Sunday, 24 February 2008

Titanic's predecessor

I bought this book on Amazon (last copy in stock in the UK), as it has some bearing on local history here. It is about the sinking of SS Norge in 1904, in which 635 passengers and crew drowned. This Scandinavian liner was crossing from Copenhagen, Christiania (now Oslo) and Christiansand to New York in late June 1904 when she hit rocks at Rockall. This is a tiny islet, rising 70 feet out of the Atlantic some 250 miles west of Scotland.

The Norge had insufficient spaces on board lifeboats for all the about 780 on board (in fact only 250), meaning a certain death for most. One lifeboat was wrecked as it was launched, others could only carry a few dozen. The ship, which carried emigrants from Russia and Scandinavia, went down 20 minutes after it struck rocks. Five lifeboats managed to get away. Survivors from four were picked up by other ships within about a week. A fifth boat was never recovered, and may have drifted into the Arctic - we shall never know. Survivors were landed at Grimsby (northern England), Aberdeen, Stornoway and Torshavn (Faeroes), in a pitiful state. Some died shortly after arriving on dry land; 11 of them lie buried in a communal grave at Sandwick, just down the road from me.

The book gives a good impression of life in the early 1900s, the huge wave of emigration to America that was taking place, as well as the appalling circumstances in which Jewish people were made to live in the Russian Empire of the Czars. It is heartwarming to read the welcome that survivors were awarded in all places they came ashore - it is heartrending to read the hardships they had to endure on the way there.

This entry is dedicated to the memory of those lost in the sinking of SS Norge.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Calum Zachary

Calum Zachary [Calum Sgaire] lived in the middle of the 19th century at Bosta (see image above), in the island of Great Bernera, off the west coast of Lewis. He fell in love with Margaret MacLeod from Breaclete, but her family wanted her to marry an older but wealthier man. The couple decided to elope, but missed each other in the night. Disappointed and convinced the other had reneged, Calum sailed for Quebec the next day on an emigrant ship from Tolsta Chaolais, never to return. Margaret married the older man, but even tried to drown herself whilst the rest of the village were still celebrating the wedding. She died within a year of a broken heart. If you click on the link above, you'll hear a recording by Gaelic folkgroup Gleusda, during a performance during the Royal National Mod in October 2005. The lyrics can be found below.

Sèist: Chorus (after each verse):
Air fail a ra u Air fail a ra u
Fail eile 's a ra u Fail eile 's a ra u
Fail eile 's a ra u Fail eile 's a ra u
Hogaidh o 's na ho i Hogaidh o 's na ho i
Och a Rìgh gur trom m' osna Oh Lord, I've a heavy, sighing heart
'S fhada ò mo luaidh anochd mi My love is far away from me tonight
Mise tuath air Ceann Lochlainn I'm away in the north at the Cape of Norway
'S ise aig Loch an Fhir Mhaoil While she's at Loch an Fhir Mhaoil
Dh' fhalbh i, ghlais i leinn dhaichaidh It set sail for home with us
Chuir i chuairt ud air Arcaibh It sailed 'round Orkney
Cruinn ùra 's siùil gheala New masts and white sails on her
Tìde mhara 's i leinn She was running with the tide
Ged is math a bhith seòladh Though it is enjoyable to be sailing
'S olc a tha i 'gam chòrdadh I cannot say I'm enjoying it just now
'S mòr gum b' fheàrr a bhith 'm Bòsta I would rather be in Bosta
Cur an eòrna 'san raon Planting the corn in the field
Ach nam bithinn-sa aig baile If only I could be at home
A shamhradh 's a dh' earrach Both summer and spring
'S mi nach leigeadh mo leannan I would never allow another man
Ri balach gun strìth To have my love without a fight