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Calum Sgaire, a Bernera love story

Calum Sgaire, a Bernera love story

"Ged as math a bhith seoladh
'S olc a tha e gam chordadh
'S mor gum b fhearr leum bhith am Bostadh
Cuir an eorna as na raoin"

The words have been sung so many times, but I wonder if we ever think of the man who wrote them or the subject of his words. Calum Sgaire was a young man growing up on the island of Bernera in the village of Bosta and, like so many Bernera men before and after, the sea flowed through his veins. By the time he was seventeen he was sailing on the schooner "Express" to the Baltic. The "Express" carried fish that had been cured in the "taighean saillidh" on the island, travelling past Orkney to Norway and beyond. For many years he made these trips but always returning to his island and the girl to whom he had given his heart. This girl was Margaret Macleod, a Breaclete girl, who every summer would go to the sheiling on the moor at Loch an Fhir Mhaol

Och nan och! Gur trom m'osnaich,
'S fhada bho mo luadh a nochd mi.
Mise tuath an Cuan Lochlainn
Is is' aig Loch an Fhir Mhaol"

On one of his infrequent trips home he asked for her hand in marriage, she was overjoyed and accepted gladly. Her parents, however were not as enamoured at the match and, whether this was because he was away from home so often or that they didn't think he was a suitable match for Margaret we don't know, but after Calum left, they told their daughter that she should marry another man who they deemed more suitable. To us this seems quite inhuman and we wonder how Margaret could agree but, at that time, parents wishes held a lot of weight and were obeyed to the letter and, to be fair, they probably thought they were doing what was best for their daughter.

In the early to mid 1800s, for poor families in the islands, wedding finery was not an option, but the bride always wore white gloves. After the marriage the gloves would be packed away and not worn again until the woman wore them to the church on the day of her first child's baptism.

Margaret's wedding day arrived and she went with her family to the church, she stood beside her husband-to-be and uttered her vows before the minister and congregation. After the ceremony all the guests, family and friends went joyously back to the house for the "banais taighe" to celebrate the marriage of the couple. At an opportune moment Margaret took her mother aside, took the gloves off her hands and passed them to her saying;

"Cha bhith feum agamsa tuilleadh dhaibh"
"I shall have no more need of them"

"Oh but you will" replied her mother "you will wear them at the baptism of your first born."

Margaret repeated;

"Cha bhith feum agamsa tuilleadh dhaibh"

Within a year Margaret was dead. Some say of a broken heart.

When Calum returned he was distraught and decided there and then to leave Bernera forever. There was a ship leaving for Canada at that time, "The Marlow". She was anchored between Tolsta Chaolais and the island of Vacasay. Two or three of Calum's brothers, his sister and her family went to Canada with him. They worked very hard and prospered in this strange new world with its trees and bitterly cold winters.

Calum eventually married when he was in his mid to late 40s, another Lewis girl, Mary Maciver from Gress who had emigrated with her parents in 1842. They had six children, one named Sgaire, a name that has remained in this family down the generations.

This might not be the happiest of love stories, but then so few of the memorable ones are.

Bernera Historical Society

Title: Calum Sgaire, a Bernera love story
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Newspaper Article
Record Maintained By: CEBL
Subject Id: 18112