Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Ceard, Ceardannan & Carrach – Possible Origins of the Cearr/Kerr families of Harris

The 'Kerr's of Harris', as I call my island ancestors, are totally separate from the Lowland Clan of the same name.

Bill Lawson, in 'Harris Families and How to Trace Them' writes:

There were several families of Kerrs on the machair and around Strond, though these have now virtually disappeared. It is hard to say what their name was originally. It could have been from the nick-name Carrach (left-handed) or even from Ceard, now translated as tinker, but originally meaning any type of metal worker. There is a “ni'n na Ceard” (Ceard's daughter) in a rental of Scarista in 1724, who might have been an early member of this family.

Elsewhere in the book Lawson concludes that, as the name is common in Harris (a slight contradiction!) and elsewhere in the North-West but separate from the Ayrshire clan, that being descended from some famous left-hander is the most likely derivation.

(I will resist the temptation to get diverted into the 'cack-handed' & 'corrie-fisted', the genetic studies into the left-handed mainland Kerrs and the possible connection with alleged spiral staircases at Ferniehurst Castle being wound the 'wrong-way' to favour their defenders.)

Now, my earliest traceable ancestors on Harris are Malcolm Kerr (Calum Cearr) and his wife Effie Shaw who had at least two sons, Angus (4) & John (9). (The numbers refer to the households listed below). Harris-born Peter (10) is the only other male of this generation who's parents I have discovered. They were Donald Kerr, a farmer, and his wife, Sarah Ferguson.

Rather more is known about the origins of the Shaw families and in particular of Donald mac Iomhair (son of Ivander) who came to Strond (via Berneray) from Skye and whose family settled in Strond, Geocrab and Leaclee. It is likely that Effie Shaw was descended from this Donald.

The earliest publicly available written record is that of the 1841 Census and that for Harris records the following families & individuals (with 1851 annotations for continuity, other notes for illumination):

1841 – Kerr Head of Household & Occupations (Ancestry.co.uk transcript spellings!)

1) Angus, Strond, Shoemaker 1791

Marion (1851, Farm of Strond, Port Esgien, formerly Shoemaker's Wife)
Donald, Strond, Shoemaker (Angus' Son) (1851 Farm of Strond, Shoemaker)
John (1851, Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Shoemaker)

2) Rock, Strond, Tenant 1800

3) John, Obb, Tenant 1796 (1851, Obb, Farmer)
Malcolm, Obb, Ag Lab 1821

4) Angus, Obb, Tenant 1801 (1851 Farm of Strond, Port Esgein, Ag Lab)

5) Marrion, Scarrista, Weaveress 1786
John, Scarista, Carpenter (1851 Laskintyre, Joiner)
Rodk, Scarrista, Carpenter (1851, Bowes, Farm Labourer & Joiner) 'Ayatollah's' Father!)

6) Chersty, Tarrinsay, Hand Loom Weaver 1761

7) Rodrick, Rha, Ind 1800 (Raa was one of Taransay's 3 settlements)
The 4 Kerrs were 25% 0f Rha's residents in 1841

8) Alexr, Tarbert, Fisher 1796
Malcolm, Tarbert, Fisher (Alexr's Son)

9) John, Dirachte, Tenant 1801 (1851, Direcleit, Tailor)
Malcolm, Dirachte, Ag Lab 1821 (Moved to Stornoway to pursue his seafaring career)

10) Peter, Glendsiluvaig, Tenant 1796 (1851 – Kentulavick, Dry Mason)

What strikes me in this very small population is the preponderance of people whose occupations (in 1841 and 1851) are those of skilled craftsman or woman. All that is needed to house, feed and clothe us are, somewhat surprisingly, present!

Incidentally, the nearest Boat Builders that I have found in 1841 are on South Uist so I wonder whether the Carpenters and Joiners were involved in that essential trade too?

By way of contrast, the 12 Shaw families headed by a male of that name show 9 working the land, 2 Tailors and a Dyker. They are also, as Lawson states, slightly more scattered within South Harris.

All of the 12 Ferguson families on Harris, headed by a male of that name, worked the land.

Intrigued, I expanded my search further afield:

In 1841, the census shows 93 Kerr's in Inverness-shire with the mainland/Skye ones listing these occupations:

Ag Lab,
Blacksmith (2),
Carpenter (2),
Shoemaker (2),

Whilst the 27 in on the Ross-shire mainland gives us:


It seems too much of a coincidence that many of the Mainland/Skye Inverness-shire Kerrs and those of Ross-shire reflect the island bias towards Smiths/Tailors/Joiners & Carpenters – an interesting set of occupations for a 'cack-handed' clan to pursue!

By contrast, a quick perusal of the Sutherland Kerrs reveals a predominance of Agricultural Labourers and Tenants.

It is my conjecture that these Kerrs of Harris are either:

a) island representatives of a North-Western group of settled travellers whose name indeed relates to their handiness rather than their handedness, and I write these words as a proud left-hander myself!

b) descended from a distant 'famous' left-hander, whether of Harris, Skye or elsewhere in Gaeldom, as Lawson suggests.

c) descendants of an indigenous metal-working family who 'lost' their original clan affiliation (perhaps for good reason in the bloody feuds of the past?) and adopted their occupational skills as their 'tag' instead.

Whatever the truth of their origin, the male line on Harris certainly faded fast through a mixture of famine, 'Clearance', and emigration, to Lewis as well as further abroad.

The last male to bear the name was born in South Harris in 1961.
He was the first Kerr of either sex born on the island since the 1930s.
I believe he died, unmarried, in Fort William in 1991.
RIP, Ian Roderick Kerr...

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