The Stornoway Mod is all over and done with. All the choirs are away back home. The hopes and dreams of hundreds of competitors are on hold for another year. Meanwhile, Conductors and Choirmasters will be hard at work preparing for next year’s competition and digging out the musical manuscripts to look for suitable songs to learn, whilst the Mod organisers will be looking for ever more fiendishly difficult songs to prescribe (like ones originally sung in Flannan Isles Gaelic which nobody now remembers).
But it wasn’t all that long ago that Gaelic Choirs would look to the stars for advice and guidance before choosing a particular song or arrangement.
It’s a well known fact that the Callanish Stones were originally built by An Comunn Gaidhealach to help predict the outcomes of the Lovat & Tullibardine at Mod nan Eilean 3516BC. Fleeking mainland choirs had just had a huge run of wins and the prehistoric equivalent of the local Gaelic Mafia weren’t happy with that state of affairs. So they turned to the local Druids for help and commissioned a state of the art observatory consisting of the best quality Uig ollacks carefully lined up with the local constellations.
The entrails of the worst soprano in a choir would be cast upon the altar stone and the stars would speak to the Druids, telling them who was likely to win, what songs were going to find favour and what hotels would offer the best rate (including breakfast). This way of predicting the future was also very handy for the various lucrative Betting Syndicates that sprung up around about the Mod.
It was only in the early 1960’s when human sacrifices became frowned upon that the Gazette came up with the idea of including a weekly ‘HeeHoro-Scope’ column. The ‘12 Signs of the Seo-diac’ all related to prominent constellations commonly found in Hebridean skies. By chance they had a passing resemblance to the other ‘Signs of the Zodiac’ but were of course much better.
A Choir, yus: The sign of An Comunn Gaidhealach
Pie-Seas: The sign of the Fisherman making a huge fish pie from Minch herring for his tea
Airidhs: The sign of the ram out on the summer grazing
Todhar-Us: The sign of the Manure Spreader
Gemini: The sign of the tanning bed
Can Seo: The sign of the Gaelic Learner
Leo-dhas: The sign of the King of the Lewis Chessmen
Vir-Gobha: The sign of Steallag’s anvil
Leac a’ Lìbra: The sign of the Harris Tweed brassiere
Sgorpio: The sign of the Maw
Sagittairsgeir: The sign of the peatcutter – A man with a peat iron waving his hands while being attacked by midgies
Capricomhairle: The sign of the local Council
Over the years, a number of columnists took turns at writing the HeeHoro-Scopes, including ‘Mission-house Meg’ and Russell Grantsquare (who broke away to form his own Gazette column called HeeHoro-Scope Continuing).
However, in the Middle Ages the darker side of HeeHoro-Scopes was brought to the fore by the seer Nesstradamnus and his infamous book ‘Prof-he-sees’ (co-written by D***** F**t). In its pages, Nesstradamnus supposedly predicted the winners of all the Mods from 1540 to 1878 with varying degrees of accuracy depending on one’s gullibility levels.
His quatrains were often confusing and open to all sorts of interpretation as folk tried to ponder their meaning, not helped by the fact that they were all written in Gaelic Latin. A typical example follows;
‘When the Mod to Stornoway comes
In the year of a wet summer
A choir from the mainland
Might win a competition. Maybe’
Nesstradamnus was said to have been a great uncle of Coinneach Odhar, the Brahan Seer. Coinneach was very modren for his time, however, and scoffed at “all thon superstitious Astrology ruppish”, relying instead on his state-of-the-art oileag with a hole through it. And much good did it do him.
How the Hebridean Constellations Came About.
A Choir, yus: The sign of An Comunn Gaidhealach
The story behind this Constellation is that Lochs Choir were heading off to Dunoon in 1628 but got stormbound in Tiree. They had never won a competition and were always pipped to the post by other less talented choirs. This particular year they had learned a song called “Airidhbhruach” and were sure it would see them becoming the stars of the Mod. In order not to miss the competition they tried to build a bridge across to the mainland using sheet music, but due to a few snifters too many they kept going up the way instead of across the way and ended up in the heavens where the choir members finally became stars.
Pie-seas: The sign of the Fisherman making a huge fish pie from Minch herring for his tea.
A Stornoway fisherman did battle with a huge whale called Maw-by Fleek for many a long year. Finally he managed to harpoon the great seabeast but at the last minute Maw-by thwacked him with his tale, sending the fisherman shooting up into the skies where he became a constellation.
Airidhs: The sign of the ram out on the summer grazing.
It is said that this constellation precisely maps out the location of all the Airidhs on the Pentland Road. Or the location of the Star Inn – no one is quite sure.
Todhar-Us The sign of the Manure Spreader.
A manure spreader was employed on Tee-Dees Farm but one day his Massey Ferguson Chariot went faulty -unfortunately on the same day the Stornoway Town Council were visiting the farm to see the new milk sheds -and so all the dignitaries got sprayed in that day’s crop of manure. Todhar-Us was banished from Lewis forever and went to live in the stars where he became a constellation.
Gemini: The sign of the tanning bed.
According to Gaelic mythology, the ancient Gods of the Mod would meet every year to agree on the location for the Mod. One year they met at a posh Health Spa on Mount Ollacklypmus but had a huge falling out over who got to use the tanning beds. A fight ensued causing much damage to the Spa leaving the Mod Committee having to pay for it. In a rage, Zeboeus, the King of the Mod Gods, threw the tanning bed away up into the skies where it became a constellation.
Can-Seo : The sign of the Gaelic Learner.
Legend has it that in 1678, a German student came to Scotland to learn Gaelic (having seen Runrig on one of their early tours) and ended up on Lewis. He traveled the length and breadth of the island , getting more and more confused by the different village dialects and pronunciations of Gaelic, never being sure which version was correct. He attempted to learn all 350 regional variations but his brain exploded into a hundred pieces and became the stars of the constellation. Can Seo indeed.
Leo-Dhas: The sign of the King of the Lewis Chessmen.
King Leodhas Chestmane was the King of the Lewis Chessmen and ruled over his subjects at Ardroil Beach. A kind and goodly ruler who ascended up to Valhalla on his death, but because he was carrying too many marags and half bottles he only reached as far as the night skies when he became a constellation.
Vir-gobha:The sign of Steallag’s anvil.
In Ancient Times the Mod Gods used to get their chariots and horseshoes mended at Steallag’s smithy. This constellation is said to represent the sparks that flew off the anvil as he thumped a horseshoe into shape.
Leac a Libra: The sign of the Harris Tweed brassiere.
Venusina, the Mod Goddess of Love was given a Harris Tweed bra by Zeboeus as a token of his love. She wore it on a date with him but it was so scratchy it drove her up the wall. She didn’t like to tell Zeboeus that she didn’t like it and so put up with it all evening (dinner in the Clachan, disco in the Galaxy). When she got home she took it off and flung it as far away as possible. A passing wind caught it and carried it up to the heavens where it became a constellation.
Sgorpio: The Sign of the Maw. This constellation symbolises a maw trying to get his sheep across one of the town cattle grids so they can “accidentally” get in and scoff the Matheson Road people’s flowers.
Sagittarasgeir: The sign of the peatcutter.
A cove went out to the peats one day and got bothered by midges. He made a foolish deal with Marsh the Roman god of Peat to let him ignore the midges, but Marsh took his soul in return and sent him up to the skies where he became the constellation constantly being bothered by millions of midges who became meteorites.
Capricomhairle:The sign of the local Council.
A constellation thought to signify the seafaring prowess of the Outer Hebrideans in sailing round the world (either that or going round and round in circles).
The Stornoway Zodiac is not to be confused with more primitive astrological methods used outside the Cattle Grid, such as the Steinish Zephyr or the Calbost Cortina.
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Our intermittent series on bygone BBC Alba children’s programmes continues with a look at “Trumptong”.
Filmed in 1967, “Trumptong” depicted the events in the imaginary village of the same name, a mile or 2 from the equally imaginary village of Sanderwick Green, as the imaginary crow flies across the imaginary quicksands at the head of the imaginary “Grod Bay”. (BBC Alba’s writers in the 1960s never used to work very hard to disguise names, because they didn’t think anyone would be watching).
Like its stablemates, Trumptong featured the stop motion animation of Bob Barra, John Airduig and Pasquale Fear-àiridh.
Each episode began with a shot of the fondly remembered Trumptong Community Centre Clock.
At that point the script called for a shiny brass clockwork fishwife to come out of the clock and produce a series of chimes by striking a clockwork bodach over the head with a brass sgadan.
Unfortunately scrap metal prices were high in 1967 and the internal workings of the Trumptong Clock – along with the clockwork fishwife, the bodach, and the sgadan – disappeared shortly before filming commenced. (Reports that they had been sighted in a yard somewhere near the Bl*ckw*ter were never substantiated).
Fortunately narrator Brian Cantseo saved the situation by making a few quick changes to the opening rhyme:
“Here is the the clock, the Trumptong Clock,
Telling the time – oh no it’s not,
Some fleekeen bleigeard’s fleeked off with the lot,
So it’s always the same time in Trumptong”
After the opening titles the programme would show the various characters of the village going about their business, including:
The Mayor – with his 3-cornered bonnet, ermine-trimmed boiler suit and elaborate chain of office, the unflappable Mayor presided over the local grazings committee from his office in the Trumptong Community Centre.
The Mayor was ably assisted by the slightly seedy Mr Trusdar the Township Clerk, (except in those episodes where Mr Trusdar had been taken away by PC MacGarrybeach to assist with yet another sheep worrying enquiry)
The Mayor’s job was coveted by Mr Domhnall-Iain The Property Speculator. Every week, alongside the main storyline, Mr Domhnall-Iain The Property Speculator would come up with a dastardly scheme to install himself as mayor, build a wall to keep the Bacachs out, turn the Airport back into a golf course, convert the mission house into a casino, start a fake university in the old battery hensheds, turn Ford Terrace into a 60-storey luxury hotel, or generally incite the Trumptongachs to fall out with their neighbours – and every week his plans would come to grief.
The village handyman was ChurchStChippy Mintong, a time served carpenter who had done his apprenticeship with J*mmy B*ll*rs. He was always ably assisted by his apprentice son Nips (except when Nips had taken the van to town “to the Board Store for… err… more nails” and had ended up in the Neptune for the day). ChurchStChippy could always be relied upon to botch things up and cut corners, particularly if he was employed on one of Mr Domhnall-Iain the Property Speculator’s dodgy projects.
Miss Lovelazybed the Church Hat milliner was seen in most episodes, walking her trio of Collie dogs (Misty, Dampflu and Loobreak) who dragged her through fences, bogs and the sinking sands each week, as she gallantly tried to hang on to her latest hat for the Communions.
Mrs Cropaig the Florist had her pitch in the square outside the Trumptong Community Centre. “I’ve never missed a day there for 40 years – only Sundays” she would often say, as she pinned a buttonhole on the Mayor or offered Miss Lovelazybed some of her wares to decorate her hats. Naturally, this being Trumptong, Mrs Cropaig had never realised in all that time that a florist is supposed to sell flowers, not fleekeen flounders. Luckily nobody else in the village knew either, so Mrs Cropaig did a roaring trade selling bouquets of leòbags, buttonholes of sgadan and, for funerals, tasteful wreaths of sornan gort.
The best remembered characters were of course the Trumptong Fire Brigade, led by extravagantly mustachioed lifelong bachelor Captain Fliuch. Every week, whatever problem had developed at the start of the episode, the Fire Brigade would be called out to resolve it. Following Captain Fliuch’s famous roll-call of “Macleod, Macleod, Macleod and Macleod, Macleod, Macleod, Macleod”, the brigade would speed off to the rescue.
Much to Captain Fliuch’s frustration the brigade never got to fight an actual fire, due to the impossibility of animating flames, smoke or water. However, they did get to save the day in a variety of sticky situations, such as pulling ChurchStChippy Mintong out of the quicksands after he’d taken a short cut home from the Macs via Coulegrein, or rescuing Mr Domhnall-Iain The Property Developer’s wig from the village’s only tree (where it had taken refuge after being chased by Misty, Dampflu and Loobreak).
Only 13 episodes of Trumptong were ever made – all of them in 1967 – but like most shows on BBC Alba it’s been repeated non-stop ever since, and has thus secured a place in the affections of Maws of all ages. Its unprecedented popularity led the BBC to produce a less successful English-based imitation – “Trumpton” – later the same year, but “Trumpton” never took off to the same extent as the original, and was soon forgotten.
“Trumptong”, however, remains as relevant now as it did back in the day, and is often referenced in popular culture. And so it is that we leave youse with the words of ruppish Tong indie band Half Maw Half Biorach, from their 1986 “Trumptong Riots” EP…
Ecclesiastical dissent is rising in the Aird Tong end of town/
And it’s spreading like a dose of orf
Doesn’t look like going down/
There’s trouble at the mission house someone’s joined the APCs/
And the coves are going to launch a scheme to get rid of the Wee Frees/
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The British Isles have a rich heritage of folklore (in which most of the best bits are poor copies of earlier stories that originate on the Isle of Lewis). For thousands of years, amadans and the gullible have been enthralled by tales of folk heroes, mythical beasts, fantastically ornate landscapes and half believable tales of danger and adventure.
On Lewis one of the best loved folk heroes is Bobban Hood. As with all good folklore, no one quite knows if he really existed, and, if he was actually a real person, no one quite knows what era he existed in. But that’s the way with all good folklore, it all becomes a bit blurry.
The story goes that Bobban Hood was the son of a weaver and was originally known as Ropach of Lochseaforth. Like most male offspring of the time, he took himself off to the Cuireamsades in the Holy Land (Tolsta).
Whilst he was away, the evil Sheriff of Mawtingham (a local tweed mill magnate) stole his father’s loom and gave it to Sir Cove of Gislabourne. Mawtingham was a nasty piece of work and enforced a strict regime on the local weavers, only giving the best tweeds to his henchmen and paying pathetic rates to the remaining weavers.
On Bobban Hood’s return to Stornoway, he was shocked to find that his old man’s loom had been stolen, effectively leaving him dispossessed and without a livelihood. He remonstrated with Mawtingham and Sir Cove but they framed him for using an electric motor and he was forced to go into hiding.
Bobban Hood took refuge in an area of woodland on the edge of Stornoway; the coniferous plantation at the bottom of Smith Avenue. This forest was known locally as the Masheer-wood Forest, as it consisted of planted woods as opposed to the natural woodlands covering the island in the Middle Ages. (Before the Vikings went on the rampage and burned down all the trees).
(Ironically, this particular plantation was planted on the site of a church, a decision which caused no end of consternation and debate as many folk felt there was more than enough wood on the island and not enough Churches).
As Bobban made his way into the depths of Masheerwood Forest, skilfully managing to keep one step ahead of the Sheriff’s men, he discovered that many other weavers had taken up residence there. These poor souls had been forced to move from the weaving colonies at Kennedy Terrace and Seaforth Road and take refuge in the depths of Masheerwood. This band of Outmaws was leaderless but soon came to respect Bobban’s natural skills with the tweeds to (and his adept handling of his barrow) and soon offered him the top job.
The outlaws included Shonnie Beag, Allan a’Dell, Elder Tuck and Will Scarista. Bobban also had a blone called Maid Mawrion who did all the cooking.
Under Bobban’s leadership, the outlaw weavers were able to set up illegal looms beneath the boughs of the trees. And under cover of darkness they would waylay carts full of wool, bobbans and fuidheags that were bound for Mawtingham’s Mills, and make off with the cargoes.
Bobban Hood and his Mawry Men would then distribute the tweeds to the poor weavers of Stornoway, thus creating the legend of the cunning outmaw.
The story of Bobban Hood has as many strands as a double width tweed. One of the best know involves the Golden Barrow contest, set up by Mawtingham to try and capture Bobban.
Mawtingham knew that Bobban wouldn’t be able to resist getting his hands on a barrow made of gold. His henchmen put up signs about the Contest all over the town (and full page spreads in ‘Ye Stornoway Gazette’ and ‘Ye Eventes’). The signs proclaimed that whosoever could move a pile of fuidheags the fastest (with extra points for artistic merit) from one end of Willowglen to the other would win the coveted Golden Barrow.
Unbeknownst to Bobban, the Sheriff had hidden his men all over Willowglen with instructions to capture him and chuck him in the dungeon. But cunningly, Bobban went in disguise (wearing a bobban hat pulled down really tight) and was able to compete. Naturally Bobban won the contest, made off with the Golden Barrow, rescued Maid Mawrion from having to do all the dishes and disappeared into the dusk, leaving the Sheriff’s men scratching their heads (the midges had come out by then).
It is said that on his deathbed, Bobban told his men to bury him wherever his barrow landed. The dying Bobban took one last heave and flung his Golden Barrow as far as he could and was promptly buried three feet away.
It is also said that Bobban Hood will return once again when the Tweed Industry needs him most. (He had to come back in 1650, 1749, 1825,1898,1925,1954,1975, 1992,1999, 2005, 2010 and 2012).
Many folk will no doubt remember the long running BBC Alba series ‘The Adventures of Bobban Hood’ which ran for several years in the 1950’s.
“Bobban Hood, Bobban Hood
Riding through Willow Glen
Bobban Hood, Bobban Hood
He’s off to steal a hen
Cheered by the Bard
Loved by the good
Bobban Hood, Bobban Hood”
This was but one of many screen adaptations of the Bobban Hood story. Readers of a different vintage will recall the cheap ‘n’ nasty 80s adaptation on MacIver & Dart TV, starring Michael Prayed, who left to go in for the ministry and was replaced by Jason Canneryroad. In the 1970s, Jason’s old man, Shir Shorn Canneryroad, played an ageing Bobban opposite Mawdrey Hepburn’s Maid Mawrion.
Kevin Croftner’s big screen adaptation ”Bobban Hood : Prince of Weaves” was a huge hit in the 90s due mostly to Alan Fleekman’s portrayal of the dastardly Sheriff, and Bryan Adag’s schmaltzy power ballad of a theme song. “Everything I Do (I Do for Marag Dubh)” sat at the top of the Isles FM top 100 for 22 years.
Croftner’s adaptation was famous for playing fast and loose with local geography. Returning from the wars, Bobban gets off the ferry in Tarbert and walks back to Stornoway in 10 minutes via the White Cliffs of Soval, Port of Ness, Castlebay, the Callanish Stones and Ardroil beach.
A more recent big screen version featuring Russell Cromore attracted widespread ridicule, due to Cromore’s ruppish attempts at a Stornowegian accent – described by critics as “an unconvincing impersonation of a Welsh Pakistani Geordie from Transylvania, who’s been on his holidays in Belfast with D*ck V*n Dyke, Private Fraser and the Swedish Chef”.
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Fans of pioneering 70s New York avante garde synthesiser punk were saddened to hear of the demise of Suicide’s Alan Vega on Friday.
Unfortunately there’s been little reporting of the tragic passing, the same day, of the Leodhasach cousin from whom he nicked all his ideas.
Alasdair Vega was born Bùrach Alasdair Bernerawitz in Brue in 1938. In the 50s and 60s he enjoyed a moderately successful career in the visual arts as a painter and decorator for Jimmy Buller’s. But at the Barvas Hall one Friday night in 1969, he witnessed incendiary performances from angry Ballantrushal proto-punks Engie & The Spooches and the Murdo City 5. “That was fleekeen hardy” he thought to himself, and decided to pack in the wallpapering and take up rock ‘n’ roll instead.
Having no instruments and not being able to play was no deterrent to Vega. His pal, cuireamach ex-weaver Martin Reverend(*), had recently been blacklisted by the Harris Tweed Authority after being caught using a motor, so they built a primitive drum machine from Reverend’s illegally powered loom.
An early analogue synthesiser was constructed by tying eight sheep to a plank with holes in it, and poking them with a stick to elicit sounds of the appropriate pitch.
Vega and Reverend’s band, Suetcide, soon became the darlings of the down town SY avant-garde scene, playing exhibitions and happenings in unconventional spaces such as the old fish mart, Perceval Square ladies’ toilets, Henderson’s off-licence and the Gut Factory.
Suetcide’s uncompromising performances, and epic improvised prose “songs” such as “Fankie Teardrop” and “Goat Riders” drew great critical acclaim from arty farty bleigeards such as pioneering rock journo Lester “Peat” Banks.
Despite this, the band never achieved commercial success due to all their stuff being unlistenable ruppish full of sweary words that went on for fleekeen hours at a time.
Nevertheless, seeing they were cool, they went on to be cited as an influence by generations of crap synthpop bands who sounded fleek all like them but were in desperate need of some cred. These include Depeche Maw, Marc Amadan and Soft Seilebost, the Peat Shop Boys, and diahorrea-prone 1-hit wonders Sigue Sick Spùt-nik.
More believably, Suetcide influenced countless post-punk, goth and industrial acts such as The Sisters of Murchaidh, Minister-y, Nine Inch Niall-Iains and Sonic Ewe-th.
(*)Martin Reverend’s cousin Roddy was of course a member of early 80s Avante Gaelic Obscurist Folk Rock legends Cyclefoot, of “One More From the Trading Post” fame.
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It is generally accepted by geehonks who know fleek all that Stornoway had no tradition of the fine arts of painting and sculpture before the Lanntair was invented in 1987.
The prevailing wisdom is that Presbyterianism’s abhorrence of idolatry, combined with a Gaelic culture focussed on oral and musical tradition, and above all the cheneral coorseness of the inhabitants, created a milieu hostile to painting and other representational art forms.
But Old SYs will tell you otherwise, especially those who still fondly recall the Renaissance period in the 15th and 16th century, when you couldn’t get near the bar in the Crit for old masters drinking their commissions.
In fact, when poncy bleigeards on BBC4 go on about “The Plastic Arts” they’re using a term that was originally coined in Lewis. In early November 1478, Cardinal Duoli di Martino, Chief Inquisitor of Parkend, was preparing a big gelly to burn some heretics at the stake, when he discovered that the Plasterfield gang had made off with all his tyres. An outraged di Martino exclaimed “Fleekeen Plastic ceards!”, before heading off in pursuit.
Leomurdo Da Minchi was perhaps the greatest of the island’s ‘Old Mawsters’ and was often referred to as a poly-ma-tha because of his wide ranging artistic and scientific interests. He was at the forefront of the Renaissance in Stornoway and was famed for such works as The Last (Hen) Supper and the Monadh Lisa. The Last (Hen) Supper depicted a squad of 13 slightly inebriated coves sitting on the wall opposite Ye Royal Hotel, whilst eating hen suppers from the Church St chipper, as they waited for the last cart to the West Side to leave Mitchell’s Cart Station. Da Minchi should not be confused with more recent artist Diggum Da Vinci.
His most famous painting was undoubtedly the Monadh Lisa, depicting an unknown blone from the country hanging about on the Barvas Moor, with an enigmatic smile that has puzzled the art world for years. Why is she smiling in this way? Is she getting marags for tea? Are the peatbanks behind her getting cut by coves who fancy her? Has she just pulled an Elder? We’ll neffer know.
Other exponents of Fuyne Art, and some of their masterpieces, included:
Michaelandersonroad – famous for the ceiling of the Seceder Chapel, with its monumental scenes of angels and elders being holy.
El Gresscove: The multi-talented El Gresscove was a master of landscape, portrait, sculpture and architecture, though unfashionable in his lifetime because he didn’t adopt the flamboyant and ornate “Early Barrach” style popular at the turn of the 17th century. His most famous works show the influence of Griais Orthodox iconography, and included “View of Tolstapeatbanks”, “Lady in a Bobban Hat” and “The Burial of the Count of ‘Orgabost”,
Hans Holmroadbein: Ch*rstyal*ne On The Mount of OliversBrae, Portrona Pilate Washing His Drarsh
Calumvaggio: St FrancisStreet of AssayePlace on Ecstasy
Hieronymus Bochd: The Feannag of Earthly Delights
Johannes Ma-sheer: Girl With A Boiled Herring. In recent years this famous painting and the story behind it were the subject of an acclaimed film starring Scarista Johannsen.
Peater Brue-gel The Elder, a highly respected church office bearer from the West Side. Brue-gel’s studio was near Barvas, on the site later occupied by Beetlecrusher’s Muirneag Gallery. His major works included “The Wedding Dance (in the Caber)” and “The Todhar of Bayble”.
The customers for the island’s Renaissance masterpieces were generally the powerful branches of the Macleod, Morrison and Macaulay families, such as the Borgh-ghias from the West side, and South Lochs sheep magnates the Mehhh-dicis. Also top officials in the Comhairle, and the ministers of competing Presbyterian factions looking for pictures of Hell that were more scary than all the others.
There’s plenty more to say about the Fuyne Arts in Stoarnoway during the Renaissance, and indeed in other periods, but that’s our tea ready so we’ll leave it there for now. We hope to return to this topic in further articles if we can be fleekeen bothered.
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US Presidents – The SY Connection (Part 2 of Some) : 1776 and the War of In-dip-endence
In this American election year, our series on US presidents and their Leodhasach connections has been going a bit slowly, what with all the fleekeen obituaries we keep having to write.
So let us go right back to the beginning, and examine the conflict in 18th-century Lewis that inspired America’s founding fathers to take up arms against the heavy-handed policies of their Coll-onial masters.
Until 1776, villages all over the Isle of Lewis were free to manage sheep scab as they saw fit. The dates for dipping, the concentration of the wash solution, the level of rabid insanity in the attending sheepdogs, and the order in which the half bottle of Trawler Rum should be passed round were all decided by the local grazings committees.
King George III was not happy with the situation, however. The sheep dip manufacturer in which he was a major shareholder was failing because of poor Hebridean sales of their flagship product – “Old Mad Seoras’s Patent Gairtean Magnet and Scab Promoting Solution”.
Under pressure from the King and his business associates, Parliament passed a bill strictly controlling every aspect of the sheep dipping year in his Hebridean colonies. Among other structures, the new laws banned excessive drinking at the fank, and required everyone to use the King’s ruppish dip prompting essayist Thomas Coulegrein to write the incendiary pamphlet “The Rights of Maws” in protest.
This led to uproar across the island. Crofters in Bernera, outraged to find a flask of refreshing hot beverage waiting for them at a fank in place of their usual carry-out, poured the contents into the sea at one of the island’s scenic beaches with a cry of “No deinfestation without libation!”. This event, known as the Bosta Tea Party, was the trigger for the War of In-dip-endence.
The War ran for several years and set brother against brother, maw against Townie and shareholder against grazings committee.
The King’s forces consisted of the Redcoves (so called because most of them came from Point), backed up by a large force of brutal Nessian mercenaries from Skigersta.
The Coll-onial forces were largely part-time soldiers (from the Army Cadets and Boys Brigade) and although under-equipped at the outset of the War, soon proved themselves to be effective warriors under the charismatic leadership of their general, George Sheepwashingtòin (ably assisted by his yes-man Thomas Tha-Milton, whose life story has recently been made into a hit Broadbay musical told entirely via the medium of crap.)
The war had its fair share of heroism and stupidity. Knockaird cabbage-magnate Nathan Kale had a short-lived career as a spy. He posed as a Townie Loyalist for a week but got found out when the boat he was spotted waving at furiously from the Eoropie machair turned out to be full of the King’s troops and not the coves returning from Sulasgeir with a haul of Gugas as he had mistakenly thought. His last words before being hung for his treachery proved inspiring to many: ‘I only regret that I have but one life to Lewis for my country’
Paul Reverend, an FP Minister from Habost, was the person responsible for equipping the troops with uniforms. On the first order he sent in to Murdo MacLeans for uniforms, he forgot to include trousers, resulting in the Coll-onials having have go into battle in their drathars. Eventually Paul saw a consignment of trousers being unloaded at Brevig Harbour and ran back to the Coll-onial lines shouting ‘The Briogais Are Coming! The Briogais Are Coming!’
The War itself was notable for several pitched battles which included Newvalley Forge and Tic-on-her-doggie but was basically the two sides standing on opposite sides of a river shouting swears and calling each other names. Then when a big cove charged, the opposing coves would run away to one of many fortified settlements around Broadbay.
The main defensive garrison was named for its commander, the lechendary traitor Benedict Arnol. It was re-named Fort Clinton after the war due to the fact that it had a nice yard. Nowadays, the site is known as West Point, which is ironic since Benedict Arnol actually came from Portvoller.
Anyway, after several years of conflict the Coll-onials eventually prevailed and King George III had to wave goodbye to his lucrative sheep dip revenues. An interim Grazings Committee, “The Second Continental ConGress” was set up between modern day Back and Tolsta while The Declaration of In-dip-pendence was being scribbled down on a beer mat in Mac’s Imperial.
The declaration was co-authored by Benjamin Fanklin (anti-slavery campaigner and great-grandfather of soul diva Athighearna Fanklin) and Thomas Wedderson (who was always banging on about equality but actually kept a load of slaves on his bog cotton plantation out on the Arnish Moor). After the war, Wedderson successfully negotiated the Lewisiana Purchase, in which South Lochs was bought from the French for a bag of winkles cunningly rebranded as “Hebridean sea salted escargots”.
Thus ends another significant chapter in Lewis history, but those of you of a more scholarly bent who wish to find out more about this period in time, and particularly the disastrous impact the war had upon the indiginous people of the country areas would do well to pick up a copy of ‘The Last of the Maw-hicans’ by James Fivepennymore-Cooper.
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