TO-DAY is New-Year’s Day,
the first of January, 1 1904. In my young days, the Twelfth, a date now
all but forgotten, was the day, and a great day too! The whole village,
dressed in its Sunday best, turned out early to football and shinty.
There were no
restrictions in numbers or in age: old and young met on the same field,
and all were made welcome. Twenty! Fifty! One hundred a side ! And the
more the merrier.
How well I remember the
My heart still beats
faster at the thoughts conjured up by them.
We are told somewhere
that “A thousand years is to the Lord as one day;” and what is the
longest of lifetimes when looked back upon, to man made in His image—to
man the Godlike?
It is but as yesterday.
The memory of events that
happened on a certain New Year’s Day some forty years ago, rises up
before me while I write, clear and distinct as crag and scaur on summer
hill before rain.
My dearest school friend
and myself—we were as David and Jonathan in the closeness of our
friendship !—were to take part in the game of football for the first
time. How proud we felt, as we marched alongside of our seniors to the
bank field, which was granted free for the occasion by Campbell of
Auchindarroch,—the Pipers leading the way to the tune of “Bhanais, a
bhanais, a bhanais a Raora.” .
There was a cool crisp
feeling in the air that intoxicated, and many an iron-shod boot struck
out anvil-notes from the hard ground as we made our way to the scene of
action, making music in hearts already brimming over with the joy of
Every sound had a special
significance to us on that morning of mornings, and seemed laden with a
message of “Peace and goodwill to man.”
The twittering of the
sparrows under the eaves of the house; the chirp of the robin in the
holly bush hard by; the whimpering of the sea-birds on the icebound
shore,—I seem to hear them still.
From the frozen river
below, where some children were sliding, and one solitary skater, too
“delicate” to take part in the great game, was wheeling about in
graceful curves, the song of the ice floated up on the calm morning air,
a delight to the ear.
While we waited for the
settling of the all-important preliminaries, such as the choosing of
captains and sides and the fixing of goals, the suspense was delicious,
and it was with a thrill of excitement that we heard our own names at
And now—having won the
toss—as our captain, a tall, strapping young fisherman, in huge jack
boots, stepped proudly out and in front of the field kicked off the
ball, a mighty shout went up from a hundred throats strained to cracking
point, that rent the air in twain, and hurtled north, disturbing the
rooks as they sat warming their toes in the Bishopton trees, and sped
west, past the canal and Auchindarroch House to the dark Tomb Wood,
where the jackdaws, cowering among the ivy on the ruined walls, heard it
and wondered ; and swept south over the frozen waters of Lochgilp,
crackling through the solitary street which formed the fishing village
of Ardrishaig like a salvo of artillery, and bringing the old women to
These latter, with many a
wise shake of the head and sapient nod, breathed forth in one breath a
hope and a prophecy. “Sure it’s the boys at the ba’,” said the one to
the other. “I hope there’ll no be bloodshed before they’re done.”
It was not a very
venturesome prophecy this to make ; not a very bold suggestion on the
part of the old wives of Ardrishaig, who spoke from an intimate
knowledge of their mankind and his behaviour in the past; for wherever
men from different townships were gathered together in those days,
whether at games or sports, at fairs or markets, at weddings or
funerals, the most trivial discussion, once started, generally ended in
a free fight.
But on this particular
day of which I write the sun shone out of a clear sky all morning,
flooding the land and the hearts of the players with brightness and
gladness, and leaving no dark corner anywhere for fierce or angry
thoughts to breed in.
Two Instruments allied to
Oil the left is the Chinese Cheng, a wind
instrument as old as the days of Confucius. On the right is the Indian
snake-charmer’s pipe. The wind bag in both these instances is
represented by a hollowed-out gourd.
The only accident indeed
that happened during the forenoon, and a pretty frequent one too, was
the bursting of the bladder with which the old-fashioned football was
blown up. When this occurred, came our opportunity.
At the game itself we
boys were not of much use. Playing on the outskirts of the crowd, for
safety’s sake, we occasionally got the chance of picking up the ball and
of running off with it; but how could we run far, with a huge Jack in
seven-league boots close on our tracks, and rapidly overtaking us with
Now, however, when it
came to the buying of a bladder we could be useful. We knew right well
the difference between the three kinds which generally adorned the
flesher’s shop, as they hung in rows from strong iron hooks fixed into
the wooden rafters overhead. It would take a very clever man to palm off
upon us—young and all as we were—the inferior sheep’s or cow’s for the
more substantial pig’s. Threepence, fourpence, and fivepence were the
usual prices, but on New Year’s Day the demand was great and prices
ruled high, the unconscionable butcher making extortionate demands—even
to the extent of eightpence or ninepence—from the players, who were of
course in his power, the demand being greater than the supply.
On this occasion I was
one of the two who were chosen for the special mission of
bladder-buying, and it was with a feeling- of great importance that we
ran down the crowded field in view of all on our way to the village
square, where stood the butcher’s shop.
“Be sure you bring a
pig’s,” cried one greybeard; “Get it as cheap as you can,” said another;
while a score of voices sped us on our way with the shout of “Hurry
back; hurry back.”
And hurry back we did, I
can assure you, breathless and panting, but full of pride and joy at
having knocked a whole penny off the butcher’s price. To-day the
smallest boy or girl scoffs at so insignificant a sum as a penny, and
holidays are of weekly occurrence. In those days a penny was a penny,
and the Queen’s Birthday and Old New Year were the only holidays in the
At noon a much-needed
halt was called, when a few of the players went home for dinner, but the
majority remained on the field, and partook of a modest meal of bread
and cheese and whisky galore—“lashins and lavins in whisky”—which had
been provided for by a subscription raised earlier in the day from the
players on the ground.
After a short rest,
during which the “sneeshan mull” was handed round freely, and quiet
jokes recounted by the elders, while the young men indulged in the game
of brag, the game was once more started, but with renewed vigour, each
side, with an equal number of goals to its credit at the interval,
determined to win.
From the very outset the
game was seen to be rougher, and tempers were curbed with difficulty, so
that over and over again the forebodings of the old wives of Ardrishaig
all but came true. At length the word was spoken, with the insult in it
that nothing but blood would wipe out. A challenge was given and
accepted, umpires were appointed, and while the combatants stripped for
the fray, the players, glad of the rest, seated themselves round in a
circle on the grass to watch the fight and discuss probabilities.
I have said that the
football of those days was not so scientific as is the modern game;
there was not at least so much head play in it, but boxing, while not
perhaps quite like the modern science either, was on a much higher level
Every boy at school had
learned to use his fists, and I need hardly add that gloves were
unknown, and that the fight was generally a fight to the finish.
Now, with stout hearts
behind strong arms, and clothed in the “quarrel just,” I have seen many
a contest in the old days, that for pluck and endurance, and the courage
that can take a “licking like a man,” would take a great deal of beating
One fight which I saw
between little Ian Fraser and big Neil M‘Geoghan lives fresh in my
memory yet. It was “a great effort entirely” for Fraser to beat the
bully M‘Geoghan, who was a giant compared to him, and had a tremendous
reach of arm, and was looked upon as the most scientific boxer in the
district. The battle of the gods, when Pelion was heaped upon Ossa, was
not a more glorious encounter than this, and if I had the pen of an Ovid
I might try and describe here, although it is in nowise connected with
the Bagpipe, a fight that was the talk of the village for many a long
day after. But if Neil is still alive I would fain be the last to open
up old sores; besides, his broken nose speaks more eloquently of that
rude encounter than any pen of mine can ; and if he is dead, which I
very much suspect, then peace be to his ashes.
Three different fights on
that afternoon formed pleasant interludes in a game that might otherwise
And when descending
darkness brought play to a close, the opposing sides, now that the
contest was over, marched back to the village, more friends than ever,
with the pipers leading the way.
The evening was spent in
merry-making, in strathspey and reel dancing, interspersed with riddle
guessing, and the singing of old Gaelic songs, and in this way in olden
times the New Year was well begun.