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, 18 July 2010

The Immigrant

Her parents wept as the boat set sail, leaving behind the small fertile land at the head of the fjord on its journey to the open sea. They knew she had to go, to make a new life for herself and her man and the swelling that was growing inside her, but that only dulled the edges of the pangs of near-grief that accompanied her departure.

On board, she too was crying as the two specks on the shore diminished in stature before fading from view forever. The men, pulling on their oars, had each made this same journey to the Southern Isles at least once before. That was how it came to be that her man had persuaded her to leave the place of her family and live in the new lands of open space and fertility for plenty. His descriptions of the shell-sand beaches, the bordering strip of bounteous earth, the rugged rocks and the health and vitality of the peoples there had been the stuff of dreams. But they were not dreams they were real and from all over their icy Northlands young couple just like them were emigrating towards these warmer isles.

The wind was in their favour so the men ceased their rowing, shipped the long oars and raised the single sail. She felt the ship come to life beneath her, a gentle kick just like those that her belly had recently been feeling. She ran a hand over the warm roundness and smiled at the thought of the little boy (it was a boy, the wise-woman of the village had assured her) who quite soon would be playing at her feet outside the new house that her man had already built for them. It was, he told her, in a beautiful spot and they had used the best timbers, brought there from the Northland, to construct the roof. She had been astonished to learn of the lack of trees on this paradise and even more astonished when he had explained how not only roofs but also boats were taken there as packs of pre-cut parts that were then reassembled. It seemed an almost impossible idea and she was sure that in time such practices would die-out.

It was not long before the wind carried them to the mouth of the fjord and, for the first time in her nineteen summers, she saw the open sea. It was as if someone had parted the trees in a forest to reveal the space beyond. No longer did the towering cliffs of the fjord blinker the vista but all the ocean lay before her in a dizzying panorama of sparkling blue-green topped by flecks of white and as far as the eye could see. The ship began to rock a little more in response to the currents and waves below but she was determined not to display any weakness to the men. In fact the rocking of the waves, the gentle breeze at her back and the warm morning sun conspired to lull her into a happy sleep.

When she awoke several hours later and looked around she was shocked to see nothing but the ocean around her. The land, as far as she could tell, had dissolved and the whole world was now her, the men and the ship. She felt a slight panic at this new sensation but when she peered more closely to the side she saw the rippling darkness on the horizon. They were certainly far from land but not so far as to have lost sight of it. This, she knew, was the safest way for ships to travel for the waters here were less troubled by the spirits of the sea and by the rocks and shoals that lay nearer to the shore.

The journey South took several days, partly due to the vast distance involved but also because en-route they were to leave two of the men at their own new homes and collect two replacements who, like them were settling in the new isles. This was a common occurrence and the 'leapfrogging' allowed them to combine trade, communication and expansion. She enjoyed seeing the new places and, in one of them, met an older girl from her village who had made the same journey a couple of years earlier. Talking to this happy young mother about living in these new lands was particularly helpful as it convinced her that choosing to join her man in the Southern Isles had been the right decision.

The final leg of the voyage was full of anticipation and, although the sea was particularly rough for a couple of hours, the sight that emerged from the parting storm clouds made any past fears recede. In front of her was a small island and as the ship entered the strip of sea between it and the main island she saw for the first time the seemingly endless beach of pure-white sand, speckled with bright green seaweed and backed by the lush band of crops and the hills beyond. The sun turned the sea into a myriad sparkling mirrors and, as they ship reached the shore, her man put his arm around her waist and said, 'Welcome to Seilibost.'...

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