Today is the 85th anniversary of the departure of the SS Metagama from Stornoway on 21st April 1923 with 260 islanders bound for Canada, an event that has become entrenched in local history.

The  sailing of the Canadian Pacific owned Metagama achieved international prominence as it was the first such event broadcast on cinema news reels on both sides of the Atlantic. Even though some 800 youths, many just teenagers, would leave Lewis on other ships within the year and despite a major emigration from South Uist it is the Metagama sailing which is best known.

The Canadian Government had turned to the Hebrides in its search for domestic servants and farm hands to work in its expanding economy. In contrast, prospects on Lewis were poor and the island still grieved for hundreds of her men who died in the First World War. But within a few years many emigrants hit poverty during the Great Depression with a few returning home to the croft. Those who stayed dispersed into Gaelic communities in Canada and the USA with many heading to the car factories of Detroit.

To commemorate the last large wave of post-war emigration, verses from a well known Gaelic song, Eilean Beag Donn a’ Chuain, written by emigrant Donald Morrison, originally of Bragar, yearning for his beloved island, will be engraved in glass screens being installed by Stornoway Port Authority in the town’s ferry terminal.

Port chief executive John Maclennan said: “These verses portray in a most poignant manner, the level of home-sickness, or more appropriately in Gaelic “cianalas”, that clung to the many Lewis-born folk, who left Stornoway for a better life in Canada.”

West Side Historical Society Information

The Story Of A Ness Exile

Metagama: A Journey from Lewis to the New World – Jim Wilkie

 

Lyrics: English Translation:
   
Do làmh, a charaid, do dh ‘Eilean a’ chuain Your help, my friend, to the Island of Lewis
‘S a h-eallach cho cruaidh is trom Since its burden is so difficult to bear
Tha’m bàs’na chabhaig ri sgathadh ‘s a’ buain Death is reaping its terrible toll
Gun duine ni suas an call With no one to make up the loss
Tha’n òigridh sgoinneil a sheòlas na caoil The upstanding youth who sail the straits
An àite na laoich a bh’ann Instead of the warriors who once were there
Gun bhoineid, gun bhròig, a’ siubhal an raoin Are without clothing or shoes, traversing the moors
An Eilean an Fhraoich ud thall In the distant Island of Heather
   
Hì ri o rì, togaidh sinn fonn Hi-ri-o-ri, we’ll sing a song
Air Eilean beag donn a’ chuain About the little brown Island in the ocean
Eilean beag Leòdhais dachaidh nan seòid Little Island of Lewis, home of the warriors
A chumas a’ chròmhrag suas Who will keep up the struggle
Eilean nan tonn, a dh’àraich na suinn Island of the waves, which reared the heros
‘S a chuidich an Fhraing gu buaidh And who helped the French to victory
Còmhla ri chéile togaibh sinn fonn All together we’ll sing a song
Air Eilean beag donn a’ chuain About the little brown Island in the ocean
   
O ‘s làidir na bannan ‘g am tharruing a nall Oh strong are the ties that are pulling me across
Gu eilean beag donn Mhicleòid To the little brown island of the MacLeods
‘S gu stiuir mi gu h-ealamh gu cala mo long And I shall quickly steer my ship to harbor
‘Nuair ruigeas mi ceann mo lò When I reach the end of my days
‘S ma ghreimicheas m’acair ri Carraig nan Al And if my anchor catches the Bird-Reef
Bidh m’anam tighinn sàbhailt beò My soul will come safely alive
Mo shiùil air am pasgadh am fasgadh Chill-Sgàir My sails folded in the shelter of Cill-Sgair
Le m’athair ‘s mo mhàthair chòir With my dear father and mother
   
Hì ri o rì, togaidh sinn fonn Hi-ri-o-ri, we’ll sing a song
Air Eilean beag donn a’ chuain About the little brown Island in the ocean
Eilean beag Leòdhais dachaidh nan seòid Little Island of Lewis, home of the warriors
A chumas a’ chròmhrag suas Who will keep up the struggle
Eilean nan tonn, a dh’àraich na suinn Island of the waves, which reared the heros
‘S a chuidich an Fhraing gu buaidh And who helped the French to victory
Còmhla ri chéile togaibh sinn fonn All together we’ll sing a song
Air Eilean beag donn a’ chuain About the little brown Island in the ocean

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