Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
April 2002 Issue
Contents of the online version:
EIGG PIER READY TO START
The Isle of Eigg’s new ferry terminal has at last received the funding it needs.
European funding of £2.3 million has been awarded to build the new pier and associated infrastructure, which will allow the Lochnevis to berth on the island and will remove the necessity of the small flit boat.
The project follows on from the first phase which saw piers being built on Muck and Rum.
Councillor Charles King said ‘I welcome the awarding of this contract – the residents of Eigg have made a major contribution to the planning of this project, which will bring significant benefits to them, not least a safer and more comfortable journey to the mainland.’
The contract has been awarded to R. J. MacLeod (Contractors) Ltd. who hope to commence work on 8th April. Their work at first will concentrate on the skerries, to make sure the least disturbance possible is caused to Eigg’s tourist industry.
Now Eigg residents face two years of some not inconsiderable changes being made to their familiar and beautiful landscape in the name of progress - something Arisaig folk can sympathise with.
NEW ROAD MAKING ITS MARK
Below is the artist’s impression of the ‘Gateway’ to Arisaig which will be incorporated into the build of the new A830 as it by-passes the village. A ‘Gateway’ is a term given to a decorative entrance to a village’s environment, so that drivers will realise they are in the village.
The view is looking west from near where the new road will start towards Mallaig. The crossing which marks where Station Road crosses it is visible. The large, coloured impression can be seen in the notice board by the car park in Arisaig.
Next month we hope to have an article by Barrs on the progress made and just what is happening at Kinsadel and Back of Keppoch.
Silver Sands of Morar achieve clean beach status
GOODBYE, MR JACKSON
Forbes Jackson has retired from Mallaig High School after 17 years as Head Teacher.
He has seen the school grow from a ‘set of Horsa huts’ which housed pupils to their fourth year, to a become the twelfth best school in Scotland.
His retirement was marked by presentations from the staff and pupils, and a celebration in the West Highland hotel when he received gifts from colleagues and family.
Spring is in air. Darkie, the mare from Rum, brought to Knoydart by Lewis McRae some years ago, surprised us all by delivering a beautiful colt foal on Sunday 24th March. She has been grazing with William, the Highland stallion, for a number of years and was thought to be barren. The foal, yet to be named, has well and truly found his legs now and is gambolling around the field, while Darkie is proving to be a good and protective mother. I have taken some photos which I hope to send to a future West Word issue.
Despite being early this year Easter time was as busy as ever with many visitors. A treasure trail in the woods following the recently formed paths, was organised for the children on Saturday 30th March. On Monday evening David Fletcher gave another of his fascinating talks with slides, this time about the Kamchatka peninsula, an extremely remote north-eastern outpost of Russia, which faces Alaska across the Bering Sea.
Two birthdays to mention this week, Aaron on the 3rd and Jan on the 4th April. Many happy returns to both.
During February Roger and I spent the month in the Caribbean, half of the time on board Eda Frandsen from Doune, at the kind invitation of Alan and Mary Robinson. Ian and Jackie Robertson and John and Stephanie Miller were also on board. Early one morning, while anchored at Tobago Cays in the Grenadines, who should appear over the side of the boat but Peter and Sonja Woolland climbing out of a water taxi. Peter and Sonja (ex Sandaig, Knoydart), cruising on another vessel, recognised Eda amongst the many and varied craft, having been neighbours for many years. It was great to see you both looking so well (I know you keep up with news from West Word). Thanks to you both and the Captain of your vessel for the excellent hospitality and liberal rum punches! We look forward to seeing Peter back in Knoydart in a few weeks time.
ISLE OF MUCK
March has at last seen the end of the continual rain and the arrival of a team from the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland. Quite a mouthful but these are the people who tell us whether a heap of stones is 200 or 2000 years old. Muck is the last of the Small Isles to be surveyed and it would be great if they could find something really exciting as on the other islands.
Also this month the Craft Shop has received a new floor of slate tiles laid by Charlie MacKinnon and Graham Henderson. It is a great improvement on the previous painted concrete and should be ready for the first call of the Hebridean Princess on 3rd. April.
And some dates for your diary – if we can find a band the Small Isle Sports will be on 25th May and the thirteenth Open Day is on 16th June.
On the farm Sandy Mathers and Barnaby Jackson have been re-roofing the old piggery at Godag House and at last the boar and the two sows have some decent accommodation.
The ewes on silage since New Year have all survived and have come through the winter in much better fettle than those on ewe pellets alone. This was to be expected but have they done as well as last year when they were fed hay? Comparisons with last year are difficult – it was a great winter – but I would feed silage again.
The ‘Mull Meat’ lambing is over and quite successful. 39 ewes lambed 63 lambs and there were another 6 who died. 4 sets of triplets were born. The weather cleared up just in time and after one night inside the ewes and lambs remained outdoors. Possibly lambing has been the easy part. The slaughterhouse on Mull charges £11 per head so the lambs must be a good weight before they go off with all that that entails. We shall see!
ISLE OF CANNA
April already! where have all the days gone.
Sorry its been so long since my last report from Canna but I always seemed to miss the dead line, it kept creeping up on me before I knew it. Anyway New Year seems to be such a long time away but even then we had some excitement when a yacht had broken from its moorings in Loch Carnan South Uist and managed to reach the Southwest side of Canna on New Year’s day. It was discovered by Martin Carty from Mallaig while out staying on the island, unfortunately it was to dark to do anything about it then and the next day the wind had changed direction and smashed the yacht up and left nothing for the coastguard to collect.
Also in the bad weather Packy's boat went and pulled its moorings and landed up on the shore along side the road, no damage was done thankfully, just a hard job trying to get it of with the high tides.
The weather over the last few months has been really bad and not much work has been able to get done outside until the last couple of weeks when it has started to dry up. The farm has now started to get really busy with the cows calving and all the sheep getting fed. The Spanish John has been doing trips back and forward to Canna with feeding and taking anything away that was needed which has been a great help.
The BBC sent a crew out to film for a programme on all the Small Isles which was shown recently on BBC digital.
March has been very busy month we had a visit from Cathy Sawyer from Rum along with Malcolm Whitmore and Sinclair Williamson. They came for a weekend and pruned all the Apple trees to try and preserve them and stop them from dying off.
They made a vast difference to the Garden and are returning at a later date to do some follow up work on them.
Canna Primary School entertained us with a play from the second world war just before the Easter break. It brought tears to my eyes I can tell you I have never laughed so much in all my life. Mrs Stephen has started a new fashion trend with silver wellies they look Grrreat!
March was also the month for Sinead, Mairead and Packy to celebrate their birthdays so Happy Birthday to them.
The latest on the St Edwards Chapel is that it looks like there will have to be more work done on it as the water has been leaking in to it very badly over the winter months. Two gentlemen have just been over to do some thermo imaging on the stone work to see where the water was coming in and try and sort out a way to rectify it so hopefully that will happen soon. Easter weekend has seen the start of the summer timetable, the start of the tourists and the yachts – here’s hoping for a busy summer season to make up for last year’s.
ISLE OF EIGG
Well, spring is finally round the corner and a fair amount of activity is taking place in the bird world, with a Song Thrush giving it laldy on every bush on Eigg. Vegetation seems to be late but animals' clocks are right on time, according to our SWT resident.
Right on time too, is the announcement that European funding has finally come through for the Eigg causeway, I am sure that HC's Principal Engineer breathed a huge sigh of relief. Meanwhile island residents are bracing themselves to a two-year disruption in their lives and a permanent scarring of the landscape around the pier: such is the price to pay for modernity. But R G MacLeod, who were awarded the contract and plan to start on 8 April, promise that as most of the work this year will take place round the skerries, tourism will suffer minimum disturbance, which is welcome news as we all need to do better than last year!
On the archaeological front, diver George Brown from the Highland Council, made a very professional illustrated presentation about the Eigg Wreck . If the ship is really the Dubh Ghleannag, it would probably have been built for Alaisdair an Oir, father of Alasdair, 10 th of Glenaladale who built the Glenfinnan monument. According to Scalpay boat-builder, John MacAulay, the wreck may very well have been Irish in origin, and would have been a substantial 2 masts vessel rather than a birlinn. Many questions remain unanswered and will have to wait the end of the building work for a proper excavation to provide some of the clues.
An interactive forum for archaeology and genealogy in Lochaber would be a great thing indeed, and possibilities for these kind of things to be set up opened up during the very informative and useful Community Networking day organised by LCNL in Mallaig last week. Thank you Nikki for all your hard work, it was most enjoyable, we all came back exhausted but full of new ideas. Certainly everyone was impressed by the way the Mallaig Learning Unit was operating in the new Community Hall. It is nice to see the result of so much energy and positive thinking! Keep it going !
Meanwhile, we are soon to say farewell to our three Primary 7 youngsters as they embark with their teacher on a lovely 2 week trip to Mustique as part of our yearly exchange programme. Hope that all that calypso music may distract them from their teenage fondness for heavy metal: it will be interesting to hear what the Carribean youngsters make of it!
We had an wonderful concert at the Astley Hall on the 23rd March, we were packed to the doors and could have sold out twice I think. It seemed strange welcoming Anne Martin to the Astley Hall but she certainly sings a lot better than I do (which wouldn’t be hard) and the combination of Anne’s singing and Ingrid’s playing was lovely. On the second half of the bill were Iain MacFarlane and Iain MacDonald, then all four performed together. CDs are nearly ready I believe from both pairs.
In fact, the Astley Hall was the best place to be that night as repeated power cuts left folk sitting at home in the dark with no TV. The Hall’s new emergency lighting cut in so beautifully that many were unaware we were having power cuts at all! Luckily the four artists were all performing acoustically and the only slight hitch might have been when power went off while Ingrid was playing the keyboard – but she skipped across the stage and took up the tune on the clarsach without missing a note!
Our thanks to the Old Library for giving the Hall enough wine glasses for any function. And thank you to Charlie Williamson for master-minding the delivery of the coffee and hot water equipment gifted us by Matthew Algie & Co. All we need now is the dishwasher which is being delivered this week – thanks to grants from Lochaber Enterprise, Age Concern and the Social Work Department this £1360 industrial machine will cost us only £340. Now for the floor polisher...
An Comunn Eachdraidh Arasaig
We had a very interesting talk from Alasdair Roberts last month, on our transatlantic connections. As a History Group though I don’t think the members expected the term to mean the equipment too. I had been given the family slide projector recently by my father and offered to lend it for Alasdair’s talk – it didn’t occur to me that it was in fact an antique and machines have moved on in the forty years since it was bought! However Deidre Roberts managed stoically with all the sticking and missing and I believe the headache only took a day to go. It all added to the craic though, of which there is much at these meetings.
A long list of projects has been drawn up, some to run at the same time as others, and some that will take years to complete – if we ever do! These range from plotting the graves in the cemetery – this has started – through gathering family trees, old photographs and documents for copying and cataloguing, to recording the background stories to the Canal, our historic buildings, etc. etc.
Our next talk on the 10th April is by Tearlach MacFarlane and is mentioned elsewhere in this issue. Come along and have a strupak with us!
There Quiz at the Crofters last month was on the 1st March and was duly reported on in the last issue. But on the 16th most of our Ladies team – Yvonne, Margaret and myself – took Malcolm to the quiz in the Chlachain Bar, to see what it was like to be on the other side of the question sheet! I think he enjoyed it! And I have a comment to record, from the chap described as a ‘part timer’ in a recent column; Scott McLean points out that the performance of the team as a whole has improved since the ‘hanger on’ - and after all it’s a team game and it’s not how much you contribute but that you contribute at all that’s important. Back to you, team!
In February 2002, MV Shearwater left Arisaig for the last time, skippered as usual by Ronnie Dyer.
This trip, however, wasn’t to one of her usual destinations – the Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rum, Canna or even Soay or Skye, and this trip she wasn’t coming back – she was being delivered to her new owner in Inverness.
Shearwater was bought by Murdo Grant in 1973 and came to Arisaig Marine to take over the Small Isles trips from the Royal Scot. But before that she had had a long and illustrious history and had seen wartime action.
Ordered from Susses Shipbuilders in 1940 in a batch of three hulls, she was completed as a Harbour Defence Motor Launch on 16th September 1941 and went to Granton via North Shields, joining the Flotilla there three months later. She operated with them until 1944 when she was moved to join the 150th Flotilla at Newhaven in Sussex.
She is recorded as having taken part in the D-Day Landings. Our imagination will have to serve us here as there is no known pictorial evidence, but experience gained there might have done her well in later years when passengers went to and from her in little flit boats to the islands!
At that time she carried armaments, including two Lewis guns, and depth charges. Her duties during the war would have included mines sweeping.
Not the Shearwater in action, but a boat of the same kind – the Medusa ML1387, which has been maintained in her original configuration and is used as a training vessel by the Southampton Unit of the Maritime Volunteer Service.
After D-Day she went to Poole, then Portsmouth, where she was redesignated as a Survey Motor Launch SML4, surveying the Thames area, and was at Bremerhaven during 1945. She was deployed to Ostend in 1946 becoming SML 324.
In 1954 she acted as a tender for survey ships at Chatham, before moving to Harwich, Essex where for two years she took part in surveying the east coast, before being placed on reserve in 1958.
She was handed over to W. C. Allan & Son at Gillingham in Kent, on a care and maintenance basis and was advertised for sale. As a civilian she became the Pembroke Shearwater and wasn’t registered as Etive Shearwater until July 1964.
She is still in remarkably good condition, but EU regulations were catching up with her.
Her last sail from Arisaig took her up the Caledonian Canal to her new owner, who intends to live aboard and take her out for the odd trip.
She has left behind countless memories, anecdotes and photographs. More than just a boat to many, she had charisma and character. Who can ever forget the whale watching, the boat while anxious people on the islands watched circling round in the distance and getting no closer? I particularly remember one beautiful but bitingly cold November day some twenty years ago when the boat went on her monthly mail run to Soay. We caught up with a pod of killer whales off Rum and travelled with them for a while before they swam off into the distance.
Speaking of the monthly mail run – a school pupil on Soay entered a National Competition run by Royal Mail . The task was to draw a picture of your Post Office – he drew the Shearwater and won first prize.
She’s carried other odd things besides passengers, including piglets to Muck which travelled safely and contentedly in a wheelie bin. Ronnie has carried out numerous ceremonies of scattering ashes at sea. She has starred in any number of television programmes and news stories and carried countless well known people either at work or on holiday. She even figured on ‘Spitting Image’ when the programme poked fun at Selina Scott’s trip to Muck. There was the on-board ceilidh organised specially for a Russell Harty programme.
Ceilidhs of course – during the cruise or while moored at the pier on Eigg. From the famous Eigg Ceilidh Band and it’s individual musicians to Farquhar and Tearlach MacFarlane, there have been so many tunes played aboard, on fiddle, pipes, guitar. It’s a theory that the whales are drawn by the sound of the fiddle or pipes...
For many years the Shearwater acted as the off-shore watering hole for the island inhabitants, a fact mentioned in the Radio Times when promoting a TV star’s programme on one of the Small Isles. She had got off the boat at Eigg to see a number of men rushing down the pier towards her and had waited, smiling, to sign autographs for her adoring fans – only to find herself ignored as they clambered eagerly aboard for a lunchtime ‘pint’.
And hence the modern day myth on Eigg with regards to the standing stone now erected to mark the purchase of the island. Local craic has it that it was being carried towards the cemetery when the bearers saw the Shearwater coming in...
On 27th April the replacement boat will start the summer runs. Formerly the Allasdale Lass, former Barra ferry boat, she has been renamed Sheerwater (with two e’s) and has been away on the Clyde being lengthened. We wish Murdo, Ronnie and all at Arisaig Marine as much success as Shearwater had.
Ronnie clocks up a quarter of a century
As he prepares to skipper a ‘new’ boat, Ronnie Dyer had juts celebrated twenty five years with Arisaig Marine and the Shearwater.
Murdo Grant held a surprise celebration at Cnoc-na-Faire Hotel on 22nd March for Ronnie, which was attended by Arisaig Marine staff and the Grant family. As if that wasn’t unexpected enough for Ronnie, Murdo also presented him with a Citroen car in recognition for his all his hard work.
Ronnie has just returned from Mexico, where he was aboard the Marguerite Explorer watching whales. A busman’s holiday! He said ‘I got a year’s whale watching in one day out there.’
Life in Japan - by Allie MacDougal
There’s been quite a lot going on ceremony-wise recently. February 1st saw a special day for the second year students, as in Japan they celebrate when teenagers turn 14, their ‘coming of age’. It is a throwback to the samurai days when 14 signified adulthood and the taking up of arms. I had no idea about the size of this occasion until I entered the gym and saw not only the usual school photographer but television crews from two different stations scooting around, or sliding, which is perhaps a more accurate description of how you can move in the standard green plastic school slippers provided for guests’ indoor shoes. (Changing of shoes is very important in Japan; all the teachers have a shoe locker at the front door in which we keep our indoor school shoes and change into every morning. This provides for some funny sights, i.e. a smart looking suit not quite matched by a pair of white sports trainers.)
To the expectant crowd of parents, teachers and media moguls the second years marched in, led by their homeroom teachers and scared the life out of me when they all sat down in perfect synchronization, creating a swooshing sound as they did so. Many speeches and general activity that went way over my head later, the ceremony was finished and it was time for lunch. We had the regular school lunch but we had been given a special box of mochi, a Japanese sweet made from pounded rice forming a dough, with bean paste, or anco, inside. It doesn’t sound that appealing, I know, but it is actually not bad – just don’t expect it to be sweet in the manner of a western dessert! Part of this ceremony’s tradition is actually making mochi, so after lunch I got to join the students in hammering rice to a mushy pulp before rolling it in flour and filling with anco. As one person hammers the rice, another shapes the mixture whilst the mallet is raised, so it can be a little scary just watching, let alone taking part.
Then, on March 16th came the ceremony I had been dreading - graduation. My third year students were a fantastic group, each class as funny and energetic as the other, and the thought of them leaving was too much for me! The ceremony itself is designed to evoke everybody’s emotions, with many tearful farewell speeches and moving music. By the end of the morning there was hardly a dry eye in the school, especially amongst the third year girls who appeared to be completely devastated. Odd, I thought, I don’t remember ever feeling like that when I left school! Yet in the UK we don’t tend to make a fuss about any graduation except college or university, which all seemed perfectly normal to me before, but now I feel is lacking in celebration opportunities. We take so much for granted with our education system in that everybody leaves primary school and goes to high school, regardless of money or academic performance.
Here, the Government pays for elementary and junior high school education, but after that it is up to the individual families. In third year of junior high, when the students are 15, they must sit exams set by the high schools upon which their acceptance depends. They sit exams for both public and private schools, but as private schools cost much more, everybody’s first choice is the public system. (My Head English teacher informs me that a private high school can cost around 30,000\ per month – roughly 180 pounds – compared to around 10,000\, approximately 60 pounds, for a public school.) All my third years have been accepted to high schools, although some did not pass the public school exams and so face a more expensive education than their former classmates. Once they get to the stage of applying for university the same process applies; private entrance examinations in the manner of Oxbridge, rather than a national exams system.
There is so much pressure on these students that I wasn’t surprised to see them become so emotional. At the time of graduation they did not have the results of the public high school exams, so they could not even celebrate their success. From elementary school Japanese children work incredibly hard, taking on club activities that require them to go to school on a Saturday. (It’s only ALTs such as myself that have the whole weekend off here; students and teachers alike must file in at 8am Saturday morning, although they do get to leave at lunchtime.) They also seem to study constantly – one junior high student said to a friend of mine that she is bad at maths, and instead of this meaning that she avoids the subject like the plague, as I did at school, she studies for several hours a day as she wants to go to high school. In one of the last lessons I had with the third years, the homework I gave them was to relax for at least 15 minutes at the end of the day.
The atmosphere of the day ended up getting to me too as I had to say goodbye to them in a special homeroom class afterwards. A few photographs and signing yearbooks later it was all over and I made my way home with the many flowers I’d accumulated throughout the day hanging out my bag. I wonder if they constitute a cycling hazard?
This month’s excitement reached a peak last night in more ways than one! After doing a telephone interview with a TEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language) school last night I was accepted onto a course for September, and as I was celebrating with my friends we experienced our first earthquake. The whole building shook, though only for about 5 seconds, and scared the life out of us. Once it had settled, a couple of friends who are staying in a hotel downtown called to see if we had been as scared as they had. Of course, we said, wasn’t everyone? But it turns out that as they ran out panicking into the corridor of the hotel, the Japanese guests calmly continued watching television as if it was nothing significant. Just when you think this place can’t get any stranger…
Coastal Ranger Report
Well, that’s it! It is now officially Spring, so you can start getting busy in the garden, sharpen up the mower, and watch the birds go through their nesting procedures. Thank goodness the weather has improved, and the ground dried up somewhat, as it puts a semblance of sense into my walks programme which started on Tuesday 2nd. April. With regard to the previously printed, proposed list of walks, already I have had to make some minor changes, but you will at least have an idea of what’s on offer, and as usual I will be displaying the fortnightly posters in the regular places. Should you have any problems about date or venue changes, please just give me a ring and I will sort things out.
Hopefully you will have noticed that I have included a couple of new walks this year, Kinlochmoidart and Glen Beasdale. The former is a very gentle stroll on a part of the old road which gave the people from the Moidart peninsula access to the rail link at Lochailort. The latter however is not for the faint hearted, and involves a gradual climb to the 2000 foot summit of “Sidhean (pronounced Shian) Mor” where the view is absolutely stunning (given the weather!), followed by a steep descent back to the start point. So as not to put you off, I will throw in time for photographs, and maybe even a lunch halt (plus a good few stops to “tie my lace” etc.!!), so give it a go, it’s a really rewarding walk of around 5½ hrs. including picnic time.
On other fronts, my playground projects in Acharacle primary school are beginning to take shape, and at long last I have procured the natural log “tables” for Morar school. In the middle of April (17/18th.), in con junction with my Project Officer and
S.N.H. we are putting on what should be a most interesting day for the local schools. With funding just appearing out of the blue, transport will be provided to Glenuig, where the children (Primary 17th. Secondary 18th.) will spend some time in a glass bottomed boat in the bay, followed by educational walks, both round the shore, and through the woodlands, with S.N.H. experts on hand to point out things of interest. A packed lunch will be provided, as well as, I believe, a small snack (juice and a biscuit) on arrival. Any spare time at the end of the day will be filled with organised games of some kind, with the children returning home around 5pm. A timetable will be issued to each school prior to these dates to clarify the programme. All in all, it looks like it will be a good fun day (for some anyway!!). Well that’s about it for this month, I hope you all had a nice Easter, and did all the traditional boiling/painting/rolling eggs etc.??
I expect a few of you might have noticed two large piles of sleepers at Glasnacardoch? Yes, that’s them! Finally they arrived, and with the willing and prompt assistance of local contractor Iain MacNaughton, the bulk have been transported to the site, ready for fixing. To this end, could as many of you willing volunteers as possible please meet with me in the Swimming Pool (games room) at 7pm. (prompt please as aerobics classes follow) on Monday 8th. April to discuss working arrangements. If you are unable to attend, could you please phone me prior to the meeting, and let me know when you might be available. Thanks, all help will be welcome, and you all know the number……..01687 462 983.
Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
Thank you for this month’s question : Is it safe to eat Juniper berries?
The answer is yes if cooked, as they are very bitter. To quote Constance Spry’s Cookery Book (1956!) “Juniper berries … are sold dried and may be crushed and added to a dish or put in a muslin bag with other spices for infusion.”
Common Juniper Juniperus communis is one of Britain’s native conifers, found growing in the acid soils of Scottish pinewoods, on limestone moorland further south, and on chalk downs in the south of England. The shape of the Juniper depends on its location and climate, varying from a small spikey conical tree up to about 6m (20 feet), to small bushes or horizontal shrubs` in exposed or thin soils.
The blue-green needles have a white waxy covering and grow in groups of three. Juniper bushes, like Holly trees, are either male or female, the flowers are formed in the spring : the male flowers are yellow; the female are tiny and look like buds, by late autumn these have developed into round green berries which ripen into purple berries in the second year. It is these purple berries which are used in cookery and for flavouring gin.
Juniper fruit contain between 1-2% volatile oil, consisting of over 60 compounds. Juniper is used in herbal medicine, but the extracted essential oils should not be taken internally without professional advice.
Juniper wood burns easily because of its oily resin, and the aroma was used to smoke hams and cheeses.
Dr. Mary Elliott
Morar Shop then and now - by Malcolm Poole, Mallaig Heritage Centre
Only ten years separate these two photographs, but today there is no trace of the Morar Shop, which played a vital part in the village for most of the 20th century.
The original village shop was located at Bourblach. It then moved to the hillside at Beoraidbeag, behind Bayview. When the railway station and the hotel were built about 1901 they became the focal centre of the community and Donald MacDougall from Bracara who already had a shop in Mallaig built the Morar Shop in 1912.
Donald MacDougall used to run a grocery van every week from his Mallaig shop to the bottom of the Bracara brae. He later acquired the Central Bar in Mallaig along with John MacVarish, brother of Sandy and Angus MacVarish, who ran the Bracara Post Office.
Donald MacDougall sold the Morar Shop to a Mrs MacVarish whose husband was a joiner and who built Invermorar House. She had the shop for many years.
Alec MacKinnon from Mallaig went to work in the Morar Shop as a boy and eventually took it over from Mrs MacVarish.
Mr Walker from South Uist took over the shop after Alec MacKinnon and ran it for a few years until he sold it to Calum MacDonald from Barra.
Calum sold it to Ann MacVarish, daughter of John and May MacVarish of Morar, who was living in Canada and the shop was managed by her sister Eleanor until it closed in 1992. Construction of the Morar by-pass was due to begin shortly, making future prospect for passing trade uncertain, and in spite of much advertising no-one could be found to buy the shop as a going concern. Eventually the site was bought by Douglas MacKellaig, the shop was demolished and replaced by the attractive two storey house which stands there today.
My thanks are due to Debbie MacKellaig and Eleanor MacVarish for their help with this article. If any readers can add more information about the shop, please do get in touch
The Heritage Centre is now open again six days a week and after eight years we have finally got round to painting the gates! Now we need lots of visitors to come through them. Also, many thanks to George Lawrie for pressure-hosing the Heritage Centre driveway and making it look like new!
A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
In November’s issue of West Word Allan MacDonald referred to the 1841 Census, which showed that the MacVarish family of No. 11 Bracara had two sets of twins and a set of triplets among their children. Mrs. Wright e-mailed us in response and Allan replies:
My mother passed on to me the November issue of West Word as she thought the article on ‘A Bracara Family’ in A Little Genealogy would interest me.
I have researched the MacVarish family history. I am a descendant of the family at No. 11. There is a connection with the local MacVarish families and my own family.
The Neil MacVarish mentioned was my great, great, great grandfather. His son Donald, (not Dugald as quoted) had moved to Croft No. 4 by the 1851 census. Mary, the wife of the said Neil MacVarish was a widow by then and with her children George and Christian (Christy), lived at Croft No. 5.
However it is worth noting that in the 1841 census people’s ages were rounded off to the nearest five years. Therefore there were no twins or triplets at that time and to my knowledge there has never been a record of any multiple births in the family.
Theresa (MacVarish) Wright, Musselburgh.
Allan MacDonald replied:
Thank you very much for your reply to my article in West Word (A Little Genealogy, Nov 2001). I note your comments about the 1841 census, re rounding off ages, therefore confirming a suspicion that I had. Your reply puts it in context. I will also adjust the name of your g. g. grandfather.
If you would be interested our newly formed Society, An Comunn Eachdraidh Arasaig, would be delighted to have a copy of your family research for our archives. One of our projects is to collect as many family trees as possible so that we can help people who are trying to trace their own family connections. Many enquiries come from abroad as well as this country. There are, of course, other MacVarish families in the area and, indeed, from far away, who would love to put the story together.
My column in West Word arose from a desire to document, archive and stimulate interest in other people and to try to put together a written record of families past and present. The oral tradition disappeared several generations ago, for many reasons but, people like you and I, who have recorded our family history, can at least preserve what we know. Corrections, such as yours, are very welcome as they put the record straight, which is very important.
Theresa has kindly offered a copy of her research for An Comunn Eachdraidh Arasaig’s records.
Tearlach MacFarlane has given a copy of his research into the ‘Lotties’ which will be available for general use at a later date. Alasdair Roberts had given a copy of Rhetland and Glenaladale descendants for the archive.
Genealogical research weekend planned on Eigg for September.
The Isle of Eigg History Society has recently secured some more Lottery funding for a continuation of its photographic archive project. This time, the project will focus on how to present the work of the society to visitors and other communities through slide shows and a travelling exhibition of selected photographs.
As the collation of all these old photographs goes hand in hand with genealogical research, the society also approached Bill Lawson who has established a thriving genealogical research business on the isle of Lewis and teaches the subject at Lews Castle College, to see if he could deliver a short course on Eigg aimed at understanding the ins and out of research in family history and handling genealogical enquiries.
A week-end course is therefore planned for Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September at the Glebe Barn on the isle of Eigg and would cost about £50 to £60 per person - all costs included as well as ferry fare - if we can secure an attendance of at least a dozen people.
Please get in touch with the society's secretary if you are interested in participating, so that we can apply for additional funding to cover the costs of the course:
Camille Dressler, Comunn Eachdraidh Eige, Isle of Eigg, 01687 482410.
Seanair MacDhòmhnaill (Grandfather MacDonald) - by Marlene MacDonald Cheng
My grandfather was a great personality who left an incredible legacy to his family – a legacy of music, toughness, and love. As a small child he had been left to care for his other siblings when his mother died in childbirth at the age of 38. One would have thought that such a trauma might make a person bitter and gloomy. Nothing of the sort. Wherever Jack the Piper went, joy and happiness and mischief went too. He had a large family, 9 children, and he had an extended family which included all his brothers and sisters and their children, as well as all the students at St. Francis Xavier University where he was head carpenter for many years. Nothing got this man down. He was irrepressible!
He spread love wherever he went. His house was filled with noise and boisterous activity until he died. Everyone was welcome there and they came in droves. They came to play cards, while discussing their lack of skill at playing golf, their failures to reach the students in their classes, the politics of the world, the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Montreal Canadians, their bad grades, their loves and hates, and through it all they were made to laugh and look at the bright side of all their problems. They were priests and nuns and teachers and musicians and workmen and farmers and fishermen. Everyone was treated the same. Grandpa challenged them to excel, to laugh at their mistakes and learn from them, to have fun and to live life to the fullest. He loved a good argument and wasn’t happy unless he was mightily challenged by his opponents. He surrounded us all with music, playing the bagpipes, singing Gaelic songs, dancing the Highland Fling or the Sword Dance or an Eightsome Reel.
At the University his shop was a busy place where people were welcome to watch and learn. Students especially would seek him out for advice of one sort or another and he was never too busy to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on. When there was a University dance or hockey game or basketball game and he knew the young people would be drinking, he would say to Grandma, “Well, Cassie, I’m off to check on the lads.” Many years later, at a University reunion, a man came up to me and shook my hand because I was Jack the Piper’s granddaughter. He told me of the time that Grandpa picked him up, dead drunk, out of a ditch in the middle of winter, and returned him to his bed in the residence. Then he sat and watched him all night to be sure he would be alright. It was this man’s opinion that he would have frozen to death if Grandpa hadn’t rescued him. Many were the stories of his generosity and his strength of character.
He was also a mentor to local musicians. He knew all the tunes of his Scottish ancestors. Fiddlers, pipers and singers congregated at his home to learn those tunes and to share their own. They came from all parts of Cape Breton, from Antigonish, St. Andrew’s, Fraser’s Mills, New Caledonia, North Grant and Cape George. Gaelic was the preferred language of discourse at these gatherings and a sharp wit and quick tongue was prized almost as much as skill playing the instrument. Long hours were spent sharing stories and ‘spinning yarns’, to everyone’s delight. The house was always bursting at the seams with people.
A walk to town with Grandpa was a wonderful event. The child, holding tightly to his hand, would be introduced to all sorts of characters, his cronies who would have to listen to him brag about the exploits of that particular child. There were wonderful stories to listen to, candies to suck on, and interesting people to meet. Several hours would be dedicated to the task, even though the distance was only a mile or so. People would come out of shops to stand on the sidewalk and talk about their families, their farms, their latest tunes, the state of the world, an upcoming election, or whatever was the current topic of interest. The child was made to feel part of that world and learned so much from all the discussions.
His mischievous exploits were legendary. When my father and mother first married they lived with Grandpa and Granny for a year until their own house was built. Mom was very nervous and anxious to please, and Grandpa was quite amused by her seriousness. One evening, after learning that Mom was going to make biscuits, Grandpa organized his troops – Dad and three of his brothers - and they all arrived at the dinner table with saws, axes, hammers, and chisels, which they hid under the table cloth. When Mom proudly arrived with her steaming plate of freshly cooked bisquits, the ‘boys’ all took out their tools and proceeded to cut the bisquits with them. Mom, in tears, headed upstairs, with Granny following in close pursuit, trying to console her. The ‘boys’ thought it was very funny, of course. It wasn’t long before Mom was toughened up and used to the good-natured abuse of her ‘captors’. She soon learned to give back as good as she got!
Grandpa was a whiz at playing cards, and especially loved cribbage and canasta. His children and grandchildren were perched on his knee at an early age learning the game by watching him play with his friends. When the child grew to be about six or seven years old, they were invited to sit in and play a hand or more as part of a foursome. This was the greatest thrill. He wouldn’t allow you to dawdle, either. One had to be quick-thinking and fast-moving. The most fun was trying to catch him cheating. Then we would make a big fuss and give him a hard time, just as he did with us if we tried to cheat. We were encouraged to challenge and push, and to enjoy whatever we did. There was always a lot of laughter and noise when we played cards with Grandpa.
Grandpa had strong opinions, that’s for sure. When we got to the stage of having boyfriends or girlfriends, it was required that we bring our ‘loves’ around to be checked out by Grandpa. If you were a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, had Conservative Party leanings, and were a Catholic, then you were A-OK with him. God help the one who brought home a Montreal Canadians fan, or one whose parents were Liberals, or worse still, one who wasn’t Catholic. They were harangued for weeks by Grandpa. We learned to forgive him these particular quirks because we loved him so intensely.
Two of Grandpa’s greatest loves were cheese and whisky. The cheese was always old and mouldy and smelled like a boys’ locker room. The whisky was saved for special occasions when visitors arrived, at Christmas time, or for times of illness when it was used to make hot toddies. Grandpa guarded the bottle with his life. Even Granny wasn’t allowed near it.
Just a few years before he died, I visited Nova Scotia with my daughter Liana. Grandpa was thrilled to see us and especially to finally meet the little one. But he was ecstatic when Liana, aged three, sang him this song, taught to her by my sister Heather:
Some whisky was spilled on the bar room floor;
The bar was closed for the night;
When out of his hole came a little brown mouse
And sat in the pale moon light.
He lapped up the liquor on the bar room floor,
As back on his haunches he sat.
And all night long you could hear him cry:
“Bring on the gosh darn cat!”
In later years, Grandpa had a stroke and was confined to bed. When I went to visit him, he would reach under his mattress and bring out his little bottle of whisky. But my aunt (my father’s brother’s wife) who was looking after him was a Presbyterian by birth, and did not at all approve of him drinking that whisky. He would hide it from her, muttering under his breath in Gaelic about “the Protestant, Lowland devil”. One time he hid the bottle in the back of the toilet and she found it and confiscated it. After that he asked me to keep the bottle for him, so that he and I could have a wee nip when I went to visit him. He couldn’t believe that his life had come to such a pass. The stroke had affected his speech and he wasn’t able to tell his funny stories to me, so I had to save up all the ones I had heard for him. I would talk to him for hours, about all the goings on in the town, who had got up to what mischief, and so on. He so looked forward to my coming, and would laugh until the tears ran from his eyes. It made me sad on the one hand, but at least I felt good that I was finally able to give him back some of the joy he had given me throughout my life. He was 87 when he died. I like to think of him up there in Heaven making mischief and keeping everyone in line. He’s probably playing the pipes and organizing everyone to dance eightsome reels. Hope they enjoy him as much as we did!
Next month: Small Town Characters.
I greatly enjoy the information and news in West Word, and appreciate being able to read it on line. Congratulations on a job VERY well done. Allan MacDonald's pieces always provide me with interesting historical information necessary to my research (and hard to find in Canada). Gordon MacLennan's articles are fun and interesting. The bits of news about local areas keep me up to date on what is going on in the places where my people originated. In short, West Word is an excellent vehicle for 'spreading the word' about our Highland culture and happenings.
All the best to my friends and relations in the Arisaig area.
Leis gach deagh dhùrachd,
Marlene MacDonald Cheng, Victoria BC Canada
A Backward Glance by Rev George W. Baird: Mallaig Revisited
Mallaig was my home for 20 years, 1923 - 1943. I regret not having been back oftener. In the summer of 1941, I had been with the troops in Orkney, assisting in the Church canteen on Flotta. In September I enjoyed a rest in Mallaig. I gave a talk to the Women’s Guild of the Church before returning to Divinity College in Glasgow. Mother was a keen Guild’s woman.
In 1944 the Mallaig minister Rev. R. P. Aitchison came to my ordination and induction in Kirkmichael, Banff-shire. He came to my next two inductions as well, and I went to his on Gigha in 1954. In 1951 he invited me to his pulpit in Mallaig to tell the folk about the fire that destroyed my Kirkmichael Church, and of its rebuilding. They gave me a retiring collection for this, and that gave me a boost.
One year I took the services at Mallaig, on two Sundays in July. We stayed in the Manse, the Aitchisons being on holiday. Our little girl, Mary, had whooping cough, so we didn’t get about for a week or so. It was misty that week, then the sun came out, so we made some calls among my old friends. Roddy McKenzie at Nevis Terrace had George and I round to see a big football match on the telly. On Sunday the Moderator, the Very Rev. Dr. Murdo Ewan McDonald, and his wife were in the congregation. The choir must have heard my knees knocking.
Another time we holidayed at Primrose Cottage, May, self and David, a teenage lad then. It was lovely sunny weather. We sat out on the verandah a lot. A military man walked by several times. One day he came up the path, and said ‘Are you the Padre Baird from Shetland? You and your wife ran the canteen in pur camp at Lerwick.’ Indeed we did, in 1942. What a happy reunion we had! A number of times we went out to the sands at Morar.
On the last visit we took a cottage at Mallaig Vaig, sharing it with our son George and his wife, Marion. I showed him how to catch poddlies at the pier. George tramped over the hill to Loch an Nostarie; that was a bit too much for me.
In Bruce Watt’s boat we had a fine sail up Loch Nevis. May and Marion did a little shopping, and we sampled the ice cream in two cafés. On several days we went to Morar, picnicking once near Bracara. Motoring home we were held up for an hour; a big van had stuck under a bridge at Borrodale. We got home in time to see a bit of the cup final on the telly.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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