Sunday, 5 January 2014

A Small Pond.

Margaret Murray, the matriarch of the family, was raised in a home of strict Presbyterian values, and she never faltered in living her life by these principles, even after twenty five years of marriage to Murdo Macleod, who was not remotely religious, like most of the people in Dalmore and Dalbeg. Even one hundred years into the future, when great tides of religious revival were sweeping the whole of Lewis, it seems that they always bypassed the villages, so much so that they were the only villages on the island where no prayer meetings were held. This was a serious business in the eyes of the great revivalists such as the Reverend Alexander Macleod, who referred openly to Dalmore and Dalbeg as "fithich nan Dailean" (Gaelic 'ravens of the Dales'). So what, one might ask, persuaded Margaret Murray to remain in the Dales and dine with the ravens. The boys, Neil and Donald, were always referred to as "Balaich Mhurchadh" ( Murdo's Boys )and frankly they were supernumerary on the farm, but for entertainment value, they could not be bettered. The stories of their exploits in other villages, and especially in the Big Town of Stornoway, had the other village lads ( and a few lasses ) in tears of laughter. They could spin a good yarn, but were careful to be the models of decorum around their mother. In truth, their mother often wondered why her "balaich" were often the cause of great hilarity. Handsome and rich, Balaich Dhalamor were looked upon as 'good catches' by young girls and their mothers. But Neil and Donald had no intentions of being caught, and in that matter they were very careful in the company of young damsels, especially in their bed. There was a custom in the Hebrides at that time and since, called "ruith nan oidhche" (Gaelic literally 'running the night'),a form of courtship in which the partners lie in bed together with their clothes on. Elsewhere, this custom was called "bundling". In some cases, the couples were not necessarily "a suirghe" (Gael.'courting'), and often pieces of apparel were removed in the friendly tustle. In most cases the young man would be known to the parents as a future son-in-law, but sometimes this tryst would have been arranged by a young couple without the knowledge of her parents. To make it into the maiden's bed required a subtle approach and all the arts of the cat burglar. Tall horsemen in long capes and tricorn hats were not common on this windswept isle, and Neil and Donald had to use all their guile to flee a taigh dubh (thatched house)in all states of dishabille. There were discarded tricorns to be found in peat bogs up and down the west coast. The Dalmore Lads, "Balaich Mhurchadh", would have to find a bigger pond to fish in. Distance, opportunity and anonymity were all to be found in Stornoway. Very few people from the west side had reason to go to town. Donald and Neil would blend in with the variety of people that inhabit this bustling fishing port, at least at weekends.

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