THE LAST CATTLE RAID IN TIREE
It seems to have been a kind of raid or robbery to which the island of Tiree was particularly liable. Plunderers and pirates, having chosen a suitable day when the seas about the island were at rest, and the cattle could be easily got on board the galley, or birlinn, carried on depredations far and wide on the island. Once the cattle were got by them on board the galley, they looked upon themselves as safe from pursuit.
There are two traditions in existence of the island having been so visited, and their fate will illustrate the manner in which, in unsettled times, such expeditions were conducted. The last foray of the kind was not successful, but the cattle and sheep were collected for taking away. The people got warning in time, and the cattle-lifters had to make their escape, leaving their booty behind them.
The last successful foray was in the days of the Tanister of Torloisk, and seems to have been only sometime previous to or about the ’45. The account which tradition gives of it is that the Tanister, or second heir (proximus haeres), of Torloisk in Mull was called Malise MacLean. His first name is somewhat peculiar, and not common among the MacLeans or any other West Highland clan, and was given to him in this manner. The heir of Torloisk was a promising healthy boy, but the succeeding children of the then chief were dying young. The Chief was advised by the sages of his race to give his child the name of the first person whom he met on the way to have the child baptised. The first person encountered was a poor beggar man who had the name of Malise. A name given in this way was known as ainm rathaid, or road name, and was deemed as proof against evil. The father gave this name to the child who survived and became Tanister. Being without the prospect of an estate the Tanister thought he would come to Tiree, and piece by piece get an estate for himself. He came to have half, third, or other share of the town-ship of Baile-meadhonach, now called Middleton, in Tiree, and married, and his descendants are still known.
One day, a galley, with sixteen men on board (Bírlinn ’s sea fir dheug), came to Soraba beach. The men landed and collected every live animal that was about the place. At the time, the Tanister happened to be fishing at the rocks in Kenavara Hill, and on coming home soon after and hearing what had been done, he called to his neighbours asking them what they meant to do, were they going with him to turn the raid (creach). They all refused for fear of being killed, as the freebooters were a strong party. He said, “I will not do that; I prefer to fall in the attempt (tuiteam ’s an oidhirp), rather than let my cattle be taken.” He took with him his sword and followed the spoilers. When he came to the end of the pathway and within the sight of the galley, he stood before the creach. The freebooters told him to leave the road or he would feel the consequences (Gu’m biodh a’ bhuil dha). He answered, “I will not leave, and the consequences will be to you, until I get my own.” He got this as he seemed determined, and when he had got it, he asked also the cow of a poor woman from the same township as himself, and having got this also, he said they might do with the rest what they liked. The plan of the robbers was to drive the cattle to the beach, where the galley was, and throwing them down and tying their forelegs together (ceangal nan ceither chaoil), place them on bearers, or planks, and put them in the boat. When they had done so, they made off, and no one knew whence they had come or whither they went. This was the last successful raid of the kind raised in Tiree.
Subsequent to this creach, and in the time of Mr. Charles Campbell being Minister of Tiree, several galleys, or bírlinnean, each with its complement of men, and in addition each with a pretending minister and his man, made their appearance on the coast of Tiree. In those days every minister took his man along with him, and in this case each minister but one took his man from the boat. Wandering open-air preachers were in those times called hillock ministers (ministearan nan cnoc), and the one to whom the story refers was to officiate at Ceathramh Mhurdat, or Fourth Part, now called Murdat, now embraced in the farm of Hough, and which was then thickly populated. Having sent due intimation round of his service, most of the people were drawn to hear him. His man was left behind to give him warning of any disturbance of the expedition which might occur. After he had been speaking for some time his man came in. The islanders had become aware of the nature of the invasion. The sheep and horses were gathered at the back of the hill of Hough, and a band of cattle-lifters had surrounded them for to drive them to the shore. A number who had not got to the preaching had observed this, and following them took the sheep and horses from them. Immediately the minister’s man ran with all possible speed to warn the preacher at Murdat. When he came to where the sermon was, the preacher concluded, and handing the book to his man, venturing to think that the people would not understand him, said, as if reading a line, “MacLellan, beloved friend, where did you leave the Shockum sho?”—i.e., the booty. (Mhac-’ill-fhaolain, a duine ghaolaich, c’ aite an d’ fhàg thu an ‘seogam seoth’?). The incomer taking the book, and as if intoning the psalm, said, “Matters are worse than we thought; they have taken from us the plaintive bleaters” (’s miosa tha na mar a shaoil: thug iad uainn an ‘cirri-méh’): cirri-méh is but an imitation of the bleating of sheep, and is found used in different localities as a pet or ludicrous name for sheep.
The people sang along with the precentor. They did not know that the words may have been part of psalms, when one who was smarter and more readily witted than the rest got up and said, “We have been long enough here, these men are robbers, and not ministers.” The service was concluded, the people going to look after their cattle, and the minister and his man making their way with all speed to where the galleys lay. Before the people could overtake them, they got on board and made off, leaving their booty behind, and glad to escape with their lives.
Extract from Clan Traditions and Popular Tales of the Western Highland and Islands by John Gregorson Campbell, published in London by David Nutt in 1895.