8594: Crofting in Geshader I: the people and places

Interview with Finlay Maciver, Geshader & Carishader, November 2004.

Geshader cultivation, beyond the crofts

Behind croft No 6 Geshader there was a walled area called Leas Chonnich Fhionnlaigh. Kenneth Maclean had been evicted from Vuia Mhor and had relatives in Ungeshader, the family of Colin Maclean. Kenneth Maclean made his home in Ungeshader but didn’t have ground to grow crops. The Geshader people gave him a piece of ground, he worked the ground and made rigs of it then walled the area to keep the cattle out. Sheep were not a problem as they weren’t allowed in the village while the crop was growing. Kenneth built a little stone shelter for himself; it was called Bothag Choinnich Fhionnlaigh. This was to save him walking back and fore from Ungeshader every night. The foundations are still visible under An Creag Ghlas just beside the remains of the walled area where he grew his crops many years ago. He married to Brenish and he was the grandfather of ‘Point’, Finlay Maclean of 1 Brenish.

Aonghas Choinnich from 6 Carishader also got a piece of ground from the Geshader people. On the croft at 6 Carishader there were two families, and not enough fertile ground to sustain them both. Leas Aonghas Choinnich can still be seen, it’s the walled area by the sea, just past An Gleann Ruadh feannags, and you can see it as you drive through Carishader. Aonghas Choinnich worked the ground and built a wall to protect his crops from the cattle. He died over in that field. The neighbours in Carishader realised he wasn’t moving, ran across and he was dead. This walled area was called Buaile Chroseo in Geshader and Buaile Aonghas Choinnich in Carishader.

Gannstotl – this is a superb walk

Gannstotl was one of the cultivation areas for the village of Geshader – an ideal place by the sea where it was easy to get the seaweed up from the shore. On a slope it offers good drainage. We have several pictures of this area in the collection. There are signs of early settlement and cultivation here.

In oral tradition this was particularly fertile ground, good for planting potatoes and the area is said to have been last cultivated in the 1870-90s. This area is worth a visit as there is a mill wheel which is still in the process of being hewn from the rock. The mill wheel is in an area which has very distinctive rock, under Cnoc Gannstotl. There is a mill on the stream that leaves Loch Dubha at the bottom of Stromacleit, a boundary wall to track, a path down to the cultivation area used to take the crops back to Geishader. This was also a popular place for rock fishing (creagach), run rigs (feannags), and potato pit hollows can be seen in the cultivation area from the top of Cnoc Gannstotl.

A walled garden for willow for creel making is en route from Geshader to Gannstotl at the back of No 9 Geshadar (Leas Caoil Aonghas Ban, named after (Paddy) Angus Macritchie of No 9).

Geshader mills & kilns

The mill on the way out to Gannstotl near Geshader was called Muilean ‘an ‘ic Aonghais. I remember when I was in Loch Croistean School, on a wet day when we stayed inside at the interval. The girls used to dance in the porch and the tune they danced to was:

"A mhuilean a bha am bun an t-sruth aig Aonghas Dubh an dearbaidh
Chaidh i mach mu Bhuidha Bheag ‘s tarsuinn man an t-Seann Bheinn"

There were another two mills in Geshader. One on An Locha Ruadh; I remember the dam being there. There was only a little gap in the dam if they were going to use the mill, and they closed them off until the loch filled up . There were two mills the upper mill and the lower mill on the burn which was the boundary between Croft No 4 and Croft No 5. There were two drying kilns. One of them was up between No 2 & No 3 where you can still see the foundations. The other one was at Grasivig. The one at Kinloch was too far from the shore to dry kelp. I never ever heard kelp mentioned in relation to either of the mills so they must have been for oats and barley. Every rig was cultivated – I remember it well. I remember coming home from school and seeing the corn growing lush and green and then in the autumn when it ripened being golden


John Macritchie, known as Shiulpan, had a brother married on No 9 Geshader. The brother was Aonghas Ban or Paddy. Shiulpan married a girl on the Gleann Ruadh, at 1 Geshader. His wife may have had some connection with Callanish. When they left the Gleann Ruadh they went to North End Carishader. He had a little black house there just where the little bungalow is today. He must have been married on Croft 9 because on every croft in the village there was a feannag (lazybed) called Feannag Shiulpan. Everyone must have given him a feannag to plant crops. When he left the Gleann Ruadh, An Griasaich (the cobbler) went to live there.

Shiulpan had a son Angus who was in the army before the war and then he was a signalman on the railway. Mairi a daughter lived in Ayrshire. Their mother died over in North End Carishader and the family never returned after that. Shiulpan’s picture is in the museum in Uig. He is pictured with a bag of crotal on his back. (Crotal was a moss collected from the rocks and used to dye the wool)

The Potato Road – Rathad a Bhuntata

There were two roads in Geshader that were built at the time of destitution. This was at a time when the potato crop had failed and people were starving. The government organised projects whereby people worked building roads, in this case it was to the village peatbanks and they got potatoes as payment for their labour.

One of the roads built began opposite Taigh Chraig at Taigh ‘an Chaluim, Croft No 6, going out to Leana Habhal where the peatbanks were. The other one on the north side of the village went up the Gill’ Fhraoich to the Gearraidh where the peatbanks for Grasivig were, that’s where No 11, No 10 and Coinneach an Bhuidhe No 7 were.

The workers could keep their pride if the worked for their food. I’ve only ever heard the one on the north side of the village called Rathad a Gille Fraoich but it was built in the same way as Rathad a Bhunat’ that goes out the back of Creag a Loch a Ruaidh. It continues out to where the peatbanks begin at Leana Habhal. That’s where the peats were on that side of the village at Creag Ard and down to An Fheadan Dhubh where No 8’s peats were cut. Crofts 5, 6, 8 and 9 cut their peats there. Crofts No 6, 8 and 9 had two houses on them, that was a lot of peat. This could have been around the time James Macrae who lived in Miavaig House was an Inspector of the Poor. There was a store in Miavaig House where they kept the potato and meal supplies and that’s probably where the payment for road building came from.

The Cobbler – An Greusaich

Donald Macdonald began as a cobbler at Grasivig, No 11 Geshader. His father An Ghrasabhaig (Iain Dhomhnaill ‘ic Iain) lived in a house which is now a ruin at Rubha Grasivig. Donald and two of his brothers William and Iain lived on the croft with their respective families. When Shiulpan left Gleann Ruadh at No 1 Geshader, Donald ‘An Greusaich’ bought it. He built a shed specifically for his shoemaking business. Donald had served his time in Crowlista with Seoras Mhurchaidh Cleoid. They were related through marriage.

When Timsgarry was broken up into crofts William moved with his family to Croft No 5. Iain being the eldest stayed on the croft. Donald’s eldest son also Donald and Peter also became shoemakers. Donald junior married when the family were still living in Grasivig and moved to No 4 Geshader. Donald junior married Peggy Mhurchaidh Choinnich and he build a house on half of croft No 4 and he was a shoemaker there. Donald and his wife went to Timsgarry in 1937. Padraig continued to offer a shoemaker service in the same shed after his father’s death and up till the end of the war. The ruin of the shed is still there, it was a stone gable and the rest was wood. It had a fire and was the local taigh ceilidh. When the locals brought in shoes for repair they stayed for a ceilidh and anybody passing would call in for a yarn.

The people of North Harris came to An Gleann Ruadh to get shoes repaired and also to get new shoes made. The shoemaker also made the high boots the fishermen wore before rubber Wellingtons were invented. Eventually the upper leathers of the shoes came ready made from the mainland. I remember seeing the implement he had to measure your feet for new shoes. The people came from Scarp, Abhainnsuidhe, Cliasamol, Meabhaig Harris and Luachair – they all came to get shoes made.

– interview and translation by Maggie Smith.

Continue to part two.

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