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The island had a number of water mills which took over from the hand quern which occupied a third of the island’s women for three months of the year.
Between the wars there were thirty five small shops on the island. Few people had access to a car and a shop had to be within walking distance. The shops were also the main place for a ceilidh in the evenings.
As one crofter said, “The horses kept the crofters on their crofts! If they didn’t have any horses, how could they have done all their work?”
Fishing was slow to get off the mark on Tiree owing to the lack of a suitable harbour, but the salt cod and ling industry grew in the 19th century, and the lobster and crab fishery has been important since the 1950s.
Thousands of islanders left Tiree in the nineteenth century after the potato famine exposed the dangerous overcrowding that had built up. The Tiree diaspora is strong in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The first hunters and gatherers came to Tiree for summer expeditions in Mesolithic times, 9000 years ago. The island also has twenty five Iron Age forts, one of which was excavated by Dr Euan MacKie in 1962.
Tiree became an important base and 2000 servicemen were stationed on the crofting and Gaelic-speaking island.
The easily worked soils of the island attracted the first Neolithic farmers and Tiree has long been known as the most fertile of the Hebrides.
In 1791 the island’s minister wrote, “The situation of this parish is dismal without a surgeon,” and Tiree had to wait until 1860 until a doctor could be found. Because of this, traditional healing is strong.
The first flight to the island was in 1929 and the first air ambulance in 1934. The famous weather station began life at the school in 1924.
The beautiful thatched houses are one of the island’s most distinctive features, although only a few are now left.
A visitor in 1894 wrote,” If Tyree does not grow trees it grows ministers and deep sea captains.” The island’s first school was in the 1780s and in 1872 the Government stepped and built five schools, one of which survives today.
The first game was in 1886 when officers, brought out to pacify the crofters, slipped off to the Vaul machair to set up their own course. An 18 hole course was built by Charles McNeil, a Glasgow industrialist in 1910.
It cannot be gainsaid that Tiree is the most fertile of the Hebrides, despite the fact that the islanders have to contend with the ravages of the wind sweeping across their farmlands, uprooting vegetables, blowing the soil away from seed planted in the springtime, and not infrequently devastating the crops in the autumn.
“They were like aliens from another planet!” This is how one islander remembers these visitors. They were welcomed for their craftsmanship and company, occasionally looked down on, and often feared for their magical powers. For over 120 years small groups of Travelling People came to Tiree in the summer, making tin utensils, dealing in horses and bartering at every door. The same families returned every spring to the same campsites, as regular as the cuckoo, part of the island’s calendar.