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The Building of the Loch Risay Lobster Pond

The Building of the Loch Risay Lobster Pond

Although there are many lobster ponds throughout Lewis and Harris, this example is unique both for its size and length of use. We do not know who first built a pond or where the idea came from but this must be one of the first constructed.

The man who built it was Murdo Morrison, a fisherman, who was born in Croir around 1827. Murdo was a man of vision and purpose who achieved much, but also experienced personal tragedy. He planned the dam and marked the two ends with large stones then went off to Australia to earn the money required to build it.

There are many tales of his time in Australia, but one astonishing fact is that he worked his passage out and within two years he had enough money to pay for his passage home and to build his dam.

The construction of the dam with its curved and tapering shape is a feat of engineering, especially for an untrained man. The workforce were local men and it is said that many women worked there also carrying the smaller stones in creels on their backs.

Before there were ponds, the fishermen sent their lobsters live to Billingsgate, a journey by cart, bus, boats and trains and as the prime season for catching lobsters is July and August, the hottest time of the year, this meant that many died on the way. Many fishermen got a telegram from their agent in London saying "All dead on arrival". Murdo would therefore buy the catch and keep it in the pond until conditions improved. Creels would be set in the pond to recapture the lobsters, which would be sent South and fetch better prices.

In 1871 Murdo married Barbara Macrae from Kintail, and they made their home in Croir where most of their children were born. Murdo would go by boat to Kirkibost to supervise the work on the dam and on one occasion took two of his sons with him, Calum aged five and Danaidh aged three. He moored the boat, leaving the boys in it. Realising this was unwise he went back to find only the younger boy there, and asking Danaidh were Calum was, the child pointed down into the sea and said "down there". Murdo's grief was such that people in Tolsta Chaolais are said to have heard his cries. They lost another three of their children as was common in those days, but he never forgave himself for the death of Calum.

When the people returned to Kirkibost in 1871, Murdo and Barbara moved to No 4 where he died in 1908. The pond was in use more or less continuously by his descendants and later by the Crofters Supply Agency until the 1960s, since then air freight out of Stornoway has been used.

It is only in the last few years that a breach occurred and this was repaired by Comunn Eachdraidh Bhearnaraidh. The dam remains as a memorial to an enterprising and courageous man.

Title: The Building of the Loch Risay Lobster Pond
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Record Maintained By: CEBL
Subject Id: 11598