Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles

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June 2001 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Eigg & Muck
Walk on the Wild Side
Mass at Loch Morar
Early Coastguards
Genealogy & Reminiscences

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Sir William signs Sonia's copy of April's West Word
which carries the headline 'McAlpine's Marvel'


The sun shone, the pipers piped, the flags waved, as Mallaig welcomed Sir William McAlpine, great-grandson of 'Concrete Bob' McAlpine, the man who built the Mallaig Extension.

In the party was James Simpson Shipway, the great-grandson of the line's engineer, Alexander Simpson. He is the man behind the investigation which has proved the truth of the legend of the horse and cart sealed up in the Loch nan Uamh viaduct.

Sir William unveiled a commemorative plaque in the Station and received a box of Mallaig kippers from Community Council Chairman, Alastair Gillies. 'My wife will be delighted,' he said, 'she asked me if I would have time to buy kippers and I didn't think I would! They're the best there are.'

The ceremony had been postponed from 1st. April because of Foot and Mouth precautions. More centenary celebrations are planned during the year.


Both the Arisaig and the Morar & Mallaig Games have been cancelled because the Foot and Mouth outbreak continues to cause fears of contamination.

Although animals to not travel up to the Games, it was felt that people coming up from infected areas brought a risk with them. The decision was arrived reluctantly and is in line with the cancellation of the Agricultural Show, the Six Day Trials, the Black Isle Show - the list is becoming endless.

The Arisaig Games were due to be held on Wednesday 25th. July, and the Mallaig & Morar Games on Monday 6th. August.

There is some good news however - the Games Dance will go ahead, with Fergie MacDonald and his Band, in the Astley Hall on the Saturday, 28th. July.

The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, will be on the Isle of Canna on Tuesday, 5th June
to officially open the restored St. Edward's Chapel.


After a month's absence, we still don't have any takers for a new correspondent - hopefully some budding author will appear out of the woodwork soon. And of course a big thank you to Joy for all her past effort.

As usual we seem to have gone from winter to summer (and back again) overnight - it all seems to happen so suddenly, lambs in the fields, wild flowers everywhere, and enough visitors around for the season to get off to a flying start. The Tearoom & Craft Shop are both now open on a daily basis and I can certainly recommend the smoked salmon & cream cheese on home-baked rolls!

Thanks to visiting musicians Mandy, Sophie, Andy & Bob for a great ceilidh at Easter, organised by our new music committee Tasha & Donna. A treat for me to be able to go to a ceilidhs & not be on door duty !

The Royal Commission archaeological survey is now well underway & happened to coincide with several interesting finds by Brigg. Whilst digging a hole (for a purpose we won't go into!) he came upon 3 moulds - for making axeheads, spearheads & daggers & a clay crucible. Having the experts on hand confirmed them to be from the late bronze age & thought to be of national importance. More details later.

Finally, after every hold up imaginable, our new forestry shed is up - it's certainly plenty big enough to store & do maintenance work on the forestry machinery. The portable sawmill is also in place with all our foresters being trained in its use.

The event of the month has definitely been the wedding of Linda Garden & Leo McCann - a feat of organisation with somewhere in the region of 200 guests. Luckily the sun came out just at the right moment for the ceremony, conducted by Marie, to be held outside - there wasn't a dry eye in the garden!!

An absolute feast followed in the hall, with the proceedings then moving to the marquee (kindly on loan from Knoydart). The best man's speech was voted the most entertaining ever heard - and then another feast - this time of music! Leo from County Tyrone, being known to many in the area as box player extraordinaire had rounded up some of the best musicians from Scotland & Ireland (so many of them, you could be excused for thinking you'd taken a wrong turning & ended up in Ireland!). And to round off an amazing day - dancing to DJ Dolphin Boy.

More celebrations coming soon...9th June will be the fourth anniversary of ownership by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust. To mark the occasion we will be opening our recently created woodland trails with a variety woodland activities happening during the afternoon. Of course there will also be a ceilidh... with 'Ja'ma'tha' ...and Daimh are playing too!! Watch out for posters with further details.

Maggie Fyffe


Another great month of weather - unfortunate that there have been so few visitors on the island to enjoy it with us.

However among the few have been Andreas and Alison from the Falkland Islands who spent ten days in Port Mor aboard their yacht Alpha Carinae. On 8th May we all gathered in the Craft Shop to hear Andreas narrate (with slides) the remarkable story of their voyage to Britain and we were able to make a small contribution to their funds. In return the following day Andreas barbecued a whole wedder Falkland style. After six hours over glowing embers the sheep was totally cooked through without the surface being charred - a remarkable achievement. Everyone on the island joined in the feast along with a party from Doune who arrived aboard the Eda Fransen.

It's all over. On 8th May by an overwhelming majority the islanders voted to invite Nick and Jill Noble from Leeds to join the community.

Nick had a major advantage over the other candidates; he is in computer software and can earn a living without leaving the island. Both the Noble children, Caitlin and Eilish, are under school age and Jill has expressed an interest in the nursery teacher post. Throughout the lengthy process of finding a new family for the island two major problems have deterred candidates. First of course has been of a job to go with the house but also important has been the lack of any hostel accommodation when their children reach 12 years and have to leave the island. Surely a hostel in Mallaig should have come before the high school in Strontian.

On the farm: the hot weather has really brought on th first two fields of silage. These could even be cut before the Open Day on the 17th. June, where there will be lots to eat and drink and see on the island tour.

Lawrence MacEwen


On 5th May, 33 people participated in the "Walk on the wild side" a 13 mile walk from Borrodale - Mallaig. This is only the 2nd year of the half marathon walk, which is in aid of Mallaig & District Swimming Pool. The response was fantastic and it is hoped that more of the community will come along & join in next year.

Chris Gray & Dennis Eddie led all the way with the walk, both determined to complete the walk in a record time of 2 hrs 39 min. They were closely followed by John Young in 3rd place with a time of 2 hrs 41 min. All 33 competitors completed the walk & 1st time walkers rose to the challenge & everyone finished in under 5 hours. Event organisers apologise for the cancellation of the Road to the Isles relay marathon, which is normally held on the same day as the walk. However it is likely that this event will take place later in the year so watch out for news of this in your West Word.


Many thanks to all who participated in the walk, helped on the day and provided prizes & refreshments. To date the sum raised is £755, which exceeded expectations, and will contribute to the operation of Mallaig & District Swimming Pool.

Mass at Loch Morar

This article appears in 'Scalan News', the newsletter of the Scalan Association, and is reproduced here courtesy of its author, Alasdair Roberts of Bracara.

Shortly after he arrived to take charge of the parish of Morar and Mallaig (with its associated charges of Knoydart, Rum and Canna), Fr Michael Hutson said mass on the seminary island of Eilean Ban in Loch Morar. That was in June 1996, 250 years after Culloden. Occupying forces came to the island with orders to destroy house and chapel as happened at Scalan, and Fr Michael was aware of it. He has since led parishioners on summer pilgrimages to other mass-centres: Inbhir-Beag, Brinacory, Tarbert, Canna and the Tigh-Phobuill or people's house, far up Loch Morar at Romasaig.

As a music teacher in North Uist, Michael Hutson became friendly with Fr James MacNeil, who was then priest in Benbecula. In the course of time he became a priest himself, succeeding his mentor in Morar. Fr James has recently come back to the Highlands from lecturing in Glasgow University. In June Fr Michael starts a two-year course at Notre Dame University in Indiana.

Thus it was a uniquely significant occasion on Saturday 6th May 2001 when the two priests said mass together on Eilean Ban. As well as members of the local Church of Scotland (Minsters' Fraternals have also reached the laity) there was a large party over from Skye and from Dornie in the Aberdeen Diocese, where Fr James makes good use of the Skye Bridge in linking two communities.

We had sunshine without midges, beautiful singing led by the Morar choir, bagpiping for the picnic, and a short less exciting version of the story (about Lord Lovat on Eilean Ban) which local children had heard the day before. There was a good proportion of young people among the seventy who were ferried across, and looking up into the trees before preaching Fr James said his text should be 'Zacchaeus, come down!' in fact his theme was the need for faith to be passed on by Christians who were 'convinced and convincing'. As a sort of early Pentecost in tongues, mass ended with 'Gu Robh Chriosda dlýth rium air gach taobh' and 'Salve Regina': as Fr Michael recalled, the boys who studied on Eilean Ban would have ended their days with this, the Night Prayer of the Church.

(See next month's issue of West Word for the story of Lord Lovat on Eilean Ban)

Mallaig Heritage Centre article: Early Coastguards
by Denis Rixson

In an earlier life I was, for a brief period of time, one of Her Majesty's Auxiliary Coastguards. I was inveigled into this by Dick Webster whom some of you will remember as Science teacher in the old secondary school. So, during the course of a winter or two, we, along with George Stronach and Kenneth Mackenzie, took 4-hour shifts guarding our nation's shores. In fact, were it not for this motley crew of butchers and school-teachers, I remain convinced that the Russians would have landed.

The old Coastguard Hut was on the hill now occupied by the High School. It provided an excellent vantage point although the accommodation was somewhat cramped. Shifts ran through the night from 7-11, 11-3 and 3-7 am. The first was a doddle, it was a moot point whether the second or third was the worst. If you didn't get to your bed until 3.15 am, not a lot of sleep could be enjoyed before facing the screaming hordes at 9 o'clock. Alternatively, waking for a 3 am start was even worse than going for the early train, although, if you were sharp, you could always catch another hour or so before work. And, whisper it softly, it was just possible to stretch out on the table in the hut with your head frozen to the window or wedged tight beside the radio. In the latter case your dreams were liable to be interrupted by the pitiless tones of Oban Coastguard.

Life was generally uneventful. There was a log-book to be maintained but during training we were equipped with a set of useful phrases which could be entered as required. Vocabulary was limited and down-to-earth. So, for instance, 'light coastal traffic' covered everything from a solitary fishing-boat wending homewards to a fleet of Russian submarines. Otherwise there was little to report beyond the occasional excitement of a fireworks display on Eigg or routine conversations with Oban. And so we passed many a weary winter's night.

But what has all this to do with history? Well coastguards today offer a helping hand to everybody; they exist for the good of the local community, and for visitors. Few of us still expect an invasion; the Hebrides have been quiet for many a long year. In former times there was no such sense of security. Along the west coast and amongst the islands your enemy invariably came by sea. Land travel was difficult and slow, so it was seldom possible to achieve surprise. Travel by sea was relatively quick and straightforward. If the night was dark and your approach stealthy any victim might not see you until it was too late. People watched the shore for the enemy, rather than the hill.

Hills which offered good vantages were used as lookout points. In Orkney, place-names that include the elements Ward or Fitty, or, on the west coast, names including faire, all suggest a previous lookout spot. Of course there were no official coastguards. Young boys with sharp eyes were employed as sentries. Large piles of heath or timber were stationed at such sites so that warnings could be transmitted quickly from place to place. Martin Martin describes the situation in the Outer Isles c. 1695:

There are several heaps of stones, commonly called cairns, on the tops of hills and rising grounds on the coast, upon which they used to burn heath, as a signal of an approaching enemy. There was always a sentinel at each cairn to observe the sea-coast; the steward of the isle made frequent rounds, to take notice of the sentinels, and if he found any of them asleep, he stript them of their clothes, and deferred their personal punishments to the proprietor of the place.

Of course the practice was far older than this. In the days of the Viking raids it was essential to watch the shore. If you did not, you might never watch anything more.

Beacons could serve a variety of purposes. The first and most obvious was simply to warn your friends, or neighbours, or chief. However they could also be used to attract reinforcements. The Hebridean colonists in Antrim, Northern Ireland, used to summon their kinsmen from Kintyre and Islay by means of beacon. In more recent times beacons have been used to warn seafarers of dangers, rocks or headlands. The Earl of Cromarty claimed that the symbol of the burning mountain, a heraldic device borne by the Macleods of Raasay, was due to the fact they were once obliged to maintain navigation beacons.

Such arrangements could be remarkably sophisticated. At the end of the sixteenth century William Lambarde drew a map of the beacon arrangements then effective in Kent. These were designed to warn of a Spanish invasion. The network was extremely elaborate and the map shows a large number of beacons with their sighting-lines all carefully plotted. The arrangements on the west coast of Scotland may once have been equally formal.

So what has this to do with North Morar? A couple of years ago I noticed a small sub-circular platform behind Mallaigmore. Now the hills are littered with dozens of domestic and agricultural structures but this makes little sense in either context. A slightly raised platform seems to be encircled by stones but the situation is bizarre. It is completely exposed and lies at the very top of the pass behind Mallaigmore. Virtually the only thing in its favour are the stunning views up the Sound of Sleat to Isle Ornsay or south to Ardnamurchan.

Could it have been a beacon-site? Without excavation we shall never know but certainly it appears a likely position. A watchman placed here would see any fleet that came between Skye and the mainland. In the time it took him to kindle a fire the news would have travelled to Ardnamurchan and from thence to Mull, Jura and Islay. As a communication system it was remarkably quick and effective.

When was it used? I do not know. Any beacons maintained against the Vikings in the ninth century would soon become ineffective as the Norse overran the whole area. In the mediaeval period I have no doubt the great chiefs of the Macruari and Clanranald families maintained beacons to guard against incursion from other clans. Possibly it was still in use in the early seventeenth century when the Mackenzies mounted their great raid on North Morar and cleared it of hoof and horn.

A Little Genealogy
by Allan MacDonald

In 1822, Hugh MacEachen was born in 'The Glen' in Arisaig; his father was Angus, and his grandfather was also Angus and was tenant farmer in Laggan, Ardnish in 1798.

Angus, Tenant Farmer, was the grandson of Angus MacEachen, younger brother of Neil MacEachen, who features in history as the boatman who helped Prince Charles Edward Stuart, along with Flora MacDonald, to escape from the Uists to Skye in 1746.

Hugh emigrated in 1826, aged 4, with his parents and family, to Cape Breton Island.

In 1990, 168 years later, I had a letter from John Dungan enquiring about place names around Arisaig, and J.D. is the great great grandson of Hugh (1822) and lives in Hastings, Nebraska, USA.

After emigration, very little is ever heard of the fortunes of the people, except notable like MacEachen, the first Prime Minister of Canada who was closely related to Hugh.

John Dungan was listed in America's 'Who's Who' in 1996 and makes interesting reading. The great great grandson of Hugh, by succession from another side of the family, is very titled!!

The memory, in genealogy, is very fickle, and in an earlier article I mentioned that there was no oral history in Arisaig of a visit in 1900 by Dr. R. J. MacDonald to his grand-aunt in Peanmeanach. I then got a copy of a letter from Canada from a nun, sister of Dr. R. J., who visited in 1917, which put me onto the right family. Subsequently, talking to members of the family descendants around Fort William, the nun is remembered in the oral tradition for her visit, but not the Doctor.

A Few Recollections by George W. Baird

There was the visit of Lord Lovat. He came to cut the first sod for the road round the Khyber. A crowd had gathered near the hall. Before this it was little more than a track round the bay.

The new road went as far as Prine Charlie's Cave. Later, it was extended up past Coteachan and on to Mallaig Vaig. Later still one of the Mallaig Mhor MacDonald boys built a road from Mallaig Vaig round the brow of the hill to his place. When at school he and his brother and sister carried milk to customers in the village every morning. MacKellaigs did the same from Glasnacardoch and Morar.

Another memory is of Archie MacLellan's funeral. He had opened the grocer's shop below the Marine Hotel; his son Archie carried it on. The house stood up behind a high wall at the foot of Davie's Brae, looking out over the bay. The whole village was there. I saw drinks being carried out to the mourners. Relays of men carried the coffin to Morar Cemetery, being fortified along the way. At Christmas, mother always got a cake from Archie, as did other customers. Other shops, too, gave Christmas gifts.

Another memory, in contrast, is of a wedding, that of my uncle Joe Wilson. He stayed with us for a time and he drove the fish lorry. His bride was Clara More, a kippering lassie from Fraserburgh. After the Church service, the reception was in the public hall. It was well-filled with family and friends. Someone called for a song from the bride. Clara obliged with 'Love's Old Sweet Song', a favourite with the girls in the yard as they worked.

My brother William also married a Fraserburgh girl, Helen Ann Watt. They went into our Clanranald Terrace house when we moved to 'Bayview'. When their eldest son Billy was a toddler he had the back of his head badly scalded when he tumbled into very hot water. Over many months Billy got treatment and skin grafts and he came alright. In course of time he , too, went to Fraserburgh for his bride, Margaret, and they asked me to tie the knot.

I can just remember the Coal Strike of 1926. Along the line we went looking for coal, coal that had fallen off the tender of an engine; we also went along the beaches. Father hired a motor boat to take his kippers to the market in Glasgow.

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