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Angus Gillies' Footprint
Angus Gillies' Footprint
The Bernera Gillies originally came from Strond in Harris. There were three brothers who left Harris, for what reason is not known. One came to Bernera, one went to Uig, and the third to Siadar in Ness. The earliest record we have is of a Peter Gillies in Kirkibost at the beginning of the 19th century. In common with all the other residents of Kirkibost he was cleared from the village when it was made into a sheep farm. Some people went to Point, a few to other villages outwith Bernera but the majority went to Bostadh. Angus Gillies ' Aonghas an Gillies', was the son of Iain Gillies and Ann Macaulay. Kirkibost was resettled in 1878 and the Gillies family settled on croft No.6.
As with so many young men Angus decided to emigrate in the early 1880's. The day before he was to leave, his mother asked him to go to the peat banks to fetch a creel of peats, which he willingly did.
The next time that Angus's mother went to the peat bank she found his footprint in the soft peat, a last tangible link with her son. She covered it with a turf and kept it clean until she died. Thereafter various members of the family have preserved the print until this day. Many young men who emigrated were unable to read or write so that they lost touch with their families back home. Angus was not one of this number and maintained contact with his family.
In the late 1990's an American woman made contact with Bernera via the internet. She was Bonnie Laitner. Her mother Marion was Angus' youngest child, born to his second wife. A year later Bonnie and Marion, then aged 90, journeyed to Bernera. They stayed with cousins in Kirkibost and were amazed to find that most of the population is related to them. A very touching moment came when Marion put her foot into the footprint of her father. She was shown the places in Bostadh and Kirkibost where her forefathers lived and was taken by boat to Little Bernera to the plot in the cemetery where the family were buried. It was obviously a highly emotional visit for all concerned especially as at Marion's age, it is unlikely that she will be able to make the long journey again.
E-mails go back and forth and the two branches of the family are regularly in touch. This is a story that can be repeated endlessly throughout the Highlands and Islands, but the detail of the footprint gives a poignancy that illustrates the pain of enforced separation, and the joy of reunion.