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TITLE
A Personal Account of Life on Skye
EXTERNAL ID
PC_ALASTAIR_JACKSON_06
PLACENAME
Skye
DISTRICT
Skye
PERIOD
2000s
CREATOR
Alastair Jackson
SOURCE
Alastair Jackson
ASSET ID
21689
KEYWORDS
memories
reminiscences
crofts
crofting townships
hamlets
ruined crofts
ruined townships
A Personal Account of Life on Skye

For a personal account of life on Skye, please read this story by Alastair Jackson.

'No one would think of not using the land. I have sheep, and my sons come from away to help when help's needed.'

Said her daughter, 'Here everyone has Gaelic. No one would think of cutting peats and speaking English at the same time. They don't go together. Yet Gaelic's going. Children are taught it at school, but at home they'll answer in English. The old culture passed down to us may vanish.'

'Yes', said her mother, and the word was a sigh, 'and the TV has replaced the Ceilidh.'


The above transcript is taken from a National Geographic article 'Isles of the Western Sea' written in 1974, and the speakers are my grandmother, Mrs Euphemia MacDonald, of Skinidin, Skye, and one of her daughters. I'm unsure which one, maybe Peggy, but definitely not my mother! I do vaguely remember Americans with shiny cameras appearing a the top of our family peat-bog as we were stacking on a hot summer's day, ready to take them down to the house, and looking back this must have been when they did the interview. I was only five at the time, but I'm sure that my Gran would have given them a straightforward opinion on anything that was asked, and probably told them that we needed to be getting on with the peats!

I was up in Skye on a visit to my parents a couple of months back, when I came upon a copy of the magazine and re-read the whole article which tried to give an overview of life on the Hebrides. It struck me as quite whimsical and perhaps given its production base in the USA, that is not entirely unexpected. However, family interest notwithstanding, the above quote fascinated me, and I wondered whether the 'old culture' in Skye has now indeed 'vanished'.

Fast forward ten years from the article to 1984, and my memory is much clearer. I was 15 and a typical island teenager; keen on football, and guitar bands, but still helping my parents out at the peats, attending Sunday evening services at Lonemore Free Church and answering my mother in English when she spoke to me in Gaelic! Television had come late to the island, and there are apocryphal tales of the 1966 World Cup final being watched by 200 people in one house in Portree. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but we certainly only got a television for the house in 1978, and I'm fairly sure that the BBC2 and Grampian stations only began transmitting in Skye around this time. There was obviously no internet, mobiles or even access to computers at this time, and we could only get Radio 1 on FM after 10pm and on the weekends. If we wanted to buy tapes or records we had to order them from Alasdair 'Bam's' shop in Portree, and I distinctly remember him not believing me that there was a group called The Smiths!

We went across from Dunvegan to my Gran's in Skinidin every Saturday during our school years, which was about four miles away, and the grocery van used to call in the afternoon from Portree. Myself and my brother used to queue behind my gran while she bought her messages, before spending our 10p pocket money on MacCowans Highland Toffees - the bane of Scottish dentists, I'm sure! While we were there, my gran and my mother used to converse in Gaelic over a pot of tea, in front of a peat fire of course. Quite often, someone else from the family would call round for a 'strupag', or maybe one of the girls from next door. In the winter, Skinidin could be quite a stormy wee place, although like many Hebridean croft houses, the neat garden was surrounded by a hedge and rowan trees, and this would keep the worst of the wind off.

The township of Skinidin itself remained pretty much unchanged from the 1930's, when my mother was born there, until the 1990's, which saw some refurbishment of new houses and some new builds as holiday homes. The exception to this would have been the three holiday chalets which my uncle built in the 1970s. Certainly, as I remember Skinidin, there were only eight houses standing, although there were a few ruined and semi-ruined croft houses which we used to climb on and explore. All the houses were owned by Skye people as their main residence, or as a 'family' home for holidays. Since then there have been at least another four built, but only two remain in ownership by Skye people - my gran's, which my auntie occupies for half the year, and next door which is still owned by the daughter of the previous owner. The sub-post post office in Skinidin was closed during the cull in the 1990s, and an important piece of island life was lost. My gran used to walk the half-mile down the single track road every Wednesday and chat to 'Bean Shonaidh' ( Johnny's wife) behind the counter. It strikes me as sad that there are no more conversations in Gaelic anymore, apart from when my Auntie Peggy is home and can chat to Willie next door. When I was young even the dog, Roy, only responded to commands in the Gaelic!

There have been further changes along the road at Colbost too. My mother's old school is now the Skye Silver shop, selling hand crafted jewellery, and even the school at Borrodale has been mothballed with the children being bussed to Dunvegan Primary. With Skye being the island with the most sharply rising population in the Hebrides, it must say something about changing demographics that rural schools are closing. I can only conclude that the people moving to Skye must be retired and those who are moving with children, must be moving to the larger centres of population like Portree, Broadford and Dunvegan, where school roles are rising. There are always going to be difficulties when fragile, ailing communities with a unique way of life are faced with change, and Skye has, certainly to an insider's eye, changed hugely in 30 years. But maybe that's just a reflection of Britain in general.

As I visited the Island last month, two things struck me clearly. I am no longer a 'local' and I will always be a 'local'! If that sounds like a contradiction, let me explain. I visited the Coral Beaches at Claigan on the Saturday to take some photographs and walked around the point to Loch Bay. En-route I met some fellow backpackers, waved to a couple of boys on a prawn-boat, and was to all intents just another regular tourist, which I'm sure is what those people assumed. The next morning I went along to Waternish Free Church, a very small congregation in a very small building decorated in the simplest of West Coast Presbyterian styles, which is my favourite little church on the island, overlooking as it does, the Minch. I was warmly greeted by my old science teacher from Portree High, the Minister, and Willie Skinidin, like I had never been away, and any feelings of ambivalence quickly dissipated. John Macleod in his excellent history of religion in Lewis and Harris, 'Banner in the West', makes the point that the incomers to the 'Long Island' have barely integrated into the island's religious community, and unfortunately it is the same in Skye. Almost everyone I saw in Waternish in the morning and again in Portree in the evening was of island stock, reinforcing the view that the Presbyterianism of the north is a difficult pill for the southern sensibility to swallow. Still, the huge influx of incomers has had some positive benefits on island life. The tide of people leaving has been stemmed. Local businesses have boomed and have brought new prosperity into the island. Almost every house seems to have been modernised, or is a new build (the Crofters Commission deserve a pat on the back here starting the process in the 1970s). My old employers at the Three Chimneys Restaurant have successfully turned Skye into a major culinary destination, thanks to their excellent use of local produce, and I like to think that I have played some part in that revolution, however small.

Skye has, without a doubt changed. It is less traditional and Sabbatarian by the very fact that the population demographic is different. It has been modernised by the worldwide advances in technology. Ever more visitors come because of easier access, and the increasing popularity of eco-tourism. Wider society has changed, and Skye with it. It's still a great place and once you find one of its many hidden corners, you'll want to stay there.

And I even forget to mention the bridge...!

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A Personal Account of Life on Skye

2000s

memories; reminiscences; crofts; crofting townships; hamlets; ruined crofts; ruined townships

Alastair Jackson

For a personal account of life on Skye, please read this story by Alastair Jackson.<br /> <br /> 'No one would think of not using the land. I have sheep, and my sons come from away to help when help's needed.' <br /> <br /> Said her daughter, 'Here everyone has Gaelic. No one would think of cutting peats and speaking English at the same time. They don't go together. Yet Gaelic's going. Children are taught it at school, but at home they'll answer in English. The old culture passed down to us may vanish.'<br /> <br /> 'Yes', said her mother, and the word was a sigh, 'and the TV has replaced the Ceilidh.'<br /> <br /> <br /> The above transcript is taken from a National Geographic article 'Isles of the Western Sea' written in 1974, and the speakers are my grandmother, Mrs Euphemia MacDonald, of Skinidin, Skye, and one of her daughters. I'm unsure which one, maybe Peggy, but definitely not my mother! I do vaguely remember Americans with shiny cameras appearing a the top of our family peat-bog as we were stacking on a hot summer's day, ready to take them down to the house, and looking back this must have been when they did the interview. I was only five at the time, but I'm sure that my Gran would have given them a straightforward opinion on anything that was asked, and probably told them that we needed to be getting on with the peats!<br /> <br /> I was up in Skye on a visit to my parents a couple of months back, when I came upon a copy of the magazine and re-read the whole article which tried to give an overview of life on the Hebrides. It struck me as quite whimsical and perhaps given its production base in the USA, that is not entirely unexpected. However, family interest notwithstanding, the above quote fascinated me, and I wondered whether the 'old culture' in Skye has now indeed 'vanished'.<br /> <br /> Fast forward ten years from the article to 1984, and my memory is much clearer. I was 15 and a typical island teenager; keen on football, and guitar bands, but still helping my parents out at the peats, attending Sunday evening services at Lonemore Free Church and answering my mother in English when she spoke to me in Gaelic! Television had come late to the island, and there are apocryphal tales of the 1966 World Cup final being watched by 200 people in one house in Portree. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but we certainly only got a television for the house in 1978, and I'm fairly sure that the BBC2 and Grampian stations only began transmitting in Skye around this time. There was obviously no internet, mobiles or even access to computers at this time, and we could only get Radio 1 on FM after 10pm and on the weekends. If we wanted to buy tapes or records we had to order them from Alasdair 'Bam's' shop in Portree, and I distinctly remember him not believing me that there was a group called The Smiths!<br /> <br /> We went across from Dunvegan to my Gran's in Skinidin every Saturday during our school years, which was about four miles away, and the grocery van used to call in the afternoon from Portree. Myself and my brother used to queue behind my gran while she bought her messages, before spending our 10p pocket money on MacCowans Highland Toffees - the bane of Scottish dentists, I'm sure! While we were there, my gran and my mother used to converse in Gaelic over a pot of tea, in front of a peat fire of course. Quite often, someone else from the family would call round for a 'strupag', or maybe one of the girls from next door. In the winter, Skinidin could be quite a stormy wee place, although like many Hebridean croft houses, the neat garden was surrounded by a hedge and rowan trees, and this would keep the worst of the wind off.<br /> <br /> The township of Skinidin itself remained pretty much unchanged from the 1930's, when my mother was born there, until the 1990's, which saw some refurbishment of new houses and some new builds as holiday homes. The exception to this would have been the three holiday chalets which my uncle built in the 1970s. Certainly, as I remember Skinidin, there were only eight houses standing, although there were a few ruined and semi-ruined croft houses which we used to climb on and explore. All the houses were owned by Skye people as their main residence, or as a 'family' home for holidays. Since then there have been at least another four built, but only two remain in ownership by Skye people - my gran's, which my auntie occupies for half the year, and next door which is still owned by the daughter of the previous owner. The sub-post post office in Skinidin was closed during the cull in the 1990s, and an important piece of island life was lost. My gran used to walk the half-mile down the single track road every Wednesday and chat to 'Bean Shonaidh' ( Johnny's wife) behind the counter. It strikes me as sad that there are no more conversations in Gaelic anymore, apart from when my Auntie Peggy is home and can chat to Willie next door. When I was young even the dog, Roy, only responded to commands in the Gaelic!<br /> <br /> There have been further changes along the road at Colbost too. My mother's old school is now the Skye Silver shop, selling hand crafted jewellery, and even the school at Borrodale has been mothballed with the children being bussed to Dunvegan Primary. With Skye being the island with the most sharply rising population in the Hebrides, it must say something about changing demographics that rural schools are closing. I can only conclude that the people moving to Skye must be retired and those who are moving with children, must be moving to the larger centres of population like Portree, Broadford and Dunvegan, where school roles are rising. There are always going to be difficulties when fragile, ailing communities with a unique way of life are faced with change, and Skye has, certainly to an insider's eye, changed hugely in 30 years. But maybe that's just a reflection of Britain in general.<br /> <br /> As I visited the Island last month, two things struck me clearly. I am no longer a 'local' and I will always be a 'local'! If that sounds like a contradiction, let me explain. I visited the Coral Beaches at Claigan on the Saturday to take some photographs and walked around the point to Loch Bay. En-route I met some fellow backpackers, waved to a couple of boys on a prawn-boat, and was to all intents just another regular tourist, which I'm sure is what those people assumed. The next morning I went along to Waternish Free Church, a very small congregation in a very small building decorated in the simplest of West Coast Presbyterian styles, which is my favourite little church on the island, overlooking as it does, the Minch. I was warmly greeted by my old science teacher from Portree High, the Minister, and Willie Skinidin, like I had never been away, and any feelings of ambivalence quickly dissipated. John Macleod in his excellent history of religion in Lewis and Harris, 'Banner in the West', makes the point that the incomers to the 'Long Island' have barely integrated into the island's religious community, and unfortunately it is the same in Skye. Almost everyone I saw in Waternish in the morning and again in Portree in the evening was of island stock, reinforcing the view that the Presbyterianism of the north is a difficult pill for the southern sensibility to swallow. Still, the huge influx of incomers has had some positive benefits on island life. The tide of people leaving has been stemmed. Local businesses have boomed and have brought new prosperity into the island. Almost every house seems to have been modernised, or is a new build (the Crofters Commission deserve a pat on the back here starting the process in the 1970s). My old employers at the Three Chimneys Restaurant have successfully turned Skye into a major culinary destination, thanks to their excellent use of local produce, and I like to think that I have played some part in that revolution, however small. <br /> <br /> Skye has, without a doubt changed. It is less traditional and Sabbatarian by the very fact that the population demographic is different. It has been modernised by the worldwide advances in technology. Ever more visitors come because of easier access, and the increasing popularity of eco-tourism. Wider society has changed, and Skye with it. It's still a great place and once you find one of its many hidden corners, you'll want to stay there.<br /> <br /> And I even forget to mention the bridge...!