Saturday, 22 February 2014

Air Tir Mor ( On the Mainland )

Neil and Donald were now eager to get to the mainland, but with two large horses accompanying them, this posed a real problem, which they had to address. They walked the length of the inner harbour, and examined the piers and quays of South Beach and North Beach to see if there was a vessel which might serve their purpose. The sgoth (Nordic skiff) and the regular fishing boats were incapable of transporting two horses across the Minch. They would require a large cargo boat, and at that time there were none in Stornoway harbour. Later, as they stood on the pier at the head of South Beach, they were amazed to see this large three masted barque preparing to tie up along side the pier. This was a substantial cargo vessel called the Wild Rose, which could easily ship two horses to the mainland, assuming the captain was in agreement. This vessel carried general cargo along the length of the British west coast. The lads sought out the captain, a Mr. Cardew, and intimated that they might have business for him, which would pay well. They invited him to dinner at Mrs.Sinclair's and later to the Anchorage for some whisky and claret. They hoped that the captain would be sympathetic to their business proposal as outlined by Donald. " Captain Pardew, we must get ourselves and our two bay horses to the mainland as soon as possible, and your ship is the only one in harbour which is capable of that. If you agree, you will be well rewarded for your trouble." The captain answered the lads as follows. " With the general cargo I am contracted to carry, I fear that it would be difficult, if not nigh impossible, to transport these large horses across the Minch". " Captain, what if we contracted you to carry us and our horses to the mainland, and then you could return to Stornoway to deal with your normal cargo obligations. It would take only one, perhaps two days and we would ensure that you were well rewarded," said Neil. The thought of all these gold sovereigns was to Cardew like a strong wind in the billowing sails. Their contract was by word of mouth, but a little purse of gold sealed the bargain, the rest to follow at journey's end. " I'll give it some thought, boys, but in any case you have your horses here on Pier No.2 at 7am tomorrow when we have the next high tide", said Captain Cardew. The next morning the lads turned up as instructed with their horses and baggage to see the gunwhales of the Wild Rose up against the top of the pier. The high tide must have raised the barque a good ten feet. Cardew next asked Neil and Donald to follow him over to where lay a large gangway with high sides, obviously used to load cattle and sheep. With the gangway straddling the side of the Wild Rose, it was easy for the boys to lead their horses on board. The captain suggested that for their time on the ship, the horses be tethered midships, accompanied by their riders lying on a bale of fresh hay (dual purpose hay !). They had asked the captain to steer a course for the port of Gairloch, if weather and tides permitted. Fortunately it was a calm crossing and before long they were approaching the small pier at the Gairloch, very slowly and very carefully. When they came to rest, the horses began to whinney gently, as if it were a prayer of safe deliverance. The horses and the Dalmore boys came safely ashore at the Gairloch, and it was good to reach terra firma here on the Scottish mainland. The boys expressed their gratitude to Captain Cardew and his crew and a purse of sovereigns handed over as agreed. The horses were watered and allowed to eat the green grass at a nearby meadow. At last the boys mounted their fine chestnut bays and trotted off in the direction of Inverness, where they hoped their great adventure would begin. It was the 2nd of August, 1745.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

In The Footsteps Of Prince Charlie.

The lads were happy to be home in Dalmore again. They had bought presents for all their family, nothing special, but where possible things you could get only in town and certainly not on the West Side. Their father never really expected a present from anyone, but he was happy to accept from his sons a few ounces of tobacco and a large flask of French brandy ( makes a nice change to whisky ). For their mother, they had purchased a perfume, a tincture of rose oil dissolved in cologne. It was Margaret, madame in the House of Joy, who had acquired the perfume for the boys. Their mother was delighted with the perfume, and decided to wear a small dab on her wrist when she went to the prayer meeting in Shawbost. Even Calvin would not have objected to this tiny vanity. Donald and Neil took a walk down to the beach at Dalmore, where as children they had passed many happy times. As they sat on the golden sand, their conversation inevitably turned on the news that Charles Stuart, claimant to three crowns, had landed in Scotland. "Frankly, it beggars belief, said Neil. "If he can rally the Highland clans and the Jacobite sympathisers, which we are told are many and far flung, then God help us. The future will be uncertain and war is possible." The British government had spies in France keeping a close eye on Charles, and recently they were reporting that he was preparing to sail for Scotland. " Like me," said Donald, "you must realise that this heralds life changing times. I propose that we travel to the mainland to see first hand what is happening there, purely as observers, of course." "Observers ? How in hell do we manage that?" exclaimed Neil," Stick a large sign to the rump of our horses?" "No, Neil, but that's not such a bad idea! We should try to obtain papers of accreditation signed by a lawyer or minister of the cloth stating our neutrality in this affair, only reporting on what we see, in an honest and unbiased manner. Well, we are notionally Protestant but not adherents to any church in Lewis. I hope that this will not work against us, in our dealings with the Prince and his followers, all of whom are of the Catholic persuasion." " We will need to establish our credentials very early on," said Neil," assuring everyone we talk to, that what they say will be reported verbatim and sensitively. However, any secret information gained during interview will be treated as such, a secret, and not revealed in our despatches." Of course, doing otherwise would end their career in journalism, if not their young lives. They would need to speak to their father about their plans, and hopefully he would agree to finance them, until they "found their feet", a strange metaphor for two horsemen to choose. Their father was no Jacobite, and wondered at his sons' interest in this affair, They had shown no interest in affairs of state or anything of a serious nature, and concluded that they were hungry for adventure. This might be the making of them, he hoped. It was time that they made their way in the world, but for the time being he would help to "launch their boat." Their mother was told that her sons had a notion to travel widely on the mainland, to explore worthwhile opportunities in business or commerce. This was as near the truth as their mother could bear. In the next few days, Neil and Donald made preparations for leaving. They had received their letters of accreditation and credit notes from their father's banker, both of which would be useful in pursuing their grear adventure. They bade farewell to their family in Dalmore, and headed out the Mullach Mor without looking back.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Gathering Storm.

The Dalmore lads rode out to the Braighe to clear their heads, bringing their fine horses to a slow canter through the small waves. They discussed the events of last night in the Anchor, saying how amiable were the two men from Inverness. "The Eagle Has Landed," shouted Neil, with more than a hint of irony. "What in the hell was that man on about? Donald shook his head and answered " I don't think anyone in that howff knew or cared what he said. No one pays attention to what a drunk man says, except perhaps another drunk, and he will remember nothing next morning." Neil still wondered about the very words that man used, and the number of times he uttered the same words," The Eagle Has Landed." Two days later a company of marines and government soldiers were landed on South Beach from a ship in the harbour. 'Redcoats' in distant Lewis made the townsfolk very uneasy as peace reigned in Lewis and trade was now flourishing. Cromwell's troops were in Stornoway in 1653 to settle some local issues and to strengthen defences there during the Dutch Wars. In any case the present proprietor of Lewis was Lord Seaforth, Chief of Clan Mackenzie, a supporter of the House of Hanover, and with good reason, it was said. So, what were government troops now doing in town ? The officer in charge of the soldiers was meeting with Seaforth and the bailies of Stornoway. The townspeople were naturally anxious about this situation, and were desparate to discover what lay behind the military's presence, albeit small. Later that evening it was announced on 'a need to know' basis, that the son of the titular King James VIII of Scotland and III of England had landed somewhere in the Southern Hebrides with a handful of followers. He had been transported to Scotland on a French frigate, which had been engaged by a British man-of-war shortly after leaving France. No doubt the word was out, and this French frigate would have been shadowed all the way to the Scottish islands. At that juncture they were not to know that on board that frigate was the 25 year old Charles Edward Louis Casimir Silvester Maria Stuart who was intent on claiming back for his father the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland, which the Jacobites (Latin Jacobus=James) claimed had been usurped be the House of Hanover. Charles Edward Stuart was referred to as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" or "The Young Pretender", depending on where your loyaties lay. Neil and Donald were as amazed as others that a Stuart had come to these shores to reclaim the three crowns of the kingdom of Britain. Neil said that the people of Lewis would have no truck with Charles Stuart,they being fiercly Protestant and also supporters of the government in England, so long as they did not interfere in the prosperity which came with these settled political times. Donald was in thought " Neil, the drunk man in the inn ? When, he kept repeating the phrase "The Eagle Has Landed", do you think he was sharing a dark secret, alluding to the arrival of a Stuart Prince in the land of his royal forebears, after more than half a century?" "You may be right in your conjecture about the Eagle and Prince Charles," said Donald, " but who was the man in the Anchor,and how was he appraised of such dangerous infomation?" It was said that as Charlie stood on the deck of the French frigate at anchor off Eriskay, a companion excitedly pointed to a golden eagle circling above the ship, an omen for sure, said he, that Prince Charles' enterprise would be successful. "The Eagle Has Landed." Strange, makes you wonder about the Second Sight. The militia on the island was put on alert, and drilling and musket practice were taken very seriously indeed. Neil and Donald decided to return home to see their parents in Dalmore, as they felt they had important matters to share with them. They would also be able to gauge the feelings of the country folk at the arrival of Young Charles Stuart, not so many miles away in the Southern Hebrides. It left people feeling uneasy, as they could sense the approach of a gathering storm.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Eagle Has Landed.

Donald and Neil had enjoyed their night at Taigh a' Gaireachas (House of Joy), but fearful of their reputation throughout the island, and especially back home in Dalmore, I don't believe they sought comfort from the ladies of Newton after that, but I can't be sure. Lewis in 1745 was almost entirely Protestant, in the grip of a dour unforgiving Calvanism, It is a recorded fact that in the year 1590 there was only one person of the old Catholic faith in the whole of the Island of Lewis. Why this person had stayed on in Lewis is not known. It would seem that at the time of the Reformation, the people of the island had fairly quickly abandoned their old religious practices for the 'certainties' of the new Protestant faith. Some of the 'missionaries' may have been local, but I think outside church people were invited to Lewis to preach the new faith, at the behest of clan chiefs or the lairds. There had to be a powerful catalyst to bring about such a change in half a century. It goes without saying that the Dalmore Lads were Protestant, but they were not strong adherents to religion just like their father. Their mother, from Ness, had been schooled in the most extreme, unforgiving form of Calvanism, whose dictats were as uncompromising as the Catholicism it had supplanted. When their mother enquired about life in town, Donald and Neil found it difficult to be truthful, preferring to relate and expand on the soirees and dances which they had attended and the young ladies to whom they had been introduced. Their mother's strict Calvinism was compromised by her sons' empty pleasures, but mercifully she was spared the realities of the Seaforth Vaults and the House of Joy. As usual their father would want to know whom they had seen during their time in Stornoway, as he himself was acquainted with a number of farmers and merchants there. Father and sons would seek out the privacy of the barn where they might have a few drams, after which their father would fill their sporrans with German Geordie's sovereigns. Even in the farmhouse, a distance from the barn, "Nighean gras Dhe" could smell the whisky and hear the sound of money. "Nighean gras Dhe" (daughter of divine grace) was what Old Macleod called his wife when he had an audience, but never in her presence! Donald and Neil enjoyed the mix of people they found in Stornoway, and endeavoured to seek their company. Some of them were from the Scottish mainland (fishermen,coopers and traders) and a few from further afield. The lads, in conversations with such people, learned a lot, made future contacts and had their horizons greatly expanded. In the company of two men from Inverness, who were ships' chandlers, they repaired to the "Anchor Tavern" on the west end of town. It was a pleasant evening towards the end of July, and it being market day,the shops and hostleries were busy. Neil and John with their friends from Inverness, found a small neuk within the tavern next to an open window through which a cool breeze entered. The Anchor was not that busy, which was a pleasant change from the usual hubbub in the Seaforth. Our Dalmore Lads were interested in what the Inverness men told them about their jobs as ships' chandlers, and the places their jobs had taken them. If Neil and Donald had reason to visit Inverness, they were told to get in touch with their new found companions. Across from them, there was this tall man leaning heavily against the bar rail, with his back hunched and his head only inches from some spillage on the bar. There were two large glasses of whisky lying untouched beside him, which were unlikely to whet his whistle further. The man was very drunk but mumbled something from time to time. At times his voice was loud enough for the Dalmore lads to realise he was repeatng the same words, as mangled as they were. Raising his head enough to catch the boys gaze, the man, in a clear voice now, uttered these words " The Eagle Has Landed", which he repeated a few times. Finally he stood tall and erect and in a very loud voice he addressed the entire clientele of the Anchor Tavern, "Gentlemen, be advised that the Eagle Has Landed."