During a cèilidh held in March 2006 to celebrate the end of the Society for Northern Studies’ Tiree Conference, Bernie Smith of West Hynish sang four verses of ‘Lag nan Cruachan’, a song written by Captain Angus Lamont of Cornaigmore in the 19th century.
Captain Lamont enrolled as a medical student at Glasgow University but, as the Rev Hector Cameron noted in ‘Na Bàird Thirisdeach’, ‘the lure of the sea…was too much for him and he deserted the healing profession for the romantic calling of the mariner.’
He wrote a number of songs, of which only ‘Lag nan Cruachan’ survives. He died aged around forty-four on board his ship at San Francisco. His brother-in-law, Captain Donald MacKinnon of the tea clipper ‘Taeping’, also died in the prime of life.
Angus MacKechnie of Crossapol was recorded talking to Maggie Campbell of Kilmoluaig in October 2005 about his schooldays. He was strapped at school, deservedly so according to himself, for breaking the ceramic insulators on the telegraph poles on the road to Heylipol School.
This was a popular sport amongst schoolchildren, in Ruaig as well as Heylipol, and required accuracy in throwing stones. A boy’s reputation depended upon success, especially if the girls, who were guilty of the same activity, scored a direct hit.
Today Angus and his wife Nancy run one of the two school buses on the island and the popular Ring ‘n’ Ride service which provides transport on request. Angus also works crofts in Crossapol, Heylipol and Moss.
Iain MacLeod of Kilmoluaig was recorded in October 2005 talking to Maggie Campbell about his schooling at Cornaigmore where he was given ‘the belt’ for various misdemeanours, including spelling mistakes in the first years of primary school and for teaching a young child swear words.
The instrument of punishment in Scottish schools was the tawse, commonly known as the belt, which was a thick leather strap split at the end to inflict maximum pain. The strap was usually applied to the palms of the hands but in some recorded cases to bare buttocks. It was banned in state schools in 1986.
Iain and his wife Fiona were for many years the managers of Brown’s shop in Balemartine. They now run their own shop at Crossapol.
John Fletcher talks to Maggie Campbell in September 2005 about learning to count and write at Balemartine School in the late 1940s. There were around eighty children attending the school, which was one of five on the island.
At break-time the children were given hot reconstituted National Dried Milk in tin mugs. John drank it quite happily but some of the children hated the taste, comparing it with the fresh milk they got at home.
Toilet facilities at the school were basic: buckets with blue disinfectant, two for the boys and two for the girls. These were taken down to the shore by the cleaner at night and thrown into the sea.
In a recording made in August in 2005, Mrs Jean MacCallum of Balevullin talks to Maggie Campbell about the clothes she wore to school in the 1940s. At the age of two, Jean was sent by Glasgow Corporation to be fostered by Alexander and Catherine Kennedy of Balevullin.
When she was fifteen, Jean was taken from Tiree by Glasgow Corporation, very much against her own and her foster family’s wishes, and placed in a Salvation Army home in Pollockshields. She was only returned to the island after her foster family took the matter to court.
Growing up on a Tiree croft, Jean developed a life-long love of the outdoors and of cattle. She later discovered that crofting was in her blood; her paternal grandmother had farmed into her eighties.
Janet MacIntosh was recorded in August 2005 talking to Maggie Campbell of Kilmoluaig about her schooldays in Balemartine in the 1940s. She remembers how ‘wonderful’ hot school dinners were compared to packed lunches.
When she was a child, the diet on Tiree was plain and simple. White and brown flour and oatmeal came in hundredweight bags and were stored in the ‘girnel’, a wooden chest with a lid and internal partitions, that kept the mice out. Housewives baked every day.
More fish was eaten than meat; there were few vegetables other than potatoes and no fruit. Food from the shore was also eaten: soup made with whelks (winkles) and oatmeal, or with dulse, and milk puddings made with carrageen.
In this recording made in June 2005, Mrs Ethel MacCallum talks to Maggie Campbell about what it was like to move as a child to a Gaelic-speaking community. During World War II, Ethel was evacuated to Tiree where she was fostered by Hugh and Kate Lamont of Ruaig Post Office.
After leaving school at fifteen, Ethel helped her foster-parents in the Post Office and on the family’s croft. A couple of years later she moved to Inverary Castle where she worked as a housemaid for the Duke and Duchess of Argyll.
By the end of her schooling Ethel had ‘nothing in her head but music’. She competed many times in national and provincial Mods, winning cups for her Gaelic singing. She was also a gold medallist in the provincial Mod at Lochgilphead in 1967.
Former chemistry teacher Harry Kelly of Glasgow was recorded in April 2000 talking to Dr John Holliday about the time he spent in the early 1960s as a volunteer at the excavation of the Iron Age broch at Vaul.
When his tent was washed out by rain soon after his arrival, Harry was offered lodgings by Catriona MacKinnon of Rhum View in Vaul. Catriona was a mine of information about life on Tiree in the 1930s.
Much to Harry’s surprise, she had made her own pottery from local clay and dyed cloth with lichens. In this clip, Harry talks about the method she used to make pots.
Dr Euan Mackie, Honorary Research Fellow of the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow and director of the excavation of Dùn Mòr in Vaul, talks to Dr John Holliday in April 2000 about the implications of the dig for Scottish archaeology and for himself personally.
Initially Dr Mackie requested permission from Argyll Estates to excavate a machair site at Balevullin where A. Henderson Bishop had found Iron Age pottery and other artefacts in 1912. This was refused because the area was used for grazing cattle.
An alternative site of the broch at Vaul was acceptable. Dr Mackie directed the excavations there over three seasons in the early 1960s which produced a wealth of material from the late 6th or 5th century B.C. to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. The finds are stored in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
Hector MacPhail of Ruaig tells the story of the first voyage of Iain MacArthur from Roisgeal in Caoles on his uncle’s sailing ship. He was made to turn out in foul weather to change sail and to sew up the bodies of his fellow crew members after a fever had gone round the boat.