Monday, 29 August 2011

St Kilda

It is 81 years ago today that the last inhabitants of St Kilda were evacuated from their isle, situated 40 miles west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Life had become untenable, when supplies could only be landed during the summer months. The islanders were also susceptible to illnesses, brought ashore by visitors. Until the late 19th century, there was a very high infant mortality rate, attributed to poor hygiene practices around newborns.
On 29 August 1930, the islanders of Hiort were taken to Lochaline, in the Morvern peninsula, and then on to Glasgow. Some stayed on at Lochaline, to work in forestry - an irony, coming as they did from a treeless island. The island has remained without permanent habitation. Some of the houses were left with a pile of grain on the table and the family Bible open at the book of Exodus.
I have only seen St Kilda from North Uist, on a clear day in summer. It is supposed to be visible from Mangersta, but the distance is 60 miles. The culture of the island was taken away by its people in 1930, and has been recorded assiduously. This may now be congregated at the St Kilda Centre, pencilled for a location between Mangersta and Islivig. It has been argued that a more sympathetic approach from central government in the early 20th century could have saved St Kilda for habitation. Maybe so. But it would have destroyed the unique culture, which came about through its sheer isolation.
Today, my thoughts lie 90 miles to the westsouthwest of Stornoway. The Hiorteachs have gone - their island remains.

Image courtesy Flickr-user iancowe

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Isles FM

One of the presenters on our radio station Isles FM passed away last Thursday. Peggy Macneil died of cancer at Bethesda Hospice. Regular listeners are familiar with her Moonlight Shadow programme, as well as her collaboration with Kenny There-you-go and Janet Ramsay. Although I personally do not regularly listen to the station, I was familiar with Peggy and am sad to hear of her passing. I wish her family, friends and colleagues at the station strength in coming to terms with her loss. Peggy’s funeral will take place at 2.30pm on Monday 22 August from Martin’s Memorial Church in Stornoway, to Sandwick Cemetery.

Two years ago, Joyce Murray, another Isles FM presenter, died at home on the West Side of Lewis at the age of 61. Over the nearly seven years that I’ve been in the island, there have been quite a few changes on 103 FM’s team. However, the station continues to go strong and plays a vital part in the community at times of emergency, such as severe weather.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Alcatraz UK

December 2011.

Slowly, the ferry edges towards the quayside. Heavy rain is blown along horizontally on a southwesterly gale. Grey, non-descript buildings line the harbour front, which is only just discernible through the downpour, which is laced with sleet and snow. It is 1 o’clock in the afternoon, but the streetlights are on already. A line of old, decrepit coaches await the convicts, to take them to their place of habitation for the next five years. Only a few weeks ago, they were in the leafy suburbs of London - taking the opportunity to pick up a few unpaid bargains from smashed up stores as the police stood by and buildings were torched.
The families line the railings of the ferry, as they are only allowed to disembark under police escort. Their few possessions sit on trailers, which will be towed to their new dwellings. A small line of cars drives off the ferry ramp, and disappears into the gathering gloom. Resident islanders can be seen walking down the gangway, and are whisked away by waiting cars.

Finally, the call comes and our convicts walk off the ferry, leaving behind the smells of diesel, frying fat and vomit. The last three hours were hellish, tossed about on the waves as the wind howled outside. A line of police conducts the group towards a coach, and the two dozen sit down while they are driven through the town - did anyone catch any recognisable name on the road signs? The roadnumbers were in the 800s at any rate. A few Christmas lights sway in the streets, but very soon, the last houses of the town are left behind and the coaches are swallowed up by the dark, featureless landscape, in which water glistens cold and grey every few inches. A line of four high hilltops towers up to the left, and further away, a twin-topped hill looms. Who would want to live in a place like that?
August 2011

The Stornoway Gazette reports that someone (whose name I will not repeat here) has submitted an e-petition to the British government to the effect that all those who were convicted for rioting last week should be banished to the Outer Hebrides for five years. And the paragraphs that started this post was the image that the petitioner probably has of the islands. It is ridiculous to even suggest that living in our islands is punishment. It is a challenge, no doubt. But the community spirit you find here is something that is sadly lacking in many other parts of the country. I think whoever posted that petition should come and have a look here for himself.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Carloway Show

On Wednesday, I attended the centenary Carloway Show. It was a great success, helped by some sunny and warm summer weather and a good turn-out. Just sharing a handful of pics.

Tossing the caber





Waulking the tweed

Where did we leave the car?