• Iain MacDonald (Blondie)
Location:
Sartle
Date:
Saturday 13th September 2008
Reference:
SWI2008/002

Simon:

Think back to when you got the tractor, can you remember when the tractors came?

     

Iain:

Cheannaich m’ athair an tractar ann an 1954, peatrail/paraifin Ferguson, agus rinn mi tòrr obair leatha. Bha mi òg an uair sin agus rinn mi tòrr obair leatha. Bha mi a’ treabhadh airson a h-uile croit a bh’ anns an àite, treabhadh ‘s a’ cliathadh ‘s ag innearadh ‘s a’ tarraing mhònadh, a’ tarraing feur ‘s an uair sin ann an 1974 fhuair mi tè eile, diesel ghlas, Ferguson cuideachd. An uair sin fhuair mi obair air falbh air làraidhean, ‘s cha robh mi a-staigh cho tric. Tha i agam fhathast, an tractar, ‘s tha i a’ dol cho math ‘s a bha i a-riamh. Rinn mi suas am-bliadhna i ‘s tha i a’ dol glè mhath fhathast.

     
 

My father bought the tractor in 1954, a petrol/paraffin Ferguson, and I did a lot of work with it. I was young then and I did a lot of work with it. I was ploughing for all the crofts in the place, ploughing, harrowing, manuring and fetching peats, fetching hay. Then in 1974 I got another one, a grey diesel also a Ferguson. Then I was working on lorries and I wasn’t at home so often. I still have the tractor and refurbished it this year, and it is still going well.

Simon:

And you had horses before that?

     

Iain:

O bha eich againn an toiseach. Nuair a bha mi a’ dol don sgoil bha eich aig m’ athair ann an Gleann Sairteal shuas. Bha a dhà againn an toiseach, chan eil cuimhne cheart agams’ orra, bha mi beag a’ dol don sgoil ‘s bha an uair sin aonan againn mu dheireadh. Reic m’ athair i, cha robh mi ach sia bliadhna deug a dh’aois. ‘S ann an dèidh sin a fhuair sinn an tractar, bliadhna no dhà an dèidh sin a fhuair sinn an tractar.

     
 

We had horses to begin, when I was in school my father had horses. We had two to start with that I remember, I was young then going to school, and we finally had one. My father sold it when I was just sixteen years of age. It was after that we got the tractor, a year or two after that.

Simon:

Maybe you’ve said it already but what difference did the tractors make to ...?

     

Iain:

O, bha diofar mhòr anns an tractar. Bha i gu math na bu ‘handy’ na bhith a’ falbh a choimhead an eich. Airson toirt a-steach feur ‘s a’ treabhadh ‘s a h-uile càil dhe sin, bha i fada na b’ fheàrr na na h-eich air dòigh.

     
 

It was a year or two after that we got the tractor. The tractor made a huge difference. It was much handier than going and preparing a horse and for bringing in the hay and ploughing and suchlike it was much better than the horses in a way.

Simon:

What things did you use the tractors for? Like ploughing the fields and the hay? What kind of jobs does it do?

     

Iain:

O, bha i math air treabhadh ‘s air cliathadh, air toirt a-staigh an fheòir ‘s ag innearadh, cur a-mach an inneir, toirt a-staigh an fheòir ‘s a’ gearradh an fheòir cuideachd. Ga chur a-staigh an uair sin thall ‘s a-bhos, croitean eile againn anns an sgìre tha seo, Stafainn, ‘s a’ dèanamh a h-uile càil eile – tarraing greabhal do dhaoine agus clachan is gainmheach airson taighean a thogail. O, rinn i tòrr obair na latha, an tractar.

     
 

It was good for ploughing and harrowing, bringing in the hay and carting out the manure, bringing in the hay and cutting it as well, and doing the same for people round about, the crofts in this area, Staffin, fetching gravel and stones and sand for people building houses. It did a lot of work in its day, the tractor.

Simon:

When the tractors came, did everybody get tractors around the same time or was it some of them got tractors ...?

     

Iain:

Bha na tractars gu math gann, ‘s e tractars a’ Bhùird a bh’ ann, tractars an Department. Bha aon chòig anns an eilean agus bha iad a’ treabhadh agus bha iad a’ treabhadh anns a h-uile croit a bh’ anns an eilean agus an uair sin chaidh corra dhuine a cheannach tractar thall ‘s a-bhos. Cha robh mòran anns an àite an uair sin de thractars, bha trì no ceithir ann, ann an Stafainn co-dhiù agus Cill MoLuag. ‘S an uair sin fhuair a h-uile duine, bha tractar an uair sin anns a h-uile taigh. Tha iad a-nise cho pailt, ‘s e tractars mhòra a-nis a th’ ann ‘s chan eil an fheadhainn bheaga, chan eilear a’ dol a chur feum orra a-nis idir. ‘S e ‘four-wheeled drives’ a th’ ann, tractars mhòra trom 100 horsepower ‘s mar sin.

     
 

They were Board tractors, tractors from the Department. There were about five in the island and they were ploughing in every croft on the island. Then an occasional person here and there bought a tractor. There weren’t many tractors in the place then, perhaps three or four, in Staffin anyway and Kilmoluag. Then there was a tractor in every house. There are big tractors now, there is no need for the small ones. They are four-wheeled drives, big heavy tractors with 100 horsepower and suchlike.

Simon:

I think you were saying there ... The government provided tractors to the crofting ...

     

Iain:

Yes, the Department tractors, yes.

     

Simon:

So this summer you made hay, could you ...?

     

Iain:

Nuair bha mi òg an toiseach, ‘s ann a’ spealladh, ‘s e speal a bh’ againn. An uair sin nuair a thàinig na tractars fhuair sinn mowers, bha sinn ag obair le mower, ga chocadh an uair sin a-muigh ‘s ga tharraing. Tha cuimhne agams’ an toiseach ann an Cabhanais ‘s ann leis an làir a bha sinn ga thoirt a-staigh, leis na h-eich ‘s a’ dèanamh chruachan dheth. An uair sin leis na tractars rinn sinn buckrakes orra, toirt a-staigh an coc an uair sin don iodhlainn ‘s a’ dèanamh cruachan dhiubh, an dàrna rud ga chur air a’ bhuckrake no anns an trailer ‘s ga thoirt a-staigh ‘s ga chruachadh. O bha iad handy na tractars an uair sin, bha iad a’ dèanamh a h-uile càil. Dol ann an toll gu math tric cuideachd.

     
 

When I was young at first, it was a scythe we had and then after the tractors we got a mower, stacking it outside and then I remember bringing it in with the horses and making stacks and then making buckrakes with the tractors, bringing the stack then into the stackyard, putting it either on the buckrake or the trailer and bringing it in and stacking it. The tractors were handy then, they were doing everything.

Simon:

The haymaking was quite an important kind of communal activity in the past when crofting was ...? Do you remember that?

     

Iain:

Nuair a bha sìde mhath ann bha e soirbh gu leòr feur a dhèanamh ach a-nis tha barrachd uisge ann sna bliadhnaichean a chaidh seachad. Cha ghabh uisge a dhèanamh idir. Ach am-bliadhna fhèin ghabhadh barrachd a dhèanamh. Rinn mi beagan am-bliadhna de dh’fheur ach o chionn bliadhnaichean cha ghabhadh biod dheth a dhèanamh, bha sìde cho fliuch. ‘S e sileage a th’ ann a-nise, bèilichean sileage. Contractors a’ tighinn a-staigh ga dhèanamh ‘s tha e seachad ann an aon latha, faodaidh mi a ràdh.

     
 

When the weather was good it was easy enough to make hay but there has been more rain in the past years. You cannot make hay now but just this year I managed more. I did a little hay this year. But the past few years it couldn’t be done, it was so wet. It is sileage that’s done now, bales of sileage, contractors coming in to do it and it is over in one day, I can say.

Simon:

Not many people make hay now so ...

     

Iain:

Chan eil duine a’ dèanamh feur a-nis, chan eil ged a bhiodh sìde ann, chan eil iad a’ bodraigeadh ris. Chan eil, sileage a tha iad a’ dèanamh. Cha mhòr gu bheil iad a’ dèanamh càil idir. Reic tòrr an crodh ‘s na caoraich, agus ‘s e glè bheag a tha a’ cumail crodh an seo an-diugh agus caoraich. Chan eil iad ach anns a h-uile dàrnach taigh, chan eil crodh ann.

     
 

Nobody makes hay now, even if the weather permitted they don’t bother. It is sileage that they make. A lot of people sold their cattle and sheep. It is very few that keep cattle and sheep here. They are just in every second house.

Simon:

Do you want a glass of water?

     

Iain:

Oh, I’ve had this cold for three weeks now.

     

Simon:

You were saying also about the ... There’s regulations when you can harvest them and ...?

     

Iain:

Regulations operations leis an RSS (Rural Stewardship Scheme) tha seo. Tha iad a’ dèanamh tòrr. Tha beagan airgid ann tha mi cinnteach, an dèidh sin tha tòrr riaghailtean gu math doirbh leis, a’ cumail an talamh, ga chumail clear gu toiseach August. Is as t-Earrach, chan fhaod thu innear no càil a chur a-mach na treabhadh a dhèanamh leithid seo a’ dheit. Mura dèan thu tràth bhliahna e cha dèan thu càil dha.Tha caoraich a’ tighinn dheth tràth ‘s a h-uile càil a tha sin. Chan eil e ag obrachadh math idir.

     
 

This RSS (Rural Stewardship Scheme) is doing a lot, there is a little money in it but there are some quite difficult rules with it, keeping the land clear until the beginning of August. In the spring you cannot put manure out or do ploughing. If you don’t do it early in the year you won’t manage it. Sheep are coming off it early, it is not working well at all.

 

I hope you manage to understand what I’m saying, the Sleat man ... He’ll be translating it anyway, yes?

Simon:

Yeah.

     

Iain:

Oh, he can change his own ways ... to his own.

     

Simon:

Do the regulations make a good balance between what’s good for the croft and what’s good for the environment or do you feel that it’s artifical or ...?

     

Iain:

Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil iad glè mhath cheana. Tha tòrr airgid ann a-nis. Uill, tha e na b’ fheàrr na bhith mar a bha e co-dhiù. Tha a leithid de regulations ann bu chòir dhomh a ràdh. Feumaidh caoraich a dhol a-mach tràth ‘s feumaidh iad a bhith clear fad an t-samhraidh dhen talamh. Chan fhaod thu innear a chur ‘s chan fhaod thu treabhadh a dhèanamh ‘s chan fhaod thu càil dhen t-seòrsa sin a dhèanamh ach dìreach tha e gu math strioc air dòigh, agus ma thèid thu ceàrr caillidh tu a h-uile càil a th’ ann.

     
 

I think they are quite good, there is a lot of money in it now. It is better than it was but there are so many regulations with it. Sheep have to be out early and they have to be clear of the land, you cannot plough and you cannot do anything like that. It is quite strict in a way and if you go wrong.

Simon:

Is the bureaucracy kind of taking away the ... not just the pleasure, but is it taking some of the soul out of crofting do you think?

     

Iain:

O, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil. Tha e gu math doirbh le obair forms a lìonadh ‘s a h-uile càil a tha sin, agus a leithid seo deits – mar a h-eil e a-staigh aig an àm, tha thu a’ call a h-uile airgead a bh’ agad ri fhaighinn. O, tha e gu math doirbh na forms tha sin a lìonadh cho tric. Crodh an aon rud, le tags laoigh ‘s le caoraich a thagadh. O, tha e gu math doirbh, tha tòrr aca ris uabhasach fada. Cha bhi iad ris, dìreach fàsaidh iad sgìth dheth.

     
 

I think it has, it is quite difficult, forms to fill in and all of that and if it’s not in on time you lose all the money you were to get. It is very difficult to fill in these forms so often and cattle and calves tagged and sheep to be tagged. Oh it is quite difficult, a lot of them are at it for a long time. They don’t keep on, they get tired of it. I get sick of it.

Simon:

Yeah. Ned was talking about the double tagging that they’re going to have to do.

     

Iain:

Well, tha sin supposed teannadh cuideachd am-bliadhna seo airson uain, tag anns gach cluais aca ‘s ge ‘r bith dè eile a thachras, chan eil fhios againne.

     
 

Well, that is supposed to happen this year also for lambs, putting a tag in each ear, whatever else happens we don’t know.

Simon:

And you were saying that you primarily worked in quite long distance haulage?

     

Iain:

Well, bha mi an toiseach air busaichean, theann mi air dràibheadh bhusaichean san Ath Leathain aig fiorm Solanasbul? Chan eil iad a’ dol a-nis, well tha pàirt aca beò fhathast. Ann an 1961 bha mi a’ dràibheadh bhusaichean. Bha mi còig seusanan an sin air tour buses. Bha mi an uair sin, bhithinn a’ feuchainn air làraidhean is rudan, ‘s bha mi an uair sin a-muigh aig fear Crossal, a’ falbh le uisge-beatha. Bha mi còrr is fichead bliadhna an sin ag obair, ‘s bha mi an uair sin, nuair a phòs an nighean aige rinn mi deich bliadhna aige-san a’ falbh le uisge-beatha sìos gu Fife is Glaschu ‘s gu Clackmannanshire shìos an sin. Anns gach àite an uair sin a’ falbh le làraidh. ‘S e b’ fheàrr a bha a’ còrdadh rium na obair na croiteadh.

     
 

I first worked on the buses driving a bus in Broadford. The firm doesn’t operate now but some of them are still living. That was in 1961, I was five seasons there on the tour buses. Then I used to drive a lorry and things and then I worked for a man Crossal transporting whisky. I worked there for more than twenty years transporting whisky down to Fife and Glasgow and Clackmannanshire and so on, going all over then with the lorry. I enjoyed that more than croft work.

Simon:

What brought you back to crofting?

     

Iain:

Well, bha mi a’ fàs sean ‘s bha crodh ann co-dhiù ‘s bha e a cheart cho math dhomh an cumail a’ dol, beagan dhiubh. Retire mi an uair sin. Well, theann mi air a’ chrodh sna caoraich an uair sin. Bha iad ann fad an t-siubhail ged tha mi ag ràdh seo. Bha mi a’ sealltainn orra cho math ‘s a bh’ agam. Nuair a bha mi ag obair cha robh e soirbh. Bhithinn trang aig na weekends ag obair air obair fearainn ‘s air faingean ‘s air a h-uile càil a bha ri dhèanamh. Buain mhònadh cuideachd, buain tòrr mònadh ‘s ga toirt dhachaigh anns na tractars, mi fhìn agus daoine eile.

     
 

Well, I was getting old and there were cows anyway, it was as well for me to keep that going for a while. I retired then. There were cattle and sheep there all the time although I am saying that, I was looking after them as best I could, it wasn’t easy when I was working. I would spend the weekends working on the land and fanks and all that was to be done. Cutting peat also, and bringing it home in the tractor, myself and others.

Simon:

That’s a big thing to take on.

     

Iain:

You understand the Gaelic?

Simon:

I can sometimes ... I don’t speak ...

     

Iain:

Maybe I’m speaking too fast or ...

     

Simon:

No, that’s fine!

     

Iain:

Och, you’re man will translate it for you anyway, putting it in his own Gaelic or English or whatever.

Simon:

(laughs) Yep. Do you feel crofting is going to continue or do you feel it’s dying out?

     

Iain:

Tha e doirbh a dhol roimhe, tha e doirbh a dhol roimhe, chan eil fhios agamsa dè thachras dha. Tha tòrr dhen fheadhainn òga nach bi a’ bodraigeadh idir ris. Chan eil guth aca air a leithid a rud. Bidh corra dhuine thall ‘s a-bhos, beagan dhiubh, Daoine òga, feadhainn nach eil òg idir, tha iad air sguir dheth sna bliadhnaichean, timcheall an seo co-dhiù ann an Stafainn, an àiteachan eile cuideachd a’ sìor fhàs gann, an crodh a’ fàs gànn anns a h-uile àit’. Feur aca ga cheannach a-staigh cho daor, feur ga thoirt a-staigh ‘s e cho daor is barley ‘s a h-uile càil a tha sin.

     
 

It is difficult to say, I don’t know. A lot of the young people will not be bothering with it at all. They don’t think of such a thing. A person here and there will be doing it, just a few. Young people and those who are not so young have stopped it in the past few years around here in Staffin and elsewhere cattle have become scarce. They have to buy hay and bring hay in and it is so expensive and barley and all of that.

Simon:

What do think will happen to areas like this if crofting goes completely ...?

     

Iain:

O, tha e doirbh a dhol roimhe dè thachras, chan eil fhios againne dè thachras. Bidh corra dhuine a’ tighinn ris ach cha bhi mòran tha mi a’ smaoineachadh.

     
 

Difficult to explain what will happen. We don’t know what will happen. I think a few people will be involved in it but not many.

Simon:

Do you think there’s ...? You know, like there’s ... The crofting laws are under review at the moment. Do you think there are changes that could be made that would make it easier to sustain or do you feel it’s too late?

     

Iain:

Tha e doirbh a dhol roimhe. Mar a tha mi ag ràdh, chan eil an fheadhainn òga, chan eil interest aca ann, chan eil interest aca ann ‘s mar sin chan eil iad ag iarraidh crodh no caoraich no càil ach obair soirbh.

     
 

Difficult to say. As I was saying, the young people don’t have any interest in it, therefore, they don’t want cattle or sheep or anything but easy work.

Simon:

You say, like your son, you don’t want him to ... He’s got a good job and you want him to stay with that? Would he want to go into crofting?

     

Iain:

Och well, cha chreid mi gu bheil, chan eil. Chan iarainn, chan eil e – tha e math gu leòr nuair a tha e a-staigh ceala-deug, bheir e hand mhath dhomh, a’ dràibheadh nan tractars ann an seo, tha e math mu bheathaichean is biathaidh e iad, ach chan urrainn dha an obair aige fhàgail airson beagan chrodh is chaoraich idir. Cha phàigh e dha.

     
 

I don’t think so. No, he’s fine when he is at home for a fortnight, he will give me a hand. He’ll drive the tractor and feed the animals, but he cannot leave his job for a few cattle and sheep. It would not pay him.

Simon:

That seems to be the problem for everyone though doesn’t it? There’s many people I think would like to but it’s kind of difficult. Eh ... One of the things that seems to have been very important for crofting in the past and made it possible was that all crofters worked together in certain types of jobs and obviously that’s changed with fewer crofters. Does that create problems or how do people work around that?

Iain:

Say that again?

     

Simon:

Well in the past a lot of the crofting work involved people ... Like the township would work together with the hay or with the dipping of the sheep and so there was quite a ... With fewer crofters it must make it harder to be able to do that now. How do people manage?

     

Iain:

Well, ‘s e an droch shìde a mhill an obair feòir is a h-uile càil a bha sin. Nuair a tha faingean ann tha na bailtean a’ cuideachadh a chèile. Tha sinn a’ cuideachadh a chèile nuair a tha sinn a’ dubadh no a’ rùsgadh na càil no a’ cruinneachadh chaorach. Tha sinn a’ dèanamh sin nuair a tha na h-uiread againn còmhla ach tha iad a’ fàs gann leis sin fhèin. Gu math gann seach mar a b’ àbhaist o chionn bhliadhnaichean. B’ àbhaist aon dusan a bhith falbh agus cha chreid mi nach e triùir a tha a’ falbh a-nis a dh’iarraidh chaorach agus tha sinn a’ faighinn trial gu leòr timcheall orra.

     
 

Oh but we do, when making hay the villages help each other. We help each other at the time of dipping or shearing or gathering sheep. We did that when there were so many of them but they are getting scarce, quite scarce, compared with how it used to be in the past. It used to be that three would go out to gather the sheep, we would get quite a trial with them.

Simon:

What do you think of the ...? If you don’t want to say it I won’t ask you but what do you think about the changes that are coming to crofting? Like the Shucksmith Report and ...

     

Iain:

I don’t understand them at all, it’s just a load of nonsense I think. Still in the Gaelic?

 

Chan eil mi a’ tuigsinn idir dè tha dol a thachairt. Ach chan eil e càil nas soirbhe dhuinne co-dhiù dè tha e a’ dol a dhèanamh, na dhèan do chroitear sam bith, chan eil e a’ dol a bhuinnig mòran idir air.

     
 

It is no clearer to us today what is going to happen or what it is going to do for any crofter. They are not going to win a lot from it.

Simon:

For you, is there a ...? Do you feel personally, is there a strong link between Gaelic and crofting? Do you see them as like a way of life that goes together or is it just what you grew up with?

     

Iain:

A, chan eil diofar ann. Chan eil e gu mòran diofar an e Gàidhlig no Beurla a th’ ann. Chan eil e a’ dèanamh diofar sam bith, tha mi a’ smaoineachadh.

     
 

It makes not much difference whether it is English or Gaelic. It doesn’t make any difference, I think.

Simon:

How far back do your family go? Do you know how far back your family goes?

     

Iain:

A, chan eil mi cinnteach. Tha mo sheanair ‘s mo shinn-seanair ris, m’ athair, feadhainn eile a bharrachd air an sin. Nuair a bhiodh iad a-staigh, nuair a bha iad ag obair nach dèanadh iad obair croitearachd, ach bha e gu math doirbh dhaibh san latha a bha sin. Daoine a’ bleoghann cruidh ‘s a’ toirt bainne do na laoigh an uair sin.

     
 

I’m not sure, my grandfather and great-grandfather, my father and others besides. They’d be doing croft work, it was very difficult for them in those days. People milking cows and giving milk to the calves then.

Simon:

What do you feel are some of the biggest changes that your family over that time might’ve been through? What do you think are the big events that ...?

     

Iain:

Well, bha sìde na b’ fheàrr san latha a bha sin. Bha sìde mhath ann. Dh’fheumadh tu feur, gu leòr a dhèanamh as t-samhradh. O chionn bhliadhnaichean cha robh biod feur idir le droch shìde ‘s ged a bhiodh latha math ann bhiodh an t-uisge ann latharna mhàireach ‘s bha feur a’ grodadh air an talamh. Nuair a bha mise òg, bha a h-uile duine a-mach, nigheanan òga ‘s a h-uile duine a-mach ‘s iad a’ crathadh an fheòir ‘s a’ cuideachadh am pàrantan. Chan eil càil dhe sin a-nis ann. Chan eil duine òg ag obair a-muigh a-nis idir na sean nas motha, chan eil.

     
 

Well, the weather was better in those days, the weather was good, you could make plenty of hay in the summer. In the past years you could not make hay at all because of bad weather. Even if there was a good day it would be raining the following day, and the hay would rot into the ground. When I was young everybody would be out shaking the hay, helping their parents. There is none of that now. Nobody, neither old nor young, goes out to make hay anymore.

Simon:

What do you personally get out of crofting? Where does your ...? Obviously it’s important to you. What do you get back from ... Like what difference does it make?

     

Iain:

Money wise?

     

Simon:

No, I mean like ... personally. Like if you didn’t croft what would you miss? If it wasn’t ...

     

Iain:

Och, cha bhithinn a’ dèanamh càil ach ag obair mu làraidh ‘s mu thractar ‘s dòcha, agus a’ dràibheadh beagan an-dràsta ‘s a-rithist. Cha bhithinn ag ionndrainn mòran mu chroitearachd idir, cha chreid mi. Ma tha iad ann, seallaidh mi riutha gu math ‘s le crodh no caoraich seallaidh mi riutha. ‘S toil leotha a bhith a-staigh sa gheamhradh ‘s gam biathadh gu math ‘s fasgadh a bhith aca ‘s a h-uile càil tha sin. Mura biodh iad agam cha bhithinn gan ionndrainn idir, cha chreid mi.

     
 

I would not be doing anything, just doing things with the lorry and the tractor perhaps and a little bit of driving now and again. I don’t think that I would be doing much around crofting. I would look after the animals well. They like to be inside in the winter and I would feed them well and give them shelter and all of that. If I didn’t have them I would not miss them, I don’t think.