61446: Murder of the Mealista Men

Excerpt from Tales and Traditions of the Lews, by Donald Macdonald

In the long, long ago, there was a boat, manned by Mealasta men, that went for a load of timber to the woods in the neighbourhood of Gairloch, and no doubt they had permission to do so, for was not friendship cemented by the marriage of Angus Beag Macaulay of Brenish, and the big daughter of MacKenzie of Achilty. They got their cargo of timber and then set off to return to Mealasta, but in the Minch they were driven southwards with a strong north-east wind, and then it came on to blinding thick snow, and finally they lost their way, and did not know where they were. When most of them were overcome with the intense cold and hunger, someone managed to guide the boat into one of the fiords in the Park area of Lochs, which afterwards was proved to be Loch Claidh.

The natives of these parts, seeing their weakened condition, frost-bitten and unable to defend themselves, and envious of their boat-load of tree trunks, killed each in turn by hitting him on the head with a large stone contained in the foot of a stocking. They were strangers and the Park men did not know them anyway. Wood was very useful, and ‘dead men tell no tales’ was their creed. Days went by, then weeks, and finally a year passed, and the poor women of Mealasta waiting anxiously for the return of their men shed many a tear. If only they could get any news of what happened to them. The suspense was awful.

One night the spirit of one of the missing men came to the bedside of his sweetheart and he sang to her the verses of a song, Bagh Ciarach– trying to explain to her what a cruel fate had overtaken them.

The young fiancee wakened up with this song on her lips, for she could remember every word of it, and she sang it to the tune which the spirit of her dead lover had sung to her in her sleep. This was the way the knowledge of their cruel fate was first made known to the people of the upper end of Uig. A year after this the fiancee attended the Drobh or yearly cattle market that used to be held on the first Tuesday of July, and what did she see there but a man from Part wearing the exact geansaidh (jumper) which she had knitted with so much love and care for her missing lover.

The seannachie does not tell me whether the law was set in motion, or whether the Uigeachs made a foray into the Park to avenge their murdered kinsfolk. Another version says that it was a shoulder plaid of Nicolson tartan which she had woven with her own hands for her lover, that she saw exposed for sale in the Drobh by a woman from the Park, and that she went up and challenged her for it, and said that it was her very own handiwork.

Estate of Donald Macdonald

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