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Radio Interview with Ann Smith, Seaview, Keose

Radio Interview with Ann Smith, Seaview, Keose

Ann Urquhart (nee Smith) of Seaview, Keose Glebe, talking in her home in Stornoway to Morris Lindsay.

 

<Morris Lindsay>

Where were you born?

<Ann>

I was born in the village of Keose, 12 miles from Stornoway, in the parish of Lochs.

<Morris>

And what did your father do?

<Ann>

My father had a joinery business and also the village shop and the village post-office but no croft.

<Morris>

Was life very self-contained then?

<Ann>

Yes, I would say that, in my own home and most of the croft houses had their own milk, milking cow or perhaps two and they had their own potatoes, and plenty of fish to be got in the loch but the crofts were really too small to to feed a family completely.

<Morris>

What sort of games did you play as children when you were running around your village?

<Ann>

We had a lot of "ring" games, where we chanted things,you see. Of course I played marbles a lot with my brothers and my cousin and we did an awful lot of walking on the sea-shore and looking in pools and finding crabs and a lot of shell-fish that we took home and ate.

Either we put it on hot coals and roasted it like that. It was really lovely. We had a lot of shellfish.

<Morris>

Where all you games in English or were some of the rhyming games in Gaelic?

<Ann>

They were all in English which is amazing because we didn't have a Gaelic speaking Headmaster in Lewis when I was in school. Our headmaster coming into a village, two villages you see, the one school, it was a sort of a policy that,the school was sort of midway between two villages so that you didn't have to walk more than two and a half or two miles and this man came from Hamilton (!) and hadn't a word of Gaelic and the children going to school didn't have a word of English. So I think that it was a policy you see to really do away with Gaelic.

<Morris>

But when you were playing amongst yourselves other than playing games just romping around, was Gaelic the language you tended to use?

<Ann>

Oh yes! Nobody spoke a word of English but I can't remember any time when I couldn't speak English and Gaelic cos my father never reprimanded us in Gaelic. I think he though that you know to have to reprimand the girls it was altogether you know you didn't do things like that in Gaelic. I think that was it. He always would say to me when I did anything naughty, (If I did) he would say, "Shame, shame, Ann," and that was you know that was worse than being sentenced to pay a fine or something when father said that but when I came into the Nicolson, the Stornoway girls and boys they didn't talk Gaelic at all, it was only the "peasants", coming from the country, that spoke Gaelic. Oh no, they didn't speak any, any Gaelic. Now they are beginning to realise that it is not such a handicap to have Gaelic.

<Morris>

When did you come to Stornoway?

<Ann>

I was going on to 14 when I came in to the Nicolson and had to go into digs. No hostels, no buses, nothing of that kind.

<Morris>

And did you get home at weekends, or what happened?

<Ann>

Oh, not always. In the summertime I walked home. 12 miles on Friday and walked back on Sunday night to our digs.

<Morris>

What about the high days and holidays? How did you celebrate for instance Christmas and New Year?

<Ann>

We didn't really celebrate Christmas at all in our villages but New Year yes, and there would be of course special eating. We always had you know hens and huge Rhode Island Red cockerels and ducks and things like that, so that there would always be a special New Year dinner and those who were away from home, working elsewhere would send presents but it was usually at New Year not a Christmas present and so we had jolly good eating really for New Year and there was always the bottle of whisky that came round at breakfast on New Year's day. We didn't sit up for New Year at all because we had family worship and we always had to have family worship before 12 o'clock but it was always at breakfast there was a bottle of whisky and father passed a drink and of course it was horrible the smell of it and we made faces and that but father always said, "take it, from meand wish your mother a happy new year." So we took it and we put it to our lips and we said,"Bliadhna mhath ur Ma!" and then father too and that was it that was the new year started.

<Morris>

What about the other occasions that occur in the, recur in the life of every community...marriages and funerals, how were marriages celebrated, in your village?

<Ann>

Oohh! It was great! I remember going to a wedding of a man from Keose who was getting married to a girl on the other side of Loch Erisort, you see Keose is on Loch Erisort and there was no road completely round the end of Erisort. This wedding, we went by boat, beautiful in October or November, you know when you got really quiet, quiet days, and indeed there is a phrase in Gaelic for that time when it is so quiet, "Seachanaich na Samhna" which really means the calmness of the...autumn and we went by boat, several boats and we had breakfast at the bride's house and then we set out, a three mile walk to the church in Gravir, with a piper leading us...and, by the time we got out it was quite darkish and then we had the three miles to walk back to the bride's house, again, still with a piper and then there would be the great feast. The bride and groom sat at the end of a long table and she would be in all her finery and he would be very smart in a good navy blue serge suit and the beautiful broth and the cooking would go on for days, the plucking of hens and the cooking of hens. There would be a dance in the barn and not an even floor at all but you know, full of pits and hollows and stones but it was lovely. It was a great thrill and a boy from another village would ask you to dance the Scottish reels and things. It was great.

<Morris>

What did you dance to? Was it the fiddle or the pipes?

<Ann>

Eh, the pipes and the accordian.

<Morris>

What about births - were they celebrated?

<Ann>

I don't think they were particularly celebrated and birthdays didn't count very much. There were no presents for you on your birthday - no presents. We might get you know a new petticoat, because all our clothes were made at home and mother made tweeds, her own tweeds. The dyeing and everything of the wool was done outside the house, of course, great big fire and a great big pot where the dying went and the waulking, eh, w - a - u - l - k - i - n - g, and that was a celebration, when there was a tweed being waulked. You took it out, the tweed, a piece at a time out of the big tub and the girls, who were doing the walking they whacked at it, and this was really to tighten up the weave because it would be hot water and all those soaps and you whacked,and they had songs now,they had waulking songs and one of the women or the girls, would give a verse or two lines of a song and then the others all joined in, in the chorus, and very often that is how we heard if there were any, unmarried women, and if they had boyfriends, that was the way we heard, because, the one who was putting out the line of the song would connect this person with a certain name so we found out if there were any that weren't married, if they had boyfriends because we didn't go out walking with boyfriends at that time, it was only a "bold hussy" that would be seen out walking with a boyfriend.

<Morris>

How was courting done then?

<Ann>

Well courting was done in an extremely fantastic way. Not with us but in mothers time and in my time too but we didn't do that and the boyfriend came to see you at night.

<Morris>

You mean literally at night? Not in the evening?

<Ann>

Not in the evening literally at night because it would be dreadful you see that you would be sort of showing off that you had a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you always tried to hide that until it was time for the "reiteach"...for the contract to be taken.

<Morris>

So he came under cover of darkness?

<Ann>

He came under cover of darkness and I think the parents would be very accommodating and would you know go off to bed and leave them and things like that. My parents didn't do that. My father especially really didn't welcome boyfriends to the house at all. I don't know why...mother used to be quite annoyed because he didn't like us to have boyfriends.

<Morris>

But you got married all the same?

<Ann>

Yes, we got married all the same!

<Morris>

Turning now to your...were there any great,events outside events...eh, shipwrecks, which, presumably there must often happen around Stornoway when you were in school that stick in your mind?

<Ann>

Oh yes and there were always drownings and of course the big thing the BIG terrible terrible, tragedy was the sinking of the Iolaire. The war was over and it was Christmas and they were coming home Naval men, I think there were 200 Naval men on her, and they could see the lights of Sandwick and the lights of Stornoway and she went on rocks down at Holm which is just down Sandwick way. They called them the "Beasts of Holm" those rocks were called and they went on there and nearly every man on board was drowned and then the shore the next morning was littered with bodies and parcels you know things that they were taking home for the kids, dolls and it really was the greatest disaster that ever struck Lewis.

<Morris>

Turning now to the appearance of the island, has that changed a great deal since you were a little girl?

<Ann>

Ohh! Tremendously! Even since I was a big girl it has changed, very tremendously too!

<Morris>

In what way?

<Ann>

The crofts were all tilled when I was a child. Not ploughed, they didn't have ploughs, they were done with the spade, tilling with the spade and manure from the houses they nearly every house in Keose was what we call, a black house, a thatched house, heather, thatch, and a big fire in the middle of the floor and in my own grandfather Macdonald's house we loved going to it, because there was the HUGE fire, the huge hearth and there would be a stradhlaidh (crane) coming down, you see, and there usually be a pot boiling on this and there was plenty of room on this wide, circular hearth for pots and pans and kettles.

<Morris>

And peats, would of course be the fuel, was it?

<Ann>

Oh, peats were the fuel, yes indeed!

<Morris>

What are your recollections of these times when you were young?

<Ann>

Ho-ho! Entirely different from the Stornoway of my old age! Completely different! I seem to have lived in two completely different worlds. Really. when I came in and long after I came into School here and indeed until the time I married, it was, the herring industry that was the, "big thing" in Lewis, in Stornoway. It was the herring indeed that Stornoway was built on. It was different. There were no big multiple stores or anything like that. All the shopkeepers were people that you knew, or your father knew, and it was a very close-knit society really. To me it was a wonderland, coming in from my native village you know.

<Morris>

You said a moment ago that you felt that there's two different worlds. What strikes you now about the Stornoway of today?

<Ann>

Well, of course its a different kind of life, it's a different kind of living. People are so much better off now. There were an awful lot of really poor people when I was a child but that did not mean that they appeared more unhappy because I don't think that they did. I think they were more satisfied to have a little when they got it, it was worth a lot...but now people never seem to be satisfied unless they are, better houses or better homes or more power than the person next door or something like that. I don't think we ever had it so good materially.

<Morris>

At one stage in your life you played a role didn't you in the local authority, therefore you must have "helped" to bring about these material improvements?

<Ann>

I actually was Provost of Stornoway for a very short time and the only woman who has ever been Provost of Stornoway. I don't think that I was ever very clever but I did know what was happening round me and I was very interested in housing and I was very happy doing it and we didn't get paid in those days for anything. I could have some weeks here. I could have two committees you know four days a week or five days a week but well I had to have somebody in the house doing and when I went off to Dingwall to our county town we got a small subsistence allowance and they paid our fare but then my own house would be neglected and I had to have a woman in, but I got no money for any of that!

<Morris>

No! You obviously enjoyed it though!

<Ann>

My great thing was the housing of the people. That's why I'm so glad now,that people can buy their council houses. I really fought for that and the Town Council when the Secretary of State, first of all gave Local Authorities permission to do that and I thought that that was the proper thing to do and of course there was such objections to that, "O that means that the people who have money can buy houses", but I couldn't see of course men can be terribly stupid, can't they Mr Lindsay really, they CAN be so stupid!

<Morris>

I won't take you on that one but having lived most of your life in Stornoway, what is it that you feel is the quality of the place?

<Ann>

Well, there are many things, really, I like the feel of the place. I think that our own people our island people have a quality of kindliness and hard headedness too. Friendliness especially helping each other it used to be very much like that, anybody that needed help from a person who was better off for work or for anything else got help and I think that we are still a kindly people. I can feel that there are so many people here like myself who understand me and whom I understand and I couldn't really imagine me living,and being completely happy, anywhere else.

<Morris>

What about the climate? You have a fairly shall we say, vigorous climate here. Do you come to terms with that after a time?

<Ann>

I'm always grousing about it but I don't think that we're worse than anywhere else! You know, when I go down to see my only child, my only daughter is married in Cheshire. I've just come back from a month there and they don't seem to talk about the weather. When they have bad weather there, they tell you about the good weather they have and when they come up here, they talk about the bad weather we have but to me, the weather here is every bit as good. I don't think we get it so warm in the summertime now but in the winter we don't have that piercing cold that you can even get on the mainland and on the east coast. I like the wind and the rain. I don't like the rain that comes down deadly in November but I like the rain that is blown into you face but what I find, even, when I used to go to Dingwall a lot, even the wind and the weather wasn't straight forward. They didn't hit you in the face. They came creeping up. The cold came creeping out of the ground and under your skirts you know. If you wore a kilt, I suppose, you would feel the same.

<Morris>

Here you mean it doesn't do anything underhand, it comes straight at you?

<Ann>

Oh!.It comes straight at you and I like the greyness. I like the bare moors when they're brown and if you have a blue sky and a very brown moor, you get the lochs absolutely sapphire. When I go away from here I see more flowers and trees and things in you know, blooming earlier butwhat I discover is those beautiful flowers, they don't have the scent, there's no longer any scent to flowers, its just masses of colour and I like the wild thyme and the primroses, and the little, wild roses and things like that. Very, very simple tastes but I just love Lewis and I think that Lewis has turned out men and women and young people, that are really as good and I do think a lot better, that most other places that I have seen.

 

 

Title: Radio Interview with Ann Smith, Seaview, Keose
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Radio
Record Maintained By: CECL
Subject Id: 10631