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Friday 28 March 2014

A New Pibroch: Lament for Calum Maclean

To mark the untimely death of Calum Maclean (1915–1960), one of Scotland’s foremost collectors, at only the age of forty-four, Francis ‘Frank’ Collinson (1898–1984) composed a pibroch in memory of his close friend and colleague. 

Collinson was the first musical Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies (established in 1951) until his retirement in 1962. His name is well known amongst pipers as an ethnomusicologist and as a pre-eminent historian of the instrument as related in his study The Bagpipe: The History of a Musical Instrument, published to critical acclaim in 1975. 

What is not so well known is that he may well be unique or at least one of a very few non-pipers ever to have composed a pibroch. This pibroch, entitled A Lament for Calum Maclean, was given its first public airing in 1961 when it was preformed by the late John D. Burgess (1934–2005). A radio script, entitled A New Pibroch, exists for the radio programme that was broadcast live (but it would seem not recorded) by the BBC. This document gives a fascinating insight not only into the genesis of the aforementioned pibroch but also illustrates the reflections of a non-piping musician into the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.

The primary significance of the composition of a new pibroch, lies not so much on the merits or demerits of the piece of itself, as in the fact that so few pibroch have been composed during the last 150 years or so. Since the battle of Waterloo, when a pipe-playing officer of one or our Highland Regiments, composed a pibroch-lament for the men of his Company who fell in battle, the number of pibroch which have been composed and accepted into the repertory is said to be less than half a dozen. The composition of Pibroch (in Gaelic Ceòl Mòr, or Great Music) the classical music of the Scottish Highland bagpipe, has come to be accounted a lost art.

There are several possible explanations of this. Partly it is because the composition of pibroch was nurtured as part of the social life and occassions of the Highland Clan under its chief, that now [is] now gone forever. Also, of course, today, any new pibroch had to stand comparison with the old; and the best of the old are masterpieces, hard to approach and impossible to excel. Thirdly the art of pibroch has always been a singularly esoteric one, and so closely confined to its own pipe-playing devotees, that it has even yet almost completely escaped the musician of the outside world, who might become a composer for the instrument, that the Scottish bagpipe is a medium which is capable expressing music of stature. Yet the existence of some four hundred examples of this ancient Highland musical art-form is ample proof that it is such a medium.

This ignorance of the classical music of the pipes among even Scottish-born academic musicians – ignorance that often extends to the very definition of the word pibroch itself, though partly the fault of this attitude of the cult among out pipers themselves, is also I am afraid due to the prejudice on the part of the academic musician, who will say, as I have heard it said, among other things, that the scale of the pipes is “out of tune” and offends the trained musical ear; which is to forget (a) that it needs a good musical ear to play the pipes well, and (b) as a purely melodic instrument, never intended to be played in harmony with any other sound except its own drones, it is perfectly in order musically for it to possess an individual and characteristic scale of its own. Once one realises this, it becomes possible not merely to accept, but positively to savour the individuality and tang of these intervals of the bagpipe scale. Let’s drag it out into the open and see if we can listen to it with an unprejudiced ear.

(Play recording of the pipe scale)

Well, there you are; the drooping lowest note of the scale is made to droop even more expressively by flattening it – a subtly artistic device. The third note from the keynote, the mi of our doh-ray-mi, which is also flat by pianoforte standards, is one of the many varieties of this interval which you find used by the traditional singer, not only in Scotland but anywhere in the world. The scale has other characteristics but that is as far as I can go without becoming abstrusely technical.

Fastidious aloofness would not be understood if it were dance-music that was in question; but Pibroch is an art-form – in its simplest analysis that of variations upon a theme, which is of course an art-form that has been deemed worthy of use by I suppose every great composer who ever lived.

One can indeed find a number of similarities to the pibroch structure in the works of the classical composers. There is the doubling or repeating of a variation with additional ornamentation for instance. You find the very name “Double” or “Double” (French Pronunciation) in Gaelic, Dubailt, Dublachadh, used with a  not unsimilar connotation in pibroch and in the harpsichord music of Bach, Handel, and Couperin. There is also the formal device of recapitulation of the theme. In the earlier history of Pibroch this used to take place after each main group of variations, so allying the whole form to the rondo of classical usage. Now, this recapitulation occurs only at the end. The change is said to have originated as a time-saving device in competition playing of pibroch; but fortuitously, by giving this recapitulation of the theme a greater sense of importance the feeling of return, after the stress of complex development, is even more reminiscent of the recapitulation of classical music. Probably it was these similarities of pibroch to the music of the outside world that gave rise to the suggestion, now I find finally discredited, that the MacCrimmons, said to be the originators of the form, got their name form having come in the train of one of the chiefs of Macleod from Cremona in Italy, the home of the great violin makers, in the country of the great virtuoso performers.

The astonishing thing is that his relatively highly organised and spacious music of pibroch, possessing these parallels with the music of the outside world as it does, should have been composed without the knowledge and assistance of staff notation. It is equally astonishing that composed, with no knowledge as far as we are aware of the accepted rules of musical composition as we know them, we find in fact that, this Highland music conforms extraordinarily closely to these rules both in the contour of its melody and in the implied harmonic progressions which underlie it.

I made my first extensive acquaintance with pibroch about ten years ago, in the company of my late friend and colleague Calum Maclean, Gaelic folklorist, in memory of whom my pibroch is named. He took me to hear the playing of William Maclean, ex-pipe-major of the Cameron Highlanders, a player of pibroch who could trace his descent of teachers in remarkably few steps back to the MacCrimmons. At his house in Kilcreggan, in a series of daily visits that extended over a period of weeks, I entered upon a whole fascinating new world of music; all of it absorbing, some of it great; some like “The Lament of the Children” of Patrick Mòr MacCrimmon, sublime. I determined that one day I would try my hand at the composition of this music myself.

In the spring of last year, I found the theme for my pibroch in the five-note call of a blackbird which I heard singing in the trees of George Square in Edinburgh. This is by the way quite in keeping with tradition, for one of the fabulous “lost pibrochs” was said to have been composed upon the song of the lark. This is what it sang:–

(Theme on the piano by F[rancis] C[ollinson])

On this five-note theme I wrote this tune of three phrases (six and six and four bars) that was to form the ground or “Urlar” to use the Gaelic term, of the pibroch.
(Theme of the ground on the piano F[rancis] C[ollinson])

On that “Urlar” or ground I wrote a pibroch of eight movements, each following as nearly as I could the prescribed form of variations increasing in complexity of grace-note figuration, a process that is partly stereotyped and partly free. I don’t play the pipes myself, and so, as every composer must do who writes for an instrument he doesn’t play, I took it to a piper to edit it technically. Pipe-major John Burgess, who gave the pibroch its first performance on the air a fortnight ago, kindly did this for me. In the form in which it came from his hands, some interesting differences emerged. My blackbird’s call, in the idiom of the pipes for instance, was translated from this (play on piano) to this (play on piano). Also the first phase of the tune was repeated, making three phrases instead of four, and so giving it greater substance. Let us listen to the whole ground as is sounds on the pipes of John Burgess.

(Play recording of the Ground by John Burgess)

We haven’t time of course to go through all the variations, but you might like to hear a snatch of the final variation the doubling of the Crunluath which leads to the recapitulation of the simple theme that brings every pibroch to its end.

(Flash from recording to be selected)

One is tempted to ask at this point what course the composition of Ceòl Mòr could take in the future. That depends I would say on whether accomplished composers, as well as players of pibroch who are tempted to compose, can be persuaded that the Highland bagpipe is an instrument worthy of their skill. The fact of the matter, I feel, is that the composition of this great music for the pipes is not so much a lost, as a completed art in the now stereotyped form in which it exists – in the same way as the classical dance-suite for the keyboard became a completed art in the hands of Bach and Handel. But though the composition of the classical dance-suite ceased with those great composers, the writing of music for the piano by no means did so, and still continues to develop.

Can we find a parallel here? If we follow out the line of reasoning to its conclusion, it would mean I think that for art music for the pipes to develop further, it would have to find a different form. I suspect that any such idea is unrealistic, for the acceptance of it must depend on the piper himself, and our Scottish pipers are a musical aristocracy notoriously conservative. I am inclined to think that the piper would probably and perhaps rightly prefer to keep to the completed and closed form of his own beautiful pibroch tradition rather that that its boundaries should be burst asunder and expanded by the thrusting modern musical mind.
(Play last four bars of pibroch recording to finish if desired).


A review of the performance was published by Christopher Grier (1922–1997), a principal music critic at The Scotsman, and here reproduced in full:

Bagipes and Bach
New Collinson Pibroch
By Christopher Grier

Less than half a dozen pibrochs have been written since the Battle of Waterloo. Whether that reflects the demoralising influence of a great tradition upon later traditions of player-composers, creative inertia, or simply the lack of anything to write about in the piping days of Victorian peace I don’t know, but it is a startling fact. Hence the significance of the small but knowledgeable gathering the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh, on Saturday evening to hear Pipe-Major John Burgess introduce a new pibroch by Francis Collinson, Lament for Calum Maclean. But there was more to it still, for it seems likely that it was the first pibroch composed by a professional musician reared in the urban, main-stream, concert-hall and theatre world.

Versatile and experienced as he is, Mr Collinson has, of course, latterly been working for the School of Scottish Studies, which has given him unusual opportunities of studying this ancient Highland art form at close quarters. That is an important consideration, for the average position is apt to be alarmed by the occasional rumbles of internal dissension that issue from its midst. Whereas its air and variation principle is simple enough, its niceties are very much more complex.

This particular lament was based on a blackbird call overheard in the George Square gardens, but its flavour and pattern was to be dictated by the death of Calum Maclean, a close friend and associate of Francis Collinson. Expert opinion declared afterwards that it was a very good pibroch and a fine tribute to its subject. Pipers have conservative tastes, and it will be interesting to see whether the lament is generally accepted with the same approval as was bestowed upon it on Saturday.

In his memoir of Maclean, Collinson left a vivid impression of his late friend and colleague as well as making mention of the inestimable fieldwork that he had carried out with particular relevance to piping. Indeed, judging by the following extract, along with the Irish ethnomusicologist Séamus Ennis [Séamus Mac Aonghusa] (1919–1982) and renowned piper in his own right, Maclean and Collinson may be viewed as pioneers of recoding pibroch with modern equipment:

It was Calum who had the happy idea of visiting Pipe-Major William Maclean to record piobaireachd. We went over accordingly to Kilcreggan and there commenced the first of our long piobaireachd recording sessions with him—a series which eventually reached the impressive total of fifty-four piobaireachd. Piobaireachd had never been recorded in its entirety before, and such recordings in those days were quite unique. With William Maclean’s line of teaching tradition that stretched by way of ‘Calum Pìobaire’ (father of Angus MacPherson, Invershin) back to the MacCrimmons, these recordings may be said to be one of the finest roses in the School’s chaplet of achievements. Willie’s talk about the MacCrimmon canntaireachd, the system by which he was taught, was interesting enough to bring Col. Grant of Rothiemurchas down to Edinburgh to hear the tape. Calum, be it said, loved piobaireachd. Thereafter, he liked nothing better than to listen by the hour to the School’s piobaireachd recordings, and always with closed eyes!

In his only major publication, The Highlands, published a year before his untimely death, Maclean wrote down some of his own recollections of piping, and in which he makes mention of some very famous names of the piping world:

It was in the Glen Hotel I had one of the greatest pleasures that has come my way in recent years. On the evening of the Kingussie Highland Games I met Angus MacPherson of Inveran, son of the late Malcolm, King of the Pipers. Angus had adjudicated the dancing events at Kingussie that day and had come to spend the week-end with his niece. For over sixty years Angus MacPherson has attended Highland Games, first as a competitor and latterly as an adjudicator of piping and dancing. As a piper he won the highest honours, while his son, Malcolm, was said to have at times equalled the late Pipe-Major John MacDonald of Inverness. In an age so dedicated to materialism and its standard of values, it was an experience to have met Angus MacPherson, for he is about the most refined idealist I have ever met. In his veins there flows the blood of generations of artists from the sixteenth century onwards, and to him only the beautiful things in life mattered. I spoke to him about the stories and legends about his father and hoped that they would not be forgotten. By that time Angus had made up his mind to write down his memories of his father and his methods of teaching. He has since done so in his delightful book, A Highlander Looks Back. A great deal of the material about his father he has recorded viva voce for the Edinburgh University School of Scottish Studies. The problem was to have permanent recordings of his father’s style of playing made by pipers whom his father taught. Angus himself was then too old to play the pipes again, and the late Pipe-Major John MacDonald was bedridden. There remained only Pipe-Major William MacLean of Kilcreggan who received his tuition along with Angus himself. Pipe-Major MacLean was then seventy-six years of age but still active. The following winter Pipe-Major Maclean began the recording and played almost fifty pibrochs as he was taught to play them by old Malcolm MacPherson. Six months ago I arrived in Lairg, Sutherlandshire, one fine summer evening. I telephoned Angus almost as soon as I got to Lairg. “Have you got your recording machine?” asked he. I told him I had. “The pipes are going well,” said he. I knew that there was something in the wind. I went to see him the following evening, and in the gathering darkness he tuned up and we recorded the “Prince’s Salute”—a lovely pibroch composed in honour of the Old Chevalier in 1715. When we finished, I had it played back for him. He was not quite satisfied with his performance. I decided to come back to see him the following morning. The pipes were going really well by the time I reached him. We re-recorded the “Prince’s Salute”. This time he was satisfied, and went on to play the ground or theme of three other pibrochs. He played them all as he was taught to do by his father. A few days previously he had gone into his seventy-ninth year. He had made up his mind that he would play his pipes again.

Christopher Grier, ‘Bagpipes and Bach: New Collinson Pibroch’, The Scotsman (27 Feb., 1961), p. 12
Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (London: Batsford, 1959)
National Library of Scotland, ‘A New Pibroch by Francis Collinson’, Acc.8985/136
Various, Tocher, vol. 39 (1985) [a volume dedicated to Calum Maclean’s fieldwork]

Calum Maclean, taken by Dr Werner Kissling, Kirk Yetholm, Roxburghshire, 1956
A New Pibroch composed by Francis Collinson
John Lorne Campbell (L) and Francis Collinson, c. 1980s

Thursday 27 March 2014

An Oral Account of the Vatersay Raiders

Appearing in court on the 2nd of June, 1908, ten cottars from the small island of Vatersay were presented before the Court of Session in Edinburgh on charges of breach of interdict (injunction) and contempt of court. In the eyes of the authority their alleged crime was to resist eviction from the island which they hard raided and  on which they had constructed temporary huts and planted potatoes without seeking or intending to seek permission from the landowner, Lady Gordon of Cathcart. That, in a nutshell, was the case against the Vatersay Raiders.
The men from Barra and Mingulay had originally taken matters into their own hands and ‘invaded’ the island in July 1906 but despite repeated attempts by Lady Cathcart to serve interdicts their resolve was as strong as ever to remain put. By January 1908, Lady Cathcart had clearly lost her patience and served a complaint for breach of interdict and contempt of court on these men. The case is far too convoluted to give in any more detail here suffice to say that the court, somewhat predictably, upheld the side of the landlord.
These men were by no means by the first “land raiders” in the Highlands and Islands, driven to act by iniquitous landlordism, and they would certainly not be the last. The trial and ensuing events of the summer of 1908 became a cause célèbre, which had considerable ramifications at a time when land reform was high on Westminster’s agenda.
The case of the Vatersay Raiders caused such a furore across Scotland that the government eventually purchased the island for crofting – though not before the ten raiders had served most of the two-month prison sentences they were given for breach of interdict and contempt of court.They may have lost the battle but they had won the war. In many ways, Vatersay could be described at that time as a microcosm of what was then happening across the Highlands and Islands, as landlords became hostages not only to changing fortunes, but also to the increasingly expensive lifestyles they embraced in Edinburgh and London. It was their tenants who bore the brunt of these financial difficulties, a situation that could no longer be sustained or tolerated.
On the 2nd of March 1947, Calum Maclean was coming near to his first (but no his last) fieldtrip to Barra, met MacPhee (1869–1954), known as Dòmhnall Bàn Eileanach, a crofter-fisherman from Brevig in Barra. MacPhee was born on the remote isle of Mingulay, some dozen miles south of Barra, which was completely abandoned by 1912. The people of Mingulay subsequently resettled in Barra as well as neighbouring Vatersay. In his obituary notice it states that MacPhee was “a man of keen intellect and retentive memory, he was a senachie of outstanding powers, being well-versed in the lore of his native island. On his marriage he took up residence in Brevig, where his home became the village ceilidh house.” 
In a note written by John Lorne Campbell, the following information is provided: “Domhnall Bàn Eileanach [Eileanach = Mingulay man] recorded about 130 Mingulay place names for me in 1937. He also sent me the story Leum Iain Òig, published in ‘Outlook’ and other items written in Gaelic by himself. These are all that remain of his lore. His papers were destroyed by a member of the family after his death [JLC].” 
Maclean transcribed a few items from his recitation, a self-composed song, a toast, and a very interesting socio-historical recollection of the events leading up to and during the Vatersay Raid in 1906, together with the local and national repercussions thereafter. At the time of his death, MacPhee was survived by his wife and their family of three sons, Calum, Donald and Michael, as well as their three daughters, Catriona, Morag and Peggy. 
The following is one of only a few Gaelic oral accounts recorded from an eye-witness which very much offers an insider’s recollection of an event that he took part in over forty years before. Of course, like any other oral testimony, it may diverge here and there, as the narrator himself admits, from the historical record but its value lays more in its fascinating glimpses of a voice not so often heard:

Thóigeas síos an seanchas seo ó Dhòmhnall Mac a’ Phì (Dòmhnall Bàn Eileanach), c. 70, talmhaidhe agus sean-iasgaire, Brèibhig, Barraigh. Rugadh agus tòigeadh Dòmhnall Bàn Eileanach i Miughalaigh. Tá sé a’ trácht annseo ar an uair a d’fhága an sluagh Oileán Mhiughalaigh agus a chuaidh siad go Bhatarsaidh agus thòigeadar talamh annsin i n-aghaidh na dlighe. 2:3:1947

This lore was taken down from Donald MacPhee (Dòmhnall Bàn Eileanach), c. 70, a crofter-fisherman, Brevig, Barra. Donald MacPhee was born and brought up in Mingulay. He makes mention here of the folk leaving Mingulay and who went to Vatersay to illegally take land. 2:3:1947.

Well, a charaid chòir, ’s ann a mhuinntir Mhiughalaigh a tha mise, fear dhe na h-eileanan an Iar, an dàrna fear is fhaide dhan iar dha na h-Eileanan an Iar, Eilean Mhiughalaigh. Rugadh ann mi is dh’àraicheadh ann mi. Bha deich teaghlaich fhichead ann ri mo linn, ach mu dheireadh thòisich iad air tanachadh ach dh’fhan [riar?]. Bha barrachd math is fhichead teaghlach ann nuair a thàinig na daoine às air fad gu ruige Bhatarsaigh.

An seòrsa beò-shlàin’ a bh’ aca ’s e iasgach, iasgach langan, is bha sgothan iasgaich aca eadhon beag is mòr as gach seòrsa. Bha sgothan beaga aca airson iasgach nan giomach agus na sgothan mòra, troma nach gabhadh tarraing, is bhiodh iad air acraichean sa Chaolas Bheàrnarach, agus bha stèisean ciùraidh ann am Beàrnaraigh aig Niall MacNèill, Niall mac Iain ’ic Aonghais, bràthair athar Mhaighstir Iain Mhìcheil, sagart na Mòirthir. Bha, an t-iasg aig an àm a bh’ ann an sin, bha e gu math pailt. Bha annlann eile againn cuideachd. Bha sinn a’ faighinn gu leòr de sgairbh, is de dh’ eunlaidh ann an àm an t-samhraidh, agus ann an àm an fhoghair gu h-àraid an fheadhainn a bha aig an taigh, ach aig an àm a bh’ ann an sin, bhiodh na gillean òga ag iasgach na h-Àird an Ear sa Mhormhaich is ann am Fraserburgh, an Ceann Phàdraig ’s an Obar Dheadhain, agus feadh costa na h-Àird an Ear gu lèir, agus bhiodh iad a’ tabhairt dhachaigh suim bheag laghach airgid a rèir agus mar a bhiodh an seisean, a rèir agus mar a bhiodh an t-iasgach. Nan dèanadh iad deagh iasgach, bhiodh deagh phàigheadh aca a’ tighinn agus bha iad glè mhath dheth còmhla ri iad fhèin a chothachadh mun chuairt na bliadhna sa gheamhradh agus ann as t-earrach ag iasgach langan. Ach chuir na tràlairean mu dheireadh stad air. Chan fhaigheamaid mu dheireadh sìan a b’ fheuch an t-saothair a phàigheadh ar cosgair air thàilleamh nan tràlairean a bha a’ tràladh mu na h-eileanan, sa Chaolas Mhiughalach, sa Chaolas Bheàrnarach, sa Chaolas Phabach agus sa Chaolas Shanndrach. Thàinig oirnn mu dheireadh gum feumamaid an t-eilean fhàgail. Cha robh beò-shlàin’ againn ann. Cha b’ urra’ dhuinn an gnothach a dhèanamh, agus chuir sinn romhainn gun toireamaid a-mach Bhatarsaigh, agus gun robh Bhatarsaigh – ’s e eilean a bhuineadh dha ’r sinnsridh a bh’ ann. Dh’fhalbh ar sinnsridh às aig àm na h-eviction, nuair a chuir na h-uachdarain Ghàidhealach air falbh iad gu ruige Canada. Sgaoil iad às gach àite agus bha Eilean Bhatarsaigh, bha e aig an Dòmhnallach, bràthair na mhinistear a bh’ ann an Cuidhir, agus tha mi a’ glè chreidsinn caraide dhan Dotair MacGilleBhràth cuideachd. 

Co-dhiù, chuir sinn romhainn gu làidir is chaidh sinn ann an guaillean a chèile gu làidir. Bha rud mòr againn ri dhèanamh. Bha fios againn gun robh cumhachd an lagha agus an t-sluaigh nar n-aghaidh. Ach ged a bha bha aona phoint àraid as an inntinn againn, ’s ann le Easbaig nan Eileanan, Bishop of the Isles, ’s e bh’ ann, ach chanamaid sinne aig an àm a bh’ ann an sin Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, ach ’s e Easbaig nan Eileanan, ’s ann leis a bha na ceithir [sic] eileanan, Bhatarsaigh, Sanndraigh, Pabaigh, Miughalaigh is Bèarnaraigh. Dh’fhuiling sinn gu leòr. Gun teagamh sam bith, sinne a rinn sin, dh’fhuiling sinn even ar cairdean fhèin gu leòr. Ach, co-dhiù, thug sinn a-mach Bhatarsaigh doirbh ’s mar a bha, agus bha e cho doirbh ri sgath a chunna mi riamh, ach rinn sinn an gnothach orra. Fhuair sinn buaidh orra a dh’aindeoin cho làidir ’s a bha an cumhachd, cumhachd an lagh. Chunna sinn againn fhìn gun robh sinn ann an eilean mara, agus bha sinn òg làidir gun teagamh sam bith, ged a bha seann-daoine nar measg.
Bha seann-daoine ceart gu leòr nar measg, ach bha iad a’ faotainn am beò-shlàin’, ach cha d’fhuair iad sgillin o Bhòrd nam Bochd riamh, ged bu daor a phàigh iad e, agus a choisinn iad e. Rinn iad an gnothach as aonais, ach chunna sinn againn fhìn gum feumamaid innleachd agus ionnsaigh a thoirt cho làidir an aghaidh an lagh agus a thug Breatann air Hitler. Bha fios againn taghta math gu feumte a dhol gu math seòlta mu dheidhinn. Bha sinn a’ cumail meetings. ’S e rud math a th’ ann am meetings – am facal nach bidh aig an dàrna duine, bidh e aig an  duine eile, ach co-dhiù phropose sinn an gnothach, co-dhiù, agus an samhradh a bh’ ann an seoachd, bha dà sgothaidh à Miughalaigh agus dà sgothaidh eile à Bàgh a’ Chaisteil, ’s e sin Dòmhnall Mhìcheil, an Christina, agus sgoth eile, ach co-dhiù bha dà sgothaidh à Miughalaigh agus dà sgothaidh à Bàgh a’ Chaisteil agus chaidh an sluagh a bha airson bìdeag de dh’ fhearann Bhatarsaigh fhaotainn, chaidh iad air bòrd annta.

Bha sinn supposed falbh a thogail thaighean. Bha fios againn taghta math nan rachamaid thairis air an limit – co-dhiù feumaidh i corra fhacal Beurla a ràdh – nan rachamaid fairis air crìochan Chladh Ghriastain gum biodh an lagh nar druim, agus gum bu mhiosa a dh’fhàg na fhuair ach ’s e rinn sinn thòisich sinn ann am Bràighe na Steiseanan, a chionn tha àite as an eilean as an robh ciùrairean a’ ciùradh an sgadain mòran shamhraidhean roimhe sin ann am Bhatarsaigh. Thòisich sinn ri togail bothagan chearc, am fleet againn ann am bràighe na staiseanan. Bha fios againn a h-uile car a bha sinn a’ cur dhìonn, agus a h-uile clach a thionndamaid, gum bidh e ann an Dùn Èideann aig a’ Bhoard of Agriculture a chionn bha cumhachd làidir aig na Dòmhnallaich.

’S e fear Dòmhnallach am breitheamh a bh’ againn. Chan eil ainm agam air, ’s e thug a-mach a bhreitheamh againn. Cò-dhiù na co dhealadh, bha cumhachd làidir aig na Dòmhnallaich a chionn ’s e bràthair a’ mhinisteir, ’s ann aige a bha Bhatarsaigh, agus bha bràthair eile dhà as an Eilean Sgitheanach. Bha ceann à tuath an Eilein Sgitheanaich aige, ach, co-dhiù, bha ceathrar na còignear bhràithrean aig a’ mhinistear. Co-dhiù, cha robh sinn diumbach idir dhiubh, ged a bha iad nan Dòmhnallaich fhèin air taobh a chèile, ’s e càirdean a bh’ annta. Ach tha agam ri ràdh gun robh ar càirdean fhèin nar n-aghaidh ann an gu leòr a dh’àiteachan, ach chum sinn air aghaidh. Chum sinn air aghaidh co-dhiù. Chuir sinn beothaichean ann, gamhna, agus bhrist sinn air an talamh. Rinn sinn buntàta ann, agus ann an ceann beagan ùine, nuair a bha sinn a’ smaointinn gun d’fhuair am Board of Agriculture agus na cairdean a bha sa Phàrlamaid air taobh nan Dòmhnallach, gun d’fhuair iad brath gun a thog sinn na bothagan ann am bràighe a’ chladaich, thòisich sinn ri dhol na b’ àirde suas.

Mu dheireadh ràine sinn an Square far an robh a’ bhàthach aig an Dòmhnallach airson nam beothaichean agus far am biodh e a’ glèidheadh an arbhair. Thòisich sinn ri togail thaighean ann a shin, beagan dhiubh. Thog sinn dhà na trì thaighean ann a shin le cloich dhen t-seann-dòigh Ghàidhealach a bha feadh nan Eileanan an Iar gu lèir. Chuir sinn a dh’ iarraidh fiodh agus chuir sinn suas seadaichean na bu ghiorra ’n a’ chladach. Chaidh a’ ghàsaid a chur gu ruige Dùn Èideann aig na Dòmhnallaich gun a bhrist na squatters – gu dè Ghàidhlig a th’ air squatter? – talamh agus gun tug iad leotha na beothaichean a Bhatarsaigh agus gun a thog iad taighean, ach ’s e bh’ ann gun a rinn iad iad fhèin  breugach ann an làthair muinntir na Pàrlamaid mìos roimhe sin, fhuair iad brath bhuatha gur h-e bothagan a bha iad a’ togail ann am bràighe a’ chladaich, ann an tiùrr a’ mhuir-làin.

Bha Dòmhnall Shaw an duine còir à Dùn Èideann, ’s e am fear lagh’ a bh’ againne, agus ’s e duine cleabhar a bh’ ann. ’S e deagh-sgiobair a bh’ ann, deagh chaiptin, ach bha criù math aige. Bha ann am Bhatarsaigh aig an àm a bh’ ann an sineachd daoine ionnsaichte a bha glè mhath agus gu math na b’ fheàrr na bha gu leòr, agus b’ e sin Donnchadh Caimbeul. ’S e bh’ ann an ainm leader againn, agus b’ e caraide dhà Niall Mac a’ Phì. Is math is aithne dhaibh air fad e. ’S e a secretary a bh’ aige, an rùn-chlèireach a bh’ aige. Agus ma tha mise olc gun teagamh sam bith cha do cheannaich mi sgath dheth. Thug mi o na Caimbeulaich e agus thug mi o Chloinn a’ Phì e e cuideachd, ach olc is mar a bha mi, thug Niall an coilear dhiom. Bha e fada na bu mhiosa na bha mi fhìn. Chuir sinn romhainn gum faigheamaid buaidh air na Dòmhnallaich, agus chitheamaid dhuinn fhìn gu math fada air falbh an dìg, mura faigheamaid buaidh orra. Bha deagh fhear-lagha againn a bha a’ sgrìobhadh ’ugainn à Dùn Èideann a h-uile cùirt a bhiodh aca. Bha cùirt mhòr aca. B’ fheudar dhan Shawach bhochd fuireach sàmhach aig a’ chùirt a bh’ ann an seo an Dùn Èideann. Thuirt iad nach robh boinne uisge air Eilean Bhatarsaigh, agus gun robh an Dòmhnallach ag aiseag nam beothaichean tarsaing a’ Chaolais Chumhaing gu Ceann Tangabhal airson gum faigheadh iad uisge is gan cumail ann nuair a bhiodh bliadhna thioram ann. B’ fheudar dhan t-Shawach fuireach sàmhach. Thilg e a’ chùirt a bh’ ann a shin, mas e thilg i, cha do fhreagair e idir e idir.  Ach Garson, a tha fo ainm ‘Shir Edward and Garson’, b’ e am fear-lagh a bh’ aig na Dòmhnallaich. Bha a’ bhuinig aige an latha sin ar leis fhèin, ach sgriobh an Shawach gu ruige Bhatarsaigh. Dh’innis e a h-uile facal chaidh a ràdha aig a’ chùirt, nach robh boinne uisge ann am Bhatarsaigh agus gun robh an Dòmhnallach ag aiseag nam beothaichean tarsaing a’ Chaolais Chumhaing gu ruige Ceann Tangabhal. Co-dhiù, fhuair sinn an litir a bh’ ann an seo on t-Shawach, agus rinn sinn coinneamh. Ach, co-dhiù, a’ choinneamh a rinn sinn, bha i ann an dìomhaireachd ann an cridhe a h-uile h-aon againn, ach chomhairlich sinn le chèile gu goirid agus chaidh sinn a dh’ionnsaigh an rùin-chlèirich, gu Niall Mac a’ Phì.  

’S e a’ chiad obair a chaidh a dhèanamh an làr-na-mhàireach an deoghaidh an litir fhaotainn thàinig Donnchadh Caimbeal, thàinig an Caimbeulach a-nuas a thaigh Nìll. Bha bràthair dhòmh-sa air an robh Eachann Mac a’ Phì a-staigh aige agus ri taobh taigh Nìll a charaid, mac bràthar athar dhà. Rinn iad sluice, àite le fiodh, as an ruitheadh an t-uisge, agus thug iad leotha uaireadair agus thug iad leotha tin, fear dhe na tinichean sin a bhios  aig na mnathan, a’ dol ’n a bhith a dh’iarraidh galan parrafin. Chaidh iad a dh’Eòrasdal an toiseach agus thomhais iad an t-uisge ann an Eòrasdal. Chaidh an account a dhèanamh suas ann am fiogairean. Thomhais iad a h-uile tobar a bh’ ann am Bhatarsaigh. Thomhais iad an leathad is am meudachd is an doimhneachd a bh’ ann an Loch Bhatarsaigh agus anns an abhainn, uibhir agus a bha i a’ produceadh ann am mionaid, na ann an còig mionaidean. Chaidh iad a dh’ionnsaigh a Bheannachain go Abhainn a’ Bheannachain. Thomhais iad Abhainn a’ Bheannachain air an achd chionann cheunda, agus chaidh iad a sin a Charagraidh. Tha loch eile ann an Caragraidh. Thomhais iad an loch air an achd chionann cheunda, am fad ’s an leathad ’s an doimhneachd a bh’ ann, am produce a bha tighinn bhuaithe. Dh’fhalbh iad a Caragraidh agus chaidh iad ’n a’ Chaolas. Thomhais iad Abhainn a’ Chaolais, am produce a bh’ aice-se. Bha an t-uaireadair aca agus am flask, flask galain.  Bha Dòmhnallaich eile ann cuideachd a bha na seirbhisich agus nan cìobairean aig Fear Bhatarsaigh, on a tha nàdar clannish as a h-uile gin dheth na Dòmhnallaich.

Bha Dòmhnallaich a’ Chaolais, Clann Alasdair a’ Chaolais bha iad nan cìobairean aig Fear Bhatarsaigh, agus bha an taigh stuichd aca; agus gu dearbha fhèine bha iad a’ cur mu seach airgid. Bha caoraich aca còmh’ ris an stoc agus bha iad a’ cur mu seach airgid, agus bha iad ann an òrdan uamhasach math ann am Bhatarsaigh agus ga brith co-dhiù chòrd e riutha na daoine a dhol ann gus nach do chòrd, chum iad orra fhèin e gu math tight; ach ’s math a dh’aithnich iad ceann ar seud agus ar siubhal, nuair a chaidh sinn a thomhas an uisge ’n a’ Chaolas. Chaidh an t-uisge a thomhas. Rinn Niall Mac a’ Phì, an rùin-chlèireach suas, dh’add e suas na fiogaran, a h-uile tuna a chaidh a ruith de dh’uisge às na ceathair uairean fichead air an t-seachdamh latha na Mhàrt sa bhliadhna a bh’ ann an seo: agus chaidh litir a sgrìobhadh a dh’ionnsaigh an t-Shawaich. Bha an litir cho làidir air a sgrìobhadh agus gun tuirt e ann an deireadh na litreach gun robh sinn uile ann an rùn làidir nach yieldamaid, nach strìocamaid, gus an tigeadh expert on Chrùn ga thomhas, gun robh an fhìrinn againn. Chaidh an litir a bh’ ann an seo a dh’ionnsaigh an t-Shawaich. Beagan ùine às a dheoghaidh sin, chaidh a’ chùirt a chumail ann an Dùn Èideann; agus bha Garson còir, an duine còir, gum bu slàn iomradh dhà, ma bha e a’ bualadh a bhasan le sòlas air a’ chùirt a bh’ ann roimhid, cha robh an inntinn aige ach gu math trom air an trip a bha seo. Thug an Shawach a-mach an litir, mar a sgriobh Mac a’ Phì i, agus leugh an Dòmhnallach, an Lord Justice Clerk, leugh e i, agus nuair a leugh e i choimhead e air Garson, air fear-lagh Gharson. Chaidh am point a bh’ ann an sin a dheànamh breugach an aghaidh Lady Gordon Cathcart, agus mach bhuaithe sin bha saoirsne againn ann am Bhatarsaigh.

Ach bha a h-uile rud a bh’ ann nar n-aghaidh ann am Bhatarsaigh. Chaidh na croitean a roinn. Thàinig engineer on Chongested Districts Board – ’s e bh’ ann an uair sin. Thàinig engineers a ghearradh na croitean. Ghearr iad na croitean. Bha na pineachan annta. Chaidh sinn a choimhead nan croitean, mar a ghearr na h-engineers iad. Chunna sin na pineachan agus chunna sinn croitean mòra agus croitean beaga. Ach thuig sinn am port a bh’ ann a seo math gu leòr, agus a chionn bha feadhainn dhe na daoine againn fhìn na mealltairean air taobh nan Dòmhnallach, ach ged a bha fhèin air a shon sin, bha seo air a thabhairt suas dhan t-Shawach. Bha fios aig an t-Shawach air an seo cuideachd. Chomhairlich e dhuinn gu feumamaid a bhith gu math furachail orra.

[Tá beárna ins an t-seanchas annseo C. M.]

Well, chaidh an t-uisge a thomhas. Chaidh an litir a Dhùn Èideann a dh’ionnsaigh an t-Shawaich agus sgrìobh an Shawach ’ugainn am Bhatarsaigh, agus ’s e a’ chiad thoiseach a bha san litir aige gun robh e a’ tabhairt taing mhòr dhuinn airson an litir a chuir sinn ’uige a chionn ’s gun a choisinn e a’ bhuaidh an Dùn Èideann. Ach mun a thachair seo idir chaidh muinntir Bhatarsaigh, na bha de shluagh a Bhatarsaigh, agus b’ e sin muinntir Mhiualaigh a’ chuid bu mhotha dhiubh a shumanadh, a shumanadh gu cùirt an Dùn Èideann.

Chuir an Shawach brath ’uca a dhol air aghaidh. Dh’innis e dhaibh ro làimh gun tigeadh orra a dhol ann. Fhuair iad an sumanadh is chaidh iad ann agus fhuair iad dà mhios prìosan airson contempt of court. Chaidh iad ’n a’ phrìosan, agus gu lucky shàbhail Niall Mac a’ Phì, mo charaide fhèin, shàbhail e agus shàbhail mise cuideachd, ach cha do shàbhail an còrr e, agus ’s e mar a shàbhail mise e, phòs mi bean òg an uair sin, a’ chailleach ud shuas. Bha i ann am Brèibhig, agus bha mi fhìn ag iasgach a-mach à Bàgh a’ Chaisteil leis an sgothaidh a bh’ agam fhìn, agus bhithinn a’ dol a choimhead na caillich a h-uile feasgar. Chaidh am fear a chaidh leis na sumanaidhean a-null gu ruige Bhatarsaigh. Ghabh iad bhuaithe na sumanaidhean, agus bha sumanadh aige gu Niall agus thachair do Niall e fhèin gun robh e ann am Miualaigh le biadh gu mhàthair agus gu phiuthar as an àm. Cha b’ urrainn dhan duine a bh’ ann an seo fuireach ach an aon latha, agus dh’fhalbh e. Chum e air aghaidh gu ruige Dùn Èideann agus dh’innis e ann an Dùn Èideann gun d’ rinn esan obair dhìleas, gun a sherve e na h-interdicts air na squatters uile gu lèir, agus bha ainm Nìll aige. Dh’fhàg e tè Nìll agus dh’fhàg e an interdict aig Niall, agus ghlèidh cuideigin i. Nuair a fhuair esan far à làmhan i, bha e ceart gu leòr. Ach chaidh brath a chur sa mhionaid a dh’ionnsaigh an t-Shawaich, nuair a thill Niall à Miualaigh agus thuirt e ris nach fhac’ esan an duine idir a sherve na h-interdicts, agus nach matha a chunnaic e an t-interdict fhèin ma bha interdicts aige-san nach d’fhuair esan i co-dhiù. Chaidh a’ chùirt a chumail. Sheas a Shawach air bheulaibh an Lord Justice Clerk, e fhèin is a chuid fhear-lagh gu h-àraid Garson, Sir Edward and Garson! Is àithne dhaibh glè mhath e. Is math is àithne dhòmh-sa e. Chaidh Niall Mac a’ Phì, chaidh a thabhairt suas gun robh e air interdicteadh còmhla ri càch. Chaidh ainm Nìll a thabhairt a-staigh aig an fhear a sherve na h-interdicts còmhla ri càch, còmh’ ris an fheadhainn a fhuair iad agus a ghabh iad. Dh’èirich an Shawach, an duine còir agus chall e am fear a sherve na h-interdicts:

“Na sherve thusa an t-interdict air Niall Mac a’ Phì?” – an taigh na cùirte.

Chrom e a cheann gu ceacharra, brosgallach, diùid, nàireach:

“Cha do sherve,” ors’ esan. “Cha robh e ann am Bhatarsaigh idir.”

Chaidh ainm Nìll a tharraing far an roll, agus air an ath-chuirt às a dheoghaidh sin ’s ann a chaidh dà mhìos prìosain orra.

Chaidh dà mhìos prìosain orra: agus mas e fhior am pàipear-naidheachd an Oban Times – bha mise ga leughadh as an àm agus mi aig an taigh, gun tuirt an Lord Justice Clerk ris an luchd-lagha sa chùirt, agus an jury air gearain ris gun robh gu leòr an siud dà mhìos, agus bha an Lord Justice Clerk, bha e diumbach nach deacha na trì orra, a chionn ’s e Dòmhnallach a bh’ ann. Bha e clannish. Bha e air taobh an luchd-cinnidh. Thuig sinn sin glè mhath, ach bha mise is Niall ann am Bhatarsaigh. Bha mise ag iasgach. Bha sgoth iasgaich agam fhìn, is bha mi fhìn ag iasgach. Thug sinn fainear co-dhiù, ’s e mi fhìn a thug fainear cuideachd dhà. Bha Niall am Bhatarsaigh. Bha mise am Bàgh a’ Chaisteil. Thug sinn fainear gun dèanamaid petition a chuireamaid a dh’ionnsaigh Dewar, bha na mhember Pàrlamaide airson Siorrachd Inbhir Nis. ’S i bh’ ann an uair sin. Thàine Niall còir a-nall am Bhatarsaigh an latha bh’ ann an seo co-dhiù, agus sin a’ bhliadhna a chaidh Maighstir Iain Mhìcheil, a chaidh a choisrigeadh na shagart, a’ chiad bliadhna dhà a bhith na shagart agus ’s e Maighstir Uilleam MacCoinnich an sagart a bh’ ann am Borgh, agus ’s e Maighstir Eòghan Camshron an sagart a bh’ ann am Bàgh a’ Chaisteil. Thug Niall, bha am pàipear aige, foolscap – nach e a bheir thu ris? – thug e foolscap do Mhaighstir Uilleam MacCoinnich, agus dh’iarr e air na headings a dhèanamh. Rinn Maighstir Uilleam sin, rinn e na headings, ged nach eil cuimhne agam-sa orra an-diugh. Mo chreach! Tha mi duilich nach eil cuimhne agam orra, ach co-dhiù tha cuimhne agam air rud beag agus innsidh mi dhaoibh mar a bha e. Rinn Maighstir Uilleam, rinn e am beginning dhen a’ phetition a bha sinn a’ dol a dhèanamh agus thuirt e: On behalf of those, who are disturbing His majesty’s Gaol for their illegal proceedings. Cha do chòrd an gnothach ruinn nuair a chunna sinn illegal as na headings aig Maighstir Uilleam MacCoinnich, sagart Bhuirgh. Cha dèanadh math dhuinn a dhol na chòir. Cha ghabhadh e gu math e, agus dh’ fheumamaid fuireach cho fada bhuaithe agus a b’ urra’ dhuinn, ach a h-uile mathas a b’ urra dhà thoirt dhuinn gum feumamaid a ghabhail, agus gum feumamaid a bhith na  fheum. Ach ’s e ’m plan a rinn sinn co-dhiù, ’s e Cloinn a’ Phì a bh’ annainn le chèile. Chuir sinn am pàipear air a’ bhòrd, agus aig cho fior-mhath agus a bha Niall gu sgrìobhadh, bha na corragan aige uamhasach math gu sgrìobhadh dh’atharraich e sgrìobhadh Mhaighstir Uilleim agus thug e as illegal agus chuir e legal ann. Ach, co-dhiù, dh’fhalbh sinn a Bhorgh. Chomhairlich e dhuinn a dhol a dh’ionnsaigh nan croiteirean agus crofter a chur aig deireadh a h-uile h-ainm, on is e crofters a bha sinn fhìn ag iarraidh a bhith. Nuair a bha sinn a’ toirt a-mach Bhatarsaigh. Dh’fhalbh sinn, mi fhìn is Niall is chaidh sinn a Bhatarsaigh. Cha robh mac duine ann an Tangasdal, na ann an Cuidhir na ann an Cliait nach deacha’ na h-ainmeannan ris a’ phetition.

Às a’ chiad starta co-dhiù, nuair a ràine sinn taigh Mhaighstir Uilleim cò bha staigh romhainn ach Maighstir Iain Mhìcheil, is e air ùr-choisrigeadh na shagart; agus bha sagart eile ann is gu dearbha chan eil cuimhne ’m, gabhaibh mo lethsgeul, chan eil cuimhne ’m cò an sagart eile a bh’ ann. Tha an ùine car cho fada. ’S e bh’ ann sagart Gallda eile, nach buineadh dhan dùthaich idir. Thug sinn am petition do Mhaighstir Uilleam agus choimhead Maighstir Uilleam air is na triùir shagart a-staigh ann an taigh Mhaigstir Uilleim am Borgh. Choimhead e air agus leugh e am petition:

“O!” ors’ esan, “’s e mi fhìn a rinn seo.”

“O! sibh gu dearbha fhèine,” orsa sinn fhìn.

Cha robh ach shoighn e e. Chuir e ainm ris. Shìn e am petition do Mhaighstir Iain Mhìcheil, Canon MacNeil, Morar, Shoighn am fear sin e fhèin e. Shoighn an sagart eile a-rìthist e.

A-nist, bha e air a shoigneadh aig na trì sagairt.

And the translation goes something like the following;

Well, my good friend, I myself belong to Mingulay folk, one of the Western Isles, the second one furthest south of the [inhabited] Western Isles, the Isle of Mingulay. I was born and brought up there. In my time there were thirty families, but eventually they thinned out but [a few stayed?]. There were more than twenty families remaining when all the folk left to settle in Vatersay.

Their earned a livelihood by fishing for ling and they owned fishing boats, large and small of each type. They had small boats for lobster fishing and the big, heavy boats couldn’t be rowed and they would be anchored in Berneray Straight; and they had a curing station in Berneray owned by Neil MacNeil, known as Niall mac Iain ’ic Aonghais, a brother of Father John MacNeil, a priest in Morar. The were plenty fish back then. We also had another type of food – we caught a lot of cormorants and other seabirds during the summer and autumn especially those at home, but at that time there were young fishermen from the East Coast, who came from Morayshire, Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen, and throughout the East Coast and they used to take home a tidy sum of money depending on the season and, of course, how well the fishing went. If they had done well, they’d have a decent pay and they’d do well for themselves and those about who struggled through the winter and spring fishing for ling. But the trawlers eventually put an end to that. Eventually we couldn’t catch anything that was worth the effort of paying for the trawlers that were trawling around the islands in the Straight of Mingulay, in the Straight of Berneray, in the Straight of Pabbay and also in the Straight of Sandray. We eventually had to leave the island. We couldn’t earn livelihood. We couldn’t manage and we decided to settle in Vatersay, and the Isle of Vatersay belonged to our ancestors. Our ancestors left at the time of the evictions when the Highland landlords evicted them over to Canada. They were scattered all over the place and the Isle of Vatersay was then owned by a MacDonald, a brother of a minister at Cuier [near Castlebay, Barra] and I firmly believe that he was good friends with Dr MacGillivray as well.

But, in any case, we made a firm decision and we all strongly supported one another. We had set out to do a big thing. We knew full well that the law and the folk were against us. Nevertheless we kept one special thing on our minds as it was owned by the Bishop of the Isles, but we’d refer to him then as Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, who had the four [sic] islands of Vatersay, Sanndray, Pabbay, Mingulay and Berneray. We had suffered enough. Without a shadow of a doubt we had [suffered] and even our own kin had had enough. But, anyway, we made it over to Vatersay though it wasn’t easy, and it was as difficult as anything I’ve ever experienced, but we nevertheless made it. We were victorious even against such a strong force as the law.

We saw for ourselves that we were in a sea-island and we were without doubt young and vigorous even though there were old folk in our midst. There were old folk in our midst right enough but they earned their livelihood and never received a single penny from the Poor Board although they dearly paid for it [their livelihood] that they made for themselves. They managed without assistance but we ourselves saw that we would need as much ingenuity and guile to fight as strongly against the law as Britain had fighting Hitler. We knew full well that we’d have to be diplomatic about it. We held meetings. These meetings were useful – a thought that one man didn’t have another would have and, anyway, we proposed a way forward and that summer two skiffs from Mingulay and two skiffs from Castlebay, one owned by Donald Michael [Christina] and another skiff, but, anyway, two skiffs from Mingulay and two skiffs from Castlebay came and the folk who wished to go over to Vatersay to claim a bit of land embarked.

We were supposed to be build houses. We knew full well that if we went over the limit – anyway there’d have to be a few English words said – if we went over the limit at Griastan Cemetery that the law would be on our backs, and we’d be worse off than we were before but what we did was to start at the Station Brae for there is a station there that used to cure herring many summers before in Vatersay. We began to build hen-huts with our fleet at the Station Brae. We knew that every step we took, and every stone that was turned, the Board of Agriculture in Edinburgh would know about it for the MacDonalds had great power.

MacDonald was the judge [lawyer] representing us. I have nothing against him but it was he who made the judgement. But, at any rate, the MacDonalds had great power for his brother was the minister who owned Vatersay and he also had another brother in the Isle of Skye who owned the northern part, but, at any rate, the minister had four or five brothers. Anyway, we weren’t unhappy about it at all even though these MacDonalds on each side were related. But I have to admit that our own friends were dead against them in many places, but regardless we kept on going. We kept going. We purchased stirks and we cultivated the land. We planted potatoes and, in only a short time, when we had thought that the Board of Agriculture and their friends in Parliament who sided with the MacDonalds got word that we had built huts on the shoreline and started to build further up.

Eventually we reached the Square where the MacDonald’s barn was for the cattle and where he stored corn. We began building houses there, a few of them. We built two or three houses there using stones in the old Highland style as was used throughout the Western Isles. We fetched wood and we built sheds close to the shore. A complaint was sent to Edinburgh on behalf of the MacDonalds that squatters – what’s Gaelic for squatter? – had begun breaking up the land and had brought cattle with them to Vatersay, and that they had built houses, but they had impeached themselves in the presence of the members of Parliament a month before as they got word that huts were being built on the shoreline, at the point of the high-tide.

That affable fellow Donald Shaw from Edinburgh was our lawyer and he was a clever man. He was an excellent skipper and a good captain who he had a skilful crew. In Vatersay, at that time, there were clever men who were very capable, and better than many was Duncan Campbell. That’s the name of our leader, and he was related to Neil MacPhee. And they all knew that. That was his secretary. And if I’m bad then without doubt I earned it. I took it from the Campbells and I took it from the MacPhees as well, but as bad as I may be, Neil took my collar from me. He was far worse than me. We set ourselves the task of winning over the MacDonalds, and we would see for ourselves that the ditch was quite far away, before we could gain victory. We had a good lawyer who wrote to us from Edinburgh every time he attended court. They had a great big court. Poor Shaw had to remain silent at this court in Edinburgh. They said that there wasn’t a single drop of water in Vatersay, and that MacDonald had ferried the cattle over the narrow straight to Kentangaval so that they could get water and so could be kept there when it was a dry year. Shaw had to remain silent. The case was thrown out, and if it had been, he never gave an answer at all. But Garson, Sir Edward Garson was the MacDonald’s lawyer. He thought that he had won [the case] that day but Shaw wrote to Vatersay. He related every word that was said at court, that there wasn’t one drop of water in Vatersay and that MacDonald had ferried the cattle over the narrow straight to Kentangaval. Anyway, we received the letter from Shaw and we held a meeting. But, at any rate, at the meeting, it was kept a secret in every single one of our hearts, and we quickly took counsel of one another and we then went to the secretary, Neil MacPhee.

The next day the first thing to be done after the letter came was the arrival of Duncan Campbell up to Neil’s house. My brother, Hector MacPhee, stayed next to Neil’s house, a paternal nephew. They made a sluice, a place made of wood so out the water would run and they took a watch with them and they took tin, one of the tins that women had when going to fetch a gallon of paraffin. They went over to Eorsadale at first and they measured the amount of water there. An account of it was noted down in figures. They measured every single well in Vatersay. They measure the length, width and depth in Loch Vatersay and the river and the amount it produced in a minute or in five minutes. They then went over to Abhainn a’ Bheannachain and measure it in the same way as before and they then went over to Caragraidh. There’s another loch in Caragraidh. They measured the loch in the same way, its length, breadth and depth and the amount produced from it. They went from Caragraidh over to Caolas and measure Abhainn a’ Chaolais and how much it produced. They had a watch and a gallon flask. There were other MacDonalds there too and they were servants and shepherds to the Tacksman of Vatersay, as they were naturally clannish just like every single one of the MacDonalds.

The MacDonalds of Caolais, Clann Alasdair a’ Chaolais, were shepherds to the Tacksman of Vatersay, and they owned a stock-house; and indeed they saved money. They also owned sheep as well as stock and they saved money, they were in very good order in Vatersay whether folk enjoyed that or not, they kept themselves quite tight; but they knew full well what we had been up to when we measured the water in Caolas. The water had been measured. Neil MacPhee had added up the figures, every ton of water that ran for twenty-four hours on the seventh of March that year: and a letter was sent to Shaw. The letter was so forcibly written that he said at the end of the letter that we were firmly of the opinion that we wouldn’t yield, that we wouldn’t give up, until an expert came from the Crown authority to measure it and that we had told the truth. This letter was sent to Shaw. A little while after that, a court was held in Edinburgh; and affable Garson, the nice fellow, may mention of him be well, and if he had been clapping his hands with delight at the court before, he was going to have a heavy mind this time round. Shaw took out the letter, as had been written by MacPhee, and the Lord Justice Clerk, a MacDonald, read it, and after he had read it, he looked over to the lawyer Garson. The main point had been made out to be untrue and went against Lady Gordon Cathcart, and from then we were free in Vatersay.

Everything had gone against us in Vatersay. The crofts had been subdivided. An engineer arrived from the Congested Districts Board as it was called then. Engineers arrived to divide the crofts. They subdivided the crofts. They had pins placed around them. We went to go and see the crofts and the way in which the engineers divided them. We saw the pins and we saw both the large and small crofts. But we understood well enough their tune and because a few of our own people had been traitors who sided with the MacDonalds, and even at that, it was taken up with Shaw. Shaw knew about this as well. He advised us that we’d have to treat them carefully.

[There is a gap in the account here. C.M.]

Well, the water had been measured. The letters had been sent to Shaw in Edinburgh and Shaw gave his reply to us in Vatersay and the first thing he said in his letter was to offer us a big thank you for the letter we had sent him for congratulating him on his win in Edinburgh. But before any of this happened, the Vatersay folk, or those that were in Vatersay, and that was mainly Mingulay folk, were summoned to appear at court in Edinburgh.

Shaw sent them a message that went against this. He told them beforehand that they would have to appear. They received a summons and they made an appearance and received a prison sentence of two months for contempt of court. They were imprisoned, but luckily Neil MacPhee, my own friend, saved him and saved me too, but he couldn’t save the rest as he had saved me, I married my young wife then, the old woman up there. She was in Brevig, and I was fishing out of Castlebay with my own skiff and I used to go and see the old woman every evening. The man carrying the summons went over to Vatersay. They took the summons from him and he had a summons for Neil and it so happened that Neil was in Mingulay delivering food to his mother and sister at the time. They man could only stay for one day, and then had to leave. He travelled to Edinburgh and he told them in Edinburgh that he had performed his task and that he had served the interdicts to all the squatters, and he had Neil’s name. He left it with Neil’s partner and it was left for him, as someone kept it. Once it was out of his possession that was the last of it. But a message was sent that very minute to Shaw, when Neil returned from Mingulay who had not seen the man at all who served the interdicts, and that it was very well that he had not seen the interdict itself and that he had not received it in any case. A court was held. Shaw stood in front of the Lord Justice Clerk, himself and his lawyer particularly Garson, Sir Edward and Garson! Well they knew him. And well I know him. Neil MacPhee offered up that he had been interdicted along with the rest. Neil’s name was offered up to the man who had served the interdicts along the rest, along with those who had taken them. Shaw rose up, the affable man, and called the man who had served the interdicts.

“Did you serve the interdict on Neil MacPhee?” – in the court-house.

He bowed his head, sorrowfully, flatteringly, shamefully and embarrassingly.

“No,” he answered, “He wasn’t in Vatersay at all.”

Neil’s name was withdrawn from the roll, and at the next court after that the sentence of two months was announced.

The were imprisoned for two months: and if the report in the Oban Times is true – I read it at the time when I was at home –  that the Lord Justice Clerk said to the lawyers in court, and the jury complained to him the two months was enough; and the Lord Justice Clerk was displeased for he wanted them to be imprisoned for three months as he was a MacDonald. It was all a bit clannish. He was on the side of the chiefs. We understood this very well, but Neil and I were in Vatersay. I was fishing. I owned a skiff and I was fishing. We paid attention to it and I paid attention to him as well. Neil was in Vatersay. I was in Castlebay. We intended to make a petition to send to Dewar, who was a Member of Parliament for Inverness-shire as it was called back then. Neil came over to Vatersay on this day anyway, and that was the same year that Father John MacNeil, who had been consecrated a priest, that he had become a priest, and Father William MacKenzie was the priest in Borve, and Father Hugh Cameron was the priest in Castlebay. Neil took a piece of foolscap paper – isn’t that what you call it? – and he gave the foolscap to Father William MacKenzie – and asked him to write the headings. Father William did so, and he wrote the headings, although I don’t recall them today. Oh alas and alack! I’m sorry that I can’t recall them, but anyway I recall one little item and I told them what it was.

Father William wrote the beginning of the petition that we were going to compose and he said: On behalf of those, who are disturbing His majesty’s Gaol for their illegal proceedings. We didn’t like it when we saw illegal as one of the headings written by Father William MacKenzie, the Borve priest. It wouldn’t do us any good to go near that. It wouldn’t be taken well, and we’d have to say as far away as possible from that as we could, everything good that he could give us we’d have to accept, and it would have to be of some use. But that was our plan anyway, we were both MacPhees. We placed the paper on the table, and Neil was so excellent at writing, he had a very good hand and he altered Father William’s writing to make out illegal as legal. But anyway we set off for Borve. He advised us to go over the crofts and to sign crofter after every name for we wished to be crofters. Then we went over to Vatersay, we set off, Neil and I and went over to Vatersay. There was no-one in Tangasdale or in Cuier or in Cliait who did not sign their names on the petition.

In the first place, anyway, when we reached Father William’s house, who happened to be there but Father John MacNeil, he who had been newly consecrated as a priest; and there was another priest but indeed I don’t recall, you’ll have to excuse me, but I don’t recall the other priest’s name. It was so long ago. But the other priest was a stranger and didn’t belong to locality at all. We gave the petition to Father William and he looked at it, and also the three other priests who were in Father William’s house in Borve. He looked at it and read the petition.

“Oh!” he said, “it is I who wrote this.”

“Oh! Yes, indeed, you did,” we said.

He just had to sign it. He signed his name. He handed the petition to Father John MacNeil, Canon MacNeil, Morar. He also signed it. The other priest signed it as well.

Now it had been signed by all three priests.

It may be mentioned that Duncan Campbell, the leader of the Vatersay Raiders, did not live long enough – he passed away in October 1912 – to see Vatersay flourish but he never regretted the action that he and his fellow islanders had taken:

The celebrated case of the Vatersay raiders is recalled by the death of Mr Duncan Campbell at the age of about sixty-five years, who passed away the other day on the Island which he loved so well ... The facts connected with the memorable raid of which he was the leader, will be fresh in the minds of many people, and also the trial which took place in Edinburgh on June 2, 1908, and resulted in sentences of two months’ imprisonment being, passed upon Campbell and nine of his followers. Early in the year 1907 Campbell and a number of other landless cottars had been living in the village of Centangaval, and other parts of Barra, in very reduced circumstances, took forcible possession of part of the neighboring island of Vatersay, erected huts there, and proceeded to cultivate it, all without the permission of the proprietrix. After the latter had interdicted the raiders, proceedings were issued In the Court of Session citing them to appear before the Second Division as they would not give an undertaking to leave, the island, and not to trespass there in the future. This they refused to do, and they were tried, convicted, and sentenced as stated. Negotiations were then opened between the Secretary for Scotland, Lord Pentland, and the proprletrix, which resulted in the purchase of the whole island of Vatersay by the Congested Districts Board. In the meantime the Court ordered Campbell and his followers to be set at liberty after they had endured about a month’s imprisonment. On being released Campbell observed that he would have been ready to stay thirty years instead of thirty days in prison, rather than give up his claim to a holding on Vatersay, from which, he stated, the grandparents of his associates had been evicted some fifty years before.

Unsurprisingly a song entitled Òran nan Raiders (‘A Song for the Raiders’) was composed by Michael Buchanan, known as Mìchael Nìll Bhàin, and was later recorded by James Ross in 1958 from the recitation of Nan MacKinnon known as Nan Eachainn Fhionnlaigh:

Òran nan Raiders
Hù a Hò gum B’ Eibhinn Leam

Hù o hò gum b’ eibhinn leam
A chluinntinn mar a dh’èirich dhuibh,
’S a labhair thu ’n Dùn Èideann riu’
Ratreut nach biodh nad champa.

Tha Uilleam Baoid, gur h-àiridhe
Air Beirgheaslom gu Carragraidh,
An Goirtean Geal, ’s am Beannachan
Gu leathad bruthach Hamhstail.

Tha Dòmhnall Iain shìos an sin,
’S chan eil e doirbh a riarachadh:
Gu fòghnadh an Uidh Riabhach dha,
’S i math gu feurach ghamhna.

Tha Eòghan ann an Eòrasdal:
O, saoil sibh nach e Tòraidh e?
’S mura bi e fo lagh Dhòmhnaill,
’S ann a bhòtas sinn ’n a’ Ghleann e.

Tha todhar an Tràigh Tuath agaibh
A-mach gu Cala Shnuasamaoil,
’S tha Uidh Nistean fuaighte ris,
’S an uaigh aig Mòr nan Ceann ann.

Tha ’n Caolas math gu bàrr agaibh:
Tha stac air Port a’ Bhàt’ agaibh,
’S gun cruadhaich sibh an gràn aige
’S an àthaidh a bh’ aig Melvin.

A Song for the Raiders 

What happy news for me
To hear how you fared
And how you told them plainly in Edinburgh
That there would be no retreat in your camp.

William Boyd, he ought to have
From Beirgheaslom to Caraigridh,
The Goirtean Geal, and the Beannachan
To the side of the brae of Hamhstal.

Donald John is down there,
And he’s not hard to please:
The Uidh Riabhach would do fine for him,
Since it’s good for grazing stirks.

Ewen there in Eoradail,
See what a Tory he is!
And if he won’t follow Donald’s orders,
We’ll just vote him out of the Glen.

You have seaweed rights from the North Beach
Out to Snuasimul harbour,
And Uinessan along with it,
And Mor nan Ceann’s grave is there.

You have the Caolas, good arable land;
You have (plenty of) drift seaweed at Port a’ Bhàta,
And you can dry the grain there
On the kiln that Melvin had.

Ben Buxton, Mingulay: An Island and its People (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1995)
--------, The Vatersay Raiders (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2011)
NFC 1031, pp. 18–36, ‘A’ toirt air ais am fearann ann am Bhatarsaigh’ / ‘Taking the land back in Vatersay’ (Donald MacPhee (Dòmhnall Bàn Eileanach) (Barra))
Nan MacKinnon (Nan Eachainn Fhionnlaigh), ‘Òran nan Raiders’,
Lisa Storey, Muinntir Mhiughalaigh (Inverness: Clàr, 2007)

The Vatersay Raiders. Back row (L to R): Arthur Dewar, counsel; John MacDougall (Iagan Raghnaill); John Sinclair (Iagan Iain Dhonnchaidh, cousin of Duncan); William Boyd (Uilleam Boid); Donald Shaw, lawyer.
Middle Row (L to R): John Campbell (Iagan Mhìcheil); Roderick MacNeil (Ruairidh Iain); Duncan Campbell (Donnchadh Antonaidh), leader; Donald MacIntyre (Dòmhnall Mhìcheil Dubh); Michael Campbell (Teic).
Front row (L to R): Duncan Sinclair (Donnchadh Anndra Dhonnchaidh); Hector MacPhee (Eachann Dhòmhnaill). Pictured before their trial in Edinburgh.
Lady Gordon Cathcart
Village, Mingulay, 1887