41350: Tell a story about Bernera – part 1

A translation of an article that appeared in Gairm magazine written by Peggy Morrison

"Barraglom for porridge, Kirkibost for scones and Hacklete for big bannocks"

These words could often be heard in Bernera but there are four other villages there – Croir, Tobson, Valasay and Breaclete. Breaclete is the main village of the island, because it has the school, Post Office and two churches.

Many years ago there was a church in Kirkibost, and why shouldn’t there be? Its name means the village of the church, and although no worship is held there today it has known different times. The walls of the church, which were built from big boulders, are still standing and it is easy enough to see them on a green knoll above the sea at the south end of the village. It was an ancestor of Donald who writes in Gairm who was one of the stonemasons who built the church.
Near the church was a still-house where they made whisky that was so powerful that scarcely had a glass of it gone down a man’s throat than he was stumbling around like a dizzy sheep.

A few yards from the still-house was a smithy. Smith after smith would come but they didn’t stay long because they all died suddenly. This is not so surprising because they all had the same wife. The smith’s wife was nothing but a mischief from the devil – with no conscience, with no shame and a tongue sharper than a pair of newly-sharpened shears, who in her own sly way caused disease (consumption) in her first three husbands. The fourth husband was the lad for the job. He got the better of her. He made her sit on the hot anvil and she was so badly burnt that she never recovered.

Between the church, still-house and smithy it is little wonder that the Callanish folk were making a noise, wanting over to Bernera every day there was a service in the church. On Saturday as soon as it was light, the girls of Bernera were on their feet, looking out to see what the day was going to be like:

Look out to see if there are showers
Look out to see if it is cold
With my dearest coming from Callanish

On Saturday evening, after sprucing themselves up, the lads of Callanish that had transport would be in Bernera, having taken the ferry.

The girls would have food prepared for them. The lads from Callanish were no weaklings and they very much enjoyed food that put marrow in their backbones. They would eat their fill of a mixture of barley meal and suet that had been boiled in a cloth for six hours on the fire. The longer it was boiled the better it was. After the food was eaten the fun started and they visited from house to house. It wasn’t long before the lads got an invitation to spend the night under somebody’s roof.
On the Sabbath morning the old men and their wives would take the ferry to the church. They left the children at home but not without warning about "Di-luain a bhreabain" (Monday of chastisement – when they would be whacked with the sole of a shoe. They were very apt to get into mischief on a Sunday and their parents did not like to chastise them until Monday).

The old men of Callanish did not come empty-handed but came with full tobacco pouches – and it was well worth their while coming, for although the seats were hard and the sermon dry they didn’t mind because a good reward was awaiting them. When the church dispersed there was a horn filled with whisky waiting for everybody able to swap it for tobacco. This went on for many years but even more so when Mr Hugh (Mgr Uisdean) became minister for the parish of Uig. Although Mr Hugh stayed in Uig he had to hold a service on the fourth Sabbath of every month in the Kirkibost church.

The minister was a big strong man and he wasn’t a bad preacher either. He would bang the pulpit a lot, and he was not short of words – he could preach for two hours without tiring. It was easy to get to know him too, as the crew of the ferry who brought him over found out. The first bad day they had with strong winds and a rough sea, the crew were bedraggled with the cold, they weren’t far from the shore when Mr Hugh crouched over and opened the first bottle. Mr Hugh kept bottle after bottle for them until they reached Uig, and each dram that the crew took they would say;
"..my aren’t you a fine minister."

Don’t believe that Mr Hugh left himself empty!

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