• Elizabeth McGowan
Location:
Kershader
Date:
Thursday 3rd June 2010
Reference:
SWI2010/016

Elizabeth:

I can’t ever remember a time when he didn’t keep things. He always kept everything. He never threw anything away, even if it was a broken kettle or a pan with no bottom in it. It might come in handy for something so he never threw anything away but we can only assume that’s because of the upbringing he had, you know? They made use of everything in his lifetime so nothing was ever thrown away. So there was always stuff stored away in garages or sheds but the earliest that I remember about him starting what’s known as the Calbost Collection was ... he had a loom, he had acquired a loom from Harris which was already there. I don’t remember him going for it or anything but I do remember him taking us round the island, visiting people and collecting other things like pots, bits of looms, bits of boats, lamps. Lamps was a big thing. He had I don’t know how ... countless lamps, crockery ... So he would go round the island and he took me more than my brother, probably because I was quiet. My brother was playing outside more than me. So I do remember that when we were young and we weren’t at school, that he was collecting things. And I remember as well, he acquired a name for collecting things cos people would come with things or phone him up and ask him: “Do you want this?” You know, if somebody had died and they were emptying a house they would invite him to go over and see if there’s anything he wanted and ... pictures, photographs, especially anything to do with South Lochs. He wouldn’t see anything being thrown out. So I do always remember him doing it from when I was young, yeah. I don’t ever remember the thing starting off. That was earlier than I can remember.

Simon:

Was he conscious from the very beginning that this would be important to other people?

     

Elizabeth:

I think he realised as the village ... the village he was brought up in, Calbost, the population was declining to only just half a dozen people when we were little and that was nearly fifty years ago. And he realised, when he went off looking for things, how difficult it was to find things, that people had just been throwing things out with modernisation. And he did realise that. I do remember him talking to other adults and people visiting the house: “If I don’t do this it’ll be lost forever. Nobody’ll know anything about it and how we lived,” and that. I do remember him saying that to other people in the house and that was in the 60s.

Simon:

And when did he set up the museum at the house?

     

Elizabeth:

He set up ... his first collection, he started setting it up over in his grandfather’s house on the croft Aonad Calbost which was the original white house and that’s where everything ... When we were in school, there used to be people going over to Calbost to visit the collection and the collection just kept being added to and added to and added to. It got to a point where you could hardly walk in the room because of all the stuff he had. So that was, yes, that was in the late 60s that started. I remember that, yep.

Simon:

And also writing as well.

     

Elizabeth:

Yeah. I don’t think the writing started as early as collecting artifacts. I think the writing was probably more ’69, ’70. He took very ill and he had to give up work with the Harris Tweed industry. He had to give up that work and I think that’s mostly when the writing started, in earnest, although the interest had been there and he had taken notes but that’s when we started remembering ... I remember him being ill for a year, at least a year I’m sure. I do remember him being very, very ill but then I remember as he recovered he was sitting at the desk and he was starting to write all the time. Cos he wasn’t as physically able as he used to be so that would’ve been about 1970-ish, ’71.

Simon:

Do you remember what the kind of first things he was writing about?

     

Elizabeth:

Calbost. Genealogy first, our own genealogy, our own family history first. He went as far back as he possibly could and then he went on to the other crofts in the village and he went ... you know, he did every croft in Calbost all the way round the village and he did all our genealogies first and then he started writing about the history of Calbost and so it developed on from that.

Simon:

And one of the things you really notice about it is how organised it all is and ...

     

Elizabeth:

Yes. He did write in chapters, he did. He read a lot. He bought a lot of books, not just factual books and historical books but he bought novels and books of interest and books of English literature as well. You’ve seen from the archive, there is quite a wide range of books. And he also encouraged us to read, even if it was just comics. He thought reading was good for you and so he was used to reading so he probably got his organisation from reading books. He did read a lot, yep.

Simon:

And Gaelic would’ve been his first language?

     

Elizabeth:

Gaelic, yes. He was brought up ...

Simon:

And all the writing is in English?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, he couldn’t ... He didn’t have any Gaelic grammar or spelling or anything. He couldn’t write in Gaelic at all. The Gaelic he had was just oral Gaelic, speaking Gaelic, so he always used to get me to translate. He just didn’t have the education. When they were at school they didn’t get ...

Simon:

So they were taught to write in English?

     

Elizabeth:

They were taught to write in English, yes.

Simon:

So when it came to writing it’d be in English.

     

Elizabeth:

Yes. He couldn’t write in Gaelic at all, unless he was copying something. No, he just couldn’t do it so I used to do that bit for him, translate.

Simon:

And at what point did the other thing that was a great achievement in his life, that was setting up the Scottish Crofters Union or helping with the emergence of that ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, he did. I think after writing the history and about the crofting and ... he had a keen interest in how the crofters were treated and he was also comparing how hard it was for crofters economically than ... It was much easier for farmers in England and other European countries and he also realised that farmers on the UK, in England and other countries, were getting a voice and help that the crofters weren’t getting in Europe. So this was, I think, the thought process that was behind setting up a Scottish Crofters Union where their voice could be heard outside Scotland and they could get help from Europe, so that’s where he ... I remember him talking about that: “Well, the crofters will now have a voice in Europe as well as just local.” Because even in England, people don’t know what a crofter is. It’s a completely different way of life to a farm. It’s not a small farm and he went to great pains explaining this to everyone; you weren’t to compare crofters to farmers at all. But I think that had a lot to do with establishing a big union that could be heard in Europe.

Simon:

But there were other organisations that were smaller local ones?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, there were. There was always local and there was always organisations in the Western Isles and the north and west coast of Scotland. They all had their own local crofters’ unions and they were just helping each other locally and supporting each other locally with sheep and produce and potatoes and that, but they didn’t get a lot of government help with grants and things like they do now and subsidies and things like that. They get a lot of help now but they didn’t have that at that time. The money generated was all local money which was obviously very limited.

Simon:

So they were kind of like cooperatives in a way?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes. Oh, it was like cooperatives. They were supporting each other, definitely, and raising money in the community to help the community but not ... didn’t go any further than that whereas the Crofters Union, when it was established, they were able to apply to Europe and get rights that other countries had and other farmers and fishing people had.

Simon:

Started to do things like ... What’s it called? Less Favoured Land Assistance and stuff?

     

Elizabeth:

Oh yes, there was a lot of things they got that they couldn’t get before, a lot of ... It’s not just called grants, there’s another word as well. I can’t remember what it is.

     

Simon:

Subsidies?

     

Elizabeth:

There’s subsidies as well and there’s another word as well that a lot of, even in Europe, people get it.

Simon:

How long did the process take? Do you know where he begun? Was he part of one of these smaller ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Oh yes, he was part of the Lewis Crofters. Yes, he was since the early 60s, I think since it was established. He was one of the original members on the committee of the Lewis Crofters and he was also a member of the Western Isles Tourist Board in the 70s and ... so yes, he always had the interest there. He was always on the committees and in the 60s he had been a Harris Tweed manufacturer so he did have a business head on him as well so he knew about money and how to make money and how to ... he knew about money distribution and ... he had the interest there anyway, I think, but he just realised that they weren’t getting the help other people were getting.

Simon:

How long did it take to bring all these organisations ...?

     

Elizabeth:

I do remember going with him to Inverness to one of the first meetings with Jim Hunter. Oh, it probably took at least seven or eight years from start to finish. He asked Jim Hunter to do a feasibility study on how this would work by going round all the different areas in the north of Scotland and the islands and Skye and that itself took some time. So he did a lot of the physical work himself though, my father, like handwriting letters to everyone and posting out letters to everyone and buying the stamps himself and ... you know? He did all that, the physical side of it, himself but he couldn’t do a lot of the research. He didn’t have the education or the means to do the research, or the health, so he got other interested people involved. Jim Hunter was one of them.

Simon:

... (inaudible) ... to crofting.

     

Elizabeth:

That’s right. He’s got a doctorate now. Doctor Hunter gave, I think, the second memorial lecture, yes.

     

Simon:

Did your father see ...? You were saying earlier he was also, as seen in the archives, very interested in the history of how crofters were treated and things like the land raids and the kind of to-ing and fro-ing over the land. Did he see a kind of link with the Crofters Union to that or ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Well, he would hope that the crofters would never have to struggle like they used to have to struggle, you know? And like they were struggling even twenty, thirty years ago, forty years ago ... you know, you couldn’t make a living out of crofting alone. There was no way you could survive and look after a house and a family if you just worked on a croft and so everybody had to have a second income whereas farmers could earn a living from their farm. Crofters had such a smallholding and sometimes not very good land anyway.

Simon:

It was created so they couldn’t be self-sufficient and ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, exactly. So, oh yes, he felt that. He felt they were struggling. He knew they were struggling, he struggled himself. He couldn’t survive, nope.

     

Simon:

Cos it’s interesting. In this area there’s been a lot of ... That struggle is something you pick up in the area in reading your father’s writings. Obviously there’s the Pairc Deer Raid which ... but there seems to be a lot of other smaller ones ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Oh yes. Even day-to-day, it’s not just the big events you hear about but day-to-day living was hard for families, you know? And the families were bigger in those days and although they had food, they had potatoes and they had fish and they had sheep and some of them had ... not everybody even had a cow, they couldn’t afford to have a cow. They didn’t even have enough land for a cow to graze on. Some of them eventually got hens. We eventually got hens, but you couldn’t make a living out of it. It was just enough to live and feed yourself barely. You couldn’t go out shopping with it or ... So they had to find second incomes but they needed support as well with these second incomes. A lot of people went away fishing to the east coast and a lot of women went away to work as servants and housekeepers for big houses on the mainland, as well, to support and ... You know, they would then send money home to their families. So my father and mother were up with that, they both did it. They both left home and were sending money back to their families here, yeah.

Simon:

And do you remember the fishing? Was it ...? When you were younger ...

     

Elizabeth:

Oh, there was a lot of fishing when I was young. Well, there was a lot of fishing over here. I remember the boats going out before six in the morning; they would wake you up. All the boats going out the loch and there would also be the salmon fishing and the nets would be out and would do shifts through the night, you know? Somebody would be on the night shift and somebody would be on the evening watch and somebody ... My father would be out through the day just watching the nets, you know, that the seals wouldn’t come and ... oh yes, we were brought up with it. And the herring as well. There was a lot of herring, used to catch a lot of herring. We didn’t ... Dad didn’t have a fishing boat but there were fishing boats in all the other villages. But we still used to go out on the boats with the nets, yeah. It was good.

Simon:

So was it quite ...? Do you remember people going away to work and coming back?

     

Elizabeth:

Not for the fishing. I’m probably too young for that. I don’t remember anyone in my lifetime. They’d probably stopped doing that by then, by the 60s. They had probably stopped doing that after the war. I think probably when the Second War broke out there wasn’t much of that happening. Although people, if they were away on the merchant navy or nursing, they would send money home but not as a great necessity like it had been in the past.

Simon:

And your father had been away when he was younger then?

     

Elizabeth:

Yeah, he went away when he was young as well and he hoped to join up but he didn’t get called and he fell ill so he didn’t get to join the navy. I do remember people were sending money home but then there was more crofters and crofters wives starting to work in other jobs and they weren’t just on the croft all the time. There was a lot more jobs, like councils, being established and teachers and shops and things, you know? There was a lot more jobs outside the croft and a lot of wives started working and mothers started working. Tourism became a big thing as well in the 60s, 70s mostly, I think. A lot of people took in bed and breakfast, including us. Yeah, we did it.

Simon:

Or one last thing, it’s just how you are continuing the archive because it’s now ...

     

Elizabeth:

Well, I used to ... We were always getting on to him: “Why don’t you publish it? Why don’t you ...?” But he was getting old and he couldn’t be bothered with all the physical things to do with publishing. He just liked getting the information and he would always say: “Och well, I’ll leave it to yous,” or: “I don’t know.” And he did, he was very generous with the information. He absolutely was in his element if anybody came to him with a question or wanting to know any kind of history at all, he was in his element. He loved sharing information and he would write and handwrite and copy everything out for people. He was so, so generous with everything he had and ... But he just didn’t have the ability or he couldn’t be bothered with the physical side of publishing or printing and all that kind of stuff so ... And the thing is as well, for being quite an accurate man and knowing how he was, he never left any instructions for it in his will which ... a lot of people have asked me: “Have you done what he wanted as his ...?” No, he didn’t leave anything in his will about anything of the museum or the ... it wasn’t an archive then, it was just a whole pile of writing and the house and books so ... no, he had left no instructions at all but he would’ve been really pleased with it. He would’ve been absolutely delighted with everything that’s been done and the fact that it’s on the Internet and a website and the interest that’s in it, even from schools and colleges and universities all over the world. He would’ve been highly delighted and I think he would be really pleased with what’s happening. It’s not a money making exercise. He didn’t make money and it was one of the rules I was quite adamant about myself, that nobody was going to make money out of this. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I joined up with the Comunn Eachdraidh and the Book Trust and I’m really pleased.

Simon:

What’s your role? Cos you mentioned you took some photographs and ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Well, that’s separate. That’s ... the photographs I’ve taken are for cataloguing the museum collection which is separate from the archive. My father actually had set up a trust, a family trust, for the museum collection so I run that. That’s totally different. What’s in the archive is all his writings and papers and photographs. That’s what the archive consists of, the written material. Now there is an element of the recordings he had as well but not all the reels are there. I’ve got most of them because they haven’t all been digitised yet and publishing them, there’s a lot of ‘no’s and you have to get a lot of permission to publish some recordings nowadays.

Simon:

So was he recording other people?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes. He had one of these reel-to-reel recorders. I’ve got it in my house in Stornoway so I play the original reels on the original recorder and they preserve well. I think there’s about 300 of them or so. And they do preserve well but ... And I digitise them on request, you know, if anyone wants copies I digitise for them. A lot of the reels he recorded he never did anything with. They were away in storage and he hadn’t touched them, since probably the early 70s he hadn’t touched them. Of course the writing took over then, I suppose, but they hadn’t been touched. I found reels there that hadn’t been touched from the 50s or 60s but ... So that obviously took a back seat when the writing started.

Simon:

So what kind of stuff? Is it like ...?

     

Elizabeth:

There’s a whole mixture. There’s a lot of religious singing, Gaelic psalm singing and hymn singing in Gaelic and Gaelic songs and secular songs as well, local songs, pipe music, bands. There’s also, in the 60s and 70s, he recorded off the radio any interesting programmes with music or Gaelic related programmes. There’s also on some of the recordings interviews he did with people, mostly about historical things as well but I think I’ve given copies of these ones to the archive as well, included in the archive some of them.

Simon:

And I had a look through the digital stuff, there’s video as well isn’t there?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, there’s videos. There’s quite a number of videos as well but I don’t know, I can’t remember how many off hand. Thirty or forty videos?

Simon:

Is that material ...? Did he film the material?

     

Elizabeth:

Well, somebody would be filming with him. He would be maybe taking ... like a camera man would go with him to the village or to wherever he was talking about and video him talking and showing what they were describing. So he always got a copy of all the programmes he did so he kept them.

Simon:

Were these things made for television or ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Oh, a lot of them were made for ... a lot of them have been broadcast, yes, if not all of them. Most of them have been on the telly.

Simon:

I was going to ask about the cairns. That was another thing that your father was involved ...

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, well this obviously got sparked off from the historical interest and how badly the crofters were treated and so that sparked off this and he got in touch with Malcolm Maclean at Gaelic Arts and they got money and they got an architect and an artist and the ball started rolling. That took a number of years to get off the ground as well. It was the 90s when the first one was built so that’s well known now and well documented. They’re actually thinking of doing a Cuimhneachain nan Gaisgeach 2 because there was another riot over in Uig and there isn’t a big cairn over there so I think they’re thinking about building one over there as well.

Simon:

Were you at the unveiling of the ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, the first one. It was a good ...

     

Simon:

What was that like?

     

Elizabeth:

Fantastic day! And it included all the school children and it was a really, really good day. All the cairn openings were good days. They were all different, completely different and unique to their own part of the island which was good as well, you know? In Point they had a demonstration of the fighting that went on and that was unique to what happened in Point, the Aignish riot, so I thought they were very good openings. Three of them were different, the ones I saw.

Simon:

And did people see the importance of that history? Like generally?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes because now I see in the multimedia department and the education departments it is included in the curriculum here now. Yeah, a big part of the curriculum and it’s also included in a lot of productions and art productions and theatre productions as well, it’s included definitely.

Simon:

Cos there seemed to be a time that people didn’t ...

     

Elizabeth:

People didn’t know about it or it was if they had heard about it vaguely somewhere along the line but I think since the cairns opened, and the fact information has gone into the schools and the education system and the arts ... It’s perfect material really for plays and theatre, isn’t it? And writing books and ... Yes, definitely. So I think they’re going to do another one and have a play as well, yep.

Elizabeth:

Oh, well everybody ... You see, when you went out peat cutting ... See at that time in Calbost we were the only ones left in Calbost really cutting peats although we weren’t living in Calbost all the time. But in all the other villages round about, you know, everybody mucked in together. Everybody went to cut the peats and everybody brought a picnic like flasks of tea and coffee and scones or ... So everybody chipped in and it was a good day out, and I think that’s what made peat cutting ... I’m not going to say fun but nobody minded it because everybody was out together and everybody was on the same boat and everybody was working together and playing together and ... you know? So although we were on our own, there was one other old elderly couple in Calbost but by that time they had stopped cutting peats, but we were used to this, growing up, everybody chipping in together and having a picnic. They worked very, very hard but they knew how to ... they somehow knew that bodies needed rest and to relax and let off steam as well. They somehow knew these things that we had to take care of our bodies and our minds as well as survive and earn a living. So, you know, they made sure everybody was fed and looked after and rested and there were especially, I found myself, careful and kind with women who were expecting babies and who’d just had babies. They seemed to be a lot more kind to them than they are nowadays, you know? They didn’t want the woman who were ... of course, they were used to people losing their lives in childbirth and babies being stillborn so I found they were very gentle around mothers-to-be and young mothers as well. But, yeah, he brought the first car to Calbost and he let everybody know it! He did. That’s photos with his brothers. That brother, James, went to America and Murdo was the second youngest in the family. They were very close, these boys. Yep ... That’s my father with an auntie, Mrs. MacFarlane, Marvig. She used to run the post office in Marvig. She actually gave me my father’s mother’s wedding ring, which I thought was very kind of her. I thought that was very nice of her to do that. Now I remember this getting taken. This was myself and my brother and my father and these were two first cousins of ours. One was home from America and one was home from New Zealand so very rare that we were all together. They were from California. And that’s a photo of ... they lost a daughter when she was just fifteen. Oh it was awful, traumatic for them. She was their actual only daughter. My brother and I were adopted after she died so she was their only child. My mum went to wake her up for school one Wednesday morning and she had passed away. She was fifteen and she looked lovely. She was a beautiful healthy girl but she suffered from epilepsy and she had taken a fit in her sleep and suffocated and it was tragic. It shocked the whole island. Since I came home in 2002 almost everyone I’ve spoken to remembers Isobail dying and there was ... I did some research myself and ... Cos I was curious why everybody remembered this death. I thought there’s bound to be other people, young people, die. And two other young people died the year she died. One was a girl who was ill and another was a sudden death as well, but I wondered why this one stuck in everybody’s mind so much and the only two reasons they were coming up with was my father was well known with the Harris Tweed industry and, two, she was their only child. And that’s why it’s ...

Simon:

... (inaudible) ... a poem?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, it’s a friend of the family, Catriona Campbell, she’s gifted. She wrote a number of songs but she wrote a lament for Isobail as if it had been her own daughter that had died. As it turned out some years later when I was in my teens she did lose a daughter through cancer. But she wrote it. Now my uncle translated it into English and another minister did another translation as well, so these are all on record. It was very sad for them, they never got over that. There’s the famous two cars again. That’s him when he was young. That’s him when he was at school. Quite a strapping looking boy! This was one of ... the local historical society has an annual day out to different villages and this was one in Calbost and you see, they were in the museum, all the lanterns hanging? They were collected. There’ll be other photos of the museum as well. That was taken in South America when he was on a banana boat.

Simon:

Right!

     

Elizabeth:

And they got into trouble as well on that trip. They broke a sink ... I think a washing basin that was on a pedestal. They cracked it or broke it and they ended up in jail for a night in South America. (laughs)

Simon:

So he was in the merchant navy then?

     

Elizabeth:

No, that was ... well, for a very short trip. I think he only did the one trip, two at the most, yep. There’s more peat cutting picnics here throughout the village. This is him just showing ruins. That was their wedding day. That’s him and my mum. That’s my mother’s sister and that’s one of his brothers. I don’t know ... These are cousins. They’re all family members, cousins. That’s Dad’s father who originally had the croft. They’re all cousins and ... now that’s his mother. She was actually ... How old would you say this lady was in that picture?

Simon:

I’d say maybe in her sixties?

     

Elizabeth:

No, she was hardly fifty!

     

Simon:

Hardly fifty?

     

Elizabeth:

But the dress code in these days were because she was a widow she was in long black, had to have thick black tights on, big, big black heavy shoes, her hair tied back in a bun ...

Simon:

All the time?

     

Elizabeth:

All the time and it made them look older, it did. But she’s only about fifty in that photo. It was Da himself that told me that, yep. That’s amazing isn’t it? You wouldn’t ... but that’s the way that they ... That’s my brother and I, Calbost, fishing as usual. He’s showing off. This is at the opening of the Pairc Cairn. Somebody caught him struggling or something. He wasn’t actually dancing I don’t think. I don’t know but somebody ... was it Will, I think, that took that picture? And it had been published. I think we’ve put it on the website as well. These are all ... that was a brother that died young. That’s their daughter when she was young and that’s them. These are the family photos. There’s another album, there’ll be more recent family photos and more of her as well, of their daughter. So he’s done that for all the villages. I’ve only shown you the one for his croft, the pictures, but on top of the pictures there is the historical, actual written genealogies of everybody in these photographs. Everyone that ever lived over here has been recorded so these are another ... It was quite good seeing the pictures as a brief introduction to a family ... (inaudible) ... You were interested in fishing weren’t you?

Simon:

Yeah.

     

Elizabeth:

You’ll have seen some of these. You’ll have heard about the Coronation Race. Heard about it ...

Simon:

Actually no!

     

Elizabeth:

No? Oh you should take a copy of the Coronation Race. It should be in Ceilidh House Stories, if not in that ... If it’s not in the pictorial picture it should be in the ... No it won’t be in these. It’s not in there, it’s not in there.

Simon:

There’s some here on fishing.

     

Elizabeth:

There it is! 1902 Coronation Race, there it is. It’s a good fishing ... a good boat story, this ... These are the ... Now there’s another one. Which cup? That was 1902 one. There’s a couple of the ... These are the original ... That’s how they originally wrote, can you imagine? Hand wrote that! And see, you would stroke that out and ... You can see it’s been rubbed out as well a few times but no, we’re ... But then he would’ve given up if he’d found new information and started a new one. That’s ... to me, that’s amazing, you know? You wouldn’t have the patience to do that nowadays, would you? See, look at that, the 1902 Coronation Race, that’s the original. But it should be typed up in the Ceilidh House Stories properly, which is here. It should be typed up so then you can get it ... That was another ... That’s a terrible story. It was my uncle that was involved in that with the boat that nearly went ... they nearly all lost their lives. It should be in this one! ... (inaudible) ... That’s another fishing boat ... Well, I’m trying to figure out where the typed up version or what it was ...? You got that didn’t you? It might be in there actually. White fish salting stations ... Well, it’s got to be in there somewhere, I’m just missing it. There it is! There it is. That’s it. It’s quite a ... it’s a wee bit of a long story but I’ll leave it open for you to read. Yeah, it was good, it’s a good story. There’s stories attached to all these fishing boats. Herring girls!

Simon:

When did they close down the harbour in Stornoway?

     

Elizabeth:

I don’t ... before my time. It must’ve been around wartime I would think, when the Second World War broke out, because I don’t remember them at all.

Simon:

So here’s girls at Peterhead.

     

Elizabeth:

Yes ... It’s written down how fast they used to gut the number of herring they used to ... and I can’t remember where it is off hand. An amazing amount of fish they gutted in a minute. Hello!

 

Hello!

     

Elizabeth:

This is Simon.

     

Simon:

Hi!

     

 

Hi, I’m Donnie.

     

Elizabeth:

Come and impart some of your knowledge to him! How long did the girls take to gut the fish?

 

About two seconds! (laughs)

Elizabeth:

I know. I can’t remember the figure that they did in a minute. It’ll be here somewhere.

     

 

Oh, it’d be like that ...

     

Elizabeth:

Absolutely amazing. But their fingers were all bandaged up and everything.

 

Oh there’d be cuts, aye.

     

Simon:

And salt getting into them I imagine.

     

Elizabeth:

Yes. But the statistics were ... This isn’t the good one. This isn’t the original one .

     

 

They were hardy!

     

Elizabeth:

Yeah, some of the fishing stories are really good. If you get a chance on your own, read them. The Maclennan brothers in Marvig, they had the last fishing boat. There they are again. I don’t know who’s ... that one’s got a question mark but they all ... that’s their fishing boat there. The three brothers owned the boat. Herring gutters, gosh. Wow!

Simon:

There’s just so many isn’t there of the fish?

     

Elizabeth:

Thousands of them, thousands of these fish. But they all look quite happy as well, you know?

Simon:

Yeah.

     

Elizabeth:

But everybody was in the same boat, you know? It was their life and that was it. If you read some of the stories in the fishing files they mention some of these boats.

Simon:

Do you know if the boats were kept down by Marvig and ...?

     

Elizabeth:

Yes, oh yes. They were. It depends. It would either be on Marvig or Stornoway, it depended on where they landed or what time it was or what day it was and that. All the boats came in on Saturday at teatime and didn’t go back out until Monday, the early hours of Monday morning. At the weekend, yes, they were always at home in the village definitely. But depending on the weather as well, sometimes they would’ve had turbulent storms and ... but oh yes, they were always ... you always saw the boats. I remember hearing them go out first thing in the morning.

Simon:

Did people see the boats off at all or ...? Cos I know ...

     

Elizabeth:

Oh yes, they used to.

     

Simon:

Fraserburgh used to have the tradition of the minister would say a prayer for the boats as they went out.

     

Elizabeth:

Oh no. I don’t ... I’ve never heard of anyone ... anything like that, no. But yeah, wives would see their husbands off and things like this on trips but no, not a big thing was made of it. Nope ... But there’s been some tragic deaths, you know? Wives have seen their boats go down and that with their husbands on them but I haven’t ... no, I’ve never heard of anything like a ceremony kind of thing at the pier or harbour or anything like that, no. I’ve never heard of anyone talking about that.

Simon:

So these are some of the genealogies or ...? Or just ...?

     

Elizabeth:

They’re census figures, just census figures. The genealogies, I think, should be over here. Yeah, the genealogies are over here. Different villages ... These are originals. These are the originals, that’s the first ones he wrote.

Simon:

So your family’s in here then?

     

Elizabeth:

Eh ... Marvig Campbells? Should be, yep. Macdonald ... Right. Here you go, 1796 that goes back to.

Simon:

Wow! How did he collect this? I guess some comes from census.

     

Elizabeth:

Oh the census figures mostly, yep. Yeah, he collected all the census figures.

Simon:

And was he getting stuff also from people, like knowing when people married or left or came?

     

Elizabeth:

Oh yeah. More recently, like for the last hundred years, people ... local knowledge was good, you know? People were ... oral tradition was quite good, or people handing down information.

Simon:

Do people have that tradition ...? Like singing the family tree?

     

Elizabeth:

Oh yes, definitely. And ... but when you go back to the 1700s all that had to be acquired from the records. So that’s quite far back really? Well, that’s as far back as they go. They don’t go any further back than that. There was nobody in Calbost before the 1700s and the people that came in the 1700s probably came across to this side of the island from the other side of the island. They would have landed ... But all this was handwritten.

Simon:

Incredible.

     

Elizabeth:

The amount of work he put into it, it’s much easier on a computer isn’t it? All you have to do is just delete it! Now that might have been from Rob Weir’s house, one of the tack ... that might be a list of his inventory. Tacksmen ... The tacksmen worked for, you know, the landlords and looking after the village and that. “Unconfirmed oral traditions suggest that Robert Weir was of Aberdonian origin,” so this, I think, must’ve been what was left in his house and it was sold on to all these people.

Simon:

Ah right, so these people bought ...

     

Elizabeth:

These people bought, right? Mr. Charles Simpson from Keose bought one cow at four pounds and four shillings, I take it. This was the estate that was left and the money that was made, nineteen pound and four shillings. Now they had to pay for the funeral expenses and the servants’ wages that were owed which was nine pound ten. And that left nine pound fourteen of the estate. The remains of Weir’s house ... well, you would have seen them today in Calbost. They’re just along the road from the prayer house, yep. But that was the value of the house, there you go! Nine pound fourteen. That’s amazing isn’t it? And that was a tacksman. That was not just a cottar or ...

Simon:

So he would’ve been a wealthy person?

     

Elizabeth:

Oh, he would’ve been a wealthy person. Well, look at that furniture he had for goodness sake! Compared to the crofters he had ... he had a cow, he had ... how many tables? He had two tables. There’s one ... two cupboards. There’s one chest. There’s all ... three, four, five, six ... seven chairs anyway. There’s a feather bed, bed covers, trays, chest of drawers, two barrels of bean seed, tablecloths ... now that was very rare, you know? So I mean this guy was well off. Twenty-seven barrels of potatoes ... and the roof! Yeah, they used to take the roof off. Well, when they were evicted ... If you’ve read or looked into the history of, for example, the land struggle and the cairns and the people were evicted from their own land, they would take the roof with them cos the roof was valuable.

Simon:

Because wood was scarce.

     

Elizabeth:

Wood was extremely scarce. You would only get it if it washed ashore, if there was a shipwreck or ... you know. You couldn’t get it so ... There’s a boat there as well and one fisherman’s uniform. It’s amazing isn’t it? Totally different way of life, totally different.

Simon:

So the most expensive things are ... well, the cow.

     

Elizabeth:

The cow would’ve been and I would imagine ...

Simon:

And the bed.

     

Elizabeth:

The potatoes ... Oh, aye.

     

Simon:

The kist?

     

Elizabeth:

That’s like a chest, uh huh.

     

Simon:

And the boat and the roof and the potatoes.

     

Elizabeth:

The cow was a valuable thing though. Not everybody could afford to have a cow either. Charles Simpson, Keose ... but he was probably a tacksman as well. But look, the funeral expenses weren’t very much either. So it’s quite amazing, one house ... and that was a well off house.

Simon:

Do you ... When you were growing up, how much of the old ... of the thatched houses were still standing on that moor?

     

Elizabeth:

In Calbost? There was nobody living in a thatched house in Calbost growing up, no. No, there wasn’t. I’m trying to think if there was any in South Lochs. There was one or two maybe in South Lochs but ... I wouldn’t say they were thatched, you know? They were done up by then.

Simon:

A lot of ... (inaudible) ... I suppose?

     

Elizabeth:

Yeah, uh huh. But they had the old walls on them and those that had thatch were used mostly as barns for the cows or for hen sheds or something or stores. I do remember them but not for people living in them, no. I mean, we used to play in and out of them as well but no, in my day nobody over on this side of the island lived in one then. No, I don’t remember. No, they all had the tin corrugated roofs when I was growing up. But I think there was some on the island, two or three anyway, that people owned.

Simon:

That’s probably it. Do you remember ...? I’ve not looked at any stories yet so ... cos there’s lots of stories about the lochs round the area and the ceilidh house.

     

Elizabeth:

Oh, the Ceilidh House Stories? Oh there should be about nearly a hundred of them. They’re really good. That was the first ones I did, got them all together. He didn’t have them all as Ceilidh House Stories but when we were doing up this ... Yep, a lot of really good stories in there, you know? And interesting things and informative things as well as just stories but some of them are just stories and some of them are fairytales and stories that we used to tell our children, including us, to keep us away from certain lochs. You know, the monsters and ... yeah, the Ceilidh House Stories are good but they’re on our website as well. Whatever you don’t get to see here, all the Ceilidh House Stories are on the website. A lot of it is on the website so anything you don’t get a chance to see here you’ll be able to catch off the website but I suppose you could ... I can’t get over this, the handwriting. It’s just ... I mean, I had to type it all and I was complaining at that but this is just something else, isn’t it eh?

Simon:

There must be thousands and thousands of pages.

     

Elizabeth:

I think I was telling you yesterday, I think it came to a hundred and something thousand pages, I can’t remember ... that we typed but I can’t remember the exact figure. It was definitely a six figure sum but it’s quite amazing. All that writing and he never got fed up of it ever, he was that interested. And it’s actually lasted very well. If you remember, this is nearly fifty years old.

Simon:

It doesn’t look that does it?

     

Elizabeth:

It doesn’t look it, no. So it’s really lasted quite well. It’s good. Och yeah, he’d have been very pleased with this. Very pleased indeed, yeah. I had started on the songs but I haven’t made much headway with them. I’ll need to make a start this month. There’s a lot of songs but I have got to sort them out, translate them and things. Haven’t done much in the last year. I don’t know ...