Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Culloden and Arnish

The inscription reads: HRH Prince Charles Edward with three attendants landed in Loch Seaforth 4 May 1746 and walking all night reached Arnish Loch at noon 5 May. In the evening he was received at Kildun House, Arnish, by the Lady Kildun (MacKenzie). Early in 6 May, he left Kildun in a boat and landed in Eilean Iubhard (Loch Shell) and remained there until 10 May and sailed thence to South Uist and Skye. [inscription obliterated] "Deoch Slainte an Righ" [inscription obliterated].

A few geographical and historical notes about the inscription. Kildun House no longer exists. By my information, it was destroyed by fire in 1975, prior to the construction of the present Arnish Yard. The hill on which it stood was bulldozed to make way for buildings for the yard. Eilean Iubhard can be seen from Lemreway, South Lochs, about 30 miles south of Stornoway (by road). I do not know what the inscriptions used to read that were rendered illegible.

I should make it perfectly clear that I have very little time for Prince Charles Edward, otherwise known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie. His hare-brained idea to "raise the clans" in 1745 for a march on London was ill-thought through, and by no means received full backing from all the clans in Western Scotland. Because those with brains saw him for what he was. A fool, being used as a figurehead. He was no creditable tactician on the field of battle, allowing his advance to outrun his supply-train on the daring march on Derby. The rout all the way back to Culloden, near Inverness, was a disgrace. And at the end of the day, it was this silly enterprise that gave Scotland's enemies the pretext they needed to subjugate the country fully, after the 1707 Union. To try to destroy the culture and language, and impose their own values on the Highlands and Islands. Far from being the prosaic saviour of the West, I rate Bonnie Prince Charlie as the fool that brought on the destruction of the West of Scotland.

His flight through the islands, dressed as a woman for goodness' sakes, says it all. Poor old Flora MacDonald, she gave him succour and shelter, and got clapped in jail for all her bother. The stay at Kildun tells us that although the Stornoway worthies were not prepared to turn Charlie in (he had a prize on his head), they were not prepared to put him up either, being a liability. At the end of the day, Charles was a coward, used more to the comforts of the drawingroom and the bottle. He will have been happy when he finally boarded the French vessel L'Heureux (sic), bound for France.

Oh, I forgot. Many readers will be familiar with the statue at Glenfinnan, 15 miles west of Fort William. The figure on the pillar at the head of Loch Shiel. It's not Bonnie Prince Charlie. It's "a Highlander". Because it was there that Charles landed to "raise the firey cross" which started the whole campaign.

Please forget the mystique around BPC. He has done Scotland no favours at all.

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Tragedy - South Lochs

In the 1960s, a boat left Stornoway bound for Marvig, 10 miles further south in the Lochs area of Lewis. It was carrying a large amount of timber. A young couple were going down to the village to build themselves a new home, and the young woman's uncle went along to steer the boat. Barely out of port, the engine failed and a storm blew up. It was some storm. They were unable to turn round, and gradually the boat was blown onto the reef of Sgeir Mhor, between Newton and Lower Sandwick. The uncle decided that he should jump overboard with a line, as this had been the way in which 75 people were saved on the Iolaire, in 1919. The other passengers thought the better of following him. Screams for help from the terrified woman could be heard in houses in Lower Sandwick. Finally, the lifeboat managed to come in and saved the couple by breecher's buoy.

The storm blew itself out, and the next morning the sea blinked innocently in the sunlight. The boat was sitting high and dry on the Sgeir Mhor. The body of the uncle was found on the shingle of the beach, in amongst all the timber. In the afternoon, people could walk out to the vessel as it sat on the reef. It was unbelievable that just 12 hours before a raging storm had made it impossible for any but the lifeboat to come near.
Sgeir Mhor and Arnish Light from Sandwick Bay
Forty years before, people from Marvig were involved in another tragedy, this time to the south of their village. Again, a young couple were taking the contents of their house and some timber around to Steimreway. This village was vacated in the Clearances of the 1830s, but they wanted to rebuild the houses. It is located along the coast, about 3 miles west of Lemreway, on the shore of Loch Shell. The boat was caught in a storm and foundered, drowning all on board. Although Steimreway was reoccupied between 1921 and 1945, this tragedy did little to inspire confidence. When central government refused to provide amenities like a school and a road, the villagers abandoned Steimreway for a final time at the end of the Second World War. You can still visit the site of the settlement by walking 2 miles across rough moorland from Orinsay. It is a very pretty location, but my attempts to reach it foundered in bad weather.

The story of Steimreway is told in an article on the Lochs Community website.