Sunday, 29 November 2009

BBC Alba and Freeview

The BBC's Gaelic language channel, BBC Alba, has been on air for a year now. Unfortunately, it is only available on satellite and some cable providers. There has been a sustained campaign to get the channel on Freeview. The BBC Trust has responded with a consultation, in which everybody can participate.

I can't say that I am impressed with the BBC's offer to remove BBC radiostations from Freeview to make way for BBC Alba. Looking at Freeview, there are quite a number of stations on there that will not really be missed. I am not prepared to state my opinion on any individual broadcaster on an open Internet blog. Rather than that, I feel that the BBC should choose to remove one TV channel from Freeview, if only during the hours that BBC Alba transmits (17.30 to 23.30 each evening).

I leave it to each individual reader to participate (or not) and make their own views known.

Monday, 23 November 2009

23 November 1939

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="362" caption="HMS Rawalpindi"]HMS Rawalpindi[/caption]

Today is the day in 1939 that HMS Rawalpindi was sunk by Nazi German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The brief battle has gone down in naval history as an incredible display of bravery on the part of the Rawalpindi's crew. After trying to hide themselves from the Germans in the North Atlantic fog south of Iceland, they were ordered to surrender by the Scharnhorst. In response, the captain of the Rawalpindi said: never. And he fired a shell at the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau to underline his point. Bear in mind that the Rawalpindi was a converted passenger liner, kitted out with a gun and some armour plating. The Scharnhorst had to reply in kind, and sank the Rawalpindi. The bravery was noted by the German admiralty (sic!). All but 37 of the Rawalpindi's crew were lost in the sinking. Their sacrifice was not in vain; before battle commenced, the Rawalpindi had been able to signal the position of the German battlecruisers to back to base on the Clyde, and an armada of British warships was heading north to intercept. More on this story here.

[Line below edited in response to comment #5]
Of those lost on the Rawalpindi 8 men were from Lewis, namely:

Seaman COLIN MACKAY, 31 South Bragar, aged 29
Local memorial: West Side, Bragar

Leading Seaman MURDO MACKAY, 53 Back, aged 33
Mac Choinnich Dhomhnuill Alais 'c Dhonnachaidh
Son of Kenneth and Henrietta MacKay, of Back, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: Back

Seaman DONALD SMITH JNR, 52 North Tolsta, aged 19
Domhnall a'Bhard
Son of Angus and Margaret Smith, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: North Tolsta

Seaman DONALD MACARTHUR, 10 Cromore, aged 20
Dollan Mhurchaidh Alasdair
Local memorial: Pairc, Kershader

Seaman JOHN MACKENZIE, 21 Swordale, aged 26
Son of Mr. and Mrs. Donald MacKenzie, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

Seaman NORMAN MACLEOD, 25 Swordale, aged 31
Son of Donald and Mary Macleod, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

Seaman JOHN MURDO NICOLSON, 39 Lower Bayble (and 3 Marybank, Stornoway), aged 36
Son of John and Christina Nicholson, of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis; husband of Williamina Nicolson, of Stornoway.
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

Petty Officer WILLIAM MACLEOD, 14 Sheshader (and Marybank, Stornoway)
Local memorial: Point, Garrabost

These names are mentioned on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (panel 35); a picture can be viewed on this link. They are all cited in the third column.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Fish and centres

Two pillars of the local economy came into focus today. Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Hebrides News reports, has approved a 25-year lease for the site of the proposed salmon processing plant at Arnish. This could generate 100 jobs, a veritable bonanza of employment by Western Isles standards. When putting the link through a URL shortener, it made me smile because the title came out as:
Arnish Lighthouse caledonia lease

What has been annoying me over the last couple of weeks is the unseemly squabble over the site of the St Kilda centre. There are three contenders: Mangurstadh (Lewis), Leverburgh (Harris) and Cleitreabhal (North Uist). A consultancy firm has conducted a survey of the three bids, and Mangurstadh came out on top, as I reported a few days ago. The Harris and North Uist bidders are now calling on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to reject that advice when its tourism committee meets in the next couple of days.Yes, let's carry on fighting like ferrets in a sack. At the end of the day, there are quite a few places inside AND outside the Western Isles where the St Kilda Centre could be located. I recently read a piece by a man from Ness, who argued that his area in North Lewis had the strongest cultural link to the St Kildans of old: they still go hunting for birds, to name but one argument. How about Glasgow, from where the steamer used to depart? How about Lochaline in Morvern, where the St Kildans landed after they were evacuated in 1930?

However, each of the three bidders has a lot to lose by not getting the Centre, so this fight will carry on to the bitter end.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Pairc community buy-out

The Pairc Trust have announced that they will hold a ballot among residents of the Pairc Estate (in the South Lochs area of Lewis) in December to gauge levels of support for a hostile community buy-out. For the past five years, the Trust have been trying to reach an amicable agreement with landowner Barry Lomas, but these negotiations have run into the ground due to alleged delaying tactics on the part of Mr Lomas. It stands to reason that he wishes to reap the rewards of a possible windfarm, proposed to be built on estate land.

The Pairc Trust will be entering new territory, as this hostile buy-out bid (if it goes ahead) would be the first in Scotland. Previous community buy-outs have always gone ahead with the cooperation of the outgoing landlord.

Please note that at time of posting, the relevant link to Hebrides News only yielded part of the article.

Monday, 16 November 2009

St Kilda Centre - controversy

Over the past couple of weeks, a controversy has been raging in these islands over the recommendation for the St Kilda Centre to be sited at Mangurstadh, in Uig, Lewis. Two other locations in the Western Isles, Leverburgh (Harris) and Cleitreabhal (North Uist) are also in the running. Upon learning of the recommendation, those backing the bids by Leverburgh and Cleitreabhal suggested that the scoring criteria had been altered after the bids had been submitted. The consultants, hired to research and formulate the recommendation, have now recalculated their scorings on the three bids according to the first set of standards, which still show Mangurstadh to be the most suitable location.

I can only hope that this is the end of the controversy, but with so much at stake for the winning location, that hope could well be a vain one.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

War History

Posting links to sites related to the First and Second World Wars and the islands of the Outer Hebrides. Emphasis is on Lewis, part of it my own research, with help from island historical societies.
Faces from the Lewis War Memorial, lists the Fallen from the Isle of Lewis for the First World War; includes portrait photographs.
The Iolaire Disaster of 1 January 1919. Lists the names of those that lost their lives in that shipwreck, includes portrait photographs and pictures of gravestones in island graveyards.
HMS Timbertown, the story of the internment camp at Groningen, Holland, where more than 100 island sailors were interned for the duration of WW1.
Lists the Fallen from the Isle of Lewis for the Second World War
The 1914-1919 Roll of Honour for the Isle of Lewis
Lists the Fallen from the Isle of Harris for the 1st and 2nd World War
Roll of Honour for the First World War for Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay and Barra
Roll of Honour for the Second World War for Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay and Barra
Western Isles War Memorials: pictures and listings of the war memorials in the Outer Hebrides
Western Isles War Graves: pictures and information of those lost in the 1st and 2nd World War who are buried in the Outer Hebrides, or referred to on family gravestones in island graveyards

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Towards the end of the year

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Gearrannan, 11 November 2009"]Gearrannan, 11 November 2009[/caption]

Yes, you read that correctly. It is November 12th, and to me, the year is slowly heading towards its conclusion. Long gone are the light nights and bright days of summer. Only yesterday did I look out to the southwest at ten past four in the afternoon, and did I see the sun? No, it had set a couple of minutes before. The tourists have all headed home, with the exception of the odd customary winter visitor, here to experience the ferocity of the Atlantic winter storms. It has been dark for nearly four hours by the time the ferry comes in, at 8.20pm. If I see it coming in, as the curtains are drawn after nightfall. In summer, it comes in at 12.45 am, and it isn't even fully dark. Not now. When it leaves at 7 am, it is still dark. I walked past the slaughterhouse earlier this week, and caught the smell of beasts, newly discharged into its interior - to emerge onto our dinnerplates at some stage. The lambs that were gambolling on the machairlands in April and May, perhaps? Not a thought worth entertaining for too long. The verdant green, to use that dreadful duplication, has been taken off the moorlands and replaced by the dull browns, yellows and black of winter. Autumn, now firmly in charge, has been thoroughly wet, and any thought of venturing into the moors have to be dispelled. Snow, although not in the forecast, is a growing possibility. As is hail. During my first winter here, five years ago, I grew accustomed to the sound of the wind buffeting the house and hail (or rain) clattering against the windows. So much so, that in fact I could not sleep if there was no wind or hail. But I had a very restful winter in 2004/5. My abiding image of my first winter is that of a flock of sheep, crossing a snow-covered road late at night, seen in the yellow glow of the streetlights - when I was staying in an outlying area. Another memory is that of the hurricane in January 2005 which battered these islands with winds of up to 134 mph, taking five lives with it.

It is now November 2009, and in a few day's time, on the 16th, I will be at the 5th anniversary of my stay in Lewis. Much has changed for me in that time, some of it for better, some of it for worse. In 7 weeks time, the first decade of this century will be over, as we head into 2010. The pace of change in these islands is slower than elsewhere, but change does happen.


Some good news on the employment front this week - provided HIE gets its finger out. Lighthouse Caledonia is planning a £5 million fish processing factgory at Arnish, which could provide 100 jobs. A year ago, LC closed down a similar plant at Marybank, but say it is not economical to reopen those premises.

Also, a new fishfarm will be opened in Broadbay (the expanse of water between Point and Back), with two other sites being revived to keep the new factory operational all year. It is now up to Highlands & Islands Enterprise to come up with the money to make this enterprise a reality. I wonder if they'll put up a bus service to Arnish to take people back and forth from town.

Sunday Sport

An island girl aged 10 has applied for legal aid to take Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to court over its policy to keep the sports centres in Stornoway and Tarbert closed on the Sabbath. Similar centres in Benbecula and Barra are open for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon. Pending the court case, a solicitor has already called on the council to review its 'irrational' policy. The girl and her mother are planning to invoke equality laws to fight the Comhairle on this issue. Caledonian Macbrayne used the same legislation to start a ferry service on Sundays, which has proved highly successful. The single Sunday afternoon crossing is one of the busiest in the week.

I have the deepest respect for people's religious beliefs, and hold the genuine faithful in high regard. I have no time for those who see fit to impose a way of life on a whole community, many of whom do not adhere to the same tenets of faith. It is an unholy way to exercise power over others, and in my opinion wholly contradictory to the spirit and the letter of Christian teachings.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Armistice Day 2009

Tomorrow is Armistice Day. On that occasion, I have published two volumes, listing the casualties originating from the Isle of Lewis. The books can only be bought from, i.e. through the Internet. They are NOT available in bookshops. The on-line tributes will of course remain, and contain links to the relevant pages on

Faces from the Lewis War Memorial (First World War)
World War II casualties from Lewis (the book does not contain photographs)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


The £300 million sub-sea electricity cable, linking Lewis to the mainland electricity grid, is to be left out of a billion pound green energy investment scheme, Hebrides News reports. It is beyond my scope to assess whether this means the interconnector will not be built, but it does not look too good. The scheme was to augment Britain's move towards the use of renewable energy. In my view, this announcement removes the Western Isles from the list of powerhouses for green energy.

Monday, 2 November 2009


Arnish Lighthouse would like to extend sympathies to the family of a 5-year old girl on the island of Muck, who died a few days ago of a mystery illness. Only a few hours after playing at her older brother's birthday, Izzy Fichtner-Irvine died. She was the granddaughter of the island's owner, Lawrence Macewen. Her funeral took place last week. It was attended by 150 people, who were taken to the island by Calmac ferry and the local tourist boat, the Shearwater. They came from the mainland and from neighbouring islands.

Muck is a tiny, closely knit community of 38 souls, located some 15 miles southwest of Mallaig. It is served by ferry from that port, but inclement weather frequently disrupts sailings, particularly as the slipway is situated in a precarious location in the southeast facing Port Mor.

The windfarm and the eagle - II

Second to my previous post on the South Lochs windfarms (Eishken and Pairc), my attention was drawn to another aspect of this case - the Gravir substation and interconnector. The substation, if realised, will industrialise the South Lochs moorlands and the village of Gravir. However, neither will be required in my opinion if the Pairc and Eishken windfarms are denied planning approval on account of the Basses Corbières ruling. The case for the interconnector was always based on the construction of the two windfarms.

The Pentland Road scheme, which I reported on last week, also has a question mark hanging over it on account of a population of golden eagles near the Achmore turn-off, and (in my layman's perspective) is in equal jeopardy. If the BC ruling is held to be applicable in all three cases, then there will be NO renewable energy project in the Western Isles, and no case at all for the interconnector.

I am aware of the community windfarms which are in blueprint for North Tolsta, Horshader and  Ballantrushal. I am aware of the possible Pelamis project off Bernera. But none of these projects are in the planning process (as far as I am aware).

The Shader tidal energy barrage? This will only generate power for 1,500 homes, i.e. a good chunk of the electricity demand of Lewis. Local renewable energy schemes, in my opinion, are the way forward.

The windfarm and the eagle

Hebrides News is reporting this morning that the windfarm applications in Eishken and Pairc are in jeopardy due to European legislation on protecting golden eagles. A windfarm in Argyll was refused planning application recently, because it could threaten golden eagles. Research shows that the threat to eagles from the turbines in Lochs could be up to 10 times higher than it is in Argyll. The crux of the case lies in a ruling from Europe (referred to as the Basses Corbières ruling) that even if an area is not a so-called species protected area, the presence of eagles means that it should be treated as such.

Lawyers are currently perusing the fine print of this issue, but things are not looking good for the South Lochs windfarms.