Tag Archives: whales


Audio cassette recording of Alex MacLean of Cornaigbeg interviewed by John Donald MacLean in 1998.

Alex MacLean (Ailig Iain Alasdair) of Cornaigbeg talks to John Donald MacLean in 1998 about his ancestors, some of whom emigrated to New Zealand, a MacLean gathering there of 80 of his relatives, bulb growing on Tiree which was set up in 1958 by the Agricultural College, the MacEachern blacksmiths, one of whom was a lay preacher, the making of a harpoon for catching whales, the coal puffers which unloaded their cargo on different beaches and crofting in general. Tha Ailig MhicIllEathain (Ailig Iain Alasdair) a Còrnaig Bheag a’ bruidhinn ri Teòn Dòmhnall MhicIllEathain ann an 1998 mu a shloinntearachd, cuid dhuibh a chaidh don Seallainn Nuadh, cruinneachadh MhicIllEathain far an robh ceithir fichead da fhear-cinnidh, obair na meacain fluir a chaidh a chur air bonn ann an 1958 le Colaisde an Tuathanachais, na goibhnean Mhic Eacharna, aon dhuibh na shearmonaiche nach buin don chlèir, an dòigh air murghadh a’ dhèanamh airson glacadh na mucan mara, na bàtaichean guail a’ cur a mach an luchd air diofar thràighean agus croitearachd mar as cumanta.


‘Aig a’ Mhuc Mhara’

Photograph of a stranded whale.


Courtesy of Mr Ronnie MacLean

Before the development of paraffin lamps, lighting in Tiree’s houses was provided by small oil lamps known in Gaelic as ‘crùisgean’. Oil from various fish was used but whales stranded on the shore were another important source.

The Statistical Account of 1845 recorded that ‘…shoals of small whales sometimes frequent our bays; and the people have become very expert at driving them ashore with boats… They are commonly from 15 to 20 feet long, and their blubber yields about a barrel of oil, each.’ From this description, they are most likely to have been Long-finned Pilot Whales.

This photograph titled ‘Aig a’ Mhuc Mhara’ (At the whale), of what is probably a Northern Bottle-nosed Whale, came from a small album from Silversands in Vaul and dates from the 1920s or early 1930s.

Black and white photograph of two unknown women and a dead whale from a small album from Silversands.

`Aig a` Mhuc Mhara` (at the whale) from a small album from Silversands, Vaul, titled `Idle Days` probably dating from the 1920s or early 1930s.


Whalebone post sockets from the broch at Vaul

Photograph of whalebone post sockets from the broch at Vaul.


Courtesy of Mr Nicholas Redman

These whale vertebrae, photographed by Nicholas Redman in 2003, are two of the four excavated from Dùn Mòr at Vaul by Dr. Euan Mackie in the early 1960s and now stored at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

The vertebrae were positioned two on each side of the rectangular hearth set in the centre of the floor of the broch. They had been perforated in the middle and doubtless used as post sockets. The best preserved vertebrae would have held an 8 cm thick post.

Situated too close to the hearth to be roof supports, the posts were probably used to support some sort of roasting spit or a frame for a cooking cauldron.

Three black and white photographs of whale vertebrae from Dun Mor, Vaul.

Whalebone post sockets excavated from Dun Mor, Vaul, by Dr Euan MacKie in the 1960s and now stored at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. (2 photographs not displayed in Filing Cabinet 8 drawer 2)