Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
July 2002 Issue
Contents of the online version:
SOE HEROES HONOURED
In a moving ceremony at Traigh House a war hero unveiled a commemorative plaque as a perpetual memorial to those who trained and were taught in the SOE’s Czechoslovak Section in the Arisaig and Morar area.
Major General Antonin Petrák, MBE MC, an instructor at Traigh House in 1942/3, performed the ceremony in front of a small crowd of veterans, fellow countrymen and those who had come to pay tribute to those who served in the Special Operations Executive.
Accompanied by the Defence Attachés of the Slovak Republic and a small contingent of soldiers, General Petrák was joined by Mr David Nicholson, MBE, who had been his Chief Instructor at Traigh House, and Mr Ernest van Maurik, Instructor at Garramore and Camusdarach in 1941. The Reverend Alan Lamb and Father Calleja performed the dedication service and pipers from the 52nd Lowland Regiment played a lament and a march. A two minutes silence was observed.
For more on the ceremony, see below.
Mr Jack Shaw-Stewart had laid on tea and cakes in a marquee in the garden and perfect host that he is, even made sure his guests were adequately protected from the midges by patrolling with a skin spray!
The SOE Special Training School (Czechoslovak Section) ran from 1941 to 1943. The instructors were all British, until joined by Lt Antonin Petrák and was based at various times, in one of four houses – Garramore, Camusdarach, Ballasis in Surryey and Traigh House.
Major General Antonin Petrák MBE MC with the plaque at Traigh House
Photograph courtesy of The Write Image
The Knoydart Foundation are celebrating three years of existence on Thursday 4th July with a number of events to mark the initial achievements of the Foundation and the community.
The day – fittingly Independence Day – starts at 11.30 with the commissioning of the hyroelectric scheme and the Foundation Display Room by Chris Brasher, former Olympic athlete and one of the founders of the Foundation.
A tour of the various projects will precede a buffet lunch. Councillor Charles King, Chairman of the Knoydart Foundation, said ‘We are proud to be able to show how much work has gone into the Foundation and huge progress made, including community housing and a network of woodland walks‘.
ISLE OF CANNA
A very busy time for the school this month (June). The week beginning 17th June was Jump Rope for the British Heart Foundation. The girls, Sinead, Mairead & Kathryn and also little Catherine took part in a 3 hour non-stop skipping extravaganza with the help of Karen Johnston, Shona Quinn and myself. The total amount raised was £650 from which 25% went to the school fund and the rest to BHF.
Also at the school, we had a visit from Jackie Lee, who tours around schools telling stories from World War II. She arrived on Canna dressed as Miss Moffatt, who was a very strict school mistress. She taught the girls in class as if they were living in that time, writing on slates and writing using ink pens. The afternoon session saw Miss Moffatt change into Gladys Scott who was a housewife from World War II. She told stories about how her husband was away to war and how she coped on her own, she let the girls try on period dresses, they all looked very elegant. She got the girls to bring in clothes to school which would be what a person would have taken if they had been evacuated. The girls had a wonderful time with Jackie and found it very interesting in how things have changed so much since the War.
On a sadder note, the school is losing their teacher, Joan Stephen, at the end of term. We wish her well in whatever she does and want to say thank you for all the hard work that she has put into the school, getting it up to the standard it is. She will be missed very much. We would like to welcome Karen Johnston who is stepping intro the position as Acting Head until such time as a head teacher is appointed.
After a very successful lambing the farm is now starting to shear the sheep on the odd day when it is dry. Whatever happened to the summer?
A Planning Application has been put forward to open a tearoom with basic food supplies on the island. If all goes well we hope to have it up and running by Easter 2003, so watch this space for more details.
Mrs Campbell returned to Canna after having respite care in the Mackintosh Centre, I’m sure she is glad to be home among her cats and the dog. A very happy birthday to Norah – Granny Mac– on her birthday on Tuesday 2nd July, How old!! (only kidding...)
No update on St Edwards yet but will keep you informed as soon as I hear anything.
Another event which took place was the Mission in Mallaig hired the Lochnevis for a special cruise which came to Canna and let people ashore for the hour. Everyone enjoyed themselves.
I am writing this aboard the Lochnevis as we are heading off on our school trip today, heading for Craig Tara in Ayr. I will let you know how it goes next month.
ISLE OF MUCK
Surprisingly the sun shone for the Open Day despite all the bad forecasts and the wind remained light. More than 50 people including farmers from all over Central Scotland made the journey and were able to fit comfortably on the two trailers for the farm tour. There they were able to see the Mull lambs, Blondie’s foal, Blackord Levi the Simental bull and the nine piglets born on the sports night.
At a presentation on the 23rd the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland spoke of their findings on all the Small Isles with some preliminary results from their intensive survey of Muck. Chippings of flint arrow heads from Neolithic times 3000 - 4000 BC indicate the earliest known inhabitants of Muck. Later the outline of a Viking longhouse is a completely new find and in recent times two new corn drying kilns have been added to the two already known about.
At the pier little progress has been made and with Highland Council and CCG locked in litigation prospects are not good. The person who predicted the Eigg slipway would be finished first may well be proved right.
On the farm the wettest June for at least 16 years has left its mark. No silage has been made and as I write half the ewes are left to shear. There has been a lot of waiting and we have been forced to take to the hills to continue the war against the bracken with the Mull lambs D-Day is approaching – Delivery Day. These will be the first local lambs to be sold in the new butcher’s shop in Tobermory and I have been offered 130p per lb. A number have reached 40kg liveweight and the shop will take 10 at a time. But they have to reach the slaughterhouse clean, dry, empty and on the day arranged. A further report next month.
ISLE OF RUM
The BBC have descended on Rum en masse. We are overrun with Americans suffering from culture shock and cold, while the production team want everything done yesterday, if not sooner. We also have our own tellytubby cum Nasa installation on the north side, which you really can see from space. It’s actually their fancy campsite.
Our very own Sean Morris went for an unintentional swim last week during that big storm when the Rhouma broke its mooring and ended up across the loch. Sean, Stuart and Derek managed to get her back without too much damage but the wind blew the dinghy over and Sean fell in. thankfully he was recovered swiftly and is OK.
The school went for an end of term trip to Canna. We got a full 55 minutes to amuse ourselves and eat ice cream before returning on the Lochnevis, only to discover that the children from Lady Lovat School had been over to Rum for a day trip in our absence. It’s a funny old world.
Ali, Kelly and Co., the deer researchers at Kilmory, have spent the last 6 weeks wrestling with deer calves, putting collars on them for identification purposes. Not many calves have been born this year, apparently due to the hinds not being in very good condition during the last year.
Rum will be having an open day this summer in August. There will be lots of activities put on including landrover safaris to Kilmory, a trip to one of the seabird colonies, a bouncy castle (hurray!) and the obligatory beer tent. In the evening for those who wish to brave the midges and stay over there will be a barbecue and ceilidh. A boat will be put on from Mallaig, so transport will be free. Watch this space for more details and a definite date.
Other news...there are several guided nature walks this coming month, see below for more details, the wandering feral goat has returned to Harris and CCG’s modern art installation titled ‘Unfinished Business’ catches the light remarkably well in the evening sun, it could possibly be a winner for next year’s Turner prize.
ISLE OF EIGG
Well, with a month of June equally as wet as May has been, our wildlife warden is even more worried about bird life on the island. With the wind chill in the recent gale, there have been heavy losses, even amongst crows, and particularly with cliff nesting birds. However, the 200 pairs of terns are doing very well, and the two pairs of Golden Eagles have successfully bred. Lets hope the weather improves!
The trust ‘s fifth anniversary was celebrated in due form on the 15th of June with an all night-dance in the marquee kindly lent by the Old Forge in Knoydart. Ceilidh dancing and club dancing alternated in a great party atmosphere enjoyed by a good size crowd. Thank you all for coming to celebrate with us: Eigg is still the party island for young and old and here’s to another five years! As Angus Mac used to say: "keep the music going, laddie, or the island will lose its soul." I guess we are happy to do our best and there are more than a few sore heads about, since some of us carried on partying for an extra two days when the musicians got stormbound!
The 12th June open day was equally good, if a little wetter. I was very touched by the number of guests and visitors (it was particularly good to see John Martin and Willie MacSporran from Gigha sharing the day with us ) who came to the opening of the Old Shop "little museum" and swap shop by John Wood, Highland Council’s chief archaeologist. John is very committed to interpretation in and by the community and promised to add the old shop to the listed buildings of Eigg. He was also very impressed by the way Brian Gardner had done up the 18th century mill at Kildonnan and enjoyed the visit to the Bronze age smelting site at Galmisdale which was being excavated by Trevor Cowie of the National Museums of Scotland.
He also reminded us of his efforts towards securing a three year post for a West Lochaber archaeologist, who would help investigate archaeological sites in our area and devise a suitable community interpretation strategy. He is hoping that with community support, his next bid for funding will be successful. So, if you are interested in developing your community’s archaeology, get in touch with him at the Highland Council!
On Eigg, we are also waiting with interest to hear the conclusions of the Royal Commission on the archaeology of the Small Isles after concluding their survey of Muck and looking at the Rum sites. Interestingly, some Mesolithic flints have now surfaced at Laig following the extensive re-seeding scheme started by George Carr on the farm there.
But in the meantime, we are looking forward to a summer of great music, starting with Fred Morrison ( and Irish ceilidh cruise bunch) on the 5th July and Feis Eige 2002, which will take place in a new venue this year, at the Glebe Barn. Lots of storytelling, stepdancing and musicmaking for the whole family!
NEW LIFE IN KNOYDART!
It is just over 3 years since Knoydart gained its independence. So we shall be celebrating our independence day on Thursday the 4th July.
We hope many of you come to see what has been accomplished:
- We have created new life! There are now 10 young children below school age and this from a population that totals only 70
- We are approaching the completion of the refurbishment of our Hydro electric scheme and now have power 24 hours a day
- With community support we have built a new house – a modern version of a black house – to house 2 workers.
- A dense jungle of rhododendron has been cleared from the woods behind Inverie and we have created some glorious woodland walks
- We have commissioned and built an information display for visitors who we hope will become Friends of Knoydart
The chairman of the Knoydart Foundation, Charlie King, will start off the proceedings and introduce one of his colleague co-founders of the Foundation, Chris Brasher. Chris Brasher, amongst others, first proposed the formation of a Knoydart Foundation partnership to purchase the estate and his Trust was a major contributor to the successful purchase. We are pleased that many of the private individuals and organisations who also made significant financial and practical contributions will be present on the 4th July.
We shall start our day with the symbolic opening of the Hydro electric scheme followed by a short guided walk of some of our completed projects and there will be musical entertainment provided by the children of the local primary school.
Angela Williams, Development Manager for the Foundation, said ‘’Looking to the future, our immediate priorities are to recruit 1000 Friends of Knoydart , to complete a range of new build and refurbishment housing projects and to upgrade the hostel. To achieve all this we will continue to nurture the atmosphere of friendship, respect, generosity mutual support and welcome. We like to think that these are the hallmarks of visitors and residents experience of life in Knoydart’’.
Roger Trussell, Community Director of the Foundation, commented ‘’Finally, those of us who live on Knoydart wish to use this occasion to pay tribute to the significant help we have received from Highland councillors, from the Lochaber area manager, John Hutchison and his staff, from the John Muir Trust and our other partners in the Foundation. The Council helped to take forward the refurbishment of our Hydro electric scheme and also assisted in the setting up of our small but effective development office and staff which now implement projects at a local level. Knoydart has now taken its place amongst other successful Highland community – owned estates.
We also wish to acknowledge the team work, cooperation and many hours of voluntary effort from members of the community. Together these have been vital ingredients in assuming the responsibilities of stewardship that come with ownership.
Angela Williams, Development Manager, Knoydart Foundation 01687 462242
Roger Trussell, Community Director, Knoydart Foundation, 01687 462669
In the first 3 years of 'independence' Knoydart has seen: the arrival of 3 new families; the birth of 6 new residents; the appointment of a full time Development Manager; the authorship and regular revision of the Business Plan for Knoydart; the start up of 6 new businesses; the design approval and building of new interim housing units for new workers; the refurbishment of the Hydro Electric scheme, which will at last provide reliable 24 hour electricity for many houses and businesses ; the rationalisation of resources and former estate equipment; the approval of funding for the creation of 3 new houses, and the refurbishment of 2 houses owned by the Foundation; the completion of a number of essential research and survey documents in collaboration with key partners, to underpin the long term strategies of the Knoydart Foundation, including *Housing and Tourism Survey *Natural Heritage Management Plan *Vegetation and Environmental Surveys; the building of the Village Car Park; an ongoing development of information sources *Knoydart Foundation website - www.Knoydart-foundation.com *The design and production of the Interpretation Display *The publication of a regular residents newsletter; the drafting and implementation of essential company documentation and procedures.
To achieve this residents have already spent in excess of 4679 hours in committees and working groups and carried out more than 9721 hours of voluntary work. The involvement and support of external board directors has been integral to this progress. We have more targets for the next three years.
Unveiling of the memorial plaque at Traigh House to the S.O.E. Special Training School (Czechoslovak Section), 9th June 2002.
by Hamish Scott
It was a soft West Highland afternoon, with a hint of rain and the certainty of midges in the air, when the memorial to S.O.E. trainees was unveiled at Traigh on 9th June. The weather was appropriate to an occasion that was intended as a dignified remembrance, rather than a celebration, of an extraordinary episode in Arisaig’s history.
In the summer of 1940, when Britain stood alone against the seemingly unstoppable advance of Hitler's Reich, Churchill ordered the creation of what he termed a "ministry of ungentlemanly warfare" .The Special Operation Executive was a secret force of highly-trained volunteers prepared to risk their lives on undercover missions deep within occupied Europe. Few came from conventional military backgrounds.
They were men and women drawn from every walk of life, many of them exiles from countries under Nazi role, united only in their loathing for their common enemy, the Reich. Their mission, as defined by Churchill, was to "set Europe ablaze", through sabotage, assassination and the cultivation of resistance movements. The field training of this brave, ragged army took place in the Rough Bounds of Arisaig and Morar. The rusting, pock-marked hardware of their target-practice can still be seen on the beach below Arisaig House, but Garramore, Rhubana, Camusdarach and Traigh were amongst the other local homes requisitioned for their use. So secret was the project that no outsider was allowed into the area without a pass and Arisaig was effectively isolated from the world. The local population soon grew familiar with the sound of gunfire and explosions in the night and turned a blind eye to the wild, cosmopolitan community stationed in their midst. It is said that one of the considerations that influenced Whitehall's selection of the area was a faith amongst Scots mandarins in the discretion of the Gael. After all, no local had betrayed another secret presence hack in 1746.
The heroic, often almost suicidal operations of the S.O.E. some sixty years ago are now as much a part of history as the Jacobite uprising. The S.OE. achieved some notable successes, such as the destruction of a Heavy Water plant in Norway that underpinned the Nazi's A-bomb project. Their attacks on railways, munitions factories and military targets harassed and demoralised German occupation forces. And it was a Czechoslovak detachment trained in Arisaig that assassinated Reinhardt Heydrich, the vile, psychopathic Reichsprotektor of Prague. But such successes were achieved only at appalling cost. More than a quarter of all agents lost their lives and reprisals taken by the Germans included the massacre of whole villages. And, tragically, many of those fighters who survived never saw their homelands freed from occupation and oppression. In the post-war years, Slovaks, Czechs and Poles who had fought with the Western allies were viewed with intense suspicion by the Stalinist frontmen of the new regimes in Eastern Europe. Far from being given medals, many were imprisoned, or deprived of their careers. The authorities, it seems, feared they were infected by some wind of freedom they had breathed in on the Camusdarach dunes.
The unveiling of the Traigh memorial could therefore never be a triumphant celebration held under unclouded skies. The past recalled was far too dark. But even as the pipers played laments, there was a sense of vindication and of optimism in the air. Three former training officers from Garramor and Traigh were guests of honour at the ceremony. They included Major General Antonin Petrak of S.O.E.'s Czechoslovak section. He spoke, without rancour, of his persecution and imprisonment in the homeland he had risked his life to free. But, just ten or fifteen years ago, his official presence at any such event would have been unthinkable Now he was attended by the military attaches of the Czech and Slovak nations.
Blessings were given both by the Reverend Lamb and by Father Calleja, the representatives of differing faiths and of different nationalities. Sixty years ago, the cosmopolitan refugees in Arisaig reflected old Europe's hatreds and divisions. The ceremony held at Traigh, even in its modest scale and absence of all bombast and pretension, seemed to represent a final healing of these wounds. As we took our tea afterwards in Traigh's peaceful, beautiful walled garden, old men recalled with pride the days when they were warriors. Now, despite the stormy skies, we all breathed the same free air and could reserve our loathing for a lesser enemy.. ..the midge.
Old soldiers Bob Poole and Freddie Salmon (left) line up with (left to right front row) Mr Nicholson, Mr van Maurik, Maj Gen Petrák and Mr Jack Shaw-Stewart. Back row, Lt Col Southwood and Col. Prochyrá.
Major General Petrák’s speech was so moving West Word has reproduced it here in full.
Major General A Petrák
Ladies and Gentleman, Distinguished Guests,
It is an honour for me to attend today's ceremony at Traigh House. It is not by chance we have gathered here. We have assembled to unveil a memorial plaque commemorating that:
"Special Forces from the Army of Czechoslovakia received training here, and at Camusdarach House and Garramor, from 1941 to 1943, prior to operations in their homeland against the German Nazi invaders".
I am glad that on this historic occasion I can - in my own name and on behalf of the people who trained here - personally express my gratitude to the British instructors and to all those Czech and Slovak ex-servicemen, who did not live to see this day.
This precious ceremony evokes memories for me. Allow me to share them with you.
The occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany strengthened the courage of many Czech and Slovak patriots to leave their country in order to join the Allies and fight with them shoulder to shoulder to liberate our Motherland. In our struggle for freedom we landed in Great Britain, when this country took the biggest-share in the common fight for freedom. It was an honour for us, in the hard years of danger, to stand on your side.
The initial course of the war, after the fall of France, showed that it would take time before the Allies would be able to return to the European continent. We accepted therefore, with enthusiasm, Churchill’s resolve "To set Europe ablaze" and to make it a place of nations in revolt, to organise and co-operate with the movement of resistance, until Europe would be free.
Several hundred volunteers reported for this dangerous task, which was run by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
The training of the first Czechoslovak group started in July 1941 at Garramore. The next four groups, each of 20 men, were based at Camusdarach. From these men, the first volunteers were dropped into Czechoslovakia in the winter of 1941-1942. The most well-known of them, Gabcik and Kubiš, made a surprise attack on SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heidrich in Prague. After this successful action, further training was concentrated here, at Traigh House.
I was among the first group which completed its training here, and was very honoured, at the end of that training, to be selected as an instructor. It was a pleasure for me to work with British instructors, in the British spirit.
Over the next 10 months, 160 volunteers were trained at Traigh House. Together with those trained at Garramore and Camusdarach, this made a total number of more than 200 men. This SOE training for operations in Czechoslovakia ended in May 1943. We all parted in the hope that we would meet immediately after the war, to continue the friendships we had made here.
However, the communist regime of the former Soviet Union brought an impenetrable iron curtain across Europe and dishonoured us for our wartime co-operation with the British. It branded me as a "criminal element" for my so-called "capitalist services", and described my wartime British instructors as a "class enemy of the country of imperialists and warmongers".
After 50 years, when the communist system went into history, I was very happy to find Dennis Nicholson, the Chief Instructor at Traigh House. With our common effort we met van Maurik, the first instructor of our men who trained at Garramore and Camusdarach. It has taken a further ten years for us gather here - under these very special circumstances.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Mr Dennis Nicholson and Mr Jack Shaw-Stewart for their help and readiness to install this memorial plaque here. I am also grateful to the Czech Defence Attaché, Colonel Zuna and the Slovak Defence Attaché, Colonel Prochyrá, for their help towards this project. I would also like to thank the SOE for permission to use the motive "Spirit of Resistance" on the plaque. May I also thank The Reverend Lamb, Father Calleja, the Pipers and all of you for coming to make this such a special day.
Last but not least, I would like to express my sincere gratitude, admiration and thanks to the British Defence Attaché in the Slovak Republic, Lt Col Nicholas Southward, for his unceasing efforts and constant interest in helping to realise my dream of establishing this memorial.
Finally, allow me to express the conviction that this plaque, which I have had the honour to unveil, will be a lasting monument to the friendship between Great Britain and the Czech and Slovak Republics and that it will remain with us as a true symbol of life, celebrating the coming generation and commemorating the brave patriotism of their forefathers.
The ceremony included the poem below, which was used by heroine Violette Szabo as a key to her personal code. It was written by Leo Marks, SOE Head of Coding, and has been read out on various occasions, in particular at the unveiling of the monument to SOE victims at the site of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where Violette was executed.
The life that I have is all that I have
And the life that I have is yours
The love that I have of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours
Four examples of the success stories of the SOE are:
- The destruction of the Heavy Water plant in Norway, which deprived Germany of the means to continue their development of an atomic bomb.
- The damage to the Peugeot factory in SE France, which prevented it producing tanks for the German Army for 6 months.
- The financing of the British and Allied military operations in the Far East in 1944/45, by the raising of vast sums of money on the Black Market, in China.
- The elimination of mass murderer Reinhard Heydrich in Prague by Czechoslovakian soldiers trained in the Arisaig area.
Road to the Isles Agricultural Show - Saturday 8th June 2002
Once again we were blessed with a good day, surprising in this month of indifferent weather. There was an excellent turnout of animals but the same cannot be said of the Handicraft entries. Those that came were of the usual high standard but there were very few entries.
The sight of the Indian runner Ducks being herded around the ring, over bridges, through tunnels and into pens, by Mark Wylie’s Border collies, accompanied by an amusing commentary, kept the audience spell-bound. The Huskies of Dave Paterson carried many children the length of the Showfield on their sledges until the dogs were worn out.
Amongst the most popular draws at the Show
were Alan Douglas's Birds of Prey, including
hawks, a snowy owl and this eagle owl.
A spectacular array of plants from the five nurseries – Abriachan, Ard daraich, Ardtornish, Glenborrodale and Highland Liliums – went part way to compensate for the absence of horses this year. The lack of a horse ring did, however, mean that more stands could be accommodated. It was interesting to see the Mackintosh Centre, Crossroads and Lochaber Mobility represented. Lochaber Environmental Group ran a composting competition as well as collecting all the bottles and cans used at the Show, a valuable service to the Show as well as to their funds.
There was an excellent spread of food on offer – all prepared locally – from the Arisaig Hotel traditional barbecue through the soup and rolls of the Show tent to a fantastic fish barbecue, generously provided by the Coastguards.
Grateful thanks are due to a large number of people who helped to make the day such a success. However there is a huge amount of work involved in the final week and we shall need considerably more help, over the latter stages in particular, if this Show is to be held in 2003. If anyone, young or old, has an interest in the Show and feels they could help in any way, please contact Bill Henderson on 450645 or Angela Simpson on 450221.
Coastal Ranger Report
Oh woe, woe, and thrice woe, I’m sure someone has said that before (Up Pompeii ?) Never mind, what’s the grouse today? Well I’ll tell you. Here I am only a week back to work and here’s West Word screaming for my filler!! I’m sure that considering the fact that I am now enjoying, along with all the other faithful folders, hours of pain collating and folding our ever expanding journal, some judicious juggling by our favourite Editor, (note the capital!) one page, or at least one tiny article could easily be obliterated by a new advert!! But hey! What’s with a wee column like this, a good ten minutes typing and an alert brain will eat it in no time. Yea!! As I sit here at 11.37pm with a blank mind, two arthritic typing fingers and drooping eyelids, Encyclopaedia Britannica seems like a dawdle!
To work boy! Just what has happened since last month? Not a lot if you exclude the mapping disaster that I reported on in the last issue. As a matter of interest, the "powers that be" suddenly decided that all the changes should all of a sudden have been completed by the 17th of June (this information reached us on Friday 14th!). so the end result is that the maps, all 17 of them covering the Lochaber area, were plucked from our sweaty palms and rushed off to Inverness for onward transport to wherever the "great mapping point in the sky" exists – or otherwise! Watch this space, ‘cos I guarantee you, or at least the Rangers, haven’t heard the last of this. In this same fraught period, the reality of the children’s summer play scheme began to raise it’s head. Oh **** it’s only a few weeks away, and we don’t even have a venue, never mind any ideas. Quick, meeting, brainstorming session, no panic, well, not yet, just get something organised! By the way, there is no funding available, does that help!? Outcome? Glen Nevis, packed lunches, games, challenges? Too hard, not safe enough, have we done it before, will the parents approve? Guess what????
Eventually I found succour on the 25th of the month when at long last I was able to recommence my simple walking programme with a casual stroll on the old Kinlochmoidart path. What a nice relaxing day! Mark you, I was due it as the 24th. saw me sail the ocean blue over to Skye to assist with the Primary 4 school trip. Amazingly, despite a grey start, the sun came out, the anti midge breeze kept up and the children seemed happy. What more could we ask for! To go back to the walks, I now have posters in the usual places, and would hope that I can rekindle some enthusiasm amongst my readers, because I need the exercise now to build up the muscles wasted by weeks of inactivity. How about it?
Volunteers know the number! Telephone: 01687 462 983
P.S. I almost forgot to mention a Bronze group practise over 15 miles round Glen Loy, and a fairly posh camping expedition with Mrs. MacKellaig’s "specials" up Loch Morar side. Who thought there was no variation in the life of a Ranger on the Highland Council’s payroll!!
Currachs, dug-outs and galleys by Denis Rixson of Mallaig Heritage Centre
With our current dependence on the motor-car it is difficult to imagine a situation where sea-transport was always and everywhere preferred. Yet on the west coast of Scotland it is only in the last two hundred years that we have shifted decisively from ship to shore. In all previous history, land transport was slow, costly and hazardous. Freight charges were prohibitive - goods and people travelled by water if at all possible. That is why so many present settlements are found along the coast and at river-mouths.
Before the arrival of the Vikings, c 800 AD, boats on the west coast were predominantly made of skin. Wooden boats were not unknown - (and dug-outs survived until the eighteenth century) - but skin boats were cheap to build and replace, light to carry, and could take a surprising amount of freight. In Wales one-man coracles are still in use, likewise curraghs in Ireland. In Scotland they have died out although they were once commonplace on the coast and inland rivers. They were made from bulls' hides and were easily carried which must have made them ideal for hill lochs. On Loch nam Ban Mora in Eigg there is a little island dun just yards from the shore. How else would they have reached it except in tiny portable currachs?
We have mention of these currachs in the written records and we know from a seventeenth-century sketch done in Ireland that they could be very substantial. They are recorded as carrying up to thirty men at a time. Currachs were perfect for their environment - but not in competition with wooden boats. At sea the latter swept all before them - especially when crewed by Vikings!
Birlinns - the traditional West Highland galleys - are direct descendants of Norse longships. Indeed the very name birlinn is thought to derive from byrdingr (or ship of burthen) which was a small cargo vessel that could be lengthened, if required, into a longship. Such boats could be rowed or sailed - which gave them a critical versatility in the stormy seas of the west. To gain a harbour, to run ashore, to round a headland; all these required alternative means of propulsion if conditions were difficult or the wind contrary.
How do we know about these boats? Apart from the numerous references to them in poem and story we also have some 80 or so carvings, a few images on seals, a few more on maps. The best is at St. Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris and shows a 34-oared birlinn, perhaps 80' in length. The carved panel is part of a MacLeod tomb dated to 1528 and is almost a technical drawing in its attention to detail. We can tell how the clinker planks overlapped, the reefing laces on the sail, how the rudder was fixed, how the halyard ran through a hole in the top of the mast.
Were they important? Sea transport underpinned the economy of the West Highlands and Hebrides until the nineteenth century. Birlinns were the workhorses of the Western Isles. They carried foodstuffs, livestock and people. They ferried the quick and the dead. They carried mercenaries to Ireland, cattle and sheep to summer pasture or to market.
How were they built? By families of shipwrights who passed the tradition from father to son - much like the doctors, smiths and poets of the Gaelic world. Local resources of timber were used, coarse wool for the sail, heather roots and lengths of moss-fir for ties and laces, hides of seals and cattle for ropes.
How many were there? In 1545 a fleet of 180 of them is recorded travelling to Ireland with 4000 men. In 1595 another fleet of almost 100 vessels passed the same way. According to an early fourteenth-century assessment Eigg might have maintained five such boats, Skye as many as fifty.
Why did they disappear? Because they could not carry armaments and so were no match for ships with guns. During their heyday in the sixteenth century they had carried thousands of mercenaries to Ireland. After the Union of Crowns in 1603 James VI was not going to tolerate such actions while he ruled all three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland. Their crewing requirements made them too expensive to maintain once they could no longer function as troop transports.
When did they go? By the eighteenth century they were in terminal decline. Alasdair MacDonald's great poem "The Birlinn of Clan Ranald" is like a swansong to a way of life that was about to disappear forever. Perhaps he understood this. Perhaps this is why he celebrated the crew individually and collectively.
But all is not lost. There is currently a huge revival of interest in Viking boats in general. Across Europe some 150 replicas have now been built. The 'Aileach', which came into Mallaig to replace a mast some years ago, was the first reconstruction of a Highland galley. The Gall-Gael Trust in Glasgow is planning another, Comunn Birlinn in Argyll a third.
Are there any local connections? The boat wreck in Eigg, although late, may be descended from the galley-type and give us invaluable clues as to construction and design. Other wrecks lie hidden in the sands off Barra and Uist. All they want is attention and archaeology.
Denis Rixson is the author of a number of books on local history - ‘Knoydart’, ‘The Small Isles: Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck’, and ‘The West Highland Galley’. His latest book, ‘Arisaig and Morar’ will be available soon. Buy them at The Book Shop in Mallaig and The Land, Sea & Islands Centre in Arisaig.
A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Peggy Walker featured in last month’s West Word (in an old photograph on page 9) and, as I had that family in mind for a future article some other small events brought it forward.
She was for many years Registrar in Bracara, as was her brother Angus and, like many another person of the district I laboured under the illusion that there were only those two and another brother, Donald.
My grandmother, Marjory MacLellan, Seaview, Morar, was a first cousin to Peggy through her father Ronald, a brother of Margaret MacLellan, second spouse of Donald Walker.
During April, I was using spare time in the Café to fill in my Family Tree from the Brinacory connections, and in walked Anne-Elaine Walker who lives in California with her husband Gillespie from Fort William – and with her was her father Donald Walker, who lives in Kinlochleven. She is a great-great-grand-daughter of Donald Walker and Mary MacLellan.
Donald Walker, born 1823, died 1902, was Schoolmaster in Bracara for many years and was the son of Alexander Walker and Joana Campbell of South Uist. He married Mary MacLellan, daughter of Ronald MacLellan (1776-1855) and Margaret MacDonald of Bracara, and they had six children: Joana, Janet, Ronald, Angus, John, and Donald who married Catherine Gillies and moved to Kinlochleven. They had a son Ronald who married Jessie MacAskill and their son Donald was in the Café with his daughter Anne-Elaine. I had no prior knowledge of this family. In 1860, Mary MacLellan died giving birth to her son Donald.
Archie MacLellan (‘Gilliesbuig Brinacary‘), son of Donald MacLellan and Sarah MacDougal, was born in 1804 and married Margaret MacDonald, b. 1810, daughter of John MacDonald and Catherine MacLellan, also of Brinacory, and ancestors of Ian ‘the Guard’ in Mallaig.
Gilliesbuig and Margaret had, amongst others, a daughter called Margaret. Exactly a year and a day after his wife’s demise, Donald Waker married Margaret MacLellan in 1861 and they had John, Angus, Mary, Joseph, Joana, James and Janet (twins), Margaret (Peggy), John II and Ronald. Altogether, Donald Walker had sixteen children.
His fifth child by Margaret, Joana, married James Nairn of St Fergus, Banffshire, and their great-grandson Andrew Nairn came to see me in early May, and from him I got a lot of info from his own research into the Walker family. He had researched back to Gilliesbuig’s parents but had no information on Margaret MacLellan’s siblings, which I gave him. Andrew lives in London with his wife Louise MacAuslane, and they have a son, Alexander (2001).
Ronald, Peggy Walker’s youngest brother, married Janet Orr and emigrated to San Franciso, California. They had, among others, Ronald, whose daughter Elizabeth Joan married Gary Burtsell and have two children, Brooke and Joan. They live in Los Alantas.
Of the rest of the Walkers, six died between the ages of 3 and 23 years. We have other information on the rest, other than in the 1891 Census. In No. 3 Bracara, still living with the parents, is Angus, aged 25, Mary aged 23, Joseph aged 21, and Ronald, 12. Emigrant Ronald was leader of the local pipe band in San Francisco and probably learned his piping in Bracara.
What’s in a Name? by Marlene MacDonald Cheng
The Highland Scots everywhere, and certainly in Eastern Nova Scotia, have a propensity for giving people nicknames. It isn’t always just for fun. Usually it’s because there are so many John MacDonalds, or Allan MacGillivrays, or Hughie MacPhersons, that nicknames become absolute necessities. Sometimes the nicknames are in English, sometimes in Gaelic. For your amusement and edification, here are a few from my home town.
There was "Maggie in the Sky", one Margaret MacGillivray who lived in the top rooms of a very high building on Hawthorne Street. There was also "Tom the Lord" MacDonald, so called because he strutted around like a peacock with his nose in the air. One story is told about "Maggie in the Sky" and "Tom the Lord". Tom delivered wood to people’s homes for their stoves. One day he delivered a load of wood to "Maggie in the Sky", but she wasn’t home and he left it in the yard. On arriving home, Maggie discovered a huge pile of very green, wet wood waiting for her. She was heard to say: "The Lord brought it, but the devil wouldn’t burn it!"
Often the nickname was related to the person’s work. My neighbour, Danny MacDonald, was always called "Danny Goodmans" because he worked at a clothing store called Goodmans. Leo "Boots" Chisholm’s father, Rod Chisholm, owned a shoe store. Then there was "Angus the Nun" MacGillivray, who worked at Mount St. Bernard College, home of the nuns of the Congregation de Notre Dame. "John Shavings" MacDonald worked at MacLellan’s Mill sawing logs. "Rory Cleirach" MacDougall was so called because he used to serve Mass for Father Austin MacDonald. "Alex the Barber" MacInnis ran the local Barbershop. "Danny Apples" MacLeod sold apples from his orchard to everyone in town. One of my ancestors on my Father’s Mother’s side was John MacDonald whom everyone called "The Custos" because he kept customs records. One very talented family is called "The Painters" after an early MacDonald ancestor who painted houses for a living, but whose main claim-to-fame was his poetic and musical talent. The Painters started out in Antigonish and spread all over Cape Breton, but generations later they are still called "The Painters" in honour of their well-known and loved ancestor. The family is still very musically talented, boasting excellent singers, pipers, fiddlers, and step dancers.
You could be given a nickname relating to the place where you lived, or where your ancestors lived. There were "Donald Monkshead" Chisholm, "Duncan Kinloch Moidart" Gillies, the "Oban Gillieses" from whom I am descended, "Alexander Brown’s Mountain" MacDonald , "Angus Bornish" MacDonald, and "Allan the Ridge" MacDonald who lived at Mabou Ridge in Inverness County, Cape Breton. One family of MacDonalds hailed from the Lochaber district of Scotland and they are all known as "the Lochabers" even today, although their pioneer ancestors arrived about 1805. The "Vamy MacGillivrays", still called that today, are named for the river close to the place in Scotland from which they emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1801.
Sometimes a nickname was passed down through the generations because of a name given to a father, a grandfather, or even a great-grandfather. My Grandfather was called "Jack the Piper" MacDonald because he played the bagpipes. Of course my Dad was called "Robbie Piper", even though he didn’t play the pipes, and all his family were called "the pipers". There was "Alex Black Allan" MacDonald, named after his grandfather, "Black Allan" MacDonald who had coal black hair. "Sally Jack Dougall" MacDonald was called after her father, Jack Dougall MacDonald. "Alex William Archie" MacDonald was called after his father, William Archie MacDonald. "Alex the Cooper" MacDonald was called after his father who was always called "the Cooper" because he made barrels.
Obvious physical characteristics usually resulted in nicknames. There was "John Breac" MacDonald, so named because he was freckled all over. "Sandy Ban" MacDonald had snow-white hair all his life. There was Angus MacLellan who was injured as a youth while helping his father take lumber from the woods. Because of his injury, his body tilted to the lefthand side. They called him "Angus ten past twelve". Another poor old guy all doubled over with scoliosis was known as "Archie half past six". There was "Long Leo" Chisholm who was 6 foot 6. "Fingers" MacGillivray was named that at birth, and I never did know his real name. That boy had the longest, skinniest fingers anyone had ever seen. "Hughie the Goose" MacGillivray had a long, scrawny neck.
Whimsical peculiarities of a person lent themselves nicely to nicknames. There was "Holy John" MacDonald, who attended Mass every single day of the year. "Jenny the Basket" MacPherson was always seen around town carrying a wicker basket. She never went anywhere without it. There was "John the Bank" MacLellan, so called because he talked all the time about his money, how much he had, and where he hid it. One young rascal from a large family of fifteen children was always getting into trouble in one way or another. They called him "Donald the Devil" MacDonald. On Hawthorne Street there were two maiden MacNaughton sisters who were very eccentric and rather cranky. They were slightly-built and gangly-looking. They never walked anywhere – they ran. They were called "the Road Runners". And then there was "Bright Alex" MacIsaac who always had an answer for everything, but who wasn’t very bright at all.
If an interesting event happened in a person’s life, it could result in a new nickname for that person. My Father, Robbie MacDonald, was an Industrial Arts Teacher for thirty-seven years. In the last 15 years of his career, he discovered he was badly allergic to sawdust, so the school board hired another man, Joe MacDonald, to do the woodworking and Dad looked after the drafting and sheet metal end of things. One day Dad was talking to his class about "lead pencils", explaining that they were no longer lead but graphite because of the danger of lead. For several days they had an amusing discussion about lead vs. graphite, and the students enjoyed teasing Dad about it. Thereafter, Dad became "Robbie Graphite", and of course, since they also needed a name for Dad’s partner, Joe MacDonald became "Joe Termite". When I’m at home visiting, inevitably I run into some former student of my Dad who asks me to give his regards to "Robbie Graphite".
As you can see, some nicknames are well deserved, some are worn with pride, others are only repeated behind the person’s back, and some are very hard to live down. Whatever the case, nicknames not only make life easier but they also make it a lot more fun!
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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