41204: Healing and medical services in Bernera

Before the advent of doctors, ailments were treated by a mixture of herbal medicine and some superstition. In the early part of the 19th century, there was a man living in a part of Croir called Gasun – he was known as Domhnall Gassun – and he was well versed in using plants for all manner of illness. People would turn to him for help but were wary of the source of his knowledge. When he was getting on in years, he asked for a young lad to be allowed to live with him so that he could pass on his knowledge, but no-one was willing to do this. Unfortunately all that information was lost.

There was also the belief that the 7th son of a 7th son had healing powers, particularly for curing the King’s Evil. He would be called the ‘Dotair Beag’ (the wee doctor) and as families reduced in size the title was given to just the 7th son.

The practise of ‘cupping’ for relieving joints by the removal of fluid was still in use until the 1970’s. Many animals were cured without the benefit of vets. This knowledge is now largely forgotten

The first doctor lived in Garynahine and was only summoned in emergencies. Before the bridge was built in 1953 he had to be brought by boat to Kirkibost from Callanish and then could have several miles to walk to the patient. Even after the hospital was opened in Stornoway it was difficult to get there with no road nearer than the Uig road end seven miles away. The sick were taken on a stretcher, or on a door removed from its hinges, to the shore – there to be put on a boat to go to Callanish – then by cart or later by bus to Stornoway.

A woman living in Croir had been in labour for three days and all the men of the village were gathered to carry her down to the boat – she finally arrived in Stornoway where she was safely delivered. The records have many instances of women dying in childbirth. There were also many cases of babies dying from what was called Tinneas na Coig Oiche (five nights sickness) – probably due to lack of hygiene.

Today a team of local "first responders" attend any house where an ambulance has been requested so that trained help is on hand quickly. The medical practice is based at Miavaig in Uig and the doctor has two surgeries a week. There used to be a resident district nurse in Bernera but now the nurses’ visits are also managed from Uig.

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