Jeff Stornowayne’s War of the Wools

1 02 2019

‘The chances of any sheep coming from Maws are a million to one they said’.

Many townies of a certain age will be delighted to know that a stage production of “War of the Worlds” is due to take place in An Lanntair in March this year. This musical interpretation of HG Wells’ famous book about a Martian invasion was originally created as a concept album  in the late 70’s by composer Jeff Wayne, and sold in its millions.

In more recent years Wayne transformed his album into a big-budget epic musical, and the Stornoway stage show will feature a host of local musicians, singers and actorrrs, who will recreate Wayne’s original 2006 theatrical spectacular.

But few folk today remember that Jeff Wayne was heavily influenced by his cousin Jeff Stornowayne, who had written a popular album (4 copies sold in Maciver and Darts) based on a similar book – “War of the Wools” by renowned Victorian SY-fi (Stornoway Fiction) writer HG Ironwells.

Ironwells was a big pal of Lord Leverhulme, and used to come up for his holidays every summer to lurk among the rhododendrons in the Castle Grounds. Inspired by his surroundings, he wrote several successful Stornoway-based novels including “The Invisible Ram”, “The Tuyme Machinn” (in which a steam-motorised Hattersley loom connected to Stornoway’’s famous ‘Suyme’s Clock’ enabled the protagonist to travel to the future), and of course, “The Island of Doctor Murdeau”.

But Ironwells’ best selling book by a long chalk (7 copies sold in Loch Erisort Bookshoppe) was “The War of the Wools” – a chilling tale about the maws eyeing up the fertile gardens of Stornoway and thinking that their sheep could benefit from a diet change of marigolds and petunias, instead of raw heather.

However, the cunning townies had built an almost impenetrable barrier of cattle grids around the town, preventing such wooly incursions. So, how could the maws get their sheep into Stornoway? By using fleekeen big spaceships and death rays, that’s how!

After much blood, gore, destruction and general excitement, the maws are eventually defeated, not by the townies’ efforts, but when they succumb to the fumes from the Gut Factory.

The book caught the attention of the masses (the aforementioned 7 people who could read in Stornoway at that time) and firmly established the SY-fi genre.

In the 1930’s, “The War of the Wools” became infamous following a live radio adaptation on Isles FM by Orduighean Wellies. The good people of Stornoway thought the Maws were actually invading the town and had crossed the cattle grids with their sheeps. This resulted in mass panic leading to rioting and looting in the streets. The rioting has continued to this day in some parts of the town.  

In the 1970s, Stornowayne had been looking for an opportunity to bring a local book to life as a musical concept.  He took “War of the Wools” and turned it into an epic, double concept album musical extravaganza featuring the very finest Leodhsach musicians and thespians of the period. Many of the leading parts were voiced by top celebrities of the day.

“The Parson” was played by Phil Lional from hard rockers Thin Leodhasach (who had a string of hits including ‘The Boys From Back Are In Town’, ‘Dancing in The Moor Light’ and ‘Bard Reputation’.

Meanwhile “The Artilleryman”  was voiced by David Nessex (the 70s chart hearthrob behind such hits as “Rubhach On, “Amaraga”, “Gonna Make You A Star (Inn)”, and “Silver D.R.’s Machine”).  

And “Obh-ita” star Julie Covingtownie contributed her dulcet tones as “The voice of Bethesda”.

But the one voice everyone remembers from “War of the Wools” is that of “The Narrator” – legendary Stornoway Thespian Richard Burnt-toine, the star of such classic films as ‘Where Eagleton Dares’, ‘An Townie and Cleobattery’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virgin Wool?’  

Who could forget Burnt-toine’s momentous delivery of the album’s opening words….

‘In the late 19th century, few townies had even considered the possible existence of extra-town-estial life, and yet Stornoway had in fact long been enviously observed by advanced beings’

….as he ominously set the scene for Mawsian Invaders, sci-fi sheep and deathrays, all delivered over a bombastic soundtrack of monstrously overproduced orchestral prog rock,  puirt-a-beul and dodgy disco.

Top musicians on the album included Jeff Stornowayne himself, guitarist Chris Spreadingmanure, Ken Freepresbyteriman on melodeon, and ace session bassist B*lly Flower, who’d famously played with classical rock maestros Skye, and done the slidy double bass on former Bobban Underground singer P*ddy Reed’s solo hit “Walk on the West Side”.

As well as the massive success of the album itself, Stornowayne and his band scored a huge hit single (3 plays on “Caithris na h-Oidche”) with Side B Track 2 – Chustin Heycove from the Moody Brues singing ‘Forever (D)autumn(an)’.

Several stage productions of “War of the Wools” have gone on tour over the years, with the original parts being played by new actors. Burnt-toin’s Narrator role has often been reprised by Liam Niseach (“Schuilven’s List”, “Rob Robhanais”, “The Communions”, “Siar Wars I – The Phantom Mehhh-Ness” and “II – Attack of the Blones”).

Niseach was hired to after the failure of several costly attempts by the production team to replicate the deceased Burnt-toine onstage using complex special effects and animatronics. These involved a copy of the original album on cassette from Woolies, a photo of Burnt-toine’s face cut out of the Gazette, some sellotape and (variously) the statue nicked from Lady Matheson’s monument, a tailor’s dummy stolen from Murdo Maclean’s, and a scarecrow obtained under cover of darkness from Goathill farm.


It’s not often we stray into topical topics, but recent events in the world of politics have led us to pass on some useful and informative background reading to help you make more sense of Brexit. As we’re currently hearing in the news, there’s great confusion about arrangements on the Northern Irish border if Brexit takes effect as planned in March 2019. But for some reason we hear a lot less about the difficulties that could ensue on the many internal borders within the Outer Hebrides. When the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, for example, Scalpay will stay in Europe because it’s actually in Spain (and has been since 1588, as any amadan familiar with the Dun Ringles’ poorly spelt prog rock epic “Scalpoch Armada” will tell you). To maintain frictionless trade across the Scalpay bridge, the natural solution would be for the rest of Harris to follow EU regulations, but hardline Hearach seceders in the Democratic Urgha Party (under the leadership of Aline Foster) refuse to countenance such an arrangement. For similar reasons, again based on Spanish territorial claims, border controls are likely to spring up the Goat Island causeway, and on all roads leading in and out of Tolsta Chaolais. Tong, naturally, has used its Washington connections to secure a unilateral trade deal with the USA, but this does not extend to the neighbouring townships. So there’ll have to be a wall at Coll, and another one on the Newmarket road to prevent cheap steel imports from the scrapyard at the Blackwater. North Tolsta has negotiated a peats-for-kimchi deal with North Korea, which will require a DMZ to be created between the Glen and Gress, which is joining Greece. Meanwhile the Niseachs, as part of Norway, are insisting on remaining in EFTA, so strict customs controls will be put in place on the A857 North of Fivepenny Borve. Trade between Point and the rest of the Island is already difficult due to its worsening diplomatic relations with everybody. Sanctions are likely to intensify following Point’s interference in the Tong Presidential elections, and the Rubhach Secret Service’s attempts to assassinate defector Sergei Suardal in the Crit by secretly lacing his Stewart’s Cream of the Barley with water. Rubhach leader Vladimir Sput-in’s claims that his agents were mere tourists, visiting the town to see the world famous spire of Martin’s Memorial, are generally not believed. And that takes us to the Back Bus Stop that we’re hearing so much about. This is the great unanswered Brexit question – why the fleek would anyone want to get off the bus in Back?!? It’s not all bad news, though. According to some writing in the dirt on the side of the Plasterfield bus, Brexit will leave the Health Board with an extra £350 million a day to spend on closing things down.

13 12 2018

Stan Leverburgh RIP Considering this is supposed to be the Made Up History of Stornoway we seem to be doing obituaries for a lot of famous Hearachs these days. Not so long ago the great Burt Rhenigadale went to meet his maker, and now the legendary Stan Leverburgh has recently gone to the great comic convention in Skye. Sorry, “the sky”. Leverburgh created some of the great superhero characters of the last 70 years and oversaw their transition from the pulp comics of the 1940s to television (in the classic ruppish BBC Alba cartoons of the 60s and 70s) and onwards to the blockbuster movie incarnations who dominate the Lanntair and the Screen Machine today. Stan Leverburgh was born Stanley Martin Ladyleverpark in 1922, and in 1939 went to work as a pencil sharpener in the busy Stornoway offices of “Airidh-an-tuimely Comics”, a front company for the propaganda department of the Free Associated Continuing Church. The church was worried about the island’s wee coves and blones getting drawn in by worldly and sinful publications such as the Beano and the Free Church Monthly Record, so they’d established their pulp magazine business to promote their message of cuireamachness to the youth without them knowing. There was a lot of this sort of thing going on in the 30s and 40s; Most of the Outer Hebrides’ comic publishers were secretly or not-so-secretly run by the islands’ various religious denominations. FP Comics, Hell Comics and All-Amarybank Publications among them. But the biggest outfit in town was APC Comics – home of Backman, FishSupperman (from the planet KrypTong), Wonder Woolman etc. With his Bernera-based collaborator Jack Kirkibost, Leverburgh soon worked his way to the top of “Airidh-an-Tuimely Comics”. Deciding that the holy comic market in Stornoway itself was saturated, Leverburgh rebranded the company to focus on sales to the rural peasantry outside the cattle grid. Maw-vel Comics hit the streets (or at least the single track roads with passing places) in 1961, and soon began to chalk up impressive sales (5 copies a month in Tommy Nicholson’s). Amongst the many characters Leverburgh created were; Captain Amarybank, with his Cortina hub cap nicked from Marybank garage as a shield The Mighty Todhar (from A-sgàrd)-was originally the god of thunderous diahhoreah (and instead of a hammer wielded a mighty toilet brush), but he had to change it due to complaints from his readers. The Inedible Dulse – mild-mannered scientist Brues Beannag worked in the Keose alginate factory by day, but when angry turned into a monster made out of allegedly nutritious seaweed that tastes horrible really. Back Panther Peat-Iron Man (billionaire playboy blacksmith Tony Steallag) -Steallag Industries making Hi tec military equip (well, for the Army Cadets at least) Guardians of the Galaxy Disco- the Seaforth bouncers led by Stair-rod, The Fantastic Four Crown- a particular success in Maw-vel’s early years was this team of superheroes who had gained their powers after exposure to a combination of cosmic rays and fortified South African wine, during a scientific mission to Cathy Dhall’s The Punishader Plocrapool Snaredevil – whose superpower was catching rabbits down at the Braighe for selling to the local butchers. Doctor Coulegrange Supervillan Doctor Mitchellspus Woolverine (played in the films by Huge Cacman) The Tha Vengers The Eggs Men- a team of superheroes with mutant hens producing double yolks Splaoid-erman (alias Peater Parkend – a mild mannered weaver from Garyvard who transforms into a binge-drinking superhero when he comes to town and gets paid for a tweed). Leverburgh also managed to convince BBC Alba to start making films of many of his creations. These summer blockbusters provided to be extremely successful and raked in loads of spondoolacs. Leverburgh also managed to snag himself a wee cameo appearances in nearly all of the BBC Alba Maw-vel movies, and also starred as himself in a famous episode of Beag Bang A’ Shiorraidh in which he’s stalked by arch-nerd Shellfish Crùbag. He’ll be much missed. (as will his cousin Stan Lee).

8 12 2018

Burt Rhenigadale RIP

22 09 2018

Fleek sakes! Yet another icon of the big screen (and wee screen too) has passed away. Yus indeed, Holywood cove Burt Reynolds has gone to the big Cannonball Run in the sky.

Burt was a regular visitor to the Outer Hebrides as he had cousins on his mother’s side living in Harris, and he used to enjoy coming home to help with the peats and the shearing. It is rumoured that he sought inspiration for many of his films from his cousin (also called Burt) who was a pretty big star himself on BBC Alba. And in a bizarre coincidence, both cousins passed away on the same day.

Reynold’s cousin Burt MacSween was born in a remote Hearach village accessible only by a winding footpath over the hills from Tarbert. Fiercely proud of his birthplace, he chose it for his stagename when he took up acting at an early age – thus was born Burt Rhenigadale.

In his early career Rhenigadale was an active member of the Stornoway Thespians and took lead roles in many Christmas Pantomimes and regional drama festivals, as well as featuring in many Grampian TV adverts from around that time.

But the lure of BBC Alba in the 1950’s was too tempting. Burt was able to get guest roles in many tv shows, impressing viewers with his exotic Harris Gaelic. His first big break came in the late 1950’s in the “Westren” series ‘LaxdaleRiverboat’. He continued to have tv roles throughout the 60’s including “Ferry Mason”, “The Twilight Disco” and “Route A859”.

His big BBC Alba break came with the hugely popular ‘Peatsmoke’, another “Westren”, where he replaced Denis Weavingshed. Playing the half breed (half Hearach, half Leodhasach, half sheep) blacksmith Squint Tairsgeir, the show was your standard Westren of the day, featuring miners looking to strike black gold (peat), sheep rustlers, bandidos from South of the Border (Ardhasaig), no-good railroad barons and marauding tribes of APC-che and Comhairlemanche braves.

After his taste of BBC Alba stardom, Burt turned his attentions to the big screen. Very soon he was picking up major parts in popular movies and soon began to make a name for himself (‘Thon hearrach cove who’s no bad at acting’).

But it was one particular film that shot Burt to superstardom – “Delivervans”, which was a huge commercial and critical success on BBC Alba in 1972. Set in the deep south (of Lochs), the film centred on a mobile shop’s ill-fated journey to Calbost where a horde of hillbilly cailleachs seek vengeance on the driver and crew because they have run out of Craggan’s biscuits. As well as Rhenigadale, the film also starred Jon Poit(mhùin) and Shed Peatty.

“Delivervans” was famous for its soundtrack, including of course the legendary “Dueling Beannags.“

Burt also turned down a role in the film version of M.A.W.S, the Korean War comedy about the Lewis ‘Mobile Airidh Whiskey Still’ platoon sent to keep the troops happy by supplying them with drams. Famous for its theme song ‘Westy-side is Painless’.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the blockbusters kept coming. Burt starred in;

The Best Little Meeting House In Tolsta (with Dolly Partronadrive)

Bogie Nights- a docudrama depicting day in the life of a well known Stornoway character

The Dukes of Habost – a film remake of the popular late 70’s Grampian TV series, in which Burt’s portrayal of the evil Bosta Hogg will be long remembered

Everything You Wanted to Know About Seggs (But were afraid to ask)

Smokehouse and the Bànag

The Longest Ceard

The Cànannangaidheal Run. A no-holds barred outlaw tractor race from An Comunn Gaidhealach HQ in Perceval Square, cross-country to Melbost, where the first competitor to reach the gate of the Bard’s old house wins a years subscription to the Free Church Monthly Record. Featuring a cast of thousands (just about every BBC Alba actor on the go at the time), Burt played the lead character JJ Manure. The film had a memorable soundtrack by Na h-Òganaich.

After a bit of a slump in the 80s, a battle with prescription Flukanide addiction, rumours that he was suffering from a variety of exotic diseases (including orfe, swayback and hydatid), and a famously troubled marriage to actress Bloni Andersonroad, Rhenigadale made a comeback in the critically acclaimed TV series Evening Shader.

At the time of his death, Rhenigadale had returned to his Hearach roots, and was about to start filming “Once Upon a Time in Horgabost” with cult director Quentin Tarbertino.

Athighearna Fanklin RIP

25 08 2018

In yet another one of them bizarre coincidences, news of the passing of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin had barely reached the Outer Hebrides, when the Stornoway media outlets announced the demise of her distant cousin, Queen of Shoals Athighearna Fanklin.

(Many Stornoway folk with famous relations must be getting a wee bitty worried by now).

Aretha herself, despite being brought up in America, was known to visit her relations in the Tolsta area on a regular basis…. And her name was actually Aretha Lewis Franklin – not “Louise” as most folk thought. The misunderstanding was due to the fact that Americans couldn’t understand the Leodhasach accent that she had picked up while home on her holidays as a child, and never lost.

However, with all due “Respect” to Aretha, it’s high time the world heard the untold tale of her (almost) equally influential Leodhasach cousin….

Athighearna Fanklin was born in 1942 in Dee-Chroit, a busy industrial city on the moor between Tolsta and Ness. While it’s mostly returned to desolate moorland these days, following the riots of the 1960s and the inexorable decline of its factories, Dee-chroit was once proudly known as the “Murdo City”, and was home to a thriving automotive industry. Giants such as General Murdos, Christler, Brue-ick, Studebakersroad, Ceardillac and, of course, Fordterrace employed tens of people and turned out up to a dozen tractors a year.

Athighearna’s old man Calum Leodie (CL) Fanklin was a minister to trade and was the Dean of Dee-chroit’s popular Ewe Bethel Baaa-aptist Church, the remains of which can still be seen on the top of the cliffs at Filiscleitir. He was fondly known as the “Dean of Souls”.

Athighearna demonstrated great musical talent at an early age and was appointed the church’s first female precentor. She sang in the church between the age of 12 and 20 and soon earned the title “The Teen of Souls”.

Singing gospel psalmody was artistically and spiritually rewarding, but it didn’t pay very well. Athighearna had to rely on state benefits for a while (and soon earned the title “Queen of Dole”). Eventually, however, the young Athighearna had to go away and work as a herring girl. She was extremely dexterous with the gutting knife and the number of sgadan she could get through on a shift became something of a legend on quaysides from Weeheek to Yarmouth – so much so that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals”.

Much to her cuireamach fans’ consternation, Athighearna went secular in 1960, signing to pop label Columbiaplace Records. Sadly Athighearna’s recordings on the label met with limited success because every time Columbiaplace pressed some records, one of the rival labels in the area (usually Springfield Records, Plasterfield Records or Battery Records) would nick them and make them into a huge bonfire. Especially around Guy Fawkes’ time; tyres were in short supply in these days, but shellac was highly inflammable and made a great gelly.

Athighearna was courted by other labels including Dee-Chroit soul giants Tormod Murdotown, but in 1966 she signed to Barratlantic Records, where she would make many of her greatest recordings. Barratlantic boss Eachainn Ertegundòchas was a huge fan and used the earnings from his lucrative fish factory to subsidise his loss-making record label. Ertegundòchas gave Athighearna complete artistic freedom and the pick of the Outer Hebrides’ top session musicians, just as long as she promised to sneak a plug for his seafood products into as many songs as possible.

With Barratlantic’s sponsorship and a plethora of fish references in her songs, it was little wonder that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Athighearna’s hits on Barratlantic were often recorded at Uig’s legendary Morsgail Shoals studios. From 1966 into the early 70s, working with with c(r)ack session band “The Chumpers”, and producer Areef Mangersta, Athighearna recorded a string of hit singles and albums including:

Say a Big Huge Long Prayer

You Make My Creels (Like a Natural Woman)

Chain of Fuels (in praise of C*mpb*ll’s filling stations)

Tong, Gifted and Back

I Never Loved A Ram The Way That I Loved Ewes

The House That J*mmy B*ller Built

Amazing Gress

Sponish Harlem

In 1979, after a period of declining record sales, Athighearna left Barratlantic and signed to Hearach label ScArista Records. Athighearna’s sales soon began to improve and she scored hits with “United (Free Church) Together” and a Grimshader-award-nominated cover of Otis Reseeding’s “I Can’t Turn You Lewis”.

Athighearna’s career got a cinematic boost in 1980 when she appeared in “The Brues Brothers” (alongside Dan Backroyd and John Bellsroadushi), dispensing advice on crofting grant-compliant corrugated roofing materials to her fleekeen useless husband Murphy Dunberisay. Filmed in the Coffee Pot, Athighearna’s performance of “Zinc” set her up nicely for rejuvenated record sales and a series of classic collaborations in the 80s and 90s.

These included “Seceders are Doin’ It For Themselves (But Not on Sundays)”, with Annie Leantainneach from the Freechurchcontinurhythmics. And of course, “Knew Ewe Were Waiting For Mehhhh”, with the late lamented George Mitchellsbus from Ram!

Fanklin was famed as a lifelong campaigner for sheep’s rights, and in order to look after the many distressed mehhhags that came into her care, she built a gi-normous barn in Dee-chroit. Athighearna’s barn was so monumentally huge that it wasn’t long before she earned the title “Queen of Sabhal”. Indeed, it was a simmering feud with her local grazings committee about the number of sheep Athighearna was entitled to put out on the common pasture that inspired her platinum-selling 1985 album “Who’s Souming Who?”.

Despite her advocacy for sheep rights, Athighearna was a keen fisherwoman throughout her life. A winner of numerous trophies in the ladies’ section of the Stornoway Sea Angling Club during the 50s, 60s and 70s, Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Her skills with the rod were matched by her prowess with the net, and her fondness for a bit of poaching on the Laxay River, together with frequent appearances in the Stornoway Gazette’s sheriff court column, soon earned Athighearna the title “Queen of Soval”.

Later in her career, Athighearna was called upon to sing at many great public events. At the Gravir Awards in 1998 she had to fill in for corpulent Rubhach tenor Luciano Paibleotti at the last minute, after he got stuck in a cubicle door at Stornoway Opera house and couldn’t get to the ceremony. Athighearna delivered a bravura unrehearsed performance of Paibleotti’s trademark “Niseach Dormer” that’s still talked about to this day.

In 2009 Athighearna also sang at the historic inauguration of Marag Obama as President of the USA (Union of Stornoway Artisanblackpuddingmakers)..

But above all else, Athighearna will be most remembered for her signature song – the song that became an anthem for cuireamach rights and for the cailleachs’ lib movement of the 60s. Although it was originally a hit for Otis Reseeding, Athighearna’s version turned the tables completely on the bodachs. That song went something like this:

(Obh) What you want – is deoch and accordions

(Obh) What you need – is to get yourself to the fleekeen orduighean

(Obh) All I’m askin’ – is that you repent, get the cuiream, read your buible, put on a suit and give me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

(Cove) Don’t go messin’ with none of them other denominations, or…

(Cove) I’ll be giving you quite a nasty operation

(Cove) It’ll be the deamhais for you unless you start turning up twice on a Sunday and midweek an’ all, and giving me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

Oh hee – I’m about to give the sustentation fund all your money

Oh hee – Yus, and maybe then I’ll end up in the land of milk and honey

Oh hee – Got me a new hat from Murdo Maclean’s agus abair g’eil e spaideal so I deserve me some….

WeeFree-Spect – when I go to the coinneamh. Oh yus, ya bleigeard.


Don’t go near the APC


And stay away from the Continuit-y

Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free-spect (etc)

Peater Firchlis

4 07 2018

Peater Firchlis RIP

Last week’s passing of renowned animator Peter Firmin – the cove that did Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, Pogles’ Wood etc etc – has sadly overshadowed the demise the same day of his distant Leodhasach cousin, the slightly less successful Peater Firchlis.

Firchlis and his fellow animator, the late Oliversbrae Rustgate, were so skint when they started off in 1958 that they couldn’t even afford a shed to work in. Their company, Smủirfilms, was so named because it was based in a sheltered spot round the back of Firchlis’s peatstack. But from small beginnings, Firchlis and Rustgate went on to disappoint generations of Outer Hebridean children with their famously ruppish puppets and badly animated cardboard cartoons.

Smuirfilm’s first big break came in 1959 when Maciver & Dart TV commissioned them to produce “Neogan the Knock”, a magical series about a drunken Rubhach Viking and his adventures – which usually started with him staggering out of the Crit, missing the Point Bus, trying to find his way home and getting lost. Married to Queen Gooka of the Nishooks (an Eskimo Princess from the Frozen North), Neogan was always getting in scraps with his wicked and equally drunken Townie uncle Nobad the Barred, who was determined to get Neogan’s croft off him so he could sell it and spend the proceeds in Cathy Ghall’s.

Another big hit for Smủirfilms was an enchanting tale of a group of forest-dwellers, entitled “Bogie’s Wood”. Filmed in the Castle Grounds (usually in the mornings), each episode would typically involve the charming cast of woodland creatures stumbling across a mysterious object and then telling a story about what it was and how it came to be there. Invariably the object in question would be empty when found, and each character’s story would be about how it definitely wasn’t them that had drunk it to the dregs and chucked it in the rhododendrons when the rest weren’t looking. Bogie’s adopted ‘children’ in the show were Meppan – a wee free elf with pointy ears, and Tog – a stripy creature somewhere between a rabbit and a squirrel, who Bogie would often summon with the famous catchphrase: “Balach Tog!”

A masterpiece of dodgy accents and racial stereotyping, “Ivorhill The Engine” was set among the picturesque peatmines, valleys and slagheaps of Bayview. Ivorhill was a plucky little steam locomotive who worked for the “Mossend and Llanplasterfield Railway Traction Company”, with his pioneering transgender role model driver Blones the Steam, and their friends Dai RadarStation and Aonghas the Dragon. Ivorhill’s dearest wish was to sing at the Local Mod with the Blar Buidhe and District Male Voice Choir. Eventually he succeeded, when in one episode his whistle was temporarily replaced with an old chanter, and the choir won the gold medal in the Seann Nòs.

The ever popular Clachangers were a staple of tea-time kids’ telly on BBC Alba in the 1970s. The show featured the adventures of a family of alien beings (or they could have been beings from Aline) living on a barren and atmosphere-less Moor (most likely the Barvas one). The iconic puppets themselves were made by Firchlis’s wife out of leftover wool from TB MacAulay’s shop. The distinctive Clachanger nose was made from knocked off bobban reels from the Kennedy Terrace Weavers’ Colony.

The Clachangers famously communicated with each other by chanter noises, prompting many’s a Chanter Class to descend into chaos as the kids pretended to be Clachangers. It was later revealed by Firchlis that the Clachangers were actually swearing away at each other, rather than having polite musical conversations – much like pipe music.

There were several Clachangers in the family: Major Clachanger- (always teaching them music); Small Clachanger- always trying to buy an underage carryout ; Tiny Clachanger – managing to buy an underage carry out. There were also a few supporting characters including the Spủt Dragon (who would cook a pan of hangover reducing green broth for Tiny and Small Clachanger on a regular basis) and the Iron Guga. (Several incidental cast members on the Clachangers also appeared in “Bogie’s Wood”)

A Saturday late afternoon favourite was The Barvas Brush Show. Brush was a wily weaving fox who used the electric to power his loom, for which he was always after Highlands and Islands Enterprise grants. Brush is best remembered for his catchphrase ‘HIE HIE HIE Loom! Loom!’

Perhaps the most loved of Firchlis and Rustgate’s creations was Bacpuss – a mangy old cat from Vatisker, made out of fuidheags, who sat on a shelf in the shop at G*rd*n D**sel’s, waking up occasionally to bore everybody to fleek with some ruppish yarn he’d told them hundreds of times before. Bacpuss’s pals in the shop included Professor Bachle, a seagull and erudite theological scholar made out of an old tackety boot from Domhlann’s, Lochmaddylene, a rag doll “on holiday” from Uist assembled from 2 old iteachans and a bobban sock, Gabrevig the melodeon-playing toad constructed from an old communion hat, and of course, the lovable singing Church mice and their mouse organ.

Famously, all but 2 of the mice disapproved of the mouse organ and after a big argument at the end of episode one, the majority broke away and established another shop next door, where they sang only unaccompanied Gaelic psalms.

Let us leave you with the rhyme, fondly remembered by children of all ages, that brought the saggy old bobban cat to life each week:

‘Bacpuss, gneach Bacpuss

Old Vatisker Cac puss

Wake up and look at this crap that I bring

Wake up and be bright, be glic and light(hill)

And tell us something right, instead of making up sh**e

From Gress down to Coll, your breugan appal

And even in Brevig, nobody believ-igs

A word of the sgeul that comes out of your beul

It’s enough to give the cuiream to oneofthembleigeardsfrom Gearraidh Ghuirm

Bacpuss oh hear what I sing’

Forgotten Leodhasach Explorers -Part 1 of Some

28 04 2018

The town of Stornoway has produced more than its share of people who went away to discover stuff, but not all of them have received the recognition they deserve. While we all know about Alexander Mackenzie’s travels in Canada, and Colin Mackenzie’s great works in India, it’s about time we looked at some of the Island’s lesser known but equally significant explorers.

Here’s the first of several..

Christopher Columbiaplace

The career of Stornoway’s Christopher Columbiaplace was uncannily close to that of his more successful cousin from Genoa. They were born but a year apart, and their birthplaces were uncannily similar; Genoa was a thriving cosmopolitan seaport with a pleasant climate, trade links to all corners of the known world and a vibrant renaissance culture, and Stornoway was beside the sea as well.

At that time Stornoway was experiencing great difficulties in its trade with the East, due to rampant piracy, the capture of Constantinullapool by the Dòtaman Empire under Sultan Donnie II, and the Caliphate-Mac ferries being full of camper oxcarts all summer.

In 1487, after hearing some amadan in the Star Inn claiming the world was round, Christopher Columbiaplace approached the Stornoway Trust and proposed an expedition to find a Westerly passage to Kyle of Lochalsh (and maybe Mallaig), by sailing across the Atlantic.

The Trust turned down Columbiaplace’s proposal, as they’d already sold Kyle of Lochalsh, Mallaig (and the Atlantic) to some cove who said he was the King of Nigeria, for 10 Woodbines and a hen supper.

Frustrated, Columbiaplace took his idea to the rulers of the emerging Catholic superpower in the region – King Ferdinand of Castilebay and Queen Ishabellag of Ardnamoine. Having just expelled the Moors from Barra (and consequently being short of peats) Ferdinand and Ishabellag were keen to expand their territories and get a few trailerloads home so they could get a good gelly going in time for the Inquisition.

The King and Queen had a whip round and bought Columbiaplace three ships: a second hand sgoth from Ness called the Pintaheavy, an ex-Fishery Cruiser called the NormaNina and the pride (and flagship) of the fleet – the Sandwick Mawria, an ex Caliphate-Mac ferry.

A crew consisting of press-ganged hard coves from the Columbia, Manor and Springfield gangs was assembled on No 1 pier and told that ‘there’s going to be fleeking loads of cartwheels for the gelly to be found in the West’. They were swiftly allocated to one of Columbiaplace’s fleet and, fortified with a cargo of salt sgadan, set sail on the morning tide.

Columbiaplace and his fleet sailed straight into trouble, mistaking Arnish for the Flannan Isles light and unknowingly returning to Stornoway. It was only when they reached the Porter’s Lodge that Columbiaplace realised he was navigating up the Glen River.

Undeterred, he continued up the Glen to Loch Airidh Na Lice where they dropped anchor. Here, Columbiaplace declared he had discovered the New (Valley) World.

This of course caused some controversy in more recent times, as it is now widely accepted that Stornowegian Viking Leac Erikson was first to discover the New Valley (hence the name of the Loch).

Fortunately for Columbiaplace, his navigational error worked out well, as the area turned out to be full of peats. Columbiaplace and his crew went ashore and traded some worthless trinkets with the natives – some glass beads, a half bottle of trawler rum, a quarter ounce of black twist, a couple of crates of gold bars, 3 or 4 chests of dubloons and all their credit card details – for as much in the way of fàds, caorans and smùir as the three ships could carry back to Ferdinand and Ishabellag’s court. The King and Queen were most pleased when Columbiaplace returned, as by this time they had a queue of heretics round the block complaining about how long they had to wait to get burned.

After his adventures in the New (Valley) World, Columbiaplace retired to relative obscurity as the caretaker of a swingpark.

But his story lives on. Generations of townie school kids will remember the poem celebrating Columbiaplace’s epic voyage of discovery….

“In fourteen hundred and ninety two

Columbiaplace sailed with a half-canned crew

He had three ships (one ex MacBrayne)

He sailed through the Glen, passed Coulregrein

He sailed by night, he sailed by day

He used the lighthouses to find his way

A compass alas he didn’t pick

That’s why he ended up in Airidh Na Lice

Ninety sailors were onboard

And they discovered peats in a huge big hoard

They brought them back to Ferdinand and Ishabellag

Who burnt the heretics and sent them to Hellag”