Working the land in Breasclete

Aonghas Ruadh a man who was there, maintains “That the Breasclete Re-seeding turned out better than any other re-seeding on the island” The very first re-seeding scheme created in the Isle of Lewis in the 1950s. No tractors or spreaders were used on the area, with the work of spreading lime and grass-seed all done by hand. All the men lined up with buckets and moved forward together in a straight line “Mar a bhiodh iad a’ cur a’ chorc uaireigin, làn do dhùirn do shìol air a fhrasadh fad do làimh”.

A representative from each croft in Breasclete turned to and they are pictured below with Angus Macleod from the Board of Agriculture.

Angus Macarthur treasurers this picture as a momento of how the village men worked together and it has pride of place in his room in the care home. After naming everyone in the picture, Angus spoke in his native language about his memories of life on the croft and his first job working in the Harris Tweed Mill in Stornoway in 1952.


Air a lot :Bhiodh sinn a falbh leis a bhò a h-uile madainn a-mach ga na cnuic air cùl Bhreascleit. D’fheumadh gach duine a dol a-mach leis a’ bhò aca fhein, neo bhiodh iad a sabaist. Bhiodh crodh Ceann a Muigh Bhreascleit a sabaist ri crodh Cheann a Staigh Bhreascleit, mar gum biodh iad ag radh “Seo an area againn”. Thigeadh an crodh leotha fhein aig àm bleòghainn.

Nuair a bhiodh Faing Beinn Chrionaig ann, bhiodh làraidh An Charaich a falbh làn dhuine, a-mach am Pentland mu ochd uairean. Thòisicheadh an trusadh agus bhiodh sinn air ais anns an fhaing am Breascleit ma aon uair deug neo da-reug. ’S a toirt an latha a rùsgadh mas e àm an rusgadh a bh’ann. Cha robh creag nach robh ainm orrra. Bha aon àite ann air an robh An Anail. Aite air Rathad a Phentland far a faigheadh tu air stad le claibh, do chùl a chur ri aghaidh na creig’ agus bha sloc anns a’ chreag a gabhadh cuideam a’chliabh.

Bha Rathad a Phentland gu math feumail do mhuinntir Bhreascleit ’s e Cailleach Perrins a fhuair an teàrr air an rathad. Cha robh air a bhith ann roimhne sin, ach rathad morgain làn chlachan. Bha i na Councillor aig Ross and Cromarty County Council. Bha i air ceann na daoine a choisich air a’ mharch le piobaire, saoilidh mi gur e Calum Piper a bh’ann. Bha i a’ deanamh ructions mu dheidhinn an rathad agus choisich i fhein agus crowd eile à Breascleit a Steòrnabhagh. Sin man a fhuair sinn an teàrr.

Tha cuimhne agam na bodaich a cruinneachadh an taigh mo sheanair, a tighinn a d’èisteachd ri naidheachdan a’ chogaidh aig naoi uairean air an Home Service. Bha an accumulator agus battery a dol a Steòrnabagh air làraidh An Charaich airson a’ chargeadh. Bha an taigh, dubh le ceò nam pìob, leis a Bhogey Roll. Bhiodh na bodaich ann a suid a toirt am beachdan air cuisean gu meadhan oidhche.

Bha rations ann aig àm a’ chogaidh bha coupons ann. Bha Niall Alasdair an ceannaich à Ciribost a tighinn air an eathar, bàta sùil, a d’ iarraidh na rations gu Cidhe Bhreascleit. Bhiodh sinn a faighinn sail anns an eathar uaireannan nam biodh tìde aige. Bha Shed An Charaich a’ faighinn tòrr ga na coupons. Bhiodh iad a tighinn à Tolsta Chaolais dhan an t-seada aige.Bha na leabraichean coupons a tighinn bhon a Mhinistry of Food ann an Steòrnabhagh.

Ag obair anns a’ mhuillin

Chaidh mi a d’ obair dhan a’ mhuilinn an uair a dh’ fhag mise an sgoil ann an 1952. Bha tòrr mhuillin ann an Steòrnabhagh an uairsin Newall,Tod, Muillean Smith, Stickie agus Stephen Burns .Bha grùnn bhusaichean a tighinn às an Rudha agus bhon a’ Bhac le na bha ag obair anns na muillean.

Bha sinn a toiseachadh aig ochd a h-uile madainn gu sià uairean ach gun robh sinn a sguir aig meadhan latha Dihaoine. Bha hooter ann a Muillean Smith a chluinneadh tu air feadh Steòrnabhagh agus bha sin a’ seirm gach lath agus sinn a faighinn uair a thìde aig tràth diathad. ’S ann aig na spinning flats a bha mise.

Thall againn fhìn ann am Breascleit bha small producers ann. Daoine man Dòmhnall Iain a’ Chidhe agus bhiodh e deanamh clòithtean agus a’ cumail spares nam beart. . Nuair a thòisich mise a’ fithe, bha ma 60 breabadair anns a’ bhaile. ’S e boireannaich bu mhotha bha fithe. Bha dhà neo trì bheartan anns a h-uile seada beart an uair ud. Bha na teaglaichean cho mòr agus air a sguireadh aon daoine, leumadh cuideigin eile air a’ bheart. Bha thu ag ionnsachadh man a bha thu a fàs an àrda, bha a’ bheart man pìos den fhurnadair.

Aonghas MacAmhlaigh Breascleit




Had a lovely afternoon in Trianaid getting to know some of the residents and carers. I took along a range of local books and photos. Many of these were based around the theme of planting and feannagan (lazy beds). These included photos of cutting the seaweed for fertilizer and the tools used in the process. Someone had been told that the cas-chrom (foot plough) was invented in Grimsay by the boat builders who could turn their hands to anything. Other areas in Uist such as Baleshare didn’t need the foot plough because the ground was soft so they just used a sliobhag (dibble). There were lots of nods and agreement about who the man in the photo was with the sgùird (canvas bag).


I took along a badag (home made feather brush). This was recognized immediately and the sweeping gestures demonstrated along with some detailed explanations of how they were used in their homes. Dusting flour, on the griddle pan while making scones, sweeping the top of the stove and some even used it for sweeping ashes away. The feathers were kept very clean because they were used for cooking. People mainly used hens feathers, or any feathers they had access to, bunched them together and tie them up with string. Voila! A great use of local materials and easy to make, I might start a campaign to ‘Bring back the Badag’!

Other things I learned today;
The daffodils I brought along with the orange centre are actually Narcissus – a cousin of the daffodil.
A skinned otter would get you enough money for a night out at the dance.
Herbs are the best remedies for everything and it’s a gift to know how to use them.
Gannets will only eat fish they catch themselves.
Wild roses are the best.

Best offer of the day:
I’ll teach you how to make a creel we just need some bamboo and something to knit with.

The daffodils were hugely admired; ‘oh it’s daffodil time’, mmmm, lots of smelling and happy smiles ‘oh you’re the daffodil lady’, ‘are you going to leave them here?’


Two more preview trips to the Museum and Lovely Myra

I met Myra Lamont today, who volunteers for Life Changes Trust and is a volunteer member of  NDCAN

She was in the area to support carers and I was lucky enough to spend some time with her today, when she came along to the Museum trip with Solas and stayed to have a lunch meeting with me at An Lanntair.

I learned so much from Myra, her information was invaluable and I’ll be working on one of her ideas in the immediate future.

Meanwhile, the group from Solas loved the Museum preview trip. There were ten people with dementia, 5 staff plus volunteers and myself plus Myra.

The next group came from Blar Buidhe care Centre (having heard about how much people enjoyed it last week, another group wanted to come). Margaret Anne took great pride in being able to read Gaelic and another lady was so high in her standard of Gaelic, that she was able to correct some Museum resources! It was a beautiful day, too.


Check out our Podcasts page – there are Gaelic language lessons there (Gaelic Without Trying series to enable carers to learn Gaelic without having to commit to lesson time) PLUS our Gaelic Culture Podcast series of beautiful songs, stories and poetry in English and Gaelic.

Please share it widely. It is intended for sharing with people in the community living with dementia, so please highlight this to anybody you know who works with, cares for, is related to or knows anybody across the islands who might enjoy them.

I will have some headphones and splitters next week for any care centres or hospitals who would like to share these with residents/patients/clients.

Wee Studio Podcast Recording

We had a massively industrious recording session today at Wee Studio – three podcasts in one session.
One is for the forthcoming memory box relating to moorland. It has a song about the shielings  by Maggie and the words read as a poem by Donald Saunders.
The next podcast is about the Herring Girls and Maggie explains the story of the song and then sings it (magically).
The final podcast is the second of our Gaelic Without Trying series, designed to support carers to learn Gaelic by absorption.
They will appear shortly for downloading.
Because of the detail about how songs were learned and remembered, this will be a useful resource for academics researching bilingualism and oral traditions across the islands as well.


Spinning session with Mary Smith

Maggie Smith and Mary Smith held spinning sessions at Blar Buidhe and Dun Eisdean Care Centres today.

Memories flowed of carding and setting up weaving machinery and how the carding process was boring but machinery was available to do it.

We spoke about natural dyes, onion skins and flowers, different uses for urine(!) and that the spinning wheel was made in the 1980s in Carloway. Each area has a particular kind of drop spindle but the ones Mary brought were mostly used for plying the wool.

It was wonderful to work with Mary Smith after hearing about her work a few times…..and Maggie brought beautiful Gaelic flavour and a traditional weaving song to the sessions….but the cat totally stole the show!


Beàrnaraigh Loch a Ròag by Chrissie Bell Maclean

Blog 3 Chrissie B Maclean

Chrissie Bell Maclean had her 89th birthday this month. Memories of summer holidays with her granny in Great Bernera in the 1930s, is the theme of her poetry Beàrnaraigh Loch a Ròag

Local singer John MacDonald, very taken with the lyrics, created a melody and hopes to feature the track on his next recording.

This is a delightful poem about Great Bernera and its landmarks. Chrissie Bell Maclean has a real gift for poetry.

Beàrnaraigh Loch a Ròag

Air madainn mhoch ’s an t-sàmhradh
Nuair bhios druchd air bhàrr an fheòir
’S a chì mi ghrìan ag èirigh
Anns an iarmailt gòrm gun sgòth
Chan eil àite san t-saoghal seo
A chì mi bhios nas bòidhche
’S mi fuasgladh mo shùilean
Ann am Beàrnaraigh Loch à Ròag

’S iomadh àite tha àlainn
Anns na h-Eileannan a Tuath
Ach ’s ann an Eilean Bheàrnaraigh
Is tric a tha mo smuain,
Tha sonas is toil-inntinn ann
Is binne guth na h-eòin
A’ seinn air bhàrr nan craobhan
Ann am Beàrnaraigh Loch à Ròag

Ged tha sìan nam bliadhnachan
Ag atharrach gach nì
’S an aois a deanamh dealachadh
Agus sgaradh anns an tìr
Bithidh ’n caoimhneas is an càirdeas
A chaoidh ga chumail beò
’S gach cnòc is gleann cur fàilte orm
Ann am Beàrnaraigh Loch à Ròag

’S iomadh latha àlainn,
Ghabh mi an t-aiseag air an t-shàil
Gu Rudha Glas an Circibost
Ann an sinn bha m’àite tàmh
Gun tug mi spèis nach dealaich rium
’S cha cheannaicheadh an t-òr
An t-eireachdas san caoimhneas
Ann am Beàrnaraigh Loch à Ròag

Dh’fhàg mi làrach chasan
Anns gach cnoc is lèann is tòm
Bho acarsaid an Dùbh Thob
Gu taighean Barraglom
Suas gu Mullach Hacleit
Far ’m b’eòlach mi nam òig
’S a-mach gu baile Bhreacleit
Ann am Beàrnaraigh Loch à Ròag

Nuair thig mi mach gu Bostadh
Far bheil luchd mo ghaoil nan tàmh
The tobhtaichean ar sinnsearan
An-diugh le feur a fàs
Tha sin na adhbhar smaoineachadh
Gum bheil ar beatha mar cheò
Air latha breàgha sàmhraidh
Ann am Beàrnaraigh Loch à Ròag

Chriosaidh NicIleathainn Chrissiebell MacLean

Interview, transcription and introduction by Maggie Smith

Hand Memory – by Jon Macleod

Hand memory pdf

net mending blurredScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 09.30.28Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 09.30.38Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 09.30.47Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 09.31.06Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 09.31.12

images: Net mending session at Blar Buidhe, Carding wool at Harris house, Knitting pattern, Anne Campbell (Garenin) Milking – using fuigheagan (waste wool from tweed weaving) to tie the tail out of the way …., Setting nets off Gallan Head, Ciosan.

Hand Memory

Building on earlier sessions with people living with dementia that explored traditional skills and the role of ‘hand memory’ we have created further sessions for eliciting memories as well as creating opportunities for haptic stimulation, that may link to life knowledge of work tools, craft skills and techniques such as creel and basket making, knitting, carding and spinning wool, net mending fishing and tweed weaving. To explore this in greater depth we have collaborated on a joint funding proposal with Dr.Stephanie Bunn, Senior lecturer in Anthropology (specializing in Material Culture) at St. Andrews University. This new project looks at ‘eliciting oral histories and ‘hand-memories’ as a means of co-designing supportive, inclusive and locally distinct communities for people living with dementia as well as providing research that will feed into developing new innovative design tools.

Another objective is to exchange knowledge of basketry practice in memory work with An Lanntair’s experience of placing oral traditions at the centre of our approach to local history-making and recording. We will draw on local familiarity with basketry to elicit both oral and embodied memories from community elders, who are often the only members of communities now to retain such skills. An Lanntair’s experience with orality and dementia will in turn enhance the work with other communities in the project, along with providing oral material which will enrich the collection at Lewis’s Museum nan Eilean. 

Dr.Bunn’s previous project ‘Woven Communities’ looked at basketry, memory, and embodied thinking and grew out of an initiative and collaboration between a group of Scottish basketmakers, the Scottish Basketmakers Circle whose aim was to collect together and document all the diverse research conducted about Scottish vernacular basketry, learning skills from regional practitioners, researching in their local communities, surveying basket-related plant ecology and visiting museum collections and archives;

“There is a wealth of information which comes forth when people see you making baskets – often they are eager to correct you just to start with and let you know you are doing something wrong. Then many memories come flooding back.”- Liz Balfour, (Woven Communities Project Partner).

One focus of the new project will look at re-discovering local skills and knowledge by hosting practical reminiscence events and hand memory exercises. We will follow a basket making process all the way through, from gathering weaving materials, processing them and then weaving a specific vessel such as a ‘Ciosan’. This was ‘a coiled basket made from sea-bent (marram grass), or sometimes straw. The coils are stitched together using twine made from rush, marram, even split willow or bramble, or bought twine’. Its function was to hold oat or barley meal.

Podcast Recording today

Maggie and I had fun recording our first ‘Gaelic without trying’ podcast today at the Wee Studio.

The idea behind this is to offer a podcast to care centres, so that staff may learn Gaelic without having to commit time to lessons.

The thought is to play this on a loop in the toilet, much like Frankies & Benny’s in England, where they teach Italian in the bathrooms, or Heston Blumenthal’s motivational speeches in bathrooms. It’s something that can be absorbed in little chunks across the day. And of course it is vital in this culture for carers to understand basic Gaelic in order to be able to understand people who revert to Gaelic through dementia.

It will also work as little bite-sized lessons to listen to in the car, for example.

We were also thinking about offering short little podcasts of songs, stories and interviews for people living with dementia, in Gaelic. This will be the next step, along with a couple more ‘Gaelic without trying’ lessons.

These will be freely available to anyone who wants them.

Download podcast here

Nicolson Institute Gaelic Choir

The Nicolson Institute Gaelic Choir have kindly rescheduled their event that we had to postpone due to high winds a few weeks ago.

They are now very helpfully undertaking a mini tour of Stornoway care centres in the New Year, so that people don’t have to travel in winter weather and so that everyone has something to look forward to in the New Year. How thoughtful and much appreciated!

We will be enjoying songs from the National Mod.