39532: The People of Bernera

It is not known who the first inhabitants of Bernera were. They were probably Mesolithic people, hunter gatherers. The nature of their way of life, moving on when the local resources were exhausted means that no evidence of their stay can be found. Bronze Age and Neolithic people would have followed and there are archaeological finds elsewhere in Lewis to prove this. Although they were farmers, much of the ground that they cultivated is now below the sea as the levels have risen inexorably over the centuries. The major monuments, brochs, standing stones etc were built in this period.

Picts, Celts and Vikings all colonised the area through the Iron Age and Norse periods. Because the Romans penetrated no further north in Scotland than the Great Glen the Iron Age lasted until the coming of the Vikings, almost a thousand years longer than most of Britain.

The Celts brought Christianity and there are actual remains or local traditions of chapels or hermits cells, particularly in Kirkibost and Little Bernera. Although the Celtic people pre-dated the Norse, almost all the place names are Old Norse in etymology.

The clans in Bernera are the Macdonalds, Macaulays, Macivers, Macleods, Mackenzies, Smiths, Mackays, Maclennans, Morrisons, Macinnes, Fergusons.

The most numerous are the Macdonalds. When the Seaforth Estate was forfeited after the uprisings on the mainland in 1715 and 1719, some Macdonalds were settled on the west side of Lewis to act as a buffer between the Macaulays and the Morrisons. They are also probably the oldest clan to have been in continuous residence and claim connection with the Lords of the Isles.

The Macaulays derive from the Norse Olaf, and the Macivers came to Lewis in two waves as followers of the mainland clan.

Macleods were more common in the past, and the families now here are largely unconnected with each other.

The Macinnes are also ancient (Macinnes comes from the Gaelic mac-son, Aonghais – of Angus).

The Maclennans came from Kintail in the 17th century.

The Mackays were prolific in Tir Mor – the villages on the mainland side of the bridge. Although everyone now living in Tir Mor has Mackay blood, there are very few with the Mackay name.

The Fergusons are thought to have come over from the mainland as armourers or blacksmiths.

The Smiths took their name from their profession of smithing. One family of Smiths were originally Morrisons and moved from Harris into the far end of Uig. At that time feuding was rife between the Macaulays of Uig and the Morrisons of Ness, and they diplomatically changed their name to Smith. They are still known colloquially as na Moirich (Morrisons).

The earliest documentary mention of Mackenzie is a Widow Mackenzie who had the tack of Tobson before it was settled as a township. The other clan names came in by marriage.

Bernera Historical Society

Record Type:
Story, Report or Tradition
Type Of Story Report Tradition:
Record Maintained by: