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

Friday, 6 November 2015

Norman MacCaig's Island Family

Joanna McCaig (MS McLeod) died in Edinburgh on 2 December 1959 of Cardiovascular degeneration. Her son, Norman, registered the death.. His widowed mother would have been 82 just a few weeks later.

In an earlier piece I mentioned that Johanna had been born in Scalpay on 28 December 1877 to William MacLeod and his wife Effie Martin. She was the seventh of eight children and we first glimpse the young family, six years before her birth, in the census of 1871 when they were in Scalpay Village:

William MacLeod, 35, Fisherman, Head, b. Isle of Pabbay
Effie MacLeod, 26, Wife, b. Scalpay
Julia MacLeod, 6, b. Scalpay
John MacLeod, 5,b. Scalpay
Flora MacLeod, 1, b. Scalpay
Chirsty MacLeod, 2months, b. Scalpay

This is the only reference we have to William being from Pabbay but the 1841 Census, the last before that island was Cleared to replace people with profit, shows the 8 year-old William together with his siblings Flora (6) and Donald (2) . Their father was an agricultural labourer, John MacLeod (50) and his mother Catherine MacLeod (30). However, there was also a woman in the household called Julia MacLeod (40) and it is interesting to see her name given to William and Effie's firstborn.

William and Effie's neighbours in 1871 were Donald MacLeod and family, including Donald's mother, Chirsty. Both Chirsty and Donald were born in Pabbay and I think therefore were William's brother and mother, the whole family having been driven from their home in Pabbay during the 1840s.

At the time of the 1881 Census William and Euphemia's household comprised:

William MacLeod, 46, Fisherman, Head, b. Harris
Euphemia MacLeod, 37, Wife, b. Lochs, Ross & cromarty
John MacLeod, 15, Fisherman, Son, b. Harris
Flora MacLeod, 11, Daughter, Scholar, b. Harris
Norman MacLeod, 8, Son, Scholar, b. Harris
Roderick MacLeod, 6, Son, Scholar, b. Harris
Johanna MacLeod, 3, Daughter, b. Harris
James MacLeod, 1, Son, b. Harris

I am slightly confused by the reference to Effie (Euphemia MacLeod) having been born in Lochs, but it may well be that her mother, Flora Martin (MS MacLeod), was a Lochie for there are many connections between Harris families and those in Lochs, Lewis.

Julia MacLeod, 17, was visiting another family in Scalpay at the time of the census, and Chirsty MacLeod appears as Christina MacLeod who, at the tender age of 10, was already working as a 'General Servant' for a family of MacSwains in the island.

At 8 o'clock on the morning of Saturday 28 January 1882 Effy MacLeod died of influenza, having been ill for some eight days. Her son, John, registered her death giving her age as 39.

At 9 o'clock on the morning of Sunday 12 February 1882 William MacLeod died of severe cold, having been ill for some fourteen days. His son, John, registered his death giving his age as 48.

William had survived his wife by just fifteen days and their eight children aged from 2 to 15 had been orphaned in just a couple of weeks. It is almost impossible to comprehend their situation.

Nine years later the 1891 Census finds John MacLeod, a 25 year-old fisherman, heading the household that contains his two wool-spinning sisters, Julia (26) and Christina (16), and their brother James (12) who is still at school. Half of the family have stayed together under one roof in Scalpay. Flora (21), Norman (18) and Roderick (16) appear to be absent from Scalpay but may have been elsewhere in Harris.

I cannot locate Johanna MacLeod (13) in the 1891 Census, but she is definitely not in Scalpay nor in Harris, however by 1901 Joan MacLeod is working in Leith as a Laundry Maid, the only person with Gaelic in the family she serves. There is also a visitor called William A Peterkin whose occupation is given as 'Artist (Vocalist)' which is somewhat unusual.

So, when Norman MacCaig visited his mother's family in Scalpay it was her siblings that he remembers and celebrates in his poems. Aunt Julia is perhaps the best known, but Uncle Roderick clearly returned to Scalpay for we have this wonderful poem about him which contains the lines:

Round Rhu nan Cuideagan
he steered for home, a boy's god
in seaboots. He found his anchorage
as a bird its nest.


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