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Scottish Reminincenses
Chapter IX


Highland ferries and coaches. The charms of Iona. How to see Staffa. The Outer Hebrides. Stones of Callemish. St. Kilda. Sound of Harris. The Cave-massacre in Eigg. Skeleton from a clan fight still unburied in Jura. The herm.t of Jura. Peculiar charms of the Western Isles. Influence of the clergy on the cheerfulness of the Highlanders. Disappearance of Highland customs. Dispersing of clans from their orig nal districts. Dying out of Gaelic; advantages of knowing some Gaelic ; difficulties of the language.

In continuation of the Highland reminiscences contained in the last chapter, reference may here be made to some further characteristics of the Western Isles, and to a few of the more marked changes which, during the last half century, have affected the Highlands as a whole.

Fifty years ago Highland ferries were much more used than at the present day, when railways and steamers have so greatly reduced the number of stage-coaches and post-horses. These little pieces of navigation across rivers, estuaries, and sea-lochs, afforded ample scope for certain Celtic idiosyncrasies. The ferryman could, as occasion served, contract his knowledge of English, and on one pretext or another contrive to exact more than the legal or reasonable fare, remaining imperturbably insensible to the complaints and remonstrances of the passengers. An illustrative story is told by Dr. Norman Macleod in his charming Reminiscences of a Highland Parish. A Highland friend of his who had been so long absent in India that he had lost the accent, but not the language of his native region, had reached one of these ferries on his way home, and asked one of the boatmen in English what the charge was. The question being repeated in Gaelic by the man to his elder comrade, the answer came back at once in the same language, ‘ Ask the Sassenach ten shillings.’ ‘ He says,’ explained the interpreter to the supposed Englishmen, ‘he is sorry he cannot do it under twenty shillings, and that’s cheap.’ No reply was made to this extortion at the moment, but as the boat sailed across, the gentleman spoke to the men in good Gaelic. Whereupon, instead of taking shame to himself for his attempted cheat, the spokesman turned the tables on the traveller: ‘I am ashamed of you,’ he said, 'I am, indeed, for I see you are ashamed of your country ; och, och, to pretend to me that you were an Englishman! You deserve to pay forty shillings—but the ferry, is only five! ’

On another occasion, when a sea-loch had to be crossed where strong currents swung the ferry-boat round and some manoeuvring with the oars was required, the chief ferryman kept saying, ‘Furich, Donald,’ to the one assistant, and * Furich, Angus,’ to the other. At the other side of the loch the passenger paid the fare and then said to the ferryman, ‘Now, I’ll give you another shilling if you will tell me what you mean by “Furich, furich,” which I have heard you say so often in the passage across. It must surely have many different meanings.’ The coin was duly pocketed and the Highlander thus deliberately explained: ‘Ah, it’s ta English of ta Gaelic “furich” ’at you wass wantin’ to know. Well, I’ll tell you; it’s meanin’ “ Wait,” “Stop”; och ay, it means “Howld on,” “Niver do the day what you can by any possibeelity put off till to-morrow.” ’

I was once crossing in an open rowing boat from Skye to Raasay, propelled by two men, a younger Highlander, who sat nearest to me, and an elderly man on the bench beyond.

The latter was dressed in a kilt, and with his unkempt locks and rugged features, made a singularly picturesque figure. l\Iy neighbour caught my eye now and then fixed on his comrade, and at last he broke silence with a question:

‘You’re looking at Sandy, sir, I see?’

‘Yes, he is well worth looking at. He must be an old man, though he seems to pull his oar well still.’

‘Ay, I’m sure, he’s an auld man noo. But ye wass hearin’ o’ Sandy afore?’

‘No, I don’t think I have ever seen or heard of him before. What about him?’

‘D’ye mean, sir, railly noo, that you never heard tell o’ Sandy o’ the Braes?’

‘No, really, I never did. What is he famous for?’

‘Ochan! Ochan! wass ye never kennin’ aboot his medal?’

‘Medal! no, so he is an old soldier is he? What battle was he at?’

‘Sodger! He’s never been at ony battles, for he wass never oot o’ Skye and the islands.’ ‘But how did he come to get a medal, then?’ ‘Just to think that ye wass never hearin’ o’ that! Weel, ye see, there’s some Society in JLmbro I wass thinkin’ they call it the “Heeland Society,” and they gied Sandy a medal, for he wass never wearin’ onythin’ but a kilt all his days.’

Besides the ferrymen, the drivers of the old Highland coaches included some quaint characters, who have disappeared with the vehicles which they drove, and occasionally capsized. Half a century ago the coach that ran between Lochgoilhead and St. Catherine’s through the pass known as ‘Hell’s Glen’ was driven by a facetious fellow, one of whose delights was to make fun at the expense of his English passengers. One day when he had brought the coach to the top of the pass and halted the horses, he got down, remarking to an English lady who sat on the box seat beside him, and on whom the brunt of his sarcasms had fallen, that if now this place had been in England, he would doubtless have to search a long time before he could find a bit of old leather to stick into the drag for the run down hill. Looking under a stone he pulled out an old shoe, which of course he had placed there on a previous journey, and which he now held up as a proof of the great superiority of Scotland. Some weeks afterwards, a barrel arrived addressed to him. As he was not accustomed to such presents, he opened it with not a little excitement. Pulling out some straw he saw a large paper parcel inside, and after removing a succession of coverings, came at last upon a small packet carefully sealed. He felt sure it must be something of great value from the pains that had been taken to protect it. So he opened it with trembling hands and found that it contained—a pair of old shoes, with the compliments of the lady whom he had made his butt.

Among the Western Isles two of small size have attained a distinguished celebrity—Staffa and Iona. Three times a week in the summer season, a large and miscellaneous crowd is disembarked upon each of them from Mac-brayne’s steamboat, which, starting from Oban in the morning, makes the round of Mull, and returns in the evening. If any one desires that the spell of these two islets should fall fully upon him, let him avoid that way of seeing them. They should each be visited in quietude, and with ample time to enjoy them. There is a ferry from the Mull shore to Iona, and in the Sound a.stout boat or smack may usually be obtained for the voyage to Staffa.

I once spent a delightful week in Iona, where a comfortable inn serves as excellent headquarters for the stay. There was a copy there of Reeve’s edition of Adamnan’s Life of Saint Columba. Reading the volume where it was written, and amidst the very localities which it describes, and where the saint lived and died, one gets so thoroughly into the spirit of the place, the present seems to fade so far away, and the past to shine out again so clearly, that as one traces the faint lines of the old monastic enclosure, the mill-stream and the tracks which the monks must have followed in their errands over the island, one would hardly be surprised to meet the famous white cow and even the gentle Columba himself. But, apart from its overpowering historic interest, Iona has the charm of most exquisite beauty and variety in its topography. Its western coast, rugged and irregular, has been cut into bays, clefts, and headlands by the full surge of the open Atlantic. Its eastern side is flanked by the broad, smooth, calm Sound, which, where it catches the reflection of a cloudless sky, rivals the Mediterranean in the depth of its blue; while towards the north, where the water shallows over acres of white shell-sand, it glistens with the green of an emerald. Then, as if to form a fitting background to this blaze of colour, the granite of the opposite shores of Mull glows with a warm pink hue as if it were ever catching the reflection of a gorgeous sunset. For wealth and variety of tints, I know of no spot of the same size to equal this isle of the saints.

If Iona seems to be profaned by a crowd of gaping tourists (I always crossed to the west side of the island on steamboat days), Staffa, on other grounds, no less requires solitude and leisure. The famous cave is undoubtedly the most striking, but there are other caverns well worthy of examination. The whole coast of the island indeed is full of interest, from the point of view both of scenery and of geology. It combines on a small scale the general type of the cliffs of Mull and Skye, with this advantage that, as the rocks shelve down into deep water, they can be approached quite closely. My first visit was made in a smack, which I found anchored at Bunessan, in Mull, and from which I got a boat and a couple of men, who pulled me slowly round the whole of the shore, stopping at every point which interested either myself or my crew. My eyes were intent on the forms and structure of the cliffs ; theirs were directed to the ledges where they saw any young cormorants crowded. They scrambled up the slippery faces of rock, and seizing the birds, which were not yet able to fly, pitched them into the bottom of the boat. These captures, however, were not made without some loss of blood to the huntsmen, for the birds, though they had not gained the use of their wings, knew how to wield their beaks with good effect. I was told that young cormorants make excellent hare-soup, and for this use the men took them. A less legitimate cause of stoppage was found in the desire to pull up the lobster creels, of which we saw the corks floating on the surface of the water. Several pots were examined, and I am sorry to say that, in spite of a mild protest on my part against this act of piracy on the open sea, some of the best of their contents were abstracted. The boatmen could not understand why I should decline to share in the spoil. Two or three years ago I landed on Staffa with the captain and officers and a few of the crew of the Admiralty surveying vessel, ‘Research.’ Some forty years had intervened between the two landings. I found the place to be no longer in its primitive state of wild nature. Ropes and railings and steps had been placed for the comfort and convenience of the summer crowd—a laudable object, no doubt, but I prefer to remember these cliffs when they showed no trace of the presence of the nineteenth century tourist.

From the west side of Skye the chain of the Outer Hebrides can be seen in one long line of blue hills rising out of the sea at a distance of some five and twenty miles. The outlines of these hills had long been familiar to me before I had an opportunity of actually visiting them. In later years, thanks to the hospitality of my friend Mr. Henry Evans, of Ascog, I have made many delightful cruises among them in his steam yacht ‘Aster,’ of 250 tons, and have been enabled to sail round the moist marge of each cold Hebrid isle.

One of his favourite anchorages has been Loch Roag, on the west side of Lewis, where the typical scenery of these islands is well displayed—a hummocky surface of rounded rocky knolls, separated by innumerable lakelets and boggy or peaty hollows, or green crofter-holdings, the land projecting seawards in many little promontories, and the sea sprinkled with islets. On one of the cruises, we landed and examined with some care the famous stones of Callernish—the most numerous group of standing stones in the British Islands. Seen from the sea on a grey misty day, they look like a company of stoled carlines met in council. On a near view, they are found to be disposed in the figure of a cross and circle, the longer limb of the cross being directed about ten degrees east of north. The monoliths consist of between 40 and 50 slabs of flaggy gneiss, the largest being 17 to 18 feet in height. It was interesting to observe that after the purpose for which they were erected had perhaps been forgotten, boggy vegetation began to spread over the ground and form a layer of peat, which, in the course of centuries, increased to a depth of six feet or more; the lower portions of the upright monoliths were thus buried in the peat. The late proprietor had this vegetable growth removed, so as to lay bare the original surface of the ground; but the upper limit of the turbary could still be traced in the bleached aspect of that lower part of the stones which had been covered by the peat, the organic acids of the decaying vegetation having removed much of the colouring material of the gneiss. How long this accumulation of peat took to form must be matter for conjecture.

Loch Roag makes a convenient starting point for St. Kilda, to which I have several times crossed in the ‘Aster.’ From the higher eminences around this loch the top of St. Kilda may be seen in clear weather, the distance being not more than about 50 miles. But it is the open Atlantic which lies between, and the anchorage of St. Kilda is not good, there being only one available bay, from which, however, a vessel had better at once depart if the wind should shift into the south-east. On one of our visits we were fortunate in finding the weather calm and sunny, so that it was possible to pull in an open boat round the base of the cliffs. And such cliffs and crests! It is as if a part of the mountain group of Skye had been set down in mid-ocean—the same purple-black rocks as in the Cuillin Hills, split into similar clefts, and shooting up into the same type of buttresses, recesses, obelisks, and pinnacles, and in the lofty hill of Conacher, the conical forms and pale tints of the Red Hills. But it is the bird life which most fascinates a visitor. In the nesting season, the air is alive with wings and with all the varied cries of northern sea-fowl, while every ledge and cornice of the precipices has its feathered occupants. Each species keeps to its own part of the cliff. The puffins swarm in the crannies below, while higher up come the guillemots, razor-bills, and kittiwakes. The gannets breed on the smaller islets of the group. We could watch the sure-footed natives making their way along ledges which, seen from below, seemed impracticable even to goats. These men, however, from early boyhood

Along th’ Atlantic rock, undreading, climb,
And of its eggs despoil the solan’s nest.

In ascending one of the crags on the west side of St. Kilda I was fortunate enough to come, unperceived, within a few yards of some fulmars, and had a good look at these most characteristic birds of this island. They yield a strongly odoriferous musky oil, of which the natives make much use, and of which every one of them smells. In passing between the main island and Boreray, we sailed under a vast circle of those majestic birds, the gannets, wheeling and diving into the sea all around us. After swallowing their catch they bent their wings upward to rejoin the circle, and make a fresh swoop into the deep. While watching this magnificent meteorlike bird-play, we were surprised by the appearance of three whales, parents and son, which slowly made their way underneath the swarm of gannets. It seemed as if the backs of these huge animals could hardly escape being transfixed by some of the crowd of descending bills, but we could trace their leisurely and unmolested course by the columns of spray which they blew out into the air every time they came up to breathe.

One of the most curious sea-inlets in the Outer Hebrides is the passage known as the Sound of Harris—a tortuous channel between the Long Island and North Uist, strewn with islets and rocks, and giving a passage to powerful tides. The navigation of this Sound is extremely intricate, and needs good weather and daylight. On one of my cruises to St. Kilda the open sea had been rather rough, but once inside the archipelago, the water became rapidly smooth, showing only the swirl and foam of the tidal currents that sweep to and fro between the Minch and the Atlantic. At the eastern end of the Sound stands the nearly perfect ancient church of Rodil—an interesting relic of the ecclesiastical architecture which followed that of the Celtic church.

As one moves about among the Western Highlands and Isles, now so peaceful, and in many places so sparsely peopled, it is difficult to realise the conditions of life there two or three centuries ago, when the population was not only more numerous, but was subdivided into clans, often at feud with each other. Of these unhappy times many strikingly picturesque memorials remain in the castles perched on crags and knolls all along the shores. Most of these buildings were obviously meant mainly for defence, but some suggest that the chiefs who erected them sought convenient places from which to attack their neighbours, or to sally forth against passing vessels. Each of them, strongly constructed of local stone, and of lime which must often have been brought from a distance, might have seemed designed to be

A forted residence ’gainst the tooth of time And razure of oblivion.

But almost without exception they are now in ruins. The tourist who would try to picture to himself what these fortalices meant, should sail through the Sound of Mull and note the succession of them on either side, from Duart at the one end to Mingarry at the other. Dun-vegan, in Skye, the ancient stronghold of the Macleods, which still remains in good preservation and inhabited, affords an idea of the aspect of the more important of these strengths in old times. But many of them were little more than square keeps, strong enough, however, to withstand sudden assault, and even to endure a siege, as long as provisions held out.

Other memorials of ancient strife and bloodshed, less conspicuous than the castles, but even more impressive, may here and there be found, which bring the brutal realities of savagedom vividly before the eyes. Within my own recollection, Professor Macpherson, then proprietor of Eigg, gathered together the skulls and scattered bones in the cave on that island where some 200 Macdonalds, men, women, and children, were smothered alive by an invading band of Macleods, who kindled brushwood against the cave-mouth. For nearly three hundred years these ghastly relics of humanity had lain unburied where the victims fell, and might be kicked and crushed by the careless feet of any inquisitive visitor. Even now, although every care has been taken to remove them, stray vestiges of the massacre may perchance still be found on the rough dank floor of the dark cavern. From the mouldering straw and heath I picked up, many years ago, the finger-bone of a child.

The tragic fate of the Macdonalds of Eigg is a well-known event. But here and there one comes upon relics of unchronicled slaughters. The most impressive of these which I have ever met with is to be found on the west side of Jura. In a cruise round this island in the ‘ Aster ’ with Mr. Evans, we were accompanied by Miss Campbell of Jura, who, in the course of a talk about clan-battles in the Highlands, referred to the last raid that had been made on Jura, where, according to tradition, a party of Macleans Lad ^ landed and were opposed by Campbells. She added that the skeleton of one of the Macleans who was slain lies on the moor still. On my expressing some incredulity as to this last statement, she assured me that it was true, and that I might verify it with my own eyes. So the yacht was turned into a little indentation of the coast, at the head of which stood a shepherd’s cottage. We landed from the long boat, and the shepherd, recognising the party, came down to meet us. Miss Campbell asked him where the skeleton was, and he pointed to an overhanging piece of rock about a hundred yards from where we were standing. On reaching this spot, we found a few rough stones lying at the foot of the low crag. These the man, stooping down, gently removed, and below them lay the bleached bones.. We took up the skull, which was well formed and must have belonged to a full-grown man. A piece of bone about the size of half-a-crown had, evidently by the sweep of a claymore, been sliced off the top of the skull, leaving a clean, smooth cut. This wound, however, had not been considered enough, for the head had been cleft by a subsequent stroke of the weapon, and there was the gash in the bone, as sharply defined as on the day the deed was done. We gently replaced the bones, with the stones above them, and there they remain as a memorial of ‘battles long ago.’

The west side of Jura is pierced by many caves, which were worn by the sea at a remote period when the land stood somewhat lower than it does now. At the far end of one of these caves a human skull is said to lie. This grim relic has more than once been removed and buried, but always in some mysterious manner finds its way back again. Nothing appears to be known of its history, and nobody likes to say much about it. If it exists at all, its return to its cavern may be due to a superstitious feeling on the part of the natives, some one of whom secretly transfers it back to what is regarded as its rightful resting-place. These Jura caves are the scenes of certain weird legends where a black dog, a phantom hand, and a company of ghostly women perform some wonderful feats.

When I first visited the island in i860, the proprietor of Jura was a keen deerstalker, and used to live for a day or two at a time in one of these caves, when his sport took him over to that side of the island. On one occasion a party of ladies from an English yacht, then at anchor in the inlet, had landed, and in passing the mouth of the cave had noticed the laird inside, whom they took to be a hermit, retired from the vanities of this world. Pitying his forlorn condition and the necessarily scanty supply of food which he could scrape together in so wild a place, they, on their return to the yacht, very kindly made up a' basket of provisions and sent it ashore for his sustenance. Next morning, before the anchor was weighed, a boat came alongside with a gamekeeper, who had brought a haunch of venison for the owners of the yacht, with the thanks and compliments of Campbell, of Jura.

I cannot pass from the subject of these Western Isles and the adjacent part of the mainland without a reference to their indescribable charm, and an expression of my own profound indebtedness to them for many of the happiest hours of my life. To appreciate that charm one must live for a while amidst the scenery, and learn to know its infinite diversity of aspect under the changing moods of the sky. The tourist who is conveyed through this scenery in the swift steamer on a grey, rainy day, naturally inveighs against the climate, and carries away with him only a recollection of dank fog through which the blurred bases of the nearer hills could now and then be seen. Nor, even if he is favoured with the finest weather when, under a cloudless heaven, every island may stand out sharply f in the clear air, and every mountain, corrie, and glen on the mainland may be traced from the edge of the crisp blue sea up to the far crests and peaks, can he realise on such a day how different these same scenes appear when the atmospheric vapour begins to show its kaleidoscopic transformations. Having sailed along a good part of the coast of Europe, including Norway and the Aegean Sea, I am convinced, that for variety of form, the west coast of Scotland is unsurpassed on the Continent, while for manifold range and brilliance of colour it has no equal. One who has passed a long enough time amidst this scenery, more especially if he has made his home upon the water, sailing across firth and sound, threading the narrows of the kyles, and passing from island to island, can watch how the very forms of the hills seem to vary from hour to hour as the atmospheric conditions change. Features that were unobserved in the full blaze of sunlight come out one by one, pencilled into prominence by the radiant glow of their colour, as the cloud-shadows fall behind them. In the early morning, when the sun climbs above the Inverness-shire and Argyleshire mountains and the mists ascend in white wreaths from the valleys, there is presented to the eye a vast and varied panorama, comprising the highest and most broken ground in the British Isles, rising straight out of the Atlantic. In the evening, when the sun sets behind the islands, and the hills, transfigured by the mingled magic of sunlight, vapour, rain and cloud, glow with such luminous hues as almost to be lost in the glories of the heaven, one feels that surely ‘ earth has not anything to show more fair.’

Wandering through these scenes, one’s mind comes to be filled with a succession of vivid pictures printed so indelibly on the memory that, even after long years,

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude.

Among these mental impressions some stand out with especial prominence in my own memory. Such is a sunset seen from the top of the lighthouse on Cape Wrath when, above the far ocean-horizon, there rose a mass of cloud, piled up into the semblance of mountains and valleys, with sleeping lakes and bosky woods, castle-crowned crags and one fair city with its streets and stately buildings, its steeples and spires. The late Professor Renard of Ghent, had accompanied me to that far north-western headland, and we amused ourselves naming the various parts of the topography of this gorgeous aerial Atlantis. Another memorable sunset was seen from the Observatory on the top of Ben Nevis, when' the chain of the Outer Hebrides, at a distance of a hundred miles, stretched like a strip of sapphire against a pale golden sky. Next morning a white mist spread all over the lower hills like a wide sea, with the higher peaks rising like islets above its level surface. Through all these memories of landscape there runs, as a tender undertone, the recollection of the human interest of the scenes. One’s mind recalls the fading relics of ancient paganism, the devoted labours of the Celtic saints who first brought the rudiments of civilisation to these shores, the coming of the vikings from the northern seas, the feuds and massacres of the clans. The landscapes seem to be vocal with the pathos of Celtic legend and song, and with the romance of later literature,

In each low wind methinks a spirit calls,
And more than echoes talk along the walls.

The demureness of the Scottish Highlander appears to have been in large measure developed during last century, and especially since the Disruption of the National Church and the domination of the Free Kirk. At the time of the Reformation and for many generations afterwards, he was wont on Sunday to play games—throwing the stone, tossing the caber, shinty, foot-races, horse-races, together with music and dance. It was formerly usual for him to be able to play on some musical instrument; in older times on the harp and in later days on the pipes, the fiddle, or at least the Jew’s harp. Writing in 1773 Mrs. Grant of Laggan averred that in the Great Glen ‘ there is a musician in every house, and a poet in every hamlet.’ In 1811 she could still say, ‘there are few houses in the Highlands where there is not a violin.’1 Where-ever there was a good story-teller, or one who could recite the old poems, songs, tales, legends, and histories of former times, the neighbours would gather round him in the evenings and listen for hours to his narratives. These customs continued in practice until the early part of last century, and some of them still sparingly survive among the Catholic islands of the Hebrides. But the Presbyterian clergy in later times have waged ceaseless war against them. ‘ The good ministers and the good elders preached against them and went among the people and besought them to forsake their follies and to return to wisdom. They made the people break and burn their pipes and fiddles. If there was a foolish man here and there who demurred, the good ministers and the good elders themselves broke and burnt their instruments, saying

Better is the small fire that warms on the little day of peace
Than the big fire that burns on the great day of wrath.

The people have forsaken their follies and their Sabbath-breaking, and there is no pipe and no fiddle here now.’

The same sympathetic observer from whose pages these words are taken has given the following illustrative example of the clerical methods: ‘ A famous violin-player died in the island of Eigg a few years ago. He was known for his old-style playing and his old-world airs, which died with him. A preacher denounced him, saying, “Thou art down there behind the door, thou miserable man with thy grey hair, playing thine old fiddle, with the cold hand without, and the devil’s fire within.” His family pressed the man to burn his fiddle and never to play again. A pedlar came round and offered ten shillings for the violin. The instrument had been made by a pupil of Stradivarius, and was famed for its tone. “It was not at all the thing that was got for it,” said the old man, “that grieved my heart so sorely, but the parting with it! the parting with it! and that I myself gave the best cow in my father’s fold for it when I was young.” The voice of the old man faltered, and the tear fell. He was never seen to smile again.’ Taught to think their ancient tales foolish and their music and dancing sinful, the people have gradually lost much of the gaiety which with other branches of the Celtic race they once possessed.

One who was familiar with the Highlands in the middle of last century will be struck with the further decay or disappearance of various customs which even-then were evidently fading out of use. Of these vanished characteristics, one of the most distinctive, whose loss is most regrettable, was the practice, once universal, of singing Gaelic songs during operations that required a number of men or women, working together, to keep time in their movements. This picturesque usage appears to have died out on the mainland, though it still survives among the Catholic islands of the Outer Hebrides. There were many such songs, each having a marked rhythm, to which it was easy to adjust the motions of the limbs. I have already referred to the boat-songs that kept the rowers in time. Besides these, there were songs for reaping and other labour in the field. Indoors, too, each kind of work, wherein two or more persons had to move in unison, had its music. Thus when two women grind corn with the quern or handmill, as they still do in some of the Outer Isles, they move to the rhythm of a monotonous chant. When they thicken (wauk) homespun cloth, they keep themselves in time by singing—a practice which may also still be heard among the Catholic parts of the Hebrides. I have only once seen the quern in use, but when I first visited Skye, the songs still continued to be sung, though not as accompaniments to concerted movement. In some of the Outer Hebrides milking-songs are still in use, and the cows are said to be so fond of them that in places they will not give their milk without them, nor occasionally without their favourite airs being sung to them.1 There are likewise herding-songs sung when the flocks are sent out to the pasture, which, unlike most of the Gaelic music, are joyous ditties appropriate to what was once, over all the Highlands, one of the happiest times of the year.

A notable change among the cottages and houses in the Highlands during the last fifty years is to be seen in the disappearance of some of the old forms of illumination, consequent on the introduction of mineral oil. Candles of course remain, but in former days a common source of light was obtained from the trunks of pine-trees dug out of the peat mosses. The wood of these trunks, being highly resinous, burnt with a bright though smoky flame. Split into long rods it made good torches, or if broken up into laths and splinters, it furnished a ready light when kindled among the embers of a peat-fire. If a bright light was wanted, the piece of wood was held upright with the lighted end at the bottom, when the flame rapidly spread upward. If, on the other hand, it was desired to make a less vivid light last as long as possible, the position of the wood was reversed. Metal stands were made to hold these pine-splinters, the simplest form consisting merely of a slim upright rod of iron fastened below into a block of stone, and furnished with a movable arm which slid up and down, and was furnished at the end with a clip that would hold the wood at any angle desired. In Morayshire, these stands were known as * puir men.’ A few years ago, Mr. James Linn, of the Geological Survey, secured from the farms and cots of that district an interesting collection of these objects which had been thrown aside and neglected, after they were superseded by cheap oil-lamps. This collection has since found a place in the Museum of National Antiquities at Edinburgh.

Another old Highland characteristic which has been constantly waning since 1745 has had its rate of diminution greatly accelerated since railways and steamboats were multiplied,—the localisation of clansmen in their own original territories. It is true that the clan name may still be found predominant there. In Strathspey, for instance, most families in the Grantown district are Grants; Mackays prevaiLin the Rae country, Campbells in Argyleshire, Mackinnons in Strath, and Macleods in the north of Skye. But in all these old clan districts there is a yearly increasing intermixture of other Highland names, together with many from the lowlands.

The application of the clan name Macintosh to a waterproof, has sometimes given rise to odd mistakes, real or invented, as where an Englishman, who had got out at one of the stations on the Callander and Oban railway, is reported to have come back to the carriage from which he had descended, and into which four or five stalwart natives had meanwhile mounted, whom he asked, ‘Did you see a black Macintosh here?’ ‘Na,’ was the answer, ‘we’re a’ red Macgregors.’

But unquestionably the most momentous of all the changes which have come upon the people of the Highlands is the gradual, but inevitable dwindling of their native spoken language. Ever since the barriers against the free intercourse of Celt and Saxon were broken down, Gaelic has been undergoing a slow process of corruption, more especially in those districts where that intercourse is most active. English words, phrases, and idioms are gradually supplanting their Gaelic equivalents,' until the spoken tongue has become in some districts a mongrel compound of the two languages. One may still meet with natives who know, or at least say that they know, no English. ‘Cha ’n-eil Beurla acom, I have no English,’ is sometimes a convenient cover for escaping from troublesome questions. But, unless among the more remote parishes and outer islands, the younger generation can generally speak English, at least sufficiently well for cursory conversation.

It is much to be regretted that the Sassenach hardly ever takes the trouble to learn' even a smattering of Gaelic. Apart from the pleasure and usefulness of obtaining a firmer hold on the good will of the natives, some little knowledge of the language provides the traveller with an endless source of interest in the meaning and origin of the place-names of the Highlands, which are eminently descriptive, and often point to conditions of landscape, of human occupation, of vegetation and of animal life very different from those that appear to-day. The old Gaels were singularly felicitous and poetical, as well as wonderfully profuse, in their application of topographical names. In my early wanderings over Skye, I used to be astonished to find that every little hummock and hollow had a recognised name, not to be found on any map, yet well known to the inhabitants, who by means of these names could indicate precisely the route to be followed across a trackless moorland or a rough mountain range. Even if no attempt may be made to speak the language, enough acquaintance with it may easily be acquired for the purpose of interpreting a large number of place-names. The same descriptive term will be found continually recurring, with endless varying suffixes and affixes of local significance.

To speak Gaelic, however, without making slips in the pronunciation is difficult. Some of the sounds are hard for Saxon tongues to accomplish, and unless they are accurately given, the uneducated peasant has often too little imagination to divine the word that is intended. Thus, a lady whom I knew on the west side of Cantyre, told me that when she first came to live there, being a stranger to Highland manners and customs, she was desirous at every turn, to increase her knowledge of them. One day she asked her cook, a thorough Highlander, ‘Kate, what is a philabeg?’ ‘A what, mam!’ ‘A philabeg; I know it’s a part of a man’s Highland dress.’ ‘Och, mam, I wass never hearin’ of it at all.’ Some time afterwards, having meanwhile ascertained what the word signifies, she happened to come into the kitchen when a Highlander in full costume was standing there. ‘Oh Kate, I asked you not long ago to tell me what is a phila-beg, and you said you had never heard of it. There’s a philabeg,’ said she, pointing to the man’s kilt. ‘That, mam! of course, I know that very well, I’m sure. If you’ll said pheelabeg, I would be knowin’ at once what you wass askin’ about. I’ve knew what is a pheelabeg ever since I wass born.’

It seems hardly possible for a lowlander, unless he begins early in life and has abundant practice, to lose all ‘ taste of the English ’ in his Gaelic talk. Thus a pre-Disruption minister with whom I was well acquainted in Argyleshire, and who was not a native Celt, but had learnt Gaelic in his youth, made mistakes in the language up to the end of his long life. One of his co-presbyters so highly appreciated humour that some of the stories he told of my old friend were suspected to be more or less touched up by the narrator. And many were the stories thus circulated through the Synod of Argyle. One of them, I remember, referred to a Gaelic sermon of the minister’s in which he meant to tell his hearers that they were all peacach caillte, that is, lost sinners; but as pronounced by him the words sounded like fucach saillte, which means ‘ salted cuddies ’ or coal-fish. On another occasion, being in a hurry to start from a distant inn, he called the waiting-maid, wishing to desire her to have the saddle put to his horse. The Gaelic word for a saddle is Diollaidich, and he got the first half of it only, which makes a word with a very different meaning, so that what he did say was, ‘ put the devil (diabhol) on the horse.’ Professor Blackie, who threw himself with all the ardour of his enthusiastic nature into the study of Gaelic, laid the Highlands and all Highlanders under a debt of gratitude to him for his untiring labours on their behalf. He gained an accurate grammatical knowledge of the language, and a considerable acquaintance with its literature, but he never properly acquired the pronunciation. During a visit I once paid to him at his picturesque home on the hillside near Oban, we crossed over to Kerrera. After rambling along the western and southern shores of that island, the Professor said he would like to call on a formers wife who wras a friend of his. Accordingly we made our way to the house, where he saluted her in Gaelic, The conversation proceeded for a little while in that tongue, but at last the good lady exclaimed, ‘Oh, Professor, if you would speak English I would understand you.’ In my early rambles over Skye, I found that ‘ a little Gaelic is a dangerous thing.’ I had sufficient acquaintance with the language to be able to ask my way, but had made no attempt to ‘ drink deep ’ at the Celtic spring. On one occasion when passing a night in a crofter’s cottage, I could make out that the conversation which the inmates were carrying on, related to myself and my doings. In a thoughtless moment I made a remark in Gaelic. It had no reference to the subject of their talk, but it had the effect of putting an end to that talk, and of turning a battery of Gaelic questions on me. In vain I protested that I had no Gaelic. This they good humouredly refused to believe, repeating again and again, ‘Cha Gaelig gu leor, you have Gaelic enough, but you don’t like to speak it.’


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