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

Thursday, 28 November 2013


One of the questions which interests me is that of how the coastline of the isles has changed during the time since humans settled here following the end of the last ice age.

It is a complex topic and I was delighted to stumble upon a very recent article,New models of North West European Holocene palaeogeography and inundation, in the Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 40, Issue 11, 11 Nov 2013) which addresses that question for the whole of the British Isles. Each 500 year snapshot is presented as a map and each of these is downloadable for more detailed, local-level study.*

The key points for the Western Isles are:

11,000 – 8,000 BP
The Outer Hebrides are considerably larger than they are now, with a low lying coastal plain extending out to the West of the Uists.”

The authors note that:

...there is clear evidence for Mesolithic seafaring, with Ireland being occupied along with the Isle of Man, Rhum, the Hebridean Archipelago...

8,000 – 6,000 BP
Although the Western Isles are not specifically mentioned, the point is made that when sea levels rise:

...our understanding of terrestrial space also needs to be carefully considered; with reworking of estuarine areas and the expansion of former wetlands into open areas of sea, all serving to shape modes of transport and connectivity...”

6,000 – 4,000 BP
The extended coastal plain which surrounded the Outer Hebrides is significantly diminished in size and the islands are approaching their present configuration.”

4000 – 500 BP
At this point we really need to examine the individual maps in greater detail, but when I attempted this I was informed that the data is not yet available so, unfortunately, investigating what this model might tell us regarding the Western Isles will have to wait just a little while longer...

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Castle Connection

I was looking at my Montgomery ancestry in Leurbost, Lochs, and discovered I had a 1st cousin, 3x removed, called Ann Nicolson from 7 Gravir who married John Morrison from 4 Airidhbhruaich.

John Morrison was, according to this information on the excellent Hebridean Connections site, a joiner employed by Sir Samuel Scott at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle before retiring to East Tarbert to the house he built there which is called “Burnbrae”

The couple appear to have begun their married life living with John's father, a 66 year old tailor from Harris who was also called John, at 4 Airidhbhruaich. 

The 1881 census return includes another son, Donald (24) who was also a joiner, and two daughters, Chirsty (24) and Marion (16). The household was completed by two grandsons, William McDonald (7) and Roderick McLennan (3). John Morrison was 26 and his wife Ann was 24.

By 1891 the couple were living in North Harris with their three children, Katie Ann (7), Kenneth (5) and Ellen (2). 

1901 finds them still there but  now with a family of five: Katie Ann (17), Kenneth (15) and Helen (12), having been joined by Johann (8) and Chirsty Bella (6).

As an aside, a couple of years earlier Sir Samuel Scott's wife had caused a 'Society Sensation' in the upper echelons of English 'society', but I prefer to remember Sir Samuel as the person had the Carding Mill built at Lon na Feille, the old market stance, in Direcleit in 1900 – I wonder which joiner did the carpentry work there!?

Some more detail of the history of the castle can be read on Celtic Castles, and on my Harris Timeline.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Great Fight?

This piece began to form when I found a story, 'Great fight' in the records of the Carmichael Watson Project. The gist of the story is that, during the reign of King Charles II (1630-1685), there was a 'Great fight' between men aboard competing herring fishing boats from Leith and Campbeltown. The ensuing battle, which the Campbeltown men won, apparently took place following the delivery of some 'drink' from Uist.

Many men from all over Britain (and Ireland) were killed and their bodies then buried (some secretly at night) in several islands in the Sound of Harris, as well as in Cheesebay in North Uist. These islands included Hermetray/Thermatraigh on which Martin Martin, in 1695, had seen:

the foundation of a house built by the English in the reign of King Charles the First's time, for one of their magazines to lay up the cask, salt etc, for carrying on the fishery, which was then begun in the Western Islands; but this design miscarried because of the civil wars which then broke out.

I wrote of John Lanne Buchanan's opinion of this, and other fishing developments, when discussing his  'General View...' and it is clear that the building that Martin Martin saw is believed to have been built in 1633 by Charles I as an element in his attempt to foster the fishing industry in Scotland.

What intrigues me, however, is that when one looks at the image of the entry in Alexander Carmichael notebook, it appears that he may have originally ascribed the 'Great fight' as having occurred during the reign of Charles I (1600-1649) ,for the second 'I' looks very much to be an afterthought.

I wonder if Carmichael, who would have been familiar with Martin's account of having seen the building on Hermetray, had assumed that his informant (John Morrison, a Ground Officer from Lingerbay, Harris) was talking about an event that had occurred during the time when the fishing station was in use, and that John Morrison had then clarified that it was in fact during the reign of Charles II?

It is unfortunate that we have no date for the event, but the islands where the casualties were buried are Nàrstaigh, Sàrstaigh, Suarsaigh, Bhòtarsaigh, Hermetray and Taghaigh.

And it is said that the herring never came back to these waters after the 'Great fight'...

Thursday, 14 November 2013


I happened upon this excellent feature on the British Geological Survey site which allows you to examine local geology at a scale of either 1:625 000 or 1:50 000, which is excellent! The bedrock or surface geology, or both, can be examined and explored at leisure...


Norman MacCaig (14 November 1910 – 23 January 1996)

Norman MacCaig, poet, was the son of Robert MacCaig and 'Joan' MacLeod who were wed in Edinburgh in 1906, his mother having been born and raised in the island of Scalpaigh na Hearadh, a few hundred metres off the coast of Harris.

'Joan', (whose name was given as Johanna when her birth on 28 December 1877 in Scalpay was registered) was the daughter of William MacLeod and Effie Martin, themselves married in Tarbert on 15 March 1864.

William, 29, was a fisherman, his parents being a crofter John MacLeod and his wife Christina MacLeod.

Effie, 20, was a domestic servant and the daughter of another crofter, Roderick Martin, and his wife Flora MacLeod.

Johanna MacLeod had a sister, Julia, who was 74 when she died on 25 September 1939 at Boat Point, Scalpay. She is better known to us as 'Aunt Julia' in Norman MacCaig's poem of that name: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00c4kkj

Incidentally, Norman MacCaig's great grandfather, Roderick Martin was born in Drinishader, Harris but whether there is any connection with my own Martin ancestry from nearby Direcleit remains unknown, but it is a possibility!