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The Boatbuilders of Cuiriseal
The Boatbuilders of Cuiriseal
Cuiriseal was a small coastal settlement near Kebboch Head, known for its tradition of boatbuilding. The builders were Smiths by name and successive generations of them followed that vocation until the present century. The last to do so was Alexander Smith (1831-1922) who had moved to Leurbost and was known as Alastair Mac Mhurchaidh Mhic Alastair ic Mhurchaidh ic Muirchaidh.
Alasdair had a brother Donald who was the father of Rev Murdo Smith, who was born in Leurbost in 1880 and had a place in Bardach Leodhais as a Bard. Among his compositions are Te bhan, te bhan, te buidhe bhan, te bahn a rinn mo chuaireadh, and also Fogradh ar Gaidheal, of which the first four of twenty verses follow:
Mo horaidh leis na fuar-bheannaidh
'S na glinn 's an robh mi 'buachailleachd
Is dulich lean mar h'fhuadaicheadh
An sluagh 'bha annta 'còmhnuidh
Tha sliachd nan suinn a dh'aiticheadh
Na glinn ind a chaidh fhàsachadh
An diugh mar ghoill gun ghaidheig àc
Air sraidibh bhailtean mòra
B'eìgin doibh an cul à cur
Ri sleibh ùs glinn an duthacais
Airson gu'm biodh na striceannan
'N an lùchairt charrach mhòra
Tha ma sleibh a dh'àraicheadh
An trend a ghleusadh stailinnean
An dingh fo fhèidh n' am fasaichean
'S fo chaoraìch bhana bhoideach
Murdo Smith, Murchadh ic Mhurchaidh, who was great grandfather of this Alasdair, is thought to have been the first of this succession of boatbuilders that lived at Cuiriseal and the leac of natural smooth sloping slab of rock on which the boat builders launched their finished boats is known to this day as Leac Murchaidh mhic Mhurchaidh. It is said that the groove in the rock at Mol Stiogh a'Chragain (see picture below) was worn by the keels of the boats launched there.
The most noteworthy craft that was built at Cuiriseal was the one known as Brig-mhic-Nèill-an-Eilean. MacNeill an Eilean was Donald MacNeill, so called because he lived on Eilean Chaluim Chille in Loch Erisort, though he came from Ardinish in the Isle of Gigha. MacNeill married the only child of Colin Mackenzie, known as Cailean Dearg, who became Chamberlain of Lewis in 1739. He used his influence to get for his son-in-law a tack or lease, on very favourable terms until 1773, of the whole of Park area. Murdo Smith held the tenancy of "Cuirishall" from Donald MacNeill.
The famous brig launched at the Leac was built by Alasdair MacMhurchaidh mhic Mhurchaidh, probably together with his father Murdo. Its captain was Donald MacNeill's son Malcolm who was a shipmaster at Stornoway , and engaged in the emigration trade. There is a reference to him and his brig in the library of congress in Washington. This brig in its day held the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic, aided by a favourable wind, on a voyage from Quebec to Loch Shell.
Donald Angus Matheson, 27 Gravir and Manor Park, Stornoway, a professional shipwright advises that the declivity of the launching Leac at Cuiriseal is exactly the same declivity as the ship yards at Glasgow, ie half an inch to the foot.