallipoli, Jutland, El Alamein, Monte Cassino and the Atlantic remain in the memories of all Lewis folk. The exact figure of those serving in WW1 forces was recorded as 6,712, seventeen per cent of whom gave their lives for the cause. If the ratio of those killed to the total population (29,603 – 1911 Census) is taken into account, it can be seen that this island paid dear, losing twice the rate of men as the rest of the British Isles. Recognition of that fact was given due notice in the House of Commons by the late Lord Shinwell, but it was but small comfort to an island robbed of a generation and so cruelly made to mourn again when 174 Lewismen were among those lost at the Beasts of Holm as 1919 dawned.
A resident of Tolsta Chaolais remarked that there were 18 names on his local war memorial, which encompasses just his tiny village. “Why did 18 men from this village have to die because an Archduke was shot dead in Sarajevo?”
Faces From The Lewis Memorial is website listing the Lewis casualties from the first World War.
November 2, 2008 § 1 Comment
As per my previous post on the subject (get thee to the archives!), the Abhainn Dearg distillery at Uig on Lewis run by Mark Tayburn has installed two pot stills each of around 2,000 litres in size and anticipates getting up to 20,000 litres of spirit per annum.
Look at them bad boys!
Somebody in my clan had better be getting busy hooking me up with this stuff…
November 2, 2008 § 1 Comment
Crofter, Tong, Isle of Lewis.
John MacLean lives in Upper Coll, Isle of Lewis, Scotland and has been photographing since the mid-1980s, turning professional in 1993. He holds a large database of high-quality images in both film and digital formats and has contributed many images to exhibitions, national press, books and magazines.
John specialises in landscape, portraiture and black & white photography and welcomes commissions large or small. Equipment used includes Mamiya 6x6cm / Pentax 35mm film cameras, Canon digital cameras and Courtenay studio flash lighting.
I used one of John’s images for the H.I.M. leaflet below.
Please visit his website and have a damn good click through his images, it’s a most enjoyable experience and will take you through the seasons, villages and people in wonderful clarity and composition. I find them to be honest pictures, free from pretense and artifice, a clear window on beautiful island moments.
(They also make good desktop pics, just don’t tell John in case he charges you for it )
November 1, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Me rocking the tweed earlier today.
I’ve just noticed that Brian Haggas’ Harris Tweed Scotland have their website up and running at last. This is good news as to purchase their single design, four pattern only jackets one had to trawl through their god-awful Brook Taverner site to find them. Even then the links for close-ups and pattern samples were broken and it took a couple of emails from me for them to get it fixed.
Any roads, the site is well designed and plays on the very traditional HT branding, blacks, greens and golds. It’s well laid out, simple to navigate and with good photography and fonts and the polar opposite in image of the rather hip looking Harris Tweed Hebrides site.
The jackets themselves look great, a very clean and classic cut that looks anything but dowdy. The painful part is that 95% of the islands tweed manufacture is for this one item.
Harris Tweed Scotland may well prove us wrong with this pared down approach to the product, meantime I hope that the far more creative and forward looking initiatives from Harris Tweed Hebrides take up the miles of slack that Haggas’ narrow business strategy is leaving behind.
A successful industry will need both companies working hard to ensure the weaving is to have a bright future.
(They could start by getting somebody to work on their SEO as neither company comes up on the first half dozen pages of a Google search for Harris Tweed. HTH comes in on page 10 while HTS comes in at 14)
September 7, 2008 § 5 Comments
Abhainn a’Ghlinne Dhuibh, Newmarket, Isle of Lewis. Via Islandboy
Production has started at a distillery near Uig on the Atlantic coast of Lewis, 164 years since the last legal distillery in the Western Isles closed.
Island businessman Mark Tayburn has set up Abhainn Dearg distillery (Red River in Gaelic) on the site of a former salmon hatchery. Casking has begun and the first bottles of single malt will be ready by 2011, when the Royal National Mod returns to the islands.
The business is run on environmentally friendly lines, with a small hydroelectric scheme planned.
Mr Tayburn, who also runs a recycling business in Lewis, said 10,000 litres would be produced this year, and up to 25,000 litres by 2009-10.
He has based his distillery on an illicit still working on the islands until the 1950s, using copper stills and American oak bourbon barrels.
Meanwhile, a second distillery may open in the islands shortly. Uisge Beatha nan Eilean Ltd (the Island Whisky Company) plans to produce 25,000 litres a year in Barra, where the film Whisky Galore was made.
With the dark nights drawing in, it’s almost time to buy the first bottle of the season! Last year it was Ardbeg’s Ten Year Old, this year who knows….
PS Hopefully the Abhainn Dearg folks will be doing cask purchases when they get going. If so I’ll be game for going in for one (and reaping the rewards ten years hence) with a few other like minded folk if anyone else cared to chip in?