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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.

Cianalas.

And thanks to this blog it all makes a little more sense now.

Building Vocabulary

Cianalas:
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
find restfulness
in a language where
you can never be home,
but only going
homewards.

Christine Laennec

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