• Peggy Kirk
Location:
Eigg
Date:
Thursday 4th February 2010
Reference:
SWI2010/003

Simon:

You married your way on to the island, from what I understand.

     

Peggy:

Because we were married before we came and Marie, my daughter, the first one, was just three months when we came to Eigg. That was in 1959, January ’59 we came.

Simon:

Take yourself back to that day in 1959 and tell us about what Eigg was like.

     

Peggy:

Yes. 1959 we came to Eigg and we came to Laig ... well, we didn’t actually go straight to Laig. My parents-in-law, they lived up in Cleadale so we stayed with them for a week and then went down to Laig and we were there till ... well, my husband died thirty five years ago, 1975, so I was down there till ... well, thirteen. I’m thirteen years in this house. I will be thirteen years in May.

Simon:

What was Eigg like back in the 50s? It must’ve been very different.

     

Peggy:

Well, it is very different, yes. There was a lot of older ... you know, there were quite a few elderly people here then but all the houses were ... there was people in every house. And then of course a lot’s away since then.

Simon:

So when you came, most of the population were Eigg people who had been here for generations?

     

Peggy:

Oh yes. Mostly Eigg.

     

Simon:

And were they all crofters or was there ...?

     

Peggy:

There was ... yes, they were. Of course there was the postman and the shopkeeper. Peggy Mackinnon was here then, she was from Eigg. The postman and the ferrymen, they were Eigg men. That was a while ago, I’ll have to think!

Simon:

Back then you would’ve had the Laird?

     

Peggy:

It was the Runcimans then. They were very good, yes.

     

Simon:

So people would’ve worked for the estate?

     

Peggy:

Yes. My husband worked for the estate when we came for three years and then he went self-employed. After three years the estate was letting Laig and we took over then. Three years here, we took over and then my husband was part-time fishing and part-time farming.

Simon:

Was that quite common to combine the farming and fishing?

     

Peggy:

Well, there wasn’t many fishing then from Eigg.

Simon:

Was he fishing here from the water or was he ...?

     

Peggy:

Yes, round about Eigg.

     

Simon:

Because a lot of people from Lewis used to go to the East Coast to work.

     

Peggy:

No, no, no, there wasn’t ... the boat wasn’t big enough for that.

     

Simon:

So, was the fishing more just for your own ...?

     

Peggy:

It was lobster fishing, uh huh.

Simon:

And that was to go to market or ...?

     

Peggy:

Eh, I think they went down to Billingsgate then.

Simon:

OK. And what were the houses like, cos a lot of houses look quite new?

     

Peggy:

Oh well, we didn’t have electricity then. We just had to ... when we came first we just had tilly lamps and a gas light ... Calor Gas light and Calor Gas cooker and multi-fuel ... yes, we had a Calor Gas cooker and a multi fuel cooker.

Simon:

And were there like blackhouses or was it ...?

     

Peggy:

Oh no, there was no blackhouses here when we came, no.

Simon:

So they were kind of like stone ...? Like some of the older stone built houses you see around here, would it’ve been ...?

     

Peggy:

Yes, the likes of ... you know the one that’s being renovated just now, past Gavin’s. And Gavin’s house, that’s been renovated. Of course you can see that it’s ... but there was two brothers there and a sister, there was none of them married, where Gavin is now. The two brothers were working on Eigg estates.

Simon:

And on the island, would people be speaking Gaelic or English as a kind of first language?

     

Peggy:

There was quite a few more Gaelic speakers then.

Simon:

Cos I take it, nowadays, it’s kind of all English, or mostly English? I get the impression because there’s a lot of people ...

     

Peggy:

Yes. Mind you, they’re getting Gaelic in school now so ...

Simon:

Is it a Gaelic medium?

     

Peggy:

No. But they get... I don’t know how much they get but at least once a week.

Simon:

But when you came here first, you’d be mostly speaking Gaelic?

     

Peggy:

Oh, we’d be speaking Gaelic all the time! And when Marie started school she had no English and the teacher was from Glasgow and Marie used to pull her arm down and say: “Can you not understand me?” (laughs) In Gaelic, not in English. But it didn’t take her long to ... No.

Simon:

So did ... But then were you ...? The Laird was not a Gaelic speaker or did he learn Gaelic to ...?

     

Peggy:

No, he didn’t. He wasn’t a Gaelic speaker, no.

Simon:

I guess he would’ve had gillies and factors. Would they have been ...?

     

Peggy:

Yes, but they were ... no Gaelic speakers either there. They were English, yes.

Simon:

So how did that work for people who were working?

     

Peggy:

Oh, it was OK because they could speak English just as good as Gaelic, then in 1959. (laughs)

Simon:

And what was like the ... I guess things like supplies in shops? Like I’ve been talking to people on Skye and speaking to people on Staffin, which is quite a remote bit of Skye, and they were telling me back in the 50s there was more shops and it was much easier to buy stuff locally than it is nowadays.

     

Peggy:

Oh, the opposite here. The shop was very small. You know the old shop, you pass the old shop. It was OK but nothing like what it is now. The shop at the pier is so good! And we get ... there’s quite a lot here with our poly tunnels, vegetables quite early. And she gets vegetables from Muck as well. So she gets quite a ... but she doesn’t. She still gets some from the mainland but the shop is very different. Yes, very good.

Simon:

So back in the 50s you didn’t have ...? Did you get travelling salesmen coming with stuff or stuff coming from the mainland at all or was that quite rare?

     

Peggy:

No, no, we didn’t get ... not to Eigg.

     

Simon:

So you would’ve been pretty much growing your own food and everything produced on the island for the islanders?

     

Peggy:

Well, not everything, but they always had potatoes and vegetables, like turnips and carrots and cabbage. Just the main ... lots of potatoes we had here and they used to sell them to the mainland.

Simon:

Was that the main crop that people would’ve grown back in ...? Did people grow wheat for example or ...?

     

Peggy:

Uh huh, oh yes. For the cattle, yeah.

     

Simon:

So what would Cleadale look like back in the 50s if we walked along the road?

     

Peggy:

Oh, all the crofts were worked then, yes.

Simon:

And they would’ve had cattle and sheep and crops?

     

Peggy:

Yes. Oh yes, they don’t ... a big difference now.

     

Simon:

Did you have a market? Were there market days?

     

Peggy:

No. On Eigg? No.

     

Simon:

So it always went to the mainland to ...?

     

Peggy:

Always went to the mainland, yes. And it was very difficult because they used to ... you know they used the ferry? Well the big boat wouldn’t come in to the pier so they were slinging the cattle onto the ferry. A lot of work, you know to ... now they just, the big lorries or what do you call them? It comes and they just go into them. But they used to have to sling them onto the big boat. Put them on the ferry and take them out to the big boat and sling them on to the ferry.

Simon:

That’s a lot of work.

     

Peggy:

I know!

     

Simon:

Yep. So what were like the ...? Because in many communities the things like market days were big days for the community. If you didn’t have the markets and stuff ...?

     

Peggy:

No, but they used to ... you had to go away to Fort William and Dingwall and Oban. Oban, I think at that time it was Oban more. Now it’s Fort William and Dingwall. So once a year ... I think it was once a year, they used to take them all away but ... and of course the sheep as well.

Simon:

But was the day it went away ...? What I found in Skye is like the market ... because the market was local, it was like a festival almost.

     

Peggy:

Oh yes, I see. There wasn’t like that here, no. Yes, Skye and Uist and all the other islands but Eigg being so small they didn’t have that.

Simon:

So did you have other days that ...?

     

Peggy:

They might’ve had it years before, you know, long before we came. I think they might have, but in Uist they used to have them. In Uist, a big day doing that, you know, for the sales. But they had to walk them for miles too, to where they were sold.

Simon:

Did they take them up to Lewis or were they sold on Uist?

     

Peggy:

On Uist. They were sold, yes. But they would do it ... sometimes they’d be walking nine or ten miles down to the ... and they never thought anything of it. Amazing when you think of it.

Simon:

And did you ...? What did ...? When you got married, did you get married on Uist or did you get married ...?

     

Peggy:

No, we got married in Glasgow.

Simon:

Glasgow? Right down to the city?

     

Peggy:

Yes, 1956. So I’m in Eigg since 1959. Five children and ... well, Marie’s in Kildonnan and Alistair is up, just the house ... you know the big house as you come on the main, Lageorna ... and his wife. They put that bit extra on, that restaurant. Just very new, it was only just last year that they started taking people.

Simon:

And when ... I hope you don’t mind me asking, but when you had the kids did you go to the mainland or did you have them here?

     

Peggy:

Oh yes, I went to Glasgow to have them.

Simon:

You always went ...? Was Glasgow like the big city?

     

Peggy:

Yes, mmm hmm. That’s where the doctor sent you to, Glasgow.

Simon:

Did you get a ferry straight to Glasgow in those days?

     

Peggy:

No, no, you just got a ferry to Mallaig and then got the train. Yes, they still have to go away when they’re having ...

Simon:

Yeah, Maggie was talking about it but ...

     

Peggy:

They have to go away quite early, about two weeks before.

     

Simon:

So you were saying the Runcimans, that’s right, were the lairds when you came?

     

Peggy:

Yeah, the Runcimans were here.

     

Simon:

And they were good lairds?

     

Peggy:

Yes, they were very good.

     

Simon:

They sort of took care of the island and that?

     

Peggy:

Oh yes, uh huh.

     

Simon:

And how many lairds did you have between ...?

     

Peggy:

Well, that was the Runcimans and we took ... one, two, three, four, five ... Five different ones.

Simon:

That’s a lot in fifty years?

     

Peggy:

Yes.

     

Simon:

Was there a big difference or ..?

     

Peggy:

Well, the Runcimans were the best. I don’t suppose the rest, they didn’t have the money. Anyway, the island is much better now.

     

Simon:

But do you think the fact that the owners changed so often kind of meant it became quite ... that people lost their spirit or it became unstable or something? That it needed to change?

     

Peggy:

Yes, aye. Although Schellenberg, he did a good thing for me when my husband was very ill, dying. He hired a small plane you see and he ... see in the hospital, they didn’t want to let him go and I didn’t want to come home without him and I says: “I can’t stay in Glasgow, I’ve got young children at home,” and then Schellenberg offered to take Donnie home in his plane. So that’s the way we came home, I came home with him. So I always think: “Well, he did that for me.” He did that but there was lots of other things that wasn’t so good. But you can’t help but ... that will always, for me ... he did that. It was so easy, you know, coming home like that and coming by car with my husband so ill. Because he died six weeks later so ... that was good.

Simon:

Just going back to your younger days, did you do farm work yourself?

     

Peggy:

No, I didn’t do much because ... well, I had five children and I took guests in as well so I didn’t really do much outside at all so my husband did most of that himself. And then a friend of ours came and stayed, he was from Lanarkshire, and so he was helping a lot with the farm. When my husband died, George stayed on. But of course he took ill himself, George, and a few years after that he died too. It was very hard. It was very difficult at that time but anyway, we managed. You have to.

Simon:

It must’ve been difficult given that your own family were back on Uist.

     

Peggy:

Yes.

     

Simon:

I take it Donald’s family ...

     

Peggy:

They ... Well his father died the year before but his mother was here. But she went away after that and stayed with her daughter in Fort William because she was getting old and ... but she was coming back and staying. She took it so bad when my husband died, that was her first ... You wonder how you come through it but you just have to.

Simon:

Were there ...? Things in the farming year when ... maybe you wouldn’t have seen it so much, but when people worked together with the things like the hay gathering or ...?

     

Peggy:

Yes, they’re very good at helping and you know when you’re planting, maybe you’re planting a lot of potatoes, and then some of the neighbours come down and help you plant them. And even while you are picking potatoes in October, people used to help one and other, yes.

Simon:

Did people do things like the peats?

     

Peggy:

Oh, there’s no peat here.

Simon:

No peat?

     

Peggy:

Well, there was years before we came, there was little but not much. See in Uist there was lots of peat then. We never had anything else but peat on the fire.

Simon:

There’s a lot of people going back to the peats at the moment. At least on Skye they were. Staffin has a lot of peat and people still have their Rayburns and ...

     

Peggy:

With the peat?

     

Simon:

Uh huh.

     

Peggy:

Yes, that’s lovely the smell of the peat. When I go to Uist yet, to smell that peat ... oh, it’s so lovely, the smell of the peat. It reminds you of when you were young and ... we used to help a lot with the peat. Yeah, love that.

Simon:

So I guess you won’t take much ... Maggie was talking a lot about how nowadays, just to compare, a lot of people help out in the running of the island but I take it ... Would you ...? Did you get involved in that at all or ...?

     

Peggy:

No.

     

Simon:

Did your children get involved in it?

     

Peggy:

Yes, at the start of the thing my son-in-law Colin Carr, he did quite a bit. Maggie’s great, she did a lot.

Simon:

How many of your own children are still on the island?

     

Peggy:

Three.

     

Simon:

Out of five?

     

Peggy:

Yes.

     

Simon:

That’s good! In many cases the whole family go away so ...

     

Peggy:

Yes, that’s why it’s quite good, yes.

     

Simon:

And has it been quite easy for people ... so your son’s got a croft, but for people to get crofts?

     

Peggy:

Yes. They made some more crofts. Actually, my son Angus, he’s away working just now, but he’s got a croft, the church croft, down here. So he’s just got a caravan on it and I don’t know if you would ... did you go to see Mairi Mackinnon?

Simon:

No.

     

Peggy:

She’s got a croft. That was my ... that’s my ex-daughter-in-law. That’s where my son was. That’s his granny’s house but anyway they’ve parted and Mairi’s got another partner. But she’s involved in the crofting, she does quite a bit.

Simon:

Has the crofting picked up in recent years? Like when you came, this whole area was crofting. That’s obviously gone down, I guess people just growing old and stuff. But is it coming back?

     

Peggy:

Yes. Have you met Scruff? He’s up on Howlin, he has a croft, and he’s married with two children and he’s been busy with his croft. Not that I ask him very often. You know, you forget, but I know he’s got Highland cattle and he’s got different sheep and ducks and hens and quite a ... he did quite a bit anyway at the start. I don’t know how he’s getting on now but ... and they’ve got a poly-tunnel and they have quite a lot of vegetables.

Simon:

What were the winters like? I’ll make this the last question. What were the winters like when you were here in the 50s then if you didn’t have things like poly-tunnels and you didn’t have supplies coming in that much?

     

Peggy:

Well we had our ... quite a ... the likes of potatoes and carrots and turnip and cabbage and ... you know, the main.

Simon:

You stocked that up.

     

Peggy:

Uh huh. Yes, but the shop didn’t ... the boat came quite regular. But it’s definitely better now.

Simon:

More variety.

     

Peggy:

Yes, more variety.

     

Simon:

Not potatoes every day.

     

Peggy:

No. There’s so much more different vegetables even that we never heard of before. So it is much better.