April Fools Day (and a bit about marags)

2 04 2012

At the time of writing it’s April 2012 and April Fools Day has just passed.

On Lewis, April Fools Day was originally known as April Fuel Day, as traditionally this was the day Stornowegians went out to the moor and started cutting their peats (or in most cases just stole last years peat off the maws). This peat stealing was the start of the pranks and wind ups that gradually became the April Fools we know today.

Over the Centuries, the Stornoway Gazette has entertained the islands with many witty April Fool pranks, some of which (like the Apollochar Moon Landings) are still believed to be true to this day.

The first recorded Gazette April Fool was from 1345, when a headline in the paper said that the Bubonic Plague (or The Blackwater Death as it was known locally) had reached Newmarket. Luckily, only three people could read at that time, so panic was kept to a minimum.

Another infamous Gazette April Fool was from 1746, when the paper ran a supposed ‘Question and Answer’ session with Bonnie Prince Charlie (or as he was known locally ‘Benna’ Prince Charlie, as his grannie came from Bennadrove), who revealed that his favourite pastime was raiding towns with his Jacobite Army and stealing all the marags. In the ensuing panic, every butcher shop in town was ransacked and much of the town was put to the torch as people tried to hide their marag collections in safe places.

Ironically, and unknown to the Gazette, Benna Prince Charlie had earlier that year put in a massive order for marags to feed his army and had chartered a sailing ship to take them south. Sadly the cargo ship foundered in rough seas and ran aground in a small sea loch in South Lochs, now named Maragvaig after the sad event.

Incidentally, one of the UK’s biggest high street stores had its roots in the Stornoway black pudding market, when a local entrepreneur started up a shop that sold black puddings and handy devices for keeping cailleochs stockings from falling down in Church. This shop was originally known as Marags and Suspenders, before it expanded to the mainland and took on a more respectable name.

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