You are here
Childhood memories of Keose
Childhood memories of Keose
Childhood memories of Keose, by Derick Thompson
It was at Keose in the Lochs district of Lewis, that I learnt to handle a rowing-boat. My mother came from there and we often had holidays in my grandfather's house. It was built literally on the sea-shore and the tide lapped its rear walls. He had had great difficulty in getting a site on which to build when he married my grandmother, who belonged to Keose. He and my grandmother reared a family of thirteen there and it was a fascinating place to go to for there was much coming and going of the family itself and also of the village people, for my grandfather, after starting as a joiner, had become an undertaker, merchant, sub-postmaster and bus-owner, all on a small and intimate scale.
Before the road was built on the south side of Loch Erisort, Keose was the "port" for South Lochs and people used to row over for their supplies of meal and flour and bran. The bustle began fairly early, at least before my brother and I rose in the morning and there was an excitement in identifying the voices in the kitchen: Murchadh Sheorais Bhig Murdo Macleod in for his daily bottle of paraffin, with his high-pitched laugh, the more ponderous accents of Murchadh Iain Ailein Murdo Mackenzie one-time deep-sea sailor, now something of a sea-lawyer, An Cat (The Cat) John Mackenzie, who once conducted his own case in the Stornoway Sheriff Court and referred graciously to the Procurator-Fiscal as "my learned friend", or perhaps his son A Phiseag (The Kitten) John Mackenzie.
There was salt dried meat hanging from the rafters in the kitchen, salt fish drying above and around the front door at the proper season and great basins of milk settling and turning thick in the warm atmosphere, though they were carefully covered with wooden lids and stowed in the lower part of the dresser. The cream would be skimmed off these basins with large scallop-shells for butter-making but also for stapag, a blessed mixture of cream and oatmeal which acquired the most delicious and exotic tang when one scooped up a little of the thick milk from just under the cream layer [see also Hebridean Fare] I remember one going along to a house in Arnol, on the West Side of Lewis, along with my father and his brother Donald, who was a minister and our first welcome was to have one of these large basins placed on the table between us,with three spoons and an invitation to go ahead.
It was mainly from her mother that my mother had got her songs and my grandmother got them from various sources. Since her own tweed was waulked at home there was of course a functional aspect to the song repertoire. Her own mother was a Finlayson from Applecross, daughter of a Macbeth mother from there, so that there was a strong strain of mainland songs intermingled with the island ones. Women tend to be particulary strong tradition bearers, especially of song.
There was a small inner bay behind my grandfather's house, largely land-locked because of the jutting tidal island known as Eilean Thabhaigh, on which the established church was built. It was here that the Rev Donald MacCallum, the famous Land Leaguer, preached to his small flock and my grandfather acted as precentor, though he never committed himself sufficiently to join the Church. He and MacCallum were good friends. MacCallum had a large glebe and ran it as a farm with the help of his brother Dughall. Later this glebe was raided and the village of Keose Glebe built upon it. One of these raiders was my Uncle Willie and my grandfather must have derived some real satisfaction from seeing his youngest son staking his claim to Keose land that had been denied himself so many years before. Nor would the irony have escaped him that he was now enjoying a few of the Land Leaguer's former acres.
Beyond Eilean Thabhaigh there was the long sweep of Loch Erisort where you could set nets (though for some obscure "reason" this was not lawful) and some two miles down the loch was Eilean Chaluim Chille, St Columba's Isle St Colm's Isle with its old churchyard. It had been the home in the seventeenth century of the Mackenzie's of Achilty, at that time acting as Seaforth's factors in Lewis and two of these have left poems, including a famous one about a boat "An Lair Dhonn". We used to go there for summer picnics and I remember taking my wife there in 1955, on a glorious warm summer day.
My mother's family had an effervescent quality, much conversation and a good lacing of wit in it. They resisted the aging process to a remarkable degree. Among those still at home in Keose in the twenties and thirties were Ann, later to be Stornoway's first lady provost (as Mrs Ann Urquhart) and Bella, who had a strong interest in literature."
Derick is the son of Malcolmina Smith, Seaview, Keose Glebe and John Thompson, 18 Aird, Tong