Friday, 25 March 2011


This village, now derelict, lies 6 miles east of Tarbert, on the shores of Loch Trollamaraig, a mile or two southwest of Reinigeadal. Its last permanent residents left around 1963, leaving two intact homesteads and seven ruins in the valley of the shingley beach by the heathery headland - the translation of Molinginish's proper name.

This post seeks to trace the residents of Molinginish between 1841 and 1891, using census returns. The censes of 1871 and 1901 did not make direct reference to the village. In the other censes, the spelling of its name varied, requiring a bit of lateral thinking and minor detective work.

In 1841, we find the largest number of people in the village, 56. There are two families of Campbells, with Catherine and Roderick having 9 children, and Donald and Marion having 5. Other family names are Mcdonald, Mcinnes, Mckinnon, Mclead [Mcleod?], Mclennan, Mcvay and Morrison. There appear to be 9 houses, or groups of people mentioned together at least. We find tenants, fishermen and agricultural labourers.

The 1851 census makes a clearer distinction between the family groups, but their number has decreased to 5, and the total population of the village is now 34. Only one family of Campbells is present, Roderick and Catherine. The census adds two children to their number, but omits three of the ones that were there in 1841. Their fate is unknown. The Mcdonalds have had 3 more children over the past decade, and the Mcleods 2. There is still a Morrison family, but it would seem it is a different family from 1841. No mention is made of the Mcinnes, Mckinnon, Mclennan or Mcvay families. A Mcdonald couple, John and Janet, has appeared on the scene.

In 1861, we find 32 people in Molinginish, with Roderick and Catherine Campbell heading up the largest family in the village. Several of their children are no longer mentioned, presumably having left for pastures new. A second family of Campbells has settled, but not the ones that were there in 1841. The Mcleods have had two additions to their family, although daughter Rachel, present in 1851, is no longer there. A new family is the Mcaskills, who have 3 daughters and two in-laws in the house. There are now also two families of Mcdonalds, one family being new.

The 1881 census sees a decrease in the population of the village to 23, with 5 families on the roll. Roderick and Catherine Campbell remain, now aged 90 and 80 respectively. A second family of Campbells, different from the ones shown in 1861, now have the largest number of children, 6. Two more Campbell families can be seen in Molinginish at the 1881 census. The only other family name is Mcdonald, Murdo and Flora as a young couple with their young son John, aged 2.

By 1891, the population has decreased further, to 17. There are now 6 families in the village. "Mordo" and Effy Campbell have taken over from his parents at 1 Moliniginish, but neither they, nor Peter and Margaret Campbell at no 2, have a family. The third Campbell family (noted as Compbell on the census) has 5 children, but the mother is not shown.

That the census does not given an accurate picture, and can easily miss out whole families is shown in the case of Angus Campbell and his wife Sarah Mckenzie.

Children of Angus Campbell and Sarah McKenzie are:

Christina Campbell, b. 1849, Molinginish.
Sarah Campbell, b. 1850, Molinginish, d. 1913.
Murdock Campbell, b. 1851, Molinginish, d. 1922.
Duncan Campbell, b. 1853, Molinginish.
Donald Campbell, b. 1857, Molinginish.

The family emigrated to Australia in or after 1857.

A note on Roderick Campbell, who first appears on the census forms of 1841. He was the son of Finlay Campbell, born in 1760 in Teilisnish, Harris, and died 1835. He married Marion McDonald. Finlay was the Game Keeper of the deer forest, and (as is shown in the account at the bottom of this post) was cleared from Teilisnish. The ruins of that particular village can still be found a mile west of Bunavoneadar along the B887 to Huisinis.

Children of Finlay Campbell and Marion McDonald are:

Alexander Campbell, b. 1791, Molinginish, Isle of Harris off Scotland, d. 1863.
Roderick Campbell, b. 1795, Molinginish, d. 1882.
Donald Campbell, b. 1800, Molinginish, d. 1845.
Marion Campbell, b. 1801, Molinginish, d. 1876.

Molinginish gave two of its sons to the Second World War. Donald Alexander Macdermid was lost only a few weeks into the war when his ship, the SS Orsa, hit a mine off Flamborough Head. Kenneth Morrison is only quoted as lost at sea, without further details.

I copy this information, courtesy Simon Fraser:
The village was occupied as part of the large farm of Scalpay and was like Scalpay sparsely occupied until the 19th century. The village was occupied until the early 1820's by shepherds of Campbell the tenant of the tack, or farm of Scalpay. In 1823 the whole population was cleared out of the land on the west of Harris from Bunamhuinneader round to Loch Resort. A family of Campbells, evicted in this clearance from Teilisnis on West Loch Tarbert, were given the lease of Molinginish and moved there with their stock. One or two others came and went, or married in. The population grew rapidly and the village grew to a maximum of about 40 people in the 1880's. While agriculture was the original occupation, it was very much on a subsistence basis. Through time most of the able bodied men became employed in fishing mainly for herring and fished around the mainland coasts. The women when not employed in agriculture dyed wool amnd made tweed for sale. The herring industry died with the First World War and the village seems to have gone onto a long terminal decline from then on although it did not go without a fight. After the war the Board of Agriculture encouraged families in Harris to relocate to Portnalong in Skye where new crofts were established. A number from Molinginish went there. The school was however built in 1921 and continued until 1935 when the authorities withdrew the teacher and paid a lodging allowance for the children to go to Tarbert. The last two occupants were brothers in one house. One died in 1963 or 1964 and the other had to leave then. There is only one person left alive who ever lived there. 

1 comment:

  1. I wondered if you might be interested in this letter written by the Rev Daniel Macfie, Harris, to the Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools on 3rd Sept 1839
    “the children of island Arcabeny and Molinginish would be able to attend the school at Rainkadal … but from local obstacles, steep rocks and rapid torrents, it would not be possible for the children, in the winter season, to attend; and either of the towns separately could not furnish as many scholars; … they appeared most desirous to get one of your teachers, though it was only to read to them upon Sabbaths. I promised that were they to make up their minds upon the subject, and put themselves to the trouble of coming to Tarbert, and employ me to petition the Society for them, that I was sure it would take their destitute circumstances into consideration … I have long been expecting them, but they have not as yet made their appearance. The blame therefore lies upon their own heads ... I am sorry sir that so little is done here for the support of the funds of your Society; but the people are so poor, and as I make a yearly collection for the four schemes, you will not impute our shortcomings with regard to your funds as a want of will to your success”
    I am not sure why they didn't really want a Gaelic school - perhaps the notion had originated with the minister and they had humoured him without any real intention of going to the effort of getting a school (you had to build a shoolhouse and a house for the teacher), or perhaps initial enthusiasm wore off in the daily toil of scraping a living. Either way, I thought you might be interested.
    Kind regards, Elizabeth Ritchie