Sunday, 26 January 2014
After growing up in Dalmore, Neil and Donald thought they knew everything about the Island's West Side, and when they sallied forth in search of excitement , they knew that they were merely repeating ad nauseum the same entertainments, as pleasurable as some were. They could not alter circumstances surrounding their father's wealth and position and this kept them somewhat apart from the youth of the district whom they genuinely embraced. They often felt that when they got all dressed up, there was nowhere to go. Their thoughts turned to the town of Stornoway ( the only town on the island), which the lads had visited on occasions, but where they had rarely stayed overnight. They were acquainted with certain people of their own age in the town, and had been introduced to their parents. Neil and Donald had received much of their education there, often with the same tutors as the town's youth. They were aware of the social milieu which existed among the town's professional and trades people. It would be among such people that the Dalmore lads must imbed themselves. Stornoway was a busy little town of no more than a couple of thousand souls. A lot of industry centred around its quays and piers, as fishing and fish curing were by far the town's main activity. Catches of herring and ling were abundant, and a large part of that was exported to Russia and the Baltic ports as pickled or salted fish. This trade had made some Stornoway citizens rich on the proceeds, and it was noticeable that not all of them were Lewis born. People followed the shoals, and it was not unusual to hear fishermen and coopers speak in a 'foreign tongue', the slow lilt of the Skye man, the sing-song cadences of the Buckie lads or the strange accent of an Orcadian . The lingua franca of trade in the town was English, or some approximation thereto. Gaelic was still spoken in the streets,the shops and the taverns or anywhere Lewis folk would meet. Their old school friend, Seamus Macdonald, whose people owned the Manor Park Farm, arranged for the Dalmore lads to rent a small cottage near the farm with stabling provided for their horses. Neil and Donald were young farmers, if in name only. Now that they were 'townies', agricultural matters could be dismissed from their mind. They were here to sample the delights of Stornoway, and would not be hurried in their pursuit. The town of Stornoway, originally a small port, had spread as a series of parallel roads and streets where you could find churches, small shops and a fair number of tighean osda ( hotel or pub ). The lads were caught up in the excitement of townlife - new faces, new sights and some pretty strong smells. The sound of boats disgorging their catches,the raucous call of seagulls as they fought over fish spillage were in themselves sounds new to the boys from Dalmore. The fish curing bays, and a couple of kippering sheds were responsible for a very powerful odour in the port area. There were genteel gatherings organised by the matrons of Stornoway to which Neil and Donald would be invited, intimate buffet dances and song recitals all of which seemed to fall under the collective name 'soiree'. Out of politeness, and in order to seek some introductions, preferably with the young ladies, the lads attended some of the soirees to which they had been invited. However they did receive a strange and different invitation, and in the strangest of places. A very gauche approach was made to the lads in the piss house of a tavern on Bayhead. A very drunk man asked them if they believed in God, and, after looking quite bemused, the lads left the man to his drunken rant. They discovered later that they had escaped a life of Freemasonry. The lads had secrets of their own and had no wish to to be embroiled in the secrets of others. Was this drunk the best ambassador for the Masonic cause or was he the only man available that evening ? But perhaps it takes a lot of whisky to utter the name of God in the piss house of a tavern. Neil and Donald were not much taken by the events organised by the Stornoway matrons. It was hard to see these events as anything other than an attempt to find husbands for their daughters, in a town of few young gentlemen. There were a few families in Stornoway who looked on themselves as gentry, but in reality most were nouveau riche on the back of the herring. Donald and Neil would seek out soirees of a different kind, in venues unknown to the good men of this town.