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'Memoirs of a Highland Lady' (2)
INVERNESS: Duthil and Rothiemurchus
Elizabeth Grant
Am Baile

This audio extract is from chapter ten of Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus's autobiography, 'Memoirs of a Highland Lady', first published in 1897. It is read here by Sue Skelton.

'The great event of the Christmas time was the Floaters' ball. As the harvest-home belonged to the farm, this entertainment was given to the forest - all engaged in the wood manufacture, their wives and families being invited. The amusements began pretty early in the day with a game at 'ba', the hockey of the low country, our Scottish substitute for cricket. It is played on a field by two parties, who toss a small ball between them by means of crooked sticks called clubs. The Highlanders are extremely fond of this exciting game, and continue it for hours on a holiday, exhibiting during its progress many feats of agility. There were always crowds of spectators. Our people kept up the game till dark, when all the men - above a hundred - went to dinner in the barn, a beef and some sheep having been killed for them.

The kitchens of both house and farm had been busy for a couple of days cooking for the entertainment. The women, as they arrived, were taken into the grieve's house for tea, a delicate attention, fully appreciated. We delighted in the Floaters' ball, so large a party, so many strangers, some splendid dancers from Strathspey, the hay-loft, the straw-loft, and the upper floor of the threshing-mill all thrown open en suite; two sets of fiddlers playing, punch made in the washing-tubs, an illumination of tallow dips! It is surprising that the floors stood the pounding they got; the thumping noise of the many energetic feet could have been heard half a mile off. When a lad took a lass out to dance, he led her to her place in the reel and 'pree'd her mou' - kissed her - before beginning, she holding up her face quite frankly to receive the customary salute, and he giving a good sounding smack when the lass was bonnie.'

Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus was born in Edinburgh on 7 May 1797, the eldest of five children of Sir John Peter Grant, laird of Rothiemurchus. She spent her childhood mostly on the family estate and in London, entering Edinburgh society in 1814. The family returned to Rothiemurchus in 1820 and from around 1826, Elizabeth wrote articles and stories for various magazines to supplement the family income.

In 1827 the family moved to Bombay where Elizabeth met her future husband, Colonel Henry Smith. The couple married in 1829 and returned to Ireland the following year to live on Colonel Smith's estate in county Wicklow. Elizabeth continued to supplement the family income by writing while, at the same time, raising her three children, Jane, Anne and John. Between 1845 and 1854 she wrote a private memoir of her years spent in Scotland. This was to become her most famous work - 'Memoirs of a Highland Lady' - edited and abridged by her niece and first published in 1897.

Other works published posthumously include 'The Irish Journals of Elizabeth Smith, 1840-1850' (1980), 'The Highland Lady in Ireland' (1991), and 'A Highland Lady in France' (1996). Lady Grant died on 16 November 1885 at her home in county Wicklow.