• Sheenagh MacLean
  • Teenie MacLean
  • Donald John MacLean (The Nipper)
Location:
Staffin
Date:
Saturday 20th September 2008
Reference:
SWI2008/007

Simon:

Have you got a lot of family in Staffin? Have you got a lot of relatives?

     

Donald:

All my relatives, I can say nearly every one of them, my Father and Mother, were Dundee. You know the Grants?

Simon:

I don’t know. Do I know the Grants? No.

     

Donald:

Donald Grant? You don’t know ... Peggy Gillies, do you know Peggy Gillies?

     

Simon:

Yep.

     

Donald:

Peggy Gillies’ grandfather, that was my uncle, Angus Lamont.

     

Simon:

OK, so you’re related to Lachie as well?

     

Donald:

Well, that was a different Lamonts.

     

 

Cos I’m related to Lachie who lives over in Digg as well but that was ....

Donald:

... (inaudible) ... That’s it.

     

Simon:

So how old ... You’re talking about the cemetery down in Garafad, the Kilmartin one?

     

Donald:

Oh. That one’s very old, old too. Kilmacniven, Cille MacNibhean in Gaelic. But I don’t know what the name of the other one was, down and past the dentist’s house. There would be ... The cemetery would be three or four hundred years old. And I think it was in the 20s that they put the wall round it. It was a fella from Ellishadder that did that, Donald Ross. You know Donald that’s disabled?

Simon:

Eh, no I don’t him. But Dougie though?

     

Donald:

Dougie’s brother! It was his grandfather that put the wall around it, yes. I think he put it in in the 20s. And somebody asked him why he was putting a wall around it, he said it was for the sheep to keep them out. And he said: “Well,” he says: “It’s like this,” he says: “You don’t need a wall, nobody wants in there and nobody wants out.” That’s what I’ve been told, which was quite true!

 

Yes, it’s very true. Is it OK if I speak Simon?

     

Simon:

Yeah.

     

Donald:

The Martins of Marishadder were the first to be buried there. But then you had quite a lot in Marishadder. You had Martins in Marishadder, you had Martins in Clachan and you had them up in Cullnacnock and you had some in Digg and you had some in Flodigarry ... (inaudible) ...

Simon:

No, none that I know about. I’ve not met any Martins.

     

Donald:

No? No? The only Martin I know here is Martin Nicholson. They just disappeared, aye.

     

 

Because like the Martins, that was normal, they were going to go to sea. That was all Norma’s family wasn’t it Donald?

Donald:

Yes, yes. On the father’s side.

     

Sheenagh:

On the father’s side, uh huh.

     

Donald:

Her grandfather was born in the old house at Valtos. John MacLeod, did you know what I mean? Dh’aine Mhor, that’s what that ... Oh no, the ruin behind it I should say. The ruin where the ... Sorry yes.

Sheenagh:

Just before the Dùn.

Donald:

Uh huh. And they were staying there. Almost none of them ... I remember being at a funeral of one of them. She was in Portree, Bessy Martin. I mean, first of all it’s the MacIntoshes that are the lairds there, you know? MacIntoshes. You’ve got a lot of MacDonalds then and then you’ve got the way links with Martins and Martins have marriage with the ... You’ve been there, yes?

Simon:

... (inaudible) ... no.

     

Donald:

You’ve never been at the old cemetery there have you?

     

Simon:

Yep!

     

Donald:

Oh, have you? But on the outside of it, all the Martins that were in Clachan and all the Martins that were up in Cullnacnock are buried outside and not in the railing.

     

Sheenagh:

Is that right?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. There’s a ... You’ve got to ... (inaudible) ... to see the grave and see the ... But over the years too you get some Martins that are buried still inside there, when they’re cremated you know? They’re relatives of the Martins and they’re buried there quite a ... There’s quite a few are there.

     

Simon:

And how do people know who’s where? Because most of the graves aren’t marked.

     

Donald:

No. They had in these days ... That was, I think, the only cemetery that was here then, they had their own plot and everything. You know they have one long layer and when somebody was buried there, he’d be buried there maybe twenty years. And somebody else died in the family, he would be buried there in turn as well. If there was any bones or anything you’d just have to put them down the side of the coffin, if there were.

Simon:

People were on top of each other?

     

Donald:

Yes, they used to put them on top.

     

Simon:

And that’s why there’s the big mounds? Because if there’s been a lot in a family then they’ve had to pile up?

     

Donald:

Yes. You see how low it is in the centre? They used to cut the turf there, it was going on top of the grave, and that’s why it’s so low. Because they weren’t allowed to cut anything outside the cemetery.

     

Simon:

And did you go to the actual funerals yourself then, when you were younger?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. Yes, there used to be a lot of funerals.

     

Simon:

What were they like?

     

Donald:

Oh, they used to be the likes of now. You went over to, in these days, from Stenscholl. You had to walk right along to Clachan but in years before that they used to walk from Flodigarry to Clachan. And they used to walk from Lealt and up there there’s only some of them that were buried in the wee cemetery. You know the wee cemetery? Some of them used to ... They used to have to drink ... They used to be drinking. I remember now, it’s about thirty years ago, when you’re all in the cemetery there you’d come up with an empty bottle, yes this was true, and you’d see where a bottle was smashed.

Simon:

So they’d drink at the funeral?

     

Donald:

Oh, they were drinking yes. When they had to walk ... You know the long desert post? That’s what it was.

     

Simon:

And did they carry the coffin?

     

Donald:

Carry the coffin. Sometimes took a coffin in a cart which was a bad thing really, a bad day. But they always ... I don’t remember them having the drink, you know? But seemingly there used to be some fights ... It’s terrible isn’t it? They all used to talk, the word they had was: “The funeral in the daytime and the wedding at night.” Tilleadh air latha, banais air an oidhche.

Simon:

And did the women go to the funerals as well?

     

Donald:

Not then, no. Nobody would ... None of them went to the funeral, no. You’d never see any of them, no. Because there’s nothing keeping them back if they want to go to a funeral.

Simon:

Do you know why that was or was it just tradition?

     

Donald:

Tradition I think it was, mostly tradition.

     

Simon:

And would it be a minister or a Kirk Elder that did a service or the family?

     

Donald:

Oh, the services were usually done in the house, it’s very seldom they had them in the churches then, you know? Just over the last twenty ... And they would walk ... But the Free Church, and the Free Presbyterians, when the coffin was taken over it was lowered in the grave, not one word. The same with the Free Church and the Church of Scotland was the only one that would say a prayer at the grave. And some people maintain that if you’re saying a prayer in the cemetery that you’re praying for the dead. No! You weren’t. In the olden days they used to hold communions in the cemeteries. Going back, you know? But after that the Free Church started and the Free Presbyterians started that.

Simon:

I had an uncle in Perthshire, they gave him ... They called it a Highland Funeral when he died and they put the coffin outside the house in the garden and everybody came to the garden and the service was there and then they took the coffin away.

     

Donald:

Oh yes. I remember too there was sometimes ... (inaudible) ... from the road at the Free Church, carrying coffins over to Kilmartin on your shoulders, you know? There were six! But you never see that now at all. No, you don’t see that at all. It used to be quite common. Not now, nothing like that. Hearse goes to the cemetery and that’s it.

Simon:

And you were talking about communions being in the cemetery. Did people used to worship outside quite a lot?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. In quite a few cemeteries. I’ve read a few books. Even in the likes of the Highlands, Beauly and these places, Kilmurrock, and the old, old cemetery and they used to have tables in there and the communion and everything, you know? There was only a few churches in these days, yes.

Simon:

Do you know much about the ...? There was kind of a Gaelic church before there was a Free Church on Skye.

     

Donald:

Pardon?

     

Simon:

I’d read in a book there was a kind of Gaelic church in Skye before the Free Church came.

     

Donald:

Oh, I suppose there would be. I remember a United Free Church being there where the Free Presbyterian manse is, yes. And that closed. Some went to the Church of Scotland, some went to the Free Church.

Simon:

It’s interesting. And I heard the weddings used to all be down in the Lodge (Quiraing Lodge). Is that right?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. But some of them they had them in the house.

     

Simon:

So the wedding was in the house?

     

Donald:

Sometimes, aye. Making their own grub and feed for it. That was the only things they had in these days, a wee ... (inaudible) ...

 

My mother and father were married in the Lodge.

     

Donald:

Oh yes, yes ... (inaudible) ... Oh, there was quite a few then that was married in it, yes.

     

Simon:

So what was a wedding like when you were young?

     

Donald:

The first wedding I remember was in the house, you know? But the whisky wasn’t that plentiful then. You had a couple of large ones and the chickens were plucked and boiled and roasted and that with potatoes, that’s the most they had back then. Then they started, of course, in the hotels and usually had some down in the Lodge.

Simon:

The Herd’s son was getting married yesterday.

     

Donald:

Yes, that was good! Och aye, that’s it.

     

Simon:

And there was a big ... The bride’s from Czechoslovakia and all the family’s come over on this big bus.

Donald:

Yes? That was good.

     

Simon:

Do you remember stuff like the market days when they used to sell the cattle?

     

Donald:

Yes, the first ... Yes but not the old ones, no. Not the old ones. I remember there used to be sales at the achadh there, you know? That’s how ... And they used to be up at the ...

Simon:

Up to the old Clachan market?

     

Donald:

Uh huh, that market yeah.

     

Simon:

And was that a big day? A kind of celebration?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. That was a big day, yes. And they ... A minister from the Church of Scotland is buried over in Clachan there, Ronald MunRigh. Did you know that, yes?

Simon:

No.

     

Donald:

No? Yes, that’s very ... I just vaguely remember him, a big fat man. He was a great comedian. He was a good man, but no he ... He’s buried there himself and his sister. He wasn’t married and there’s another family that’s buried there that he ... A body that came ashore, years and years ago. And they buried him in the middle of the cemetery, you know? And they usually have an air, you know? East to west the way they cut the graves open. But they didn’t do that. That one is from the south to the north. And he’d been buried a while there, then the people found it ... Then people on the mainland found out he was a fellow from Gairloch and so they came over by boat at night and dug up the body and took it with them and filled the grave with stones that were there and that grave never went down to this day. You still see it on it’s own, it’s facing the north there. Aye.

Simon:

Did it happen quite a lot that bodies got washed up?

     

 

Ach no, that’s the only one that I’ve heard of here.

     

Simon:

So even though you had the fishing and ...?

     

Donald:

Aye. No, I think there was a ... there was one or two I think at Portarlish in the wee cemetery up there. There’s a slab of sort of stone over them, yes.

Simon:

And do you know where Teenie’s are?

     

Donald:

Yes.

     

Simon:

Would they be MacDonalds rather than MacLeans or are they MacLeans?

     

Donald:

Pardon?

     

Simon:

Her grandparents, are they MacLeans or are they ...?

     

Donald:

MacLeans, yes. There was other MacLeans beside them and they’re on the inside, and Teenie’s, they’re in the middle. You know the big ruin? That was a chapel. It was a chapel, a church there. I remember about 40 years ago I was at a funeral there. Do you know Tranas Lamont from Valtos? You will.

Simon:

No, but I know Teenie.

     

Donald:

Teenie? Nah. Her father was being buried then and he was being buried the depth her mother was on. It was on the step of the church, the coffin was just placed and ... And that just shows you how much soil they ... You know, they used earth from other parts of the cemetery into the area. Aye, there were quite a few of them. The MacLeod there ... There’s a cross there of a man like this but it’s facing in the way. I’ll show it to you some day. It’s not like this, you know? Like Christ. But I always wonder, it’s like ...

Simon:

So you see his back?

     

Donald:

His back. I wonder how was that ...

     

Simon:

I’ve never seen ...

     

Donald:

Yes, I don’t know what ... It was a treasure from up in Grealin in the north. They were getting married there and they unearthed it from the grave! So that must’ve been part of ... The church or chapel must’ve had something to do with it, must have. It was maybe a lot of other things that had been buried there, yes.

Simon:

Did people have to pay for the plots ...?

     

Donald:

Oh no. In these days there was, in the island, there was free burial for everybody. Not the way it is today. It’s expensive today! And yet they get the ground for nothing. The only thing, they keep them tidy, cutting the grass on it. I remember when they used to leave them. The grass would be growing out the top of the wall.

Simon:

How did they decide what the size of the cemetery would be? Was it ...? Because you say it was fixed, was that ...? Did it just grow or was that when they put the wall round it?

     

Donald:

Yes, they just measured out, yes. But still on the outside of it in the front of ... (inaudible) ... you could see, like, when it came across the inside of two graves, you know? You can see that fairly clearly in Cullnacnock too at the wall at the top of it and there’s a couple of graves on the outside of it. But I don’t know who built that one, up in Cullnacnock. You see that’s the meaning of clachan, a burial place. That’s the meaning of it. You see, it’s called Clachan Kilmartin. You had another one of them out Uist. You’ve got another clachan there in the cemetery there. It’s funny how they had them, isn’t it?

Simon:

I thought clachan was the town?

     

Donald:

No, no. That was the meaning, a burial place.

     

Simon:

Who made the coffins? Did people just make their own coffins?

     

Donald:

Well, as I remember there was a fellow in Stenscholl. You were here when that old house was knocked down in Stenscholl weren’t you?

Simon:

No, I’ve not been here that long. I’ve come up from Glasgow.

     

Donald:

Yes, uh huh. The old house, you know that’s there, and it was the undertaker was ... He was there. It wasn’t for ... The fellow’s father in the shop next to it was a Mackenzie fellow. He was keeping him in a ... Correct with him ... (inaudible) ... Oh he liked a dram did that fellow and he was ...

Simon:

And the guy that was the undertaker, was he always an undertaker or was he someone who was also a crofter?

     

Donald:

Oh, crofting, yeah. Crofting and undertaking, yeah.

Simon:

So it’s like, you sometimes had someone who was a crofter and a shoemaker or a crofter and an ironworker. So you had a crofter and an undertaker?

     

Donald:

(laughs) Oh yes. And it was once, he ... He stopped doing them himself and they came home, you know, in coffins. So this Tammy, he got a bundle of coffins and the .. (inaudible) ... came for them very quickly, you know? To pay. And they sent off a letter like this and they said: “Britain is very poor but hold on, there’s a bad flu in the place!” (laughs) Oh yeah, he was a real comedian.

Simon:

And would he prepare the body or did the family prepare the body?

     

Donald:

Oh the family, aye. The family was preparing the body then, yes. Everything like that, yes. Oh they had some ideas in these days. And then they had an idea that there was something true. If there was a funeral at midday, everyone left the coffin until it was one o’ clock.

Simon:

Why was that?

     

Donald:

I don’t know, I never found out. Nope. They used to have ... Yes.

     

Simon:

Would you like to come down? I was wondering if you could show us where ...?

     

Donald:

Oh yes, aye.

     

Simon:

The weather’s cleared up.

     

Donald:

Where do you stay?

     

Simon:

Well I live in Glasgow, in Partick.

     

Donald:

Oh yes, I knew Partick well when I was younger.

Simon:

Did you go to Glasgow then?

     

Donald:

Oh yes, I used have a great time. Glasgow’s a great city. It is the friendliest city in Scotland. You get murderers, one or two. That’s only a small minority that’s spoiling it for the rest of us. It’s the same up here. When something happens it’s a small minority that’s causing the trouble, you know?

Simon:

If you had troublemakers in the old towns, because they’re so small, how did people deal with it? Was it just the families dealt with it or ...?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. They would square up with the fists and I think that’s what they had in the olden days ...

Simon:

Because there wouldn’t be police, would there?

     

Donald:

No!

     

Simon:

Once a week or something?

     

Donald:

No, there was only one policeman here, in Uig. That’s the first one ... Before I can remember, Staffin House here on the corner, the second one after it there was a couple of bobbies staying there for years and years, you know? And then they called it after that the ‘Police House’, in Gaelic Taigh Nam Poileas. That’s the way.

Simon:

And were you ever involved with like the Grazings Committees or ...?

     

Donald:

No, I didn’t have a croft.

     

Simon:

Oh!

     

Donald:

No, we never had a croft or anything. You were in other words a “cottar”.

Simon:

You’re from a cottar’s family?

     

Donald:

Yes, a cottar.

     

Simon:

So Katy Herd, the Herd’s wife, she told me she’s from cottars. Her grandparents were cottars she was telling me.

     

Donald:

Oh yes, aye. But her father wasn’t.

     

Simon:

No.

     

Donald:

No, he had the house and ... Oh aye. But peat, that was provided. They had a share in the peats and everything then, the cottars that didn’t have a croft.

Simon:

So the cottars, did they just get to stay with the people they worked for or ...?

     

Donald:

Oh, they got to have their own house but they only had a bit of ...

Simon:

They had no land.

     

Donald:

Some of it, no land at all. That house, before you reach Teenie, it’s closed. It’s facing out this way. Well, that place has hardly a few yards of ground with it, did you notice it?

Simon:

Yeah. And that’s a cottar’s house?

     

Donald:

Yes. Usually cottars, they used to give them maybe an acre so that wasn’t too bad. You could plant things there but other places, no. You wouldn’t even get that. That was it.

Donald:

There was another time we were at a funeral at Cullnacnock up the road. It was coming down to the cemetery here at Clachan and it was coming ... It was one at Staffin way up to the wee one at Cullnacnock.

Simon:

Pass each other did they?

     

Donald:

Uh huh. And the ... (inaudible) ... and you do you know what they did? They just put the coffins down and the fists went up and leathered one and other. That was years ago. That is a true story! Oh, there was wild men in the olden days too, we must remember that. So that’s what they did. It was what did happen. There used to be ...

Simon:

So you were talking about the cottars. Was there a lot of cottars in Staffin?

     

Donald:

Quite a few, yes. Quite a few. But before my days, I suppose, there would be a lot of. When you see the old ruins in places, uh huh. There was a lot of cottars on the Garafad there. A lot, lot, lot there, aye.

Simon:

What happened to cottars?

     

Donald:

I think they must have moved down to the Garafad, the ones that were up there. Well, some. Maybe they got a bit of ground somewhere, you know? Like a township was started. It was one ... (inaudible) ... had that in the olden days. And that was then divided up and they all got a croft. And another place it was divided was Flodigarry, they all got a croft there too, yes.

Simon:

So was that done ... Was that done after the government bought the land?

     

Donald:

Oh yes.

     

Simon:

Do you know what happened with cottars ...? Like when the Clearances happened the cottars must’ve had it very bad.

     

Donald:

Oh yes. Most of them went overseas, yes. A lot of them. You’ve been reading old books and that, were you? Yes. You get some books that are good but I read some too and they’re ... A wee story or two is written ... It’s a thing I hate, that they’d take anything like that.

Simon:

So a lot of the cottars got sent abroad?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. And a lot of them died going over too. You’ll read that in the books. A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, yes. Aye, they had sore trials.

Simon:

Do you ... So when the crofters had their Land League, did that help? Did that help them at all?

     

Donald:

Well, that helped right enough yes. But you see the trouble in the olden, olden days ... I don’t remember, it was landlords. They were doing a lot of damage, you know?

Simon:

Do you know what the landlords around Staffin were like?

     

Donald:

I think maybe some of them were alright but ...

Simon:

Was it Fraser that was one?

     

Donald:

Aye. Captain Fraser. He wasn’t a ...

     

Simon:

Was he the factor more?

     

Donald:

Yes, he wasn’t good at all, no. Seemingly, I was told by people, aye ...

Simon:

So were there sheep estates as well as ...? So there was a crossover but were the sheep farmed by landlords?

     

Donald:

Oh yes, yes. That was ... You had to do as he said, right or wrong, you know?

Simon:

Yeah. I was speaking to Lachie Gillies and he was telling me that in the town, that the landlords ... if a crofter’s sheep went on to the landlord’s land, the crofter had to pay a fine but if the landlord’s sheep came on to the crofter’s land nothing would happen.

     

Donald:

Oh no. Nothing like that would happen. No, no, no. And it was maintaining a good ... a good day for the hay! Uh huh ... A good harvest day and a bad day for a funeral, they always used to wish that. Or is it true or false that the day he died, seemingly it was just rain and wind ... but that was supposed what it was, you know? No, he wasn’t a good fellow at all.

Simon:

What did the crofters think of the landlord?

     

Donald:

I don’t think much of them. See the river here? It was full of salmon, you know? And they had the fishing rights. And if you went near that river and you were caught you’d be in jail and they could even put you out of your croft. Isn’t it terrible that? Ooh yes.

Simon:

So the crofters weren’t allowed to fish at all, they were just ...

     

Donald:

Oh no. I remember an old fellow coming to tell me ... he’s dead years ago: “You’re to be a fellow fishing in that river!” He was a nice old man. And his mother used to go out the back for a creel of peat, you know? And when he would see her he’d do like this to her and he would say: “Put down the creel!” and he would put maybe four or five fish like that in it and: “Now I says go home!” But there was good ones to know like that. But when Captain Fraser ... There was a flood in Captain Fraser’s day, a huge monster of a flood. Did you hear about it?

Simon:

A flood? No.

     

Donald:

It was on the 20th of October 1877 and you know the bridge down here? The old bridge? All the place here, it was covered and it was only on the north end of Skye that ... On the Uig side, the cemetery was then below ... There’s a bakery, you won’t know where it is. There was a flood down near the shore carried away the cemetery with it. All the coffins that was there went away, aye. And then they shifted and made a new cemetery away on the hill, you know? High up on the ... Aye.

Simon:

That’s amazing.

     

Donald:

That’s what they used to call it: tuil ruadh - the big flood.

Simon:

Do you know if the other farms, well the crofts, at Stenscholl down by the bay ... They’re so flat it looks like it’s reclaimed. Is it?

     

Donald:

You know the round stones they’re at? You’d get these if you dig down below the road in some places. So that must have been reclaimed, you know? It’s just the tide’s further and further out, yes.

Simon:

And the crofters would’ve done that themselves?

     

Donald:

Aye, they would’ve done all that yeah. It’s not a very good land anyway. It’s very sodden, very sodden.

Simon:

I guess it must’ve been the water came through because it would’ve been the estuary like at Edinbane or somewhere like that. It would’ve looked like that.

     

Donald:

Yes. It must’ve been reaching up there. Aye, there were some queer things back in ... Oh there are plenty of old things in the ground yet. If you were to only find them, hmm? Yes. I was over here at a funeral once about thirty years ago and the grave was dug. And when they dug the grave there was a gold ring, nine carat gold. Somebody ... Her husband was going to get in it with her and she had been about fifty years dead before him and when they lowered the coffin in they had the ring on top of the coffin and so it was like that. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen it.

Simon:

I guess people didn’t have much to bury with.

     

Donald:

No. Just when they put it back on top of the coffin.

     

Simon:

So how often did you go to Glasgow? Did you live in Glasgow or just visit?

     

Donald:

I used to live there, maybe a few months.

     

Simon:

Was it work?

     

Donald:

I’m up with the Irish. Yes, I was on the Irish boats. I was on the CalMac, MacBraynes then they used to call it. But the new ferries have opened up the way. That’s the best thing that ever happened, the Skye bridge. It’s good, yes. You get over there in a minute instead of waiting for the boat.

Simon:

Lots of people seemed to work on the ships, like when you were younger.

     

Donald:

Oh yes. Uh huh.

     

Simon:

And it’s more like MacBraynes with the shipping rather than the fishing.

     

Donald:

Uh huh. I did my National Service too. I did my National Service, was going to be ... we got 14 days leave and they were going to send us over to Suez. There was trouble in Suez then. Went away and when we got back it was all cancelled, they were withdrawing the troops. So we were very thankful!

Simon:

You were lucky. That was bad the Suez ...

     

Donald:

Oh yes, we were lucky indeed. Nasser!

     

Simon:

So like, with the cottars, did they always stay in the one area or did they move?

     

Donald:

They were always ... Aye. Have you ... you’ve been round the north end of Skye have you?

Simon:

Yes.

     

Donald:

When, before you reach Kilmuir, a place called Duntulm. You see all the ...

Simon:

Ah, the cottar houses.

     

Donald:

Yeah, all the cottars they were burnt out of there. Terrible.

Simon:

Was that Captain Fraser that did that?

     

Donald:

I don’t think that was Captain Fraser. He didn’t have the land on that side at all. It was somebody else.

Simon:

Who was the laird up ...? Was it MacLeod or MacDonald?

     

Donald:

It will be one of them, it will be.

     

Simon:

And do you know if people in Staffin came from elsewhere? Like from clearances elsewhere in Skye? Because it’s not the best land for farming here.

     

Donald:

No, no. You can see there’s a lot of clay here. Potatoes will grow quite well and corn but nothing else. There’s parts of it, like at the other end, there’s good soil in parts of that and ... they used to cut the corn with the old scythes.

Simon:

Of course there used to be ... Lachie told me this was like the ... it was known as ‘the granary of Skye’ because they grew grain here.

     

Donald:

Aye. Oh, they did a lot of work in these days and the women did a lot of work.

Simon:

What sort of jobs did the women do? Did the women do all the real work?

     

Donald:

They used to carry out the oatmeal and the flour from the shores and that. I remember there was one cailleach in Maligar, Mary Ann, and she was eighty-two then and she ... You haven’t been up the Maligar way have you, that road?

Simon:

Not that far. No, I did because I went with Duncan and Ronnie to the cattle sales and Ronnie’s ... you know Ronnie from Maligar? We took his cattle to the market.

     

Donald:

Well, up there ... There wasn’t a road then in Maligar and the lady came for the message and she had a piece of rope about that length and the man had a bag of meal for her and that was £140 then and she put it in a bag and she put it on her back and she tied it with the rope here. And with the two bags, away up the croft home and she was eighty-two. Oh, she was a strong woman. Oh, true, true that, aye.

Simon:

I guess all the women must’ve been strong?

     

Donald:

Oh, they must’ve, aye. Oh yes, strong strong women.

 

They were strong in those days. A lot of hardship.

     

Simon:

And did ...? I remember! Ronnie was telling me that there was the fank up at Sartle where they used to bleed the cattle to make black pudding.

     

Donald:

Oh, they used to do that, yes. Everything. They used to bleed them, aye.

Simon:

Were they still doing that when you were young or was it more ...?

     

Donald:

No, it was finished then when I was young. They used to kill the sheep in the warehouse with a knife! Oh, I wouldn’t go near ... But they have to be humane now, you know? And in the old days, you see it, all the houses were thatched. You’d have to have permission before you could cut any of the thatch.

Simon:

Who from?

     

Donald:

Oh, from the laird or whoever it was here. If you want it and you didn’t have permission ... In that time you were away out cutting it. What would happen was as long as you put it on your back, somebody came behind you and ‘pheet’, knife on the rope. Wasn’t it terrible though that? Oh, they had some hardships.

Simon:

Then, how did people enjoy themselves then? Did they just kind of have ceilidhs in their houses?

     

Donald:

Oh! Ceilidhs in the house, aye. It wasn’t until you ... They didn’t have much whisky then either you know?

Simon:

Did people make their own?

     

Donald:

Oh yes, there were people making their own. But then the ... Over where the Herd is, you know? That was an inn.

Simon:

Oh right. The Lodge.

     

Donald:

Not the Lodge but the top inn. You know ... (inaudible) ...? That’s the oldest building in the north end. It’s the original that, aye. They had ceilidhs in there. They used to give one and other a few blows off the top of ... It’s hard to believe.

Simon:

And did people have festivals at all? Like did people do Christmas or did the Free Church not allow it?

     

Donald:

Ah, they do it now but not first of all. I remember first of all the postman would be working Christmas Day? Eh? Same as any other day, aye. It was here that, in these days, that New Year was the good time! (laughs)

Simon:

Hogmanay?

     

Donald:

Hogmanay, yes.

     

Simon:

What did people do? Did they first foot?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. They used to go first footing, oh aye.

Simon:

Did people take a piece of coal or ...?

     

Donald:

Oh, they would take something, yes. Or a peat or something. Oh aye, they were hardy folk right enough.

Simon:

And I read about the shielings in the summer. That must’ve been a good thing. Well, people seemed to enjoy it quite a lot.

     

Donald:

Yes, the shielings, yes. You can see some of the shielings, the ruins of them, yet. Or when you have time I saw some over up on the hills here.

Simon:

Up in the Quiraing or more to ...?

     

Donald:

More to that direction. But then there are ... That’s the mountain the plane came down in. You’ve heard about ...?

Simon:

Oh, it’s a long time ago?

     

Donald:

Long time ago, yes. Aye, during the war it crashed. Everybody was killed ... On the other side of that there’s quite a few ...

Simon:

Of the shielings?

     

Donald:

Still there, yes. It’s amazing the way they stand isn’t it? You just wonder.

Simon:

Lachie Gillies told me that people stopped going to the shielings after the First World War.

     

Donald:

Oh yes. Before the First World War, aye.

Simon:

So I guess you wouldn’t have gone then. Did your grandparents ...? Do you remember them talking about the shielings or ...

     

Donald:

No. I think it was done then, you know? So there was plenty fishing years ago.

Simon:

I’ve seen the photos of the fishing on the island, with poles for the nets.

     

Donald:

Yes. Oh, there was plenty of that right enough. Even when I was young there was plenty. Dhia, there was plenty of salmon you know? They used to make a porten in these days and there was a station here on the island and there was a station up at Tote, the second one, and one at Rigg and another one past Rigg at a place called Borodeck. And there was, the road you would go to Portree, there was a net there. And there was a net on the other side and round the bit on the other side there was another net and there was nets in Raasay and everywhere, you know? Catching a lot of salmon. Catching a hundred in a day was nothing. And still, they got a poor pay. Oh yes, they used to wear these big waders, you know? And it wasn’t the ordinary, it was frocks down to here. Must’ve been difficult to walk with that on. Very, very heavy.

Simon:

It would be oilskin, wouldn’t it? Rather than rubber. Like nowadays it’s all rubber but was it oilskin?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. They were heavy in these days. Heavy, heavy, aye.

     

Simon:

Do people do herring around here or is that more ...?

     

Donald:

Ach, they don’t do it now no. They used to but ... (inaudible) ... The trouble was ... (inaudible) ... the shore. Before that, there was the ringers. They used to get plenty of herring, ringing.

 

And in the olden days too, there was so many talk of ghosts. It was one thing you never believed, that there was such a thing. I still don’t. When somebody dies, that’s it. He’s away. Ach, they used to frighten the children with their stories. I never believed any of it.

Simon:

Were there any people talking about ...? There was a myth of the headless body, do you know that one? I can’t remember the name in Gaelic.

     

Donald:

Och aye, there was some supposing on things like that right enough. Oh there was a lot of people executed in the olden days. The time of the Covenanters, you know that? Oh yes, there was a lot of it. You’ll read that yourself. There was a lot that was burnt and that.

Simon:

Was there trouble when ...? Lachie Gillies was telling me that when they sent the army just after ...

     

Donald:

Oh yes, the Land League?

     

Simon:

I never realised that much about the Land League. Was it Norman Stewart from ...?

     

Donald:

Parnell?

     

Simon:

Parnell, aye.

     

Donald:

Parnell was supposed to have a tough death. Did you hear about it?

Simon:

No, no.

     

Donald:

He was ... Know when you go up Valtos there? He was up there with somebody, with a ... (inaudible) ... He was pushed over the rocks and he was killed. Oh ... And that man, his family were all skippers, you know? Away at sea. And three of them drowned, one after another.

Simon:

Do you think people tried to ...? Who did it?

     

Donald:

I don’t know. And then there was another one who was on the boat and he was the last of the skippers and he said: “I’ll come ashore.” So he came ashore and he was doing his Harbour Master’s job and he fell in and was drowned. Four of them! That was at the time of the Land League. You never read that did you?

Simon:

No, I’ve never heard that.

     

Donald:

Oh yes. In Valtos, yes.

     

Simon:

Were there people in Staffin involved in the Land League?

     

Donald:

Och yes. The older generation, uh huh. And then Braes again, there was an awful noise up there too.

Simon:

Cos ... Kay told me that one of your great-uncles or something was in Braes?

     

 

Aye, in Camusdernamhic!

Donald:

Oh yes! Oh aye.

     

 

That’s where Mum’s side of the family came from, from Braes.

     

Donald:

They were at ... (inaudible) ...

     

 

That’s right ...

     

Donald:

Oh, they were hardy. Oh, they were hardy.

     

Simon:

But people must have taken quite a big risk.

     

Donald:

Oh yes. They did a lot at night-time, travelling at night and ... you didn’t have much of a chance if you were seen, you know? You’d get a bullet or something.

Sheenagh:

They’d have the creels on their backs. Taking home the peats.

Donald:

Och yes, they used the thatches. They used to be burning the house ... (inaudible) ... of a woman! That any human would do that!

Simon:

And that was done around here as well?

     

Donald:

Oh yes. Well you can see some of the shielings away down at the shore if you go that way.

Simon:

The Garafad way?

     

Donald:

The Garafad way, yes. It’s kind of difficult to get to that high. Were you down at the dinosaurs?

Simon:

No, we went down that way but the tide was coming in so I couldn’t see it.

     

 

Aye, cos I was going to get some dulasg (dulse seaweed) but I still haven’t done it. But the tide was out ...

Sheenagh:

You like the dulasg? Oh we love it.

 

I wanted to make it for Simon but we haven’t got round to it.

Sheenagh:

The best stuff’s down at ...

     

 

Flodigarry’s the best, yeah. I usually ... No, I just go to Skegmore and that’s it, you know? And I was going to get some ...

Donald:

You never go near the road there? They’re easy there.

     

Simon:

So have you got to get the dulasg ...? So people still eat that then?

     

Donald:

Aye.

     

Sheenagh:

Oh yes, aye. A lot of people don’t like it. I think you either love it or you hate it.

Donald:

Even some of the locals hate it.

Sheenagh:

Everybody to their own taste! Well, that’s right.

 

Kay’s Duncan, her oldest one, he was nearly sick when he tasted it. But he’s not a fishy kind of person but the girls love it so I suppose it just depends.

Donald:

Well, that’s it, uh huh.